Smoky Mountain Trail: West Prong Trail

Orange and yellow fall foilage on tree in smoky mountain tennessee

West Prong Trail – 2.7 miles from Tremont Road to Bote Mountain Trail.

Highlights: Walker Valley Cemetery, hardwood forest, and pretty creek

Trailhead: From the Townsend Y turn toward Cades Cove. In 0.2 mile, turn left toward the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont. At 2.0 mile, look for the West Prong Trail on the right, just before the entrance to the Institute. Turn right and park in a gravel lot. From here you can see a pump house uphill to the left at the end of a gravel drive. The trail starts behind the pump.

West Prong Trail provides a hiking connection between the Tremont Elkmont trails and Cades Cove trails and begins along the banks of the Middle Prong. To the old timers, a fork of a river was called a prong. Both the West and Middle Prong are parts of the Little River, which drains most of the western end of the park from Elkmont to Cades Cove. These prongs join just west of the park from Elkmont to Cades Cove. These prongs join just west of the Townsend Y at the road intersection leading to Tremont.

After a good rain the beginning of the trail may be a bit muddy, but don’t let that turn you back. The trail will climb along the flanks of Fodderstack Mountain and remains dry. Immediately you will come to an intersection. One choice is to follow the trail, which swings left. Another is to go right from the trail, and visit the maintained cemetery.

A rough but fairly clear trail goes up from the cemetery to meet the West Prong trail in progress, or you can go back to the trail sign and pick up West prong Trail at the beginning. The trail is in 3 roughly one-mile segments – one up, one down and then another up. It is wide and level, ascending first through a cut-over forest of small tulip trees.

At mile 0.3 the trail forks; take a left fork to continue – the right fork leads you back to the cemetery. West Prong Trail climbs the side of Fodderstack Mountain to about 2,550 to about 2,000 elevation. The trail ascends steadily to dry woods with pines, sourwoods, and chestnut. You can hear the West Prong below. Then you start a mile-long decent to the prong through open woods alternating with thick patches of rosebay rhododendron.

The Trail crosses a side creek, an easy rock hop, and then passes a beautiful rock face on the left. Rosebay rhododendron, ferns, and yellow birch grow out of rock cracks. Just around a bend from the creek, the trail reaches Campsite #18 at 1,700 elevation. There are two tent sites close to the river.

The West Prong Trail turns sharply right, and you have to follow it across some rocky seeps to get to a foot log across West Prong. After the foot log turns left, backtrack up the other side of West Prong and look for the trail starting up on the right. The trail goes uphill a half mile. It is never steep, but never relenting either. Eastern Hemlock and mountain laurel tunnels alternate and pine trees grow on the drier, more exposed sections.