The Great Smokiesâ stellar Mountain Farm Museum at the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center may just be a stroll, but combine it with one of the Smokies best-kept-secret easy walks, the Oconaluftee River Trail, and you have one of the parkâs best combinations of scenery and interpretation. It is a masterful meshing of insight into Native Americans and later settlers. In addition, this is one of the few trails in the park where bikes and dogs on leash are permitted.
A Great Combo Trail
If youâve ever wondered what a hog does when an overspreading oak drops a September acorn into its artfully sited styâthis trail can answer that question.
From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the Mountain Farm Museum path goes left into a flat, half-mile wander among a nicely signed collection of 19th century backcountry farm structures. It offers a vivid picture of a settlerâs life, complete with chickens cackling and pigs grunting.
Also from the Visitor Center, the Oconaluftee River Trail heads right (where the farm trail goes left) and leads from the farm along the Oconaluftee River to the streets of Cherokeeâor from Cherokee to the farm.
Hiking either way offers a major dose of riverside scenery along with what may be the parkâs best insight into Cherokee Indian culture. A half dozen interpretive plaques on the trail explain Cherokee beliefs and respect for the natural world (in English and Cherokee). The signs include evocative illustrations by Cherokee artists that will make you want to visit the tribeâs Qualla Arts and Crafts gallery in town. Thereâs a bench at each sign and at other places along the path.
One reason the Oconaluftee River Trail is a good family hike for visitors is that itâs very popular with Cherokees as a place to jog or stroll with family. Seeing local Native Americans enjoying their ancestral homeland while you pause to read interpretive signs about Cherokee legend is a rich experience.
A Riverside Flower Show
The Oconaluftee River is narrow and fast along Newfound Gap Road, but here along the Oconaluftee River Trail, the river spreads wide and dances over ledges and around islands. The river starts in one of the Eastâs biggest wilderness areas and the refreshing clean smell of the water matches the emerald green color in a way that defies visual description.
Now is the time to hike the trailâlate summer and fall flowers are amazing! The open riverside understory of grasses and ferns is abloom with bee balm and entire trailside borders of jewel weed or Touch-me-Not (in late August). And later on, autumn color is great here.
Combine Both Hikes
If you start at the Visitor Center, explore the farm first. The interpretive signs that explain the structures, all gathered in 1950 from throughout the Smokies, also picture many in their original locations. Then exit past the Apple House near the corn field and turn left on the Oconaluftee River Trail. along the farmâs fence line. At 0.7-mile the trail goes under the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge and sidesteps lead right to a roadside parking slip (the first of three alternative recommended places to park). The trail swings away from the river and crosses a small bridge. Thereâs another roadside trailhead, a designated parking area on Newfound Gap road at 0.9 mile, immediately before the sign âBlue Ridge Parkway Next Right.â The trail then crosses Big Cove Road next and reaches the sidewalks of Cherokee across from the Cherokee Transit parking area at the reservation boundary at 1.5 miles.
If you donât start at the visitor center, choose the roadside parking area above thatâs right for you and tour the farm for a round trip. Itâs a roundtrip hike of 3 miles from Cherokee Transit (great place to park). From all of the potential roadside starting points, you begin with Cherokee culture, in a scenic, natural setting, and end with the backcountry farm structures of newcomers.
By the wayâwhen the acorn drops into the pig styâthe pig trots right to it!
If You Go
Mountain Farm Museum Trailhead parking: Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Trail length: About a half-mile if you wander it all
Difficulty: Very Easy
Payoff: Real insight in Smokies settlers
Cautions: No dogs or bikes in the farm itself!
Oconaluftee River Trail
Trailhead parking: Start at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and go right at the farm (or after a tour of the farm, exit and go left). Or start in Cherokee at Cherokee Transit tight at the park boundary.
Trail Length: 1.5 miles, 3 miles round trip.
Difficulty: Very easy
Payoff: Deeply moving insight into Cherokee culture and legend.
Cautions: Bikes are OK, and so are dogs (but on leash).