Hiking Through History: Historical Destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains

nextguest | 20th December 2019

The Great Smoky Mountains aren’t simply a great place to experience nature — they’re also an incredible cultural destination, with extensive history and rich traditions. Next time you visit, why not explore these different sides of the region at the same time? Below, we share local hiking trails that will lead you to historic landmarks, along with a handful of acclaimed local history museums you can reach without the trek.

Little Cataloochee Church

The Little Cataloochee Church is one of the largest relics of the historic Little Cataloochee “island community,” which occupied the area until the 1930s. Set in the Cataloochee Valley, also home to a thriving elk population, it’s accessible via an eight-mile round-trip walk that also passes by log cabins and lush fields. 

East Tennessee Historical Society

The Tennessee Historical Society boasts 24 Smoky Mountain landscape paintings by Jim Gray — valued at more than $1,000,000 — as well as extensive permanent exhibitions on the local culture and temporary exhibitions on topics from local quilting traditions to basket-weaving techniques.

Noah Ogle Place

Noah “Bud” Ogle Place — also known as the Junglebrook Historic District — houses a former homestead on the National Register of Historic Places. One of TripAdvisor’s top 20 attractions in the Smokies, it is known for charming foliage and scenery, as well as nineteenth-century architecture, given its location near LeConte Creek, in the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River.

Little River Railroad Museum

Another engaging stop for history buffs is the Little River Railroad Museum. Here you’ll learn about the namesake river’s role in the daily lives of Native Americans, pioneers, farmers, and loggers — as well as the Little River Railroad & Lumber Company, whose main investor once owned much of today’s national park.

Palmer Chapel

The Palmer Chapel is known for playing an important role in Methodist religious revivals. You’ll reach it by taking what happens to be one of the steepest and most challenging trails in the park, along steep rocks and a cemetery.

*Note that hiking poles are highly recommended for this one, as the path can be slippery. 

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

If you’re interested in learning more about the local history, without the hike, don’t miss the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. The museum holds collections devoted to five National Parks, the local Native American tribes, and the history of local transportation. Quilts and cannons are among the artifacts on display.

Mingus Mill

Roughly a half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Mingus Mill is one of just a handful of living-history destinations throughout the Smokies. It comprises a historic grist mill with a water-powered turbine, which you can learn about from an on-site miller, and shares its grounds with several other historic properties.

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The rain rolls out later today and then the forecast calls for several days of sunny weather with chilly nights. It will be the perfect time to explore the Smokies during our last week or two of fall colors. Photo is from a prior year although we will be out photographing the Smokies in the coming days to show you the current conditions. 📍the mill race at #MingusMill, Great Smoky Mountains National Park by @zack_knudsen. #greatsmokies #gsmnp #greatsmokymountainsnationalpark #smokymountains #naturalnorthcarolina #ncmountains #greatsmokymountains #beautifuldestinations #visitnc #appalachian_explorers #landscape_captures #sltravels #greatsmokeymountains #romanticasheville #onlyinnorthcarolina #ourstatemag #ourstate #discover_carolinas #adventureappalachia #wnc #outaboutnc #explorecarolina #wnc #friendsofthesmokies #ashevilletrails #ncoutdoors #open828 #ncoutdoor_inc #travelentrepreneur ***Use the hashtag #brysoncity for a chance to be featured on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Check us out on GreatSmokies.com!

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