THE HIKE: We are going to combine two hikes into one since they are both short, easy and right next to one another. We will be tackling the Metcalf bottoms trail and the Little Brier Gap trail. These two trails have some great history and significance in the Great Smoky Mountains, and neither is particulary difficult. Another plus is that even during winter periods, these trails tend to be very easily accessible so long as little river road is open.
This easy .6 mile each way trail is well graded and can easily be done in tennis shoes if you desire. The woods around you are pleasant and peaceful. You won’t find any unusual or remarkable features as you hike. It is all about the destination here. You will arrive soon at your goal, the Little Greenbrier School. This one-room school house was built in 1882 and much of it remains as it was. You can pretend you are a student as you sit in the rustic desks and look to the front of the class. It is easy to imagine what it was like learning arithmetic in this small room and how much of a burden it must have been to simply walk here from home each day. What is the saying? Walked uphill in snow both ways? You better believe it. Once you have taken this piece of history in, there is a small cemetery right next door. You get an even better sense of the people that lived and died in this area, several of them small children that never got a chance to attend the school. Once you have finished your time here, you must decide to either go back to the car for a total of 1.2 miles or to continue your journey onto the Little Brier Gap Trail. I will mention this. If your time is short or your limbs do not want to hike, you can drive directly to the school and bypass the 1.2 mile round trip hike. Simply keep driving past the bridge through Metcalf bottoms picnic area on Wear Cove Gap Road for a half mile. The gravel road taking you right to the schoolhouse door will be on your right. But we are in it for the hike, so I know you aren’t going to cheat, right?
At the schoolhouse, you will see the junction sign for the Little Brier Gap Trail. We won’t be going far to reach our destination, the Walker Sisters Cabin. You will walk over a gravel road that will eventually fork to the right to visit the Cabin about 1 mile from the school. From here, it is only .2 mile to the homestead. So why take the time to come here? It is a great historic homesite. The Walker family raised eleven children in the small quarters of the homestead. It is great to walk through their home and imagine such a larger number of people in one house. Simply think of your own home and imagine 11 children in it. Now cut the size of your home at least in half. It is truly amazing. One of the greatest parts about this place is how recently it was occupied. The walker family had no intentions of giving up their home just because a national park happened to be formed around it. With their obstinance, the family was given a rare lifetime lease of the land. The last of the Walker Sisters that remained in the house continued to live off the land and disconnected from modern society until the last person died in 1964. At that time, the park service took the house, shed, and land over. It has been mostly well preserved since then.
The Little Brier Gap Trail continues past here, but it is very seldom used. It connects with the Roundtop Trail and Laurel Falls Trail at various points, but I would not suggest using these. There is nothing remarkable on either trail that cannot be reached at easier and more scenic points, and there is no place to camp for the evening. In addition, these trails are all close to the roads at various points inlcluding little river road and Wear Cove Gap Road, so you are never really having a wilderness experience despite the solitude on the trails. I would recommend turning around and heading for the car once you have finished your time at the walker cabin for a grand total of 3.6 miles.
This hike is very easy and is one of those places you will likely see many people with kids running around and cameras flashing, but it is not one that you should miss. If you have a family with small children, this one is perfect. If you are a history buff, this hike is great. And if you simply like to see unique things in the Smokies, you will love it as well. Check it out on your next trip.