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quilliams cave

Courthouse Rock Trail: A Secret Hiking Trail in the Smokies

One of the most popular activities in the Smoky Mountains is hiking! Most people choose to hike the popular trails, while other people who hike as their hobby want to find trails that are off the beaten path. There are quite a few trails to choose from, but we want to share a secret hiking trail with you called Courthouse Rock Trail! Keep reading to learn more about this secret trail in the Smoky Mountains.

About Courthouse Rock Trail

The first thing you should know about this hidden gem is it is not on the official Great Smoky Mountains National Park map. Although it is not a designated trail and it is not maintained by the park service, experienced hikers frequent the trail throughout the year. Since this trail is considered difficult, only people who hike as a hobby and take all of the necessary safety precautions should explore the trail.

courthouse rock trail

If you want to hike this trail, read these important safety tips for hiking in the Smoky Mountains before you go.

To find the trailhead for Courthouse Rock Trail, you should use exact GPS coordinates. This is how most people hike the trail and stay on the correct path. The trailhead is across the street from the small parking area the GPS coordinates take you to.

As you’re on the trail, there are several areas where you must cross creeks and come to junctions in the trail. At most of the junctions, you will find stacks of rocks called cairns that point you towards the correct path.

Features Along the Hike

Another reason why so many people want to hike this secret trail is because of the incredible features you can see as you make your way through the woods. From incredible rock formations to old homesites, you’ll find a little bit of everything along Courthouse Rock Trail!

Moonshine Cave

One of the first features you will spot along the trail is Moonshine Cave. These large rocks are stacked above a creek to create a cave-like structure. A family called the Quilliams lived in the area long before it was part of the national park, and they built this cave to create a refrigeration system. It is believed that the family used this cave to hide their moonshine still, which is where the name comes from.

Road Turn Branch Falls

road turn branch fallsThe next point of interest along the trail is Road Turn Branch Falls. To get to the waterfall, you will come to a split in the trail. The left trail takes you down the mountain while the trail on the right does a switchback to go farther up. Take the left trail, and you will come up on the waterfall, which has 3 tiers!

Quilliams’ Homesite

If you continue along the trail on the right, you will come up on the Quilliams’ family homesite. This area is flat, so you can imagine where an old cabin would have stood. There is a stack of rocks set back in the trees, which could have been part of an old chimney and pieces of metal that could have been part of an old stove.

Courthouse Rock

courthouse rockAfter the homesite, there will be another split in the trail with a cairn on the trail. If you take the left trail, you will continue towards Courthouse Rock. There will be a second cairn on the trail, and you will take a right. You’ll then see Courthouse Rock come into view. This natural rock formation is unusual because it is the only free standing rock formation in the Smoky Mountains. The rock is smooth on all 4 sides, and the top is flat. Experts believe the Cherokee used this area to hold their own court.

Quilliam Cave and Falls

On the second cairn, keep going straight if you want to see Quilliam Cave. It’s about 0.5 of a mile away from Courthouse Rock. You will see another cairn that shows where the trail is, and you will need to cross over a tributary. Quilliam Cave and Quilliam Falls will come into view up the mountain. There is an area covered in rocks where you can stand in the mouth of the cave. The sheer size of the cave is impressive, along with the breathtaking mountain views!

Now you know a little more about Courthouse Rock Trail, a hidden gem of the Smokies! Before you head out on the trails, learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!