Any visitor to Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon learns that, despite the impressive scale and ruggedness of the Southern Appalachian wilderness on display here, this lush, rough country comes drenched in human history. The Noah “Bud” Ogle Place Nature Trail near Gatlinburg is a very accessible introduction to some of that heritage.
Indeed, you might better think of this footpath as the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place “History” Trail. From tumbling brooks to rhododendron thickets, there’s certainly Smoky Mountain nature to be enjoyed here, but first and foremost it’s an up-close look at a classic 19th-century farmstead now mostly reclaimed by the forest.
The roughly 0.7-mile-long Nature Trail is not a demanding one, though there are some rocky stretches and a little bit of up and down. Give yourself at least an hour to explore its counter-clockwise loop, and definitely consider shelling out the nominal cost for the self-guided interpretive brochure at the trailhead.
The Noah “Bud” Ogle log home itself is a fine example of a so-called “saddlebag” cabin, anchored by a central chimney with two halves of living quarters. Noah Ogle and his wife Cindy built this home shortly after moving to this area along Le Conte Creek—which is commonly called “Jungle” or “Junglebrook”—in 1879. Noah’s Ogle forebears were among the very first white settlers to establish homes in White Oak Flats, the area along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River (into which Le Conte Creek flows) where the little city of Gatlinburg now stands.
The Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin was expanded as the couple’s family grew, in typical homesteader-era fashion. A wooden flume conveyed water from a spring to a trough next to the structure.
Heading onward from the cabin across land once planted and grazed by the Ogle family, you’ll hit (at about a third of a mile from the trailhead) a well-preserved “tub mill.” This structure ground corn into cornmeal thanks to a waterwheel driven by the flow of Le Conte Creek, redirected to the mill by an 80-foot flume. Many of these tub mills dotted the ravines, hollows, and river valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains in the early days of Euro-American settlement.
Past the Ogle tub mill, the next built landmark is the Ogle farm’s four-crib barn. This is an example of a “drive-in” or “drove-through” barn, so-named because a wagon could be driven and parked right inside. Four logged-off pens in the barn, which once held livestock, show off some fine dove-tailed jointing typical of the era.
Even as you ponder how the Ogle family scratched a living from this corner of the Le Conte Creek drainage, it’s equally illuminating to reflect on the eventual fate of this 400-acre farm. “Jungle” was one of many private holdings bought by the Tennessee Park Commission in the 1920s and ‘30s for the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in what many locals considered a bit of a swindle.
Walking the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place Nature Trail is a reminder that much of the national park’s acreage was once settled backcountry community—and, of course, has been part of the homeland of the Cherokee since well before Euro-Americans set up shop here.
-Although the distance is short and the elevation gains minimal, wear sturdy boots or at least a good pair of hiking shoes for the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place Trail: Tree roots and rocks—especially in the bouldery section of the route—present some uneven footing along the way.
-It’s well worth combining a walk on the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place Nature Trail with an exploration of the nearby Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which shows off additional historical homesteads.