The country’s national parks don’t always preserve pristine land. In many cases, families or communities lived in the pioneer-era national parks. The same goes for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most popular national park in the United States). The Great Smoky Mountains are home to ghost towns that can be visited today – the ghost town of Elkmont is one of them and is easy to visit.
It’s an easy hike to Elkmont (it’s near Gatlinburg, Tennessee) and can be a fun activity for families with kids. Visitors can see an old logging settlement and most of the historic buildings that remain today. The main gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Pidgeon Forge, and it’s packed with fun, family-friendly activities.
History of the ghost town of Elkmont
Elkmont is located in Tennessee’s upper Little River Valley. The area was home to an Appalachian pioneer community, a logging town, and a resort community that existed until it was taken over by the National Park Service. During the 19th and early 20th centuries there was a logging community with a school, church and railroad.
The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was established in 1934. According to Pigeonforge.com, the National Park Service began buying land previously owned by the Little River Lumber Company.
Over time, people who had cottages in Elkmont were asked to sell their land for lifetime leases, while individuals within park boundaries were forced to sell their land. Elkmont residents had the option to sell and move out to the NPS immediately, or sell at a discounted rate in exchange for a lifetime lease. All remaining leases ended in 1992.
Demolition, conservation and the ghost town of Elkmont today
There are approximately 70 buildings in Elkmont that were abandoned when the NPS took possession. After the NPS took possession of the last of these buildings in 1992, there was a 15-year debate as to the fate of these buildings. Finally, in 2009, the NPS said they would restore the Appalachian Clubhouse and 18 cottages and outbuildings in the Appalachian Club area.
It was originally planned that the NPS would remove them and restore the land to its natural state, but this did not fully happen as many were placed on a protected list. They began to deteriorate and fall into disrepair with no one maintaining them, and the NPS destroyed some of them in 2018.
The buildings not on the protected list have been removed from the NPS, but some of their remains have been left (such as foundations and chimneys). The listed buildings are to be restored. Some of them have been restored while others are being restored. Those that have not been restored make it seem like an eerie ghost town.
- Total buildings: Over 70 owned by the NPS
- Received buildings: 19 buildings (restored and preserved)
Today, people can see what is hidden from the ghost town in the Great Smokies and see how nature is slowly reclaiming it.
Today it’s possible to hike to the ghost town of Elkmont and see the remains of a once thriving logging town with your own eyes.
It’s easy to hike to the ghost town of Elkmont
Some of the most popular attractions in Elkmont Ghost Town are the Levi Trentham Cabin (restored in 2017) and the Elkmont Troll Bridge.
The Elkmont Nature Trail is a short nature trail loop in Gatlinburg. Designed as a self-guided educational tour, it is an easy hike that families with children can hike.
- Distance: 0.8 miles (one way)
- Altitude gain: 95 feet
- Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Other trails that hikers can explore include the Jakes Creek and Little River trails. Look out for signs of past occupation (like chimneys and crumbling walls).
Elkmont is one of the hidden treasures of the Great Smokies and is fun to seek out and discover.
One of the most popular campgrounds in the park is in the Elkmont area. Elkmont Campground is the largest and busiest of the Smokies and is only about 8 miles from Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is one of the main gateways to the Great Smokey Mountains.