The Elkmont Nature Trail is an easy, low-key hike that even your littles can do. It’s located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means you probably want to head over sometime soon anyway, right? Right. There’s also a bit of mystery for us older folks, as well. At less than a mile, you can explore an abandoned Tennessee campground, all the while igniting your children’s love of nature and story. Let’s check it out…
The Great Smoky Mountains are known for their beauty - it is the most visited national park, after all. It's behind the vast array of greenery and autumnal foliage, though, that you just may find a secret.
Over the course of your walk, you may find a few nods to civilation. Wood left to rot, faded pathways pounded solid by feet so many years ago.
Then a creepier scene emerges: the entirety of an abandoned town.
The town of Elkmont hasn't been inhabited for years, and has actually become quite a spot of interest for thrill-seekers. It's easy to walk around, and makes for some strangely beautiful photos. Where else can you access an entire empty town in Tennessee...?
Little River Lumber Company originally settled the area in 1908 for their employees, but as the secret beauty of the area got out it was overrun with developers looking to build summer cottages on the land. Elkmont became a place of laughter and fun, a pinnacle of summertime vacation ease.
Over the years, the area became ravaged by time and slow-to-move upkeep. No leases were extended beyond 1992, and the tiny town has sat silent and gaunt ever since. That's twenty-five years of time, pushing moss up against the broken windows and wild animals scraping at gaps in the door. If you can imagine, the town looks quite different.
The spot became known as the Elkmont Historic District in 1994, and the national park decided not to remove the homes for historical reasons. It is quite the time capsule, isn't it?
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park now owns the land and monitors the usage of the area. The Wonderland Hotel, once the driving tourist attraction in Elkmont, unfortunately burned down in the spring of 2016, but the rest of the town sits silent and waiting.
This is a town, forgotten in the hills of Tennessee. Built over a century ago, forgotten by the ravages of time. There are still some folks in the state that grew up coming here, but they are few and far between. Most others simply remember a hike into the hills that ended at a horror film set.
Would you visit? If you do, make sure to take extra precautions while around the buildings. They aren't in the best shape - as we're sure you understand - and would do well with a little coddling and safekeeping by visitors.
There you have it, folks. A hike that ends in ruin - but you'll have to hurry! As of February 2017, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park announced that they will be preserving four of the structures, but moving forward with the demolition of the other 29. The stabilization of the remaining structures should be complete by November, 2017, with demolition efforts completed by May.
Can’t get away? No worries – we’ll take you through the abandoned town, just below:
It’s a pretty amazing thing, to see an abandoned place stuck hard in the middle of the one of the most visited parks in the United States.