March 18, 2014 – I went to the Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to scope out sites for a planned future stay. I found out there was more there to keep you occupied than the beautiful river running by and nightly campfires. I regret that it never worked out for a stay there, but here’s what I explored within the grounds.
Elkmont Nature Trail
First, I’m a sucker for nature trails, and since I saw I could do this one rather quickly before lunch, I headed off on the easy 3/4 mile self-guided trail.
As always, my favorite features of these kind of walks are the rustic bridges.
And at the end of the trail, this bench was perfect for reflecting on what I had learned about the people who used to live here and the trees and plants who still make this area a beautiful place to be.
But the most welcome sights were the signs of Spring approaching with wildflowers hugging the Little River banks and the first buds of the rhododendron bushes promising soon-to-come blooming displays.
Old Elkmont Cemetery
(also known as Wonderland Cemetery)
I had heard about an old historic cemetery near the campground, so I went to the Ranger station to find out how to get there. There are no signs from the road, but about 1/2 mile before getting to the campground, you’ll see an unmarked gravel road to the left with a Dead End sign. About 1/4 mile down it, you’ll come to a turn-around where you can park. There are three large rocks at the beginning of a trail head, but again, no signs, so I wasn’t sure if I should head up it or not. But I’d been told you can see the cemetery sign from the road, and it wasn’t until I walked back down the gravel road a little ways that I saw it on the right, after having passed it on the left on the way to the turn-around.
This is the cemetery for the former Elkmont community and grave markers range from unmarked sandstone stones to modern marble markers with burial dates ranging from the late 1800s to the 1920s.
Sadly, most of the graves seem to be those of children, many of whom were born and died on the same day.
Later, wanting to learn more about it, I came across this blog from someone with an Ownby relative buried there.
Old Elkmont Cabins
and Appalachian Club
Entering the Elkmont Campground, you’ll see a road and sign to the left leading to Elkmont Nature Trail, Little River Trail and Jakes Creek Trail. Shortly, you’ll see a large parking area, but if you proceed past the sign that says “Additional Parking” and follow the road to the right, you’ll come to the Old Elkmont Cabins and the Appalachian Club.
Before getting to the parking area for the Appalachian Clubhouse, you’ll pass rows of these old abandoned cabins. Even though most of the cabins are too dilapidated and beyond repair, the NPS is photographing and documenting them, intending to let the area return to its natural state.
This area is now referred to as the “Elkmont Ghost Town of the Great Smoky Mountains.” Once owned by a lumber company, around 1910, they began selling the land to hunting and fishing enthusiasts, who established the Appalachian Club, and members began building their own vacation cottages.
This historic building has been rehabilitated by the NPS to closely resemble its 1930’s appearance, with the additional of a few modern amenities such as electricity and water.
They rent out the 3,000 sq. ft. Appalachian Clubhouse for meetings and events.
I sat and rocked on the front porch for a while imagining the people who used to get away here to enjoy the same peace and serenity I found here today.
The Wonderland Park Hotel was also constructed nearby, also now part of the Abandoned Cabins of the Elkmont Region and the Elkmont Ghost Town. To get there, look for the sign that tells you that you are 1/2 mile from the Campground. To the right is a private park house and directly across from that you’ll see the sloping path that leads to the ruins of the hotel. There is parking there to the side of the sign that says Do Not Block Gate.
Too bad this building has fallen into such disrepair that it cannot be restored and is planned for demolition.
There are a couple of other cabins in ruins across the road and remnants of hotel buildings and other paths with access to the complex.
I have to say that even in daylight, this place was pretty spooky and even though marked with No Trespassing signs, it’s obvious someone has peeled away some of the boards and gained access. I was way too scared to enter, but I poked my camera inside and took this picture. I wondered if I’d catch any orbs or evidence of haunting, but no luck there.
Directly across the road from where you parked to get to the Wonderland Hotel trail, there is another parking area that leads to this scenic bridge, now only accessible by foot.
Cross the bridge and shortly down the path is an Acid Precipitation Monitoring Station, which quickly brought me back to the present and our generation’s worries, but I thoroughly enjoyed my day exploring Elkmont’s past.
October 3, 2014 Huffington Post article: Hiker Discovers an Abandoned Town Inside TN’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park