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The country's national parks don't always preserve virgin land. In many cases, there were families or communities living in what became the national parks dating from the pioneer days. The same is true of 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 one can visit today - the ghost town of Elkmont is one of them and is easy to visit.

It is an easy hike to get to Elkmont (it is located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee) and can be a fun activity for families with children. Visitors can see an old logging community and the most historic buildings that remain today. The main gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Pidgeon Forge, and it is bursting with fun, family-friendly activities.

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History Of The Elkmont Ghost Town

Elkmont is located in the upper Little River Valley in Tennessee. The area was home to a pioneer Appalachian community, a logging town, and a resort community that existed until the National Park Service took over. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a logging community there complete with a school, a church, and a railroad line.

  • First Settled: The 1840s

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was established in 1934. According to Pigeonforge.com, the National Park Service began to purchase land that had previously been owned by the Little River Lumber Company.

As time when on, people who had cottages in Elkmont were asked to sell their land in exchange for lifetime leases, while individuals within the park boundaries were forced to sell their land. Residents in Elkmont were given the option of selling up and moving out immediately to the NPS or selling at a discounted price in exchange for a lifetime lease. Any remaining leases ended in 1992.

Related: Experience The Great Smoky Mountains By Train On This Scenic Railroad

Demolition, Preservation, And The Elkmont Ghost Town Today

There are around 70 buildings in Elkmont that were abandoned as the NPS took possession. After the NPS took possession of the last of these buildings in 1992, there was a 15-year-long debate about the fate of these buildings. Eventually, in 2009 the NPS said they would restore the Appalachian Clubhouse and 18 cottages and outbuildings in the Appalachian Club area.

It was originally the plan that the NPS would remove them and return the land to its natural state, but this didn't happen in full, as many were placed on a protected list. They started to deteriorate and decay without anyone to maintain them, and the NPS demolished some of them in 2018.

The buildings not on the protected list were removed by the NPS but some of their remains were left behind (like foundations and chimneys). The protected buildings are to be restored. Some of them have been restored, while others are being restored. Those that haven't been restored make it feel like an eerie ghost town.

  • Total Buildings: Over 70 Taken Possession Of By The NPS
  • Preserved Buildings: 19 Buildings (Restored and Preserved)

Today people can see what's left of the ghost town hidden away in the Great Smokies and see it as it is slowly reclaimed by nature.

Today it is possible to hike to the Elkmont Ghost Town and see what is left of what was a thriving logging town with one's own eyes.

Related: Sinks In The Smokies: A Guide To This Stunning Waterfall

It's Easy To Hike To The Elkmont Ghost Town

Some of the most popular sights in the Elkmont Ghost Town are the Levi Trentham cabin (restored in 2017) and the Elkmont Troll Bridge.

The Elkmont Nature Trail is a short interpretive trail loop in Gatlinburg. It has been designed as a self-guided education tour and is an easy hike that families with children can hike.

  • Distance: 0.8 Miles (One Way)
  • Elevation Gain: 95 Feet
  • Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Other trails hikers can explore include the Jakes Creek and Little River trails. Keep one's eyes out for signs of past settlement (like chimneys and crumbling walls).

Elkmont is one of the hidden gems of the Great Smokies and a fun thing to seek out and discover.

One of the most popular campgrounds in the park is located in the Elkmont area. The Elkmont Campground is the largest and busiest of the Smokies and is only around 8 miles from Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is one of the main gateways to the Great Smokey Mountains.