Looking for a unique place to visit in the Great Smoky Mountains? The Elkmont Historic District is definitely one of the most interesting places to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains!
Over the years, Elkmont has become known as a “Ghost Town” as there are several old building remains that have been left unattended as well as old chimneys and remnants of old homesites.
While there are attempts of restoring some of the buildings, it is still a little bit of a strange sight to see all of these uninhabited buildings inside the Great Smoky Mountains Park.
Growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains area, our family visited regularly as this was where part of my family originally settled in the early years. So to me, this “Ghost Town” is just a part of Elkmont that I’ve always known! (Many of my family members are actually buried in the Levi-Trentham Cemetery near the Elkmont campground!)
The Elkmont area is full of rich history and tons of unique things to explore. Which is why this area is an intriguing place for families of all ages to visit when they come to the Great Smoky Mountains!
History of Elkmont, TN
The first settlers arrived in the Elkmont area around the mid 1800s. By the early 1900s, the Little River Lumber Company began logging the area under W.B. Townsend and his associates.
By 1908, the Little River Railroad Company finished constructing the railroad from Townsend to Elkmont. The purpose of the railroad was to transport the logs from Elkmont to the sawmill in Townsend.
By 1909, the railroad extended to Knoxville which opened up many new opportunities. The Little River Railroad Company added an observation car. This would allow visitors from Knoxville to travel by train and stay in Elkmont as a summer vacation destination.
As tourism increased in the area, this led to the development of more vacation homes and lodging options in Elkmont. Some of these areas were: Millionaire’s Row, Daisy Town, the Appalachian Clubhouse, and the Wonderland Hotel.
By 1926, the Little River Lumber Company stopped logging in the area. Then in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains was officially established as a National Park.
Most residents within the newly established park boundaries were offered payment for their properties. Once vacated, most of the buildings and homes were demolished.
Extended leases were negotiated with some families that would allow them to continue spending their summers vacationing in Elkmont. The last of these leases expired in 2001.
The National Park Service is presently working to preserve some of the remaining buildings that are left. A few cabins that have been rehabilitated are open for the public to walk in and view.
To learn more about Elkmont and to plan for an upcoming visit, be sure to read more about Elkmont here!
How Do I Get to Elkmont?
The easiest way to get to Elkmont is to look up “Elkmont Campground” in the your GPS. From there you should be able to easily follow the directions.
Right before the entrance of Elkmont Campground, you will take a left on Little River Road. (Don’t worry, there are signs pointing you to “Elkmont Nature Trail”).
Follow this road and it will lead you to a parking area near the Little River Trailhead. From there you can get out and explore most of the Elkmont area!
If there isn’t any parking there, you can head on up the hill to more parking. You can park near the Jakes Creek Trailhead and begin exploring in that area!
Things to do at Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains:
Explore Millionaire’s Row, Find the Troll Bridge & Hike on Little River Trail
One of our favorite things to do in the Elkmont area is to just explore some of the old building remains on the Little River Trail (originally known as “Millionaire’s Row”).
From the Little River Trailhead, you will see Spence Cabin on your left which is the only building that remains intact in this area. Be sure to take some time to go over behind Spence Cabin to see the patio which offers a beautiful view of the river!
My Great-Grandmother actually worked for Mrs. Alice Townsend who owned the cabin in its prime (with her husband W.B. Townsend, owner of the Little River Lumber Company and Little River Railroad). She used to tell stories about all the parties and fun they would have on this back stone patio next to the river.
About ¼ mile down the Little River Trail, you will see some old chimney remains on your right. If you walk on the path to that area, you will also find what we call the “Troll Bridge!” This is always a fun area for kids to explore!
And if you are up for a hike, you can take the Little River Trail for a 4.7 roundtrip hike to Huskey Branch Falls. Even if you aren’t up for that long of a hike, the views of the river along this trail are absolutely gorgeous.
Explore Daisy Town, the Appalachian Clubhouse, and Jakes Creek Trail
After exploring the Little River Trail a bit, be sure to head on up the hill and check out the houses at Daisy Town.
Make your way down the road and visit the Appalachian Clubhouse. Be sure to read about the history of the Club while you are there as well!
And in case you need more hiking options, be sure to check out the Jakes Creek Trail!
View the Synchronous Fireflies
Another thing that Elkmont has become known for over the years is the viewing of the synchronous fireflies that you can see in late May/early June. Read more about this phenomenon and how to sign up for it here.
Every year people put their name in a lottery that opens in mid-late April for a parking pass to see this unusual sight. It’s definitely a unique experience and worth checking out if you happen to be in the area during this time!
Of course my recommendation is if you are the camping type, just rent a campsite at the Elkmont Campground during this time frame and stay a few nights. This will give you a little more flexibility in viewing the fireflies!
Camp at Elkmont Campground
Elkmont Campground is one of 10 frontcountry camping options inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With 200 sites, the campground is easily the largest and busiest campground in the park.
Elkmont Campground is open between January 1 – November 1 so be sure to plan accordingly. It is recommended that you make prior reservations online, especially if you are visiting during peak times!
There is plenty to see and do in the campground from exploring all of the areas mentioned above to simply just enjoying the beautiful Elkmont area.
Hike to Laurel Falls
Another very popular thing for campers to do in this area is to visit one of the Great Smoky Mountain’s most popular waterfall hikes, Laurel Falls!
The trailhead for the hike is just a couple of miles from the campground. It is best when you can visit earlier in the day to beat the crowds, so be sure to take advantage of this close proximity!
The Elkmont Historic District is definitely a unique place to visit! There is plenty to see and do in the Elkmont area, so be sure to stop by and check it out the next time you are in the Great Smoky Mountains!
And for more family-friendly hiking suggestions head over to read more about our recommendations for the Best Family Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains!
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