The Fascinating History of Elkmont Ghost Town (and How To Get There)

row of houses in elkmont ghost town in the great smoky mountains national park

Many of the cabins in Elkmont ghost town have been restored (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

A history of Elkmont and what to know before you go

What is known as the Elkmont ghost town is a former logging camp town and once-booming resort town near the Sevier-Blount County line in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The first settlers in the 1800s were mostly hunters, homesteaders and small-scale loggers.

Interior of an abandoned elkmont home in the Smoky Mountains
Elkmont was once full of abandoned and decaying buildings (archive photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

The history of Elkmont in the Smoky Mountains

The town of Elkmont was established in 1908 when the Little River Lumber Company used the land as a base for mining operations. Not surprisingly, considering working conditions at the time, it was an especially dangerous place to live and work. The company began selling plots of land to rich families from Knoxville and the surrounding area for hunting and fishing cabins. By 1912, a resort known as Wonderland Hotel was built on a hill overlooking Elkmont.

Elkmont chimney remains
You can still see remains from some old cabins throughout the Elkmont area (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

In 1919, a group of elite businessmen bought the resort and rechristened it the Wonderland Club. Socialites from the club and the Appalachian Club gathered weekly for dances, live music and horseshoes. For the next two decades, the vacation destination hosted East Tennessee’s wealthy vacationers. When the national park came, Elkmont’s owners were given lifetime leases in the resort community to their cottages that were converted to 20-year leases in 1952. The leases were renewed once in 1972, but the renewal was denied in 1992. The buildings were scheduled to be torn down. However, they were saved when they were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A sign for the Appalachian club in Elkmont
Signs can be found throughout Elkmont that describe the area’s history (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Abandoned buildings in Elkmont

Abandoned home in Elkmont (archive photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the park had to decide which buildings to preserve. The decisions were based on cost, environmental impacts, the feasibility of preservation and the importance of the structure. Specialists within the park service and from contracted firms worked on the project. As a result, 18 of the cabins associated with the Appalachian Club are being preserved by the NPS today. More information about the buildings can be found on the NPS website. One by one, each cabin will be refurbished until all cabins near the Appalachian Clubhouse appear as they were in Elkmont’s prime. The buildings that were not marked for preservation have been removed. Yet, these buildings were not completely erased from the landscape. Traces of their existence remain.

A restored cabin in Elkmont
Some cabins that have been marked for preservation are being restored (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is Elkmont haunted?

Various logging and train accidents claimed lives and limbs, seeding the potential for angry ghosts – if you believe in that sort of thing – or good ghost stories, if you don’t. While I am a skeptic, I can surely concede that if there are such traumas a soul can suffer in life that may be bound to a place in the afterlife. And if you do see a lost soul in Elkmont, chances are it belongs to one of the workers who lost their lives on the mountain, such as Daddy Bryson and Charles Jenkins.

An elkmont sign shows restoration progress
A sign informs visitors about restoration efforts in Elkmont (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

On June 30, 1909, Bryson was driving a train stacked with logs heading to Townsend from Elkmont. As the train approached a sharp curve, Jenkins, the brakeman, applied the brakes, trying to account for the railroad line being wet with rain. The NPS reports that the brakes didn’t have enough sand. Therefore, the passengers and crew had to jump to safety. However, Bryson and Jenkins remained aboard the train and paid with their lives.

A restored cabin in Elkmont
A restored cabin in the Elkmont area of the Smokies (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Directions, hiking length and what to know

Visitors can explore the Elkmont area on foot. The area is located about seven miles past the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The Elkmont Nature Trail is a 0.8-mile loop. If you travel along the Little River Trail (4 miles) and the Jakes Creek Trail (2.7 miles), you’ll find a series of foundations, stone chimneys and stone walls. These are the remains of the once-thriving vacation resort.

Nearby, the Elkmont Campground is the largest and busiest campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is around 9 miles from Gatlinburg. From the campground, you can drive to the ranger station about 4 miles down the road. Turn left at the sign for Elkmont Nature Trail where you’ll find a parking lot. Reservations are required to camp in Elkmont Campground, which is typically open from mid-April to late November. You can also make a reservation for the Elkmont campground online at Recreation.gov.

RELATED VIDEO: Elkmont Ghost Town: What It Looks Like Today

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Have you visited Elkmont? Do you know of ghost stories? Let me know in the comments below.

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6 thoughts on “The Fascinating History of Elkmont Ghost Town (and How To Get There)”

  1. I used to work at Elkmont for the National Park Service. This story comes from my coworker at the time. Bill had been cleaning the Appalachian Clubhouse after a family reunion the previous day. He came to the maintenance building looking pretty shaken up. When he first arrived at the Clubhouse, he noticed an old man in the historically preserved part of the cabin. He was about to tell the guy that he wasn’t allowed in there. The man looked up and then vanished. Bill quickly opened all of the doors hoping that visitors would come inside so that he wouldn’t be alone. Bill never gets scared. A little while later, the lady responsible for the family reunion showed up because she forgot something in there the day before. Bill told her about the old man’s ghost that he saw earlier. She pulled out an old photo from the family reunion and asked, “Was this the man?” The hair on the back of his arms stood up. The man in the photo was the same man he saw. He was wearing the same clothes as the ghost. Turns out, it was the lady’s great grandfather, who was a pharmacist. He was buried in the clothes he was wearing. He drowned nearby in Jake’s Creek in 1914. I guess he wanted to be at the family reunion too.

    Reply
  2. Great place, stayed there for a week. Never new about the ghost. It was very cool fishing off of the rocks those bungalows were built on.

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  3. I have been visiting Elkmont since 1976. I have been all over Elkmont in various places at various times of day and night and have never experienced paranormal activity.

    Reply
  4. You ought to go up the road behind the now gone Wonderland Hotel. Deserted and abandoned cabins up there as well.

    Reply

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