3 Forbidden Places Where Visitors are Not Allowed in the Smoky Mountains

Gregory's Cave has been off limits now for several decades

Gregory's Cave has been off limits now for several decades (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

They may be fun to learn, but these forbidden places in the Smoky Mountains are off-limits for visitors

I’ve been told over my 30 or so years living around the mountains of places I shouldn’t go. There are places that for a variety of reasons aren’t safe or aren’t welcoming. But in the Smokies, few places are forbidden or off limits. Verboten places as they like to say in Sweden. (Yes, I know that’s actually German). In this article, we’ll discuss three such locations in the mountains. 

There are forbidden places you can’t go to or aren’t allowed to go in the Smokies. Among them are Gregory’s Cave in Cades Cove, Dolly Parton’s authentic childhood home and The House of Fairies, a relatively new addition to the list. 

gregory's cave in the smoky mountains
Gregory’s Cave is an old abandoned tourist in the Smoky Mountains that’s now off limits (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

1. Gregory’s Cave

Not too far from the John Oliver Cabin on Cades Cove Loop Road is one of the better-kept secrets in the park, Gregory’s Cave. But it’s off-limits to anyone without the express permission of the National Park Service. It’s usually limited to scientific exploration. 

The cave had several different uses in the days before the National Park. It may have been used for saltpeter mining in the early 1800s. It’s not rare for significant caves to be found in the region. In fact, outside of the park, multiple commercial caverns certainly welcome tourists. And that’s what the Gregory family developed the cave into. It opened as a commercial cave in 1925 with wooden walkways and electric lights. It cost tourists 50 cents each to tour the cave, but the kids were free. 

The operation remained until 1935 when the Gregory property was sold for the National Park. The Matriarch – Elvira Gregory lived on the land until she died in 1943. 

Why is the cave forbidden?

Safety, first of all. The last thing the National Park Service needs is a bunch of amateur spelunkers lost underground in the mountains. Of course, some would say that’s the entrance to a secret underground city. We try hard not to listen to those people. If you go down into the mouth of the cave, you’ll see a pretty substantial gate blocking further access. Do not cross that gate.  

Dolly Parton mountain home bedrooms
Visitors can tour Dolly’s replica childhood home inside Dollywood in Pigeon Forge at Rivertown Junction, but her real childhood home is not accessible (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

2. Dolly Parton Childhood Home

Dolly Parton is famous for giving of herself. But this is one part of her past, her history that she does not share with the public. Or at least, she’s come up with a compromise. For those curious fans who want to know what Dolly’s childhood was like, there’s a replica inside Dollywood. It’s a gift from Dolly to her fans. It’s a window into what her life in the mountains was like. 

But the real thing? That part the fourth of Avie Lee and Robert Parton’s children keeps away from the public eye. The real thing is up on Locust Ridge. But it didn’t always stay in the family. Practical mountain folks, Dolly’s parents sold the old home when they no longer needed it. But when Dolly became famous and wealthy, she bought it back. It had gone through some remodels and additions, so she paid to have it returned to its 1950s status. She joked she paid millions to make it look as poor as it did when she was a child. 

Why is it forbidden?

This is the part of Dolly that she’s chosen to protect from the world. Trespassers are not welcome on the property. A tall fence surrounds it. Do not cross that fence. Dolly still has family members nearby and they are rightfully protective of her property. 

Fairy House Gatlinburg
The House of Fairies was once a stone springhouse (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. The House of Fairies 

In the years before the national park, the Smokies became something of a playground for the wealthy and elite. The House of Fairies began life as a stone springhouse on a 38-acre mountain retreat developed by Louis Voorhies. Voorhies, a Yale graduate and entrepreneur from Cincinnati, bought more than 100 acres of land where he built his mountain paradise. From 1928 to 1944, Voorheis employed a variety of craftspeople and workers to build and maintain the elaborate estate. 

In 1933, he worked out a plan with the National Park Service to donate the property. That plan allowed him to stay until he died in 1944. Over the years, the National Park Service has kept up some of the buildings for administrative purposes. Park officials even lived there for quite some time. But many of the landscape features are not being kept up. The mountains are being allowed to reclaim the territory slowly. The House of Fairies is in the process of being reclaimed – which leads to its fanciful nickname. 

Why is it forbidden?

Strictly speaking, it’s not. However, we believe visiting the old springhouse and maybe the Voorheis estate is now frowned upon. Last month, park officials began reaching out to blogs like our own and requesting that anything with directions to the House of Fairies be removed. The Voorheis estate is in an administrative area that is for official business only. Also, we’re told the structure itself and the vegetation around it are sensitive. Simply put, they don’t want visitors there. 

However, last time we checked, there was a sign on the property with directions to the House of Fairies. Also, a quick search of the NPS website reveals the specific locations of the estate as well as maps featuring the spring house. If it is off-limits, the messages are somewhat mixed.

In general, the Smokies and the surrounding areas are welcoming to visitors from around the world. However, there are places for various reasons – like safety, privacy or sensitive vegetation – that are off-limits. While the forbidden nature of these places may prove alluring, it’s best for all involved if we are respectful. It’s best if we all understand the bigger picture.  

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