A few months ago, a story went viral about an abandoned community in the Smoky Mountains. Many of my Facebook friends, locals and non locals alike, shared the story on their feeds. I wanted to see this magical place for myself, of course. But I quickly realized, like pretty much every other East Tennessean who read the story, that the photographer was talking about none other than Elkmont.
The history of Elkmont is an interesting one. When I first heard about the community a few years ago, saying something about an abandoned resort town that was once only used by the wealthy, I have to admit I was picturing crumbling brick mansions. Instead, these dilapidated structures are beautiful old cabins. Basically, after the area had been logged all it could, Townsend began to advertise the area as a mountain getaway. The wealthy in Knoxville had lifetime leases on the places, but given that was about a hundred years ago, they did in fact expire. Since 1992, the cabins have been in care of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Although there are plans for restoration and many of the cabins are under historical protection, for now, they are doing as we all will: returning to nature.
Although most of the buildings have severe structural damage, this is one area that I highly recommend if you are interested in exploring abandoned spaces in a less dangerous way. For starters, the cabins are literally right next to the Little River trail head. There's no danger of being in the middle of nowhere and getting hurt or running into someone you don't want to. Also, it's pretty obvious where you can and can't stand in the buildings; but still be sure to proceed with absolute caution and realize that everything is at your own risk. Oh, and of course, there could be critters hiding in the cabins.
Since the cabins are right off the trail head, there are several different hikes to take around the area of varying difficulty and length, so your trip to the mountains doesn't just have to be limited to just seeing buildings. My friend Ari and I took a short trip on one of our warmer winter days and did the Cucumber Gap Loop- a short, relaxed hike that's about 4 miles and features nice river and waterfall views.
I guess I'll never really know exactly why I'm so drawn to abandoned structures. I'm partially drawn to the history of it all: I can imagine people moving about like something from The Haunted Mansion. It also hits me right in the most spiritual part of my being. I think about returning to the Earth and cycles of nature, a prominent part in my personal views. Whether or not you share these same interests, Elkmont is certainly worth exploring to have a story of your own to tell.