I explored an abandoned resort town in the Great Smoky Mountains where wealthy city dwellers vacationed 100 years ago. Take a look around.

  • There's a resort town in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that was abandoned in the late 1900s.

  • The National Parks Service began restoring the ghost town in 2009, and now it's open to the public.

  • I visited the town, called Elkmont, and toured the insides of cabins built more than 100 years ago.

Hidden in the lush woods of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a once-abandoned resort town known as Elkmont is full of 100-year-old cabins.

I visited in the spring of 2023 and was amazed to find the cabins preserved and restored by the National Parks Service were open for public viewing.

When I made plans to visit the historic district, I expected to wander outside cabins and see their facades, so I was excited to find I was actually able to step inside them for a more intimate look at what life was like 100 years ago.

Elkmont Historic District is in a valley on the northern border of the park just south of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

A map of Tennessee has a red arrow pointing to Elkmont Historic District.
Elkmont Historic District is in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.Google Maps

I traveled to the town by taxi. Drivers can take the US-411 from Gatlinburg and turn at the "Elkmont Campground" sign, according to Visit My Smokies, a tourism site run by Sevier County. From there, take a left at the sign that says "Elkmont Nature Trail."

When I arrived in Elkmont, I learned about the land's rich history through on-site information provided by the NPS.

An informative sign shows text titled "Restoring the Past" with photos of cabins on the right
On-site information about Elkmont Historic District.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

According to the site's historical markers, the land was used for farming in the 1800s. Then a railroad was built in the 20th century, bringing loggers and tourists to the area. This led to the establishment of a resort town.

About 100 years ago, wealthy Tennessee travelers took the train to the resort community to escape hot summers in cities and find "harmony with nature," according to the same source.

An emerald green porch with more cabins behind it
The front porch of a cabin in Elkmont Historic District.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Families spent their summers relaxing on the porches of their vacation cabins and playing outdoors, one NPS marker said.

The resort town diminished after the National Parks Service bought the land in 1934.

Three cabins in the woods
Cabins stand in the woods among several trees.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Residents had the option of selling their cabins for full price or at half-price with a lifetime lease, according to Visit My Smokies.

By the late 20th century, the once-booming resort community was a ghost town.

Inside an abandoned cabin with broken windows and a collapsing roof
An undated photo of an abandoned vacation home in the Elkmont historical district.ehrlif/Getty Images

In 1992, the NPS stopped renewing leases and the abandoned cabins deteriorated.

In 2009, the NPS announced plans to preserve Elkmont's historic buildings.

An image of the NPS information plates showing cabins before and after renovations
An image of the on-site information showing cabins before and after renovations.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Volunteers removed trees, repaired roofs and ceilings, and added insulation to the cabins, Knox News reported.

During my visit, I explored the insides of all the cabins lining the pedestrian street.

A road lined with cabins and trees
A paved road lined with cabins in Elkmont Historic District.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

There are 16 of them, 10 News reported.

The oldest cabin in town was built in 1830 and then moved in 1932 to serve as a guest house in the resort community, according to NPS on-site information.

Two cabins in the woods
The oldest cabin in Elkmont is nearly 200 years old.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

The one-story building stood out to me because I thought it looked older than the rest with a distressed, wooden facade that remained unpainted.

Inside, there was a single, large room with nothing but a stone fireplace.

Inside a cabin with a fireplace in the middle and red windows on either side
A wide view of the single-room cabin.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

I thought the weathered, empty home felt eerie.

In fact, all the cabins were free of furniture.

A sink and faucet in a kitchen with a window above it
A kitchen in one of the cabins.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

But I thought details like built-in kitchen counters and cabinets gave them a sense of a past life.

Looking out the windows of these historic cabins, I thought about what it would have been like to vacation here a century ago.

A cabin is seen from a window
A view out the window of one of the cabins.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

I pictured waking up to natural views with no agenda. I thought it seemed like the ideal getaway for city dwellers like me.

On my way out of Elkmont, I noticed a handful of families wandering the street. This made me think that the site is no longer the ghost town it once was.

A paved road in the woods with cabins and trees on either side. A person pushing a stroller is seen in the distance on the left side.
A person pushes a stroller through Elkmont Historic District.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

I left Elkmont with a sense of what the once-abandoned resort community was like and felt grateful for the preservation crew that made it possible for me to visit.

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