While Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountains never sleep--I think "off-season" is a forbidden term in east Tennessee--it likely does see higher traffic when the weather warms up. And gang, the weather is warming up.

When it's time to pack up the SUV, or whatever takes you where you need to go, you might want to add another stop to your Smoky Mountains itinerary. Yes, I'm sure it's loaded, stem to stern, but if you want to do something that's a little off the beaten path, maybe you should venture, well, off the beaten path. Hidden in the mountains alongside all the exciting attractions, entertainment venues, and pancake restaurants,  are the remains of a huge logging town and resort for wealthy travelers. I give you Elkmont TN, an old Smokies ghost town.

I was wondering why anything would fall into "ghost town" territory in the Gatlinburg area, and then, before I could even finish my thought, I learned that the National Park Service has earmarked Elkmont for restoration. I mean, we ARE talking about an internationally significant tourist area that never lets any grass grow under its feet. It wouldn't make sense to just leave this alone.

Elkmont was first settled in the 1840s, but it didn't really explode with activity until Colonel Wilson B. Townsend purchased an enormous tract of land and opened the Little River Lumber Company. Townsend also built a railroad that connected the Elkmont logging site to his sawmill in the magnificently named Tuckaleechee Cove. It was the railroad that enabled the area to become a resort for the very wealthy.

The beginning of the end came when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established. Smokymountainnationalpark.com explains the choices facing the residents that eventually led to "ghost town" status:

Those who still called Elkmont home had to decide whether they wanted to sell their homes for full value and relocate immediately, or sell their properties to the National Park Service for a discounted price in exchange for a lifetime lease. Most of the leases expired in 1992, so the park had about 70 historic buildings with no one to look after them.

If you're heading to the Smokies and you plan to pack your adventurous spirit, Elkmont is open, and it's not terribly hard to find; Elkmont campground is nearby.

Enjoy your Smokies vacation, and if I've given you some tough choices with regard to how you're going to budget your time, well, I'm sorry...not sorry.

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