December 12, 2023
With over 500,000 acres, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with all kinds of famous landmarks. However, it’s the lesser known landmarks that make the Smokies unforgettable. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, there are plenty of spots throughout the park you can escape to. Here are 4 hidden gems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you have to visit:
Standing on the grounds of a past logging camp and thriving resort town for the wealthy, Elkmont has deteriorated into an abandoned ghost town. Originally known as the “Little River” community, Elkmont was settled in the 1840s. When Colonel Wilson B. Townsend purchased 86,000 acres of Little River land in 1901, he built a railroad in order to transport timber from the riverside logging site to his company’s sawmill in Tuckaleechee Cove. This railroad opened up Elkmont to the rest of the public as a secluded destination spot for wealthy vacationers, mostly from the Knoxville area. Elkmont got so popular that the land was eventually purchased so these vacationers could create a resort community.
When the national park was established in 1934, many of the residents of Elkmont sold their properties and relocated. By 1992, there were over 70 abandoned buildings within the park with nobody maintaining them. Eventually, nature took over and created the historically haunting site known as “Elkmont Ghost Town.” Today you can visit the town and see 18 historic buildings that are still standing, including the Levi Trentham cabin, one of the oldest buildings in the Smokies. If you want to visit the town, take US-411 from Gatlinburg to Sugarlands Visitor Center. Then, turn onto Fighting Creek Gap Road and in 4.5 miles you’ll find Elkmont Road.
Between 1928 and 1944, Louis E Voorheis developed Voorheis Estate across the 38-acre site off Cherokee Orchard Road. Today, the estate consists of the main house, two guest cabins, as well as horse and apple barns. In 1933, Voorheis deeded the property to the National Park Service and in 1952 they took full management of the property. Despite lack of maintenance, many of the buildings remain in good condition.
One building you can’t miss while you’re at Voorheis Estate is the House of the Fairies . Originally the springhouse of the estate, the House of the Fairies is an old stone house that hikers love to stumble upon in the park. The house is located in the Twin Creeks area of the park, just 1.9 miles down the trail. You will have to veer off the path to find this hidden house but it will be well worth it! The hike is very easy and anyone in your family can do it! After you finish finding these hidden gems, head down to find some secret things in Pigeon Forge to experience!
One of the largest caves within Cades Cove is Gregory’s Cave. While the main entrance is a 15-foot tall, 20 to 55 foot-wide passage, there are many other side passages, one of which indicates mining activity as early as the early 1800s. Gregory’s Cave was originally constructed as a commercial cave. Owned by the Gregory family, the cave was opened to the public in 1925. The cave was also used as an emergency shelter that could hold up to 1,000 people for those who previously lived in the Cades Cove area. After the national park bought the property in 1935, the cave was closed and remains sealed off from the public today.
In order to find Gregory’s Cave, you’ll have to drive the Cades Cove Loop. Once you reach the John Oliver Cabin, follow the dirt road closed off to cars and go past the picnic tables. The cave will be up from the picnic area on the right. This secluded location and mysterious history makes the cave one of the best hidden gems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
While Clingmans Dome is an extremely popular destination in the national park, many people don’t know about the secret tunnel hidden under Clingmans Dome Road. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, the tunnel was created in order to keep Appalachian Trail hikers from having to cross over Clingmans Dome Road. While we don’t know the exact reasons the engineers decided on a tunnel instead of a crossing on the roadbed, there are a few theories. The first is that they didn’t want to construct switchbacks or stairs that would’ve been necessary to go up and down the crossing. The second is that the tunnel was designed for equestrian use to avoid conflict between horses and cars.
Now that you know where the tunnel is, it will be easy to find. The tunnel is located less than a mile from the junction between Clingmans Dome Road and Newfound Gap Road. It is a very short hike from where you park your car.
Now that you know how to find all these hidden gems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can start planning your next vacation. Want to know what else you can do in the Smokies when you stay at one of our cabins? Check out these 5 must-visit places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!