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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Abandoned Elkmont Ghost Town is Like Walking Back in Time

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is full of history and one of those gems is the Elkmont Ghost Town. It’s easy to get to but many people have no idea it exists, which is why we just had to check it out. 

There is something captivating about the Smoky Mountains. I don’t know exactly what it is but from the very first time I went several years ago, those mountains have called me back again and again. The misty clouds that settle in the high peaks, the snowy mountain tops in the winter, the intricate wildflowers in the spring, the pounding waterfalls, and the history of early settlers are all fascinating. I’ve done a lot of things inside the park and visited some pretty amazing places (Cades Cove is the best) but one place had eluded me until recently: Elkmont Ghost Town. 

Now, if you happen to stop by the Sugarland Visitors Center, not ten minutes from the Ghost Town, and ask the Park Rangers about it, they will correct you. The actual name of the abandoned town is called Daisy Town. However, it is commonly called Elkmont Ghost Town and since I think that name is cooler, that’s what I’m using here. 

Elkmont Ghost Town: Ruins of the Wonderland Hotel

History of Elkmont Ghost Town

The history of Elkmont is captivating. 

Originally settled in 1840, Elkmont was called “Little River” because it is located in the Little River Valley and right next to the Little River. But in 1901, Colonel Wilson B. Townsend, whom the nearby town of Townsend is named after, bought 86,000 acres of land right there along the river and called his company the Little River Lumber Company. This was at the time of the advent of the railroad system, which Colonel Townend built to transport his lumber to the sawmill in Tuckaleechee Cove, which is about 19 miles away today. It could have been longer in that time. 

Anyways, the railroad system ended up transforming Little River into a vacation destination where wealthy families from Knoxville would come to escape the heat. These wealthy families turned part of the town into a resort where the Wonderland Hotel was then built in 1912. It closed forever in 1992 and then crumbled in 2005 followed by a fire in 2016 that pretty much destroyed the rest of it. All that’s left are some steps around the property, rock foundations, and big chimneys. 

There are still cabins in the logging town of Elkmont that you can check out.

Why is Elkmont a Ghost Town?

Maybe ghosts live there, I don’t know, but it’s called a ghost town because precisely no living human dwells there any longer. 

When the U.S. Government turned the Great Smoky Mountains into a National Park in 1934, many people still lived and worked there. The government gave residents the option to sell and relocate immediately or sell at a lesser value to the government and retain lifetime leases where they could remain in their homes until they died or the lease was renegotiated. All but two leases expired in 1992 and the park was left with around 70 historic buildings. These included homes that people had lived in and a clubhouse for the town. 

The last lease ran out in 2001 and with no one living there any longer, the buildings started to deteriorate and probably did look like a ghost town. The National Park eventually decided to preserve 19 buildings and tear down the rest. The ghost town now has restored cabins on a street that looks straight out of a movie from the 1940s. The cool thing is that you can walk through many of the cabins!

Walking through the Elkmont Ghost Town 

Most of the cabins are open to the public to walk through. As we meandered down the empty street and ducked into the neat cabins, my imagination wandered as well. What was it like to live in this place as a logging family? What was it like to be in the wilderness amongst such beauty all the time? What was it like when the government bought all the land and you had to either move or lease your own property until death? 

The cabins are each unique and my kids and I loved figuring out what each room was used for – was that room a kids bedroom? Was this one a dining room? Did the fireplace provide enough heat for the family? 

One of the cabins you can walk through is that of Levi Trentham, an interesting figure who was deemed “The Prophet of the Smokies” and “Mayor of Elkmont”. He was a gifted storyteller who initially made his living trapping bears and selling their hides. When tourists started coming to the park, he found his calling as a guide. He also opened up a small grocery store but legend has it he couldn’t read so to handle accounting, he put nails on the wall for each customer and drew what they ordered on a stick. One customer got angry, thinking that Trentham had overcharged him because he was charged for a wheel of cheese instead of a grindstone. It turns out that Trentham forgot to draw a hole in the middle of the wheel so it looked like cheese instead of a grindstone.

There are kiosks around the cabins that tell you who they belonged to, when they were built, when the lease ran out, and about the restoration process by the National Park. The Appalachian Clubhouse is one of the buildings that is not open to visitors except on special occasions but they do have rocking chairs to sit in and information on the front of the building that tells you a bit about the history.  Elkmont was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. 

Nearby Jakes Creek and Spence Cabin

Levi Trentham’s cabin was moved from Jakes Creek, which is very close to Elkmont Ghost Town. From the parking area at Jakes Creek, you can see the cabins. 

You can hike along Jakes Creek, which follows the old railroad route from the Little River Lumber Company. It’s a beautiful trail and you can go as far or as short as you like. A very short walk along Jakes Creek to the left leads you to Spence Cabin on the left, which was built in 1928 by Alice Townsend, wife of Colonel Townsend. You can’t miss it – the building is pink. 

Spence Cabin was part of the Appalachian Club resort community where the wealthy people from Knoxville would come and visit via the railroad. The cabin sits right along the beautiful Little River and can be rented out from the National Park for weddings, family gatherings, or other types of events. There’s a kiosk by the river in front of Spence Cabin with a photo of people in the water obviously having a grand old time. This walkthrough history was just so cool. You can keep walking a little ways from the cabin and come across the remains of other buildings that were part of the resort community but they are just mostly chimneys. 

The Elkmont Troll Bridge

If you’re on any of the big Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge Facebook groups, the Troll Bridge always comes up. People want to know what it is and where to find it, as did I. 

You have to park in the lot for the Jakes Creek trailhead and walk maybe a quarter mile until you find a small spur trail on the right. The trail goes right to the small bridge. We missed this the first time we walked down the trail and spent quite a while backtracking until we found another group and eventually asked them. They directed us towards the bridge and we found it! 

The bridge is idyllic with moss covering the stonework in some places and goes over a very small creek. My kids enjoyed coming up with riddles to tell each other so they could pass over the bridge. It was super cute. 

Directions to Elkmont Ghost Town

Getting to the Wonderland Hotel, Elkmont Ghost Town, and the Troll Bridge is pretty easy. If you start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg on the Tennessee side, take Little River Road traveling west. Look for signs for Elkmont Campground around 4.9 miles and turn left towards the Jakes Creek Trail just before you reach the actual campground. Keep right and park near the gate.

To get to Elkmont Ghost Town, go past the Jakes Creek trailhead parking up the hill and turn right. There’s a parking lot there. 

To get to the remains of the Wonderland Hotel, once you turn onto the road leading to the Elkmont Campground from Little River Road, go past the unmarked gravel road until you see one or two small government buildings on your right. Across the street is a small pull-off with a kiosk that has photos and information about the Wonderland Hotel. There’s a short path up the hill that leads to the remains of the hotel. We wandered around up there for a little bit and then got back to the car and drove to Jakes Creek. 

One thing you need to know is that while there is no admission to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you do need to purchase a parking pass, which you can get at the Sugarland Visitors Center. Parking is $5/day, $15/week or $40/year.

Gatlinburg Sky Bridge

Need other things to do in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area? We have been several times and have a huge Guide to Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge where you can find information on things to do, where to stay, and where to eat.

Stunning Views at Chimney Rock NC: Just Perk of Visiting this Amazing Park

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Breath-taking views, a stunning waterfall, and more than a thousand stairs await you at Chimney Rock State Park in Lake Lure, NC in Western North Carolina. You may have seen photos of the iconic rock with an American flag flying high and wondered about this place. Kristina took her kids to this park and tells you everything you need to know to enjoy the spot with your family.

Every time I saw a photo of Chimney Rock overlooking Lake Lure and the Blue Ridge Mountains, I mentally made a note to take a day to go there and hike around the park. I finally decided to pack a lunch, a lot of water, and snacks, and head there on a gorgeous spring day.

Chimney Rock NC, birds eye view

Chimney Rock State Park

The park has a long and storied history, beginning with Dr. Lucius Morse, who sought refuge in the area to feel better from tuberculous. He bought 64 acres of Chimney Rock Mountain in 1902 for $5,000. Smaller purchases expanded the owned land to 1,000 acres. In the 1980s, Guilford Nanney began the extensive construction of the intricate stair system to climb the rockface. And in 1949, an elevator was added to help tourists reach the stunning views of Chimney Rock without climbing the stairs.

Throughout the years following, botanists and conservationists were added to the team of people who worked at the park given its unique ecosystem. Educational programs were designed for visitors and school groups.

In 2007, NC State Parks purchased the 996-acre park for $24 million.

If you love movies, you’ll be pleased to note that scenes from The Last of the Mohicans, Firestarter and A Breed Apart were all filmed at the park. And while it was not filmed at the park, scenes from Dirty Dancing were filmed a mile down the road at Lake Lure, which you can see from the overlooks.

Hiking at Chimney Rock State Park

Hiking is easily the most popular activity at the park. There are seven trails, none of which are very long unless you combine them, which my kids and I did when we went. The longest trail is the Skyline Trail, which is 2.2 miles roundtrip and has some incline, especially on the way back. It takes you to the top of Hickory Nut Falls, which you can’t see but the trail is still peaceful and beautiful.

You’ll definitely want to see Hickory Nut Falls from the bottom because it’s incredibly beautiful. The Hickory Nut Falls trail is only 1.4 miles roundtrip and pretty easy.

Let’s talk about the stairs because hiking Chimney Rock is like walking on a never-ending Stairmaster, except you get awesome views thankfully.

Chimney Rock, the one with the American flag flying high, is 2,280 feet above sea level. The drive up to the parking lot from the ticket booth is around two miles so you’re closer than down at the town. My 10-year-old, in her famous last words before we began the climb, said: “oh, that doesn’t look too high!”

It was high. There are 499 steps from the parking lot to Chimney Rock, with stops on the way to Pulpit Rock and other really cool little caves. Definitely see those.

Then once you get there and want to exert yourself further, ascend the hundreds more steps up to Exclamation Point, which sits at 2,480 feet above sea level. It’s truly beautiful up there. The company that the park contracts out some of the management of the park to had an employee stationed there to make sure everyone was safe and to answer questions, which I really appreciated it.

This is the start of the Skyline Trail. It has some steps but it’s most a wooded trail through the forest along the bubbling creek and a nice break from the crowds. After maybe five or 10 minutes on this trail, you’ll come to another overlook, Peregrine’s Point, the highest point in the park at 2,640 feet. We stopped to eat here and enjoy the views of the gorge.

We hiked up to Chimney Rock and Exclamation Point and then hiked the Skyline Trail. Because I really wanted to see the waterfall, I bribed my kids by telling them I’d get them ice cream when we left and we hiked to the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls. We clocked more than 1,000 stairsteps.

Before you ascend to the upper parking lot, you’ll see a rock climbing wall and next to it is the short Great Woodland Adventure Trail, which is perfect for kids. There are 12 discovery stations along the 0.6 mile trail where children will learn about animals and plants in the park.

Accessibility and Other Programs

If you’re wondering just how hard those stairs are and if you/your kids can do it, we saw people of varying abilities the whole way. I’m fairly athletic and in shape and it was hard for me. My kids fared a bit better somehow. It’s so important to take your time and have enough water. There is a sky lounge right before you climb the final steps to Chimney Rock where you can get water if you need.

For those who cannot climb the stairs for whatever reason, there is an elevator at the park you can take to get to Chimney Rock. The views up there are beautiful and if you think you can climb the last 44 steps to the rock itself, you can do it from where the elevator arrives.

Important info to note: no dogs are allowed in the elevator except for service animals; and, because of maintenance, call before you go to make sure the elevator is in operation.

Chimney Rock also hosts several programs throughout the year, such a Santa event during Christmas and musical programs. Check their website for the most up-to-date information. They also have the TRACK trail adventure program for kids who complete challenges around the park. They can win prizes for doing so.

If you’re the adventurous sort, you can rock climb with Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School at the park. The minimum age is 7 and there is no maximum.

And you can even have a birthday party there! Just don’t make your friends climb the stairs to get their goody bag.

Visiting Chimney Rock and Tickets

Chimney Rock State Park is one of the only NC State Parks that charges admission. Tickets are $17/adult, $8/kids 5-15, free/kids 4 and under. You can purchase online or at the gate. During holiday breaks and peak seasons, especially during the brilliant fall colors, the park will close due to capacity so get there early. A family one-day pass (two adults and up to three kids ages 5-15) is $45 online.

If you are thinking that’s a steep cost, you’re not alone. That’s pretty much the reason I put off going to the park for so long. Here are some things to make it more affordable:

  • If you have an annual pass to the Biltmore, that gets you a $2 discount off an adult ticket and $1 off a youth ticket.
  • An annual adult pass to Chimney Rock State Park is $32 and a youth annual pass is $14. This is a great option if you want to go multiple times a year.
  • AAA members get $2 off per adult and $1 off the youth ticket for up to six people.
  • You can visit Chimney Rock in the winter and receive discounted admission.
  • If you purchase your ticket after 4 pm during Daylight Savings Time, you can come back for free with it the next day. During winter months, the cutoff time is 3 pm.

Hours at the park for 2023 are January 1 – March 11 from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, March 12 – November 4 from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, and November 6 – December 31 from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas; Christmas Eve closes at 3 pm).

Be sure to check their website and Chimney Rock Facebook page for park info and unexpected closings.

Things to do Nearby

Chimney Rock Village is an adorable little town to stroll around in. There are lots of great little shops, like Cliff Dwellers Gifts, coffee houses, and restaurants. There’s a gem mine business and you can relax and eat down by the river.

The free Flowering Bridge in next door Lake Lure is quite a treat. Blooms are gorgeous in the spring through fall in particular.

Flowering Bridge in Lake Lure, NC

In the summer, you can swim at the Lake Lure beach and paddle on the lake.

For more things to do near Chimney Rock State Park, be sure to visit our guide to the area.

Have you climbed those stairs at Chimney Rock State Park?

Chimney Rock State Park
431 Main Street, Chimney Rock, NC

Kidding Around WNC: things to do in Western North Carolina towns

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Spend some time Kidding Around WNC. Find things to do, where to visit, where to eat, and lots more!

The Park at Flat Rock: Amazing Obstacle Course Playground in Flat Rock, NC

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Have you visited the Park at Flat Rock in Flat Rock, NC? We are always looking for fun and entertaining playgrounds for our kids and we hit the jackpot with The Park at Flat Rock.

The Park at Flat Rock is just an hour from Greenville, SC, and in our experience, it’s totally a worthy day trip spot near Hendersonville, NC.

I visit Flat Rock, NC often because my family loves to go to the Carl Sandburg Home for hiking and the opportunity to play with goats. It was on one of these adventures that we came across probably one of the coolest playgrounds I had been to with my kids at The Park at Flat Rock. 

This article includes:
About the Park at Flat Rock
What is that super cool playground in Flat Rock, NC?
Things to near The Park at Flat Rock
Quick Review

Playground equipment at the Park at Flat Rock

Mom Review: Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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If you have visited Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you have probably walked by with curiosity about what may be inside the Ripley’s Moving Theater. Reviews of this 5D theater, including our own mom review, find that the ride is a great experience for big kids and tweens looking to have fun while exploring downtown Gatlinburg.

What is the Ripley’s Moving Theater anyway?

Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater is exactly what you think it is – one of those moving roller coaster-esque experiences where you are seated in one chair the entire time, but through the magic of 3D and moving chairs and giant screens, you feel exactly as if you have been on a roller coaster or a jet plane or a parachute or a log flume or a helicopter or a sinking ship or all of the above.

Ripleys Moving Theater

Find a place to stay in Gatlinburg, TN. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Our Ripley’s attendee was rather enthusiastic and very kind and quite chatty as we prepped ourselves for the “ride”.  For my kids, this was their first moving theatre experience to their recollection.  (Seems to me I have vague memories of riding one at some museum with them, but as not one of them said they could remember that and my memory is rather hazy on it, we’re calling it the first.)  The theatre was small, but more than adequate for a large number of guests.  During our ride, there was only our family and two other couples. 

London and Mosely decided rapidly and emphatically that they were not interested in the seats that moved a lot and anxiously sat together in the first row – a row of seats that were completely stationary.  Provided for those guests who were pregnant, suffering from heart conditions, suffering from back pain, prone to motion sickness, or otherwise unable to actually enjoy the experience for which they had just forked over some cash.

I knew the girls would be missing the real gist of the ride, but I wasn’t willing to force the motion on them if they truly were not interested.  They still both received their 3D glasses and they seemed content with their choice.

What Happens During the Ride?

During our ride – where we faced landslides and avalanches and swept through both the jungle and the tundra, also the Arctic and the ocean (we were really time and space traveling) – we were jolted and raised and shaken in our seats.  The kids (the ones in moving seats with me) laughed and sighed and screamed at all the appropriate places.  I felt a lot like I was just in a car accident and suffering through some serious whiplash, but I wanted to be a team player and not an old person prone to motion sickness (which is what I actually am, in fact) so I endured the shifting and the shaking and the jolting and the jarring.  I endured.  They enjoyed.  (That seems par for the parenting course sometimes, does it not?)

We never did count all the “Ds” but there was the movement of the chairs of course and the 3D glasses and screen and another was also water that sprayed on us as we went down the waterfall and snow that fell from the “sky” as we hung out with the penguins.

London and Mosely, as one might expect, did not report their enjoyment levels to be as high as say, Otto and Piper, and Bergen did.  However, Mosely also did not suffer from an upset stomach, to which she is prone, so – that’s a win.

It was fun to see the younger kids, especially Otto and Piper, really get a kick out of the moving seats and the snow coming down (I actually really liked the snow effect too).  I can’t say the movies are high quality – they are definitely more about falling coasters and moving fast than any semblance of a plot or characters.  But – hey, that’s not why we were there.  We were there for 3D glasses, falling snow inside a building, and jumping off virtual waterfalls in a virtual boat!

Plan your own visit

Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater
800 Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN

Open 365 days a year
Sunday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.

$16.99 per adult ticket. $9.99 per child ticket. Attraction bundling is available.

Would your kids love a visit to the 5D Museum in Gatlinburg?

Read our other Gatlinburg Reviews: 

Zoos, Nature Centers, & Aquariums Within 2.5 Hours of Greenville

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Looking for a zoo or aquarium to explore near you? What kid doesn’t love getting up close and personal with a gray wolf, black bear, a giant shark, or a creepy tarantula? Which is why you might be thinking, “where are all the zoos and aquariums near me?” If you live near Upstate, SC, you’ve found the list you’re looking for.

Families can check out all of those animals and more with the many zoos, nature centers, and aquariums all within a two-and-a-half-hour drive or less from Greenville, SC. This list includes zoos and aquariums in Greenville, SC, Columbia, SC, Atlanta, GA, Charlotte, NC, and Western North Carolina.


Zoo Atlanta: Watch Adorable Panda Cubs Romp and Play in Atlanta, GA!

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Have you visited Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta, GA? The large zoo is home to some amazing animals to observe, like giant pandas, elephants, rhinoceros and tigers. Add in a wide variety of birds, giraffe, otters and a special children’s zoo section with farm animals and attractions, and you have a pretty fabulous day trip.

My family visited Zoo Atlanta when we were in the Atlanta, GA area. Here’s everything we loved, plus some tips to help make your visit super enjoyable.


10+ Beachy Adventures to Have at Huntington Beach State Park

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Have you visited Huntington Beach State Park? If you’re looking for an all-in-one camping experience that includes the beach, an abundance of wildlife, a castle, a nature center, and opportunities for learning and adventure, Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet is the place. I spent an incredible couple of days there and was planning to return even before I left. 


Southeast Travel Bucket List: Most Unique, Best Places to Visit in the South

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Where are the best places to visit in the south? Where are the south’s coolest family travel spots? You need some new southern travel ideas, and this is the list with all the answers. You’ll get the travel bug after reading about these awesome places to put on your vacation bucket list!

At Kidding Around we love to travel with the kids, and these are some of our absolute favorite family places to visit in the Southeastern United States.

I’m a master at making lists and do it for everything – the grocery store, articles I have to write, packing lists for trips, lists on what to cook for holidays, and my ultimate bucket list. I keep a running list of bucket list items that are specifically within the Southeast part of the United States since it’s where I live and can easily drive to, which saves a ton of money on plane tickets. 

So I’m here to share that list with you. It’s not a comprehensive list but it does contain things I’ve done because they were on my bucket list already, some I’ve done because they were so cool and now I’m telling you about them because they deserve to be on the list, and a few others because our readers said they are on their own bucket lists. My definition of a bucket list place is somewhere that my kids and I will be talking about long after we go and is a unique and interesting experience.

Get ready to make some amazing memories with your families with any of these Southeast Bucket List places!


Ride an Indoor Helicopter at the Cradle of Forestry near Brevard, NC

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The Cradle of Forestry is a hidden gem in Pisgah Forest up near Brevard, NC. It’s a fascinating place and has lots of special events and both indoor and outdoor fun.

Sometimes there are cool places hidden in plain sight that you may drive by so many times and just never notice. We try to find these kinds of neat places and tell you about them so you can experience all the coolness we did! One such place is about 90 minutes from Greenville nestled in Pisgah Forest near Brevard, NC called the Cradle of Forestry. It’s amazing and totally worth the trip up there (plus, I’ll tell you some other neat things to do in the area). 

Cradle of Forestry

Holmes Educational State Forest: This Living Outdoor Classroom in NC is Perfect for Exploring

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Have you visited Holmes Education State Forest near Hendersonville, NC? KAG’s Elizabeth Lambert visited the park with her family and has all the information about the trails to hike, and things to do and see at Holmes Educational State Forest.

holmes educational state forest

Are you looking for a crowds-free place to take your family on a sunny spring day? I was able to spend a beautiful day at this forest near Hendersonville, NC with my kids, picnicking, hiking, and exploring. What we saw, we loved. From an out-of-commission NC Forest Service helicopter and a Labyrinth to gorgeous views and exciting wildlife, there truly is something for everyone at Holmes Educational State Forest.