Smoky Mountain History: 5 Places You Must Explore

August 04, 2023

One of the great things about Great Smoky Mountains National Park is that it’s full of rich history. You can visually experience what it must have been like to live in the area during the late 1800s and early 1900s. From beautifully preserved churches to homesteads, a gristmill, and even an entire abandoned town, there’s so much Smoky Mountain history to explore. Here are the top 5 places you must visit:

1. Elkmont

elkmont troll bridgeHiking the Elkmont Nature Trail is not only a peaceful walk through nature but also takes you to the abandoned logging town and an eerie troll bridge. What once started as an old logging town swiftly became the second-largest town in the area with cottages, a general store, a post office, a church, and more! Later on, it became a vacation spot with a community lodge. Many buildings are still intact, and some have even been restored by the National Park Service. The beautiful moss-covered troll bridge is one of the highlights of the area, as it looks to be straight from a European fairytale! Besides the structures in Cades Cove, Elkmont is one of the largest areas of historic places in the Smokies. 

2. Little Greenbrier School 

We also recommend hiking the Metcalf Bottoms Trail because there are a couple of unique things to see, including the Little Greenbrier School. This building was built in 1882 and used as both a school and a church. There’s also a small cemetery next to it that was used and maintained by the Primitive Baptist Church congregation. You can walk into the school and easily imagine what it would have been like to be a student there!

3. Walker Sisters Place

Walker Sisters Place in the Smoky MountainsOne of the homesteads we recommend visiting is the Walker Sisters Place! It’s also located just off the Metcalf Bottoms Trail, not far from the Greenbrier School. This homestead has a very unique history since 5 of the Walker sisters continued to live there long after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established. The last sister to remain living in the house passed away in 1964. After being closed to the public for about 2 years due to structural repairs, this 2-story cabin is open again for visitors to walk through!

4. Rock House  

Probably one of the best hidden gems in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Rock House on Old Sugarlands Trail. Believed to have been built in 1927 to be a private fishing cabin, this stone cottage has no roof, but the remaining structure is still intact. You’ll be able to see the fireplace and the smaller room most likely used as a kitchen. Remnants of an old bed frame and a gas stove can also be found at this historic site!

5. John Cable Mill

john cable millAs previously mentioned, Cades Cove is full of Smoky Mountain history. There are several cabins and churches worth exploring, including the unique cantilever barn, but one of the most popular structures is the John Cable Mill. Located just outside the Cades Cove Visitors Center about halfway along the Cades Cove Loop, this gristmill is the only working mill left in the area. If a volunteer is present while you’re visiting, you may be able to see corn ground in the mill with your own eyes!

These are just a few places to go for a lesson on Smoky Mountain history. You should also check out this self-guided trail to the Noah Bud Ogle cabin, where you’ll see even more interesting things about the early settlers of the Smokies!