The Smoky Mountains hold secrets from bygone eras deep in the woods or among the national park attractions. Ghost towns litter the landscape — some hiding in plain sight; others buried underwater.
To truly appreciate the ghost towns in Tennessee and North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, you need to know the history of the national park formation and the Trail of Tears that forced the Cherokee from their native land.
All of that can be learned by visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the Museum of the Cherokee People in Cherokee North Carolina. However, we’ve gathered the most secluded, sensational, and sacred spots to consider exploring — even a Hollywood movie set.
NOTE: We’ve arranged this ghost town Smoky Mountains list so that you can drive to one after the other without too much backtracking.
Whether it was planned or ironic, it’s still a little convenient that the Fun Mountain remnants in Gatlinburg are near the Ghost Walk of Gatlinburg entrance. This land brings a double dose of ghost, as the Mountain View Hotel once stood on this prized hill of the parkway.
The hotel opened in 1926 and was torn down in the early ’90s to make way for the Fun Mountain theme park, which included a ski resort. Fun Mountain barely survived through the turn of the century. It closed in 2000, and skeletal remains of “fun” scatter across the woods.
NOTE: Obey “No Trespassing” signs on this property if you choose to explore it.
South of Downtown Gatlinburg
You’re technically in a ghost town when you visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the park. Maybe it’s more of a “Ghost Valley.” Before the government bought the land, Sugarlands Valley was once a popular destination for maple syrup tapping and logging.
Now, hikers can find remains of buildings and an old clock tower along the Old Sugarland Trail. While the Rock House at the trail’s turnaround point is the main draw, those paying close attention can find many more relics in this landscape.
Southwest of Downtown Gatlinburg
One of the most well-known ghost towns in the Smoky Mountains is Elkmont, but the popularity of the Synchronous Fireflies tends to outshine the ghost town appeal.
Evidence of human life goes back 8,000 years in Elkmont, and you can see the skeletons of the logging and resort town that sprung up in the late 19th century.
The National Park System eventually took over Elmont, and you can access the preserved remnants via the Jakes Creek and Little River Trails.
West of Elkmont
Cades Cove is the largest “ghost town” hiding in plain sight. As part of the “quiet side of the Smokies” (a designation given to the Smoky Mountain town of Townsend), this section of the park offers a scenic drive and a valley with distant mountain views.
The Cherokee hunted the land before settlers arrived in the early 1800s. As with many towns in our list, the government took the land to create the national park. Instead of leaving the buildings to rot, the park preserved many historical buildings here — the largest of its kind in the park system.
North Carolina, South of Cades Cove
In one of the most remote and roadless stretches of the mountains sits the remains of Proctor. It is closely tied to the Road to Nowhere, which is a popular hike in the Smokies.
Fontana was a small logging town until the Tennessee Valley Authority needed to create the Fontana Dam for hydropower during World War II. The town would be surrounded by water, but they were promised a road to reach what was left.
The “Road To Nowhere” plan was ditched in the 1960s by the government with just 30 miles left to go. That’s why you need a boat to get to Proctor now. Several cemeteries fill the land, with dilapidated buildings slowly being consumed by the wilderness — at least the part that isn’t underwater.
Under Fontana Lake
Judson suffered a similar yet worse fate than Proctor. When the lake levels are dropped to their lowest, parts of Judson might peek out from its watery resting place. The small town of 600 people drew in tourists until the 1940s when the Fontana Dam plans clearly showed that Judson would be underwater.
The only way to see what you can of Judson is to take a boat or get permission to visit when the lake is low.
Noland Creek Trail
East of Proctor and Judson, North of Bryson City
Not too far from the Road to Nowhere, the Noland Creek Trail in North Carolina weaves through the remains of several ghost towns and former homesteads. But, the cemeteries along the way have made this trail infamous. Estimates say there are at least 200 cemeteries in these woods.
Noland Creek Trail is known as one of the most haunted trails in the National Park System. If you really want to explore the ghost towns and aren’t intimidated by things like floating orbs, choose one of the backcountry campsites here. To help you plan your ghostly getaway, pick campsites 61 through 65.
East of Bryson City
Between Bryson City and Cherokee sits a piece of land that is said to bring peace of mind. Kituwah was the Cherokee Mother Town — the central location for the Cherokee Nation that lived on this land before settlers arrived.
You don’t see any building remains here because the town was burned to the ground during the Rutherford Expedition in 1776. The land was sold over the years, but the Cherokee bought it back in the 1900s.
Now, the Kituah Mound stands at about half its original height but is still considered a sacred place where a “peaceful spirit” reigns despite the atrocities that happened here.
The Fugitive Train Crash
Near Dillsboro, Southeast of Kituwah
You might also be interested to know that the remains of the train wreck scene from the 1993 movie “The Fugitive” are still in the woods near Dillsboro. The filmmakers actually crashed two trains to get that scene, so you’re seeing what was left behind after Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford (quite literally) ran from the area.
There are tours to the site, but when the leaves are off the trees, you can see it from the road. Also, it’s visible from a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad ride from Bryson City.
Balsam Mountain Inn
Balsam, Northeast of Dillsboro
The Balsam Mountain Inn covers the ground of a traditional small town, and it’s too enthralling to leave off this list.
This majestic hotel, once known as the Grand Old Lady, opened in 1908 and was the epitome of luxury resorts. She was even tough enough to thrive during the Great Depression. It was the advent of roads and more accessible hotels that led to her demise.
There’s another nickname ghost town seekers should know — The Stanley Hotel of the South. That’s a nod to the hotel that inspired the Stephen King novel “The Shining.” Balsam Mountain Inn is said to be haunted, but every experience has been with a “friendly ghost.”
Ghost Town in the Sky
Maggie Valley, North of Balsam Mountain Inn
On the other side of the Smokies, Ghost Town in the Sky once echoed with the sounds of laughter, gunfights, and lively entertainment.
From 1961 to 1998, this Wild West-themed amusement park transported visitors back in time, offering a taste of the frontier life with its thrilling rides, reenactments, and captivating shows.
True to its name, the Ghost Town in the Sky became an actual abandoned attraction after closing in 1998. You can see the remnants at the entrance to Cataloochee Ski Area.
“I remember going to Ghost Town in the Sky as a child, gawking and smiling at the street performances and musical shows. It was also the first place where I road a roller coaster — a totally thriilling experience for a 6 year old!”Tiffany Betts
North of Maggie Valley
In the late 18th century, the Cataloochee Valley attracted families seeking a peaceful and secluded life amidst the mountains. Then, the railroad came and the town (for better and worse) became more robust of a destination.
In the 1920s, the Interior Department bought out residents to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. By 1940, the remaining townspeople were forced out. Several buildings are preserved in the Cataloochee Valley, and you can visit with a pass to the national park.
Near the Tennessee/North Carolina State Line, Northeast of Cataloochee
If you’re up for a scenic drive and a trip to Pisgah National Forest, you can hike to the community of Lost Cove. This remote location in the hills near the Nolichucky River never had any roads, even when a few hundred people lived here.
The nearly 7-mile hike takes you to what’s left, even though it’s just a few houses. As you hike to the ghost town, you’ll be stunned by the views of its location in a gorge.
Touring the Ghost Towns in Tennessee & North Carolina’s Smokies
Ghost towns are normally associated with the Old West where people moved in, got rich off the mountains, and then took off for another destination. Here in the Smokies, the stories aren’t as whimsical. In fact, generations of families who were forced out of their homes by the park or other settlers still live in this region.
NOTE: Explore as you will, but honor the spaces where people’s lives were uprooted in the name of progress, preservation, or westward expansion. Please do not take anything from the ghost towns out of respect for those who lived here and to follow the Leave No Trace principles.
As you explore these ghost towns in Tennessee and North Carolina, you can discover even more attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains. You can attend fun festivals in spring and events in summer, as well as fall things to do and winter activities.