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The Beauty of Jakes Creek Falls–The Sadness of Neglect

Friday July 6, 2018                                                                                           Most Recent Posts:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park                                                              Going Back In Time
                                                                                                                         Change of Plans


In Shenandoah National Park in 2015 I made my goal to hike all 105 miles of the AT that went through the park  In Acadia National Park we tried to climb to as many peaks as we could.  Here in the Great Smokies I’m going to try to visit as many of the waterfalls as I can.

My first was Cataract Falls on Monday. Today I’m looking for Jakes Creek Falls.


The trail starts at the top of a road just outside Elkmont Campground.   The Campground is located on the site of the former lumber company town of Elkmont established in 1908 by the Little River Lumber Company as its base of operations in taking out the big timber in this area. 

Elkmont evolved from a collection of small farms in the area which was originally called Little River.  The lumber company bought the land and operated from 1908 to 1926 when it moved operations to Tremont.   These operations dramatically changed the landscape of the area as you can imagine.  Millions of board feet of old growth timber were cut and hauled out  leaving vast clear cut areas.  The company built a railroad yard, machine shop, post office, commissary, and housing units at Elkmont.  The camp was connected to the company headquarters and main mill in Townsend by a rail  line that ran along the river and is now Little River Road.

The trail begins on what was an old timber railroad bed and runs along the creek which is lined with gorgeous rhododendron blossoms.


IMG_6292As the road climbs I run into the remains of what I’m later told was an area known as “Society Hill”, a part of a 1910 resort community known as “The Appalachian Club” with wealthy members from the Knoxville area who wished to escape the heat in the summer.  During and after the time that the Little River Lumber Company worked in this area the company, and later a group of Knoxville businessmen, sold property lots to private citizens.  Can’t imagine wanting a summer place in a lumbering area but . . . .  Judging from the name “Society Hill”, these must have been some very nice places.  Seems a shame to just let them deteriorate rather than use them for income or just for the public to see them.  I do know that some owners were given extended leases and allowed to renew them with the  last one expiring in 2001.  I wonder how many of the mountain people had this opportunity other than the hard fighting Walker Sisters.

These homesites had beautiful views of the creek below.



The road narrows and I’m happy to see that Jake’s Creek Trail goes off to the right on what looks like easier hiking.


Scarlet Bee Balm is coming into bloom along the trail.



At 1.6 miles the 6 foot Jake’s Creek Falls and its cascades come into view.


It’s absolutely lovely with a nice sized pool.  I wonder again when during the year is it hot enough to want to swim in that water?


The closer I get, the more inviting it looks though it’s not the least bit hot here in these mountains.  Yet it’s plenty hot in the valley where Winnona is.


1.6 miles is just getting me started so I walk on up the trail and come to a one log foot bridge.  I love these.



The trail turns into a two track.  I’m not sure if this is still the lumber road and just no longer graveled.  I know the company logged way up these mountains as high as Clingman’s Dome which is the highest point in the park..  It’s incredible how nature has recovered from such massive wanton destruction though the old growth trees are few and many are now sucumbing to foreign pests and diseases.


Further on, it turns into a single track which feels more like a “trail” to me.  Check out that mushroom in the lower right.  More on them later.


Along the way here, through the trees I can see and hear much larger falls but I’m not a bushwhacker and don’t really approve of off trail erosion creating hiking so I take what pictures I can.  


I zoom in when it’s possible  The power of the water is so clear.


As the creek  and I move up and down some are closer to me.


Here I find pink rhododendron. 




Many tributaries to cross as I hike.  Some easier than others.



I’m at about 3 miles when I head into this “laurel thicket” as the mountain people called it.  Almost looks like I’m headed into an Alice rabbit hole.  Shortly after, I return the way I came.  By the time the hike is finished, I’ve done 7.2 miles and had a wonderful time in these mountains finding my second and many other waterfalls.

There are few flowers in the woods in July but plenty of mushrooms in all colors.  shades of tan and beige, white, orange and even red though I didn’t see any of those today.   Some are almost velvety, others are fringed, others smooth.  It’s amazing how many there are.  These are just a few of the ones I saw.  Several were holding water.


After the hike, I return to my car and drive through an area the park has decided to restore after years of neglect.  This incudes the original Appalachian Club and the houses adjacent to it which were known as Daisy Town.  I don’t really have the time now to do this justice so I put it on my plan to return list.

IMG_6506Instead,  as I drive down toward the main road.  I stop at a sign for the Wonderland Hotel. 

The story is that The Appalachian Club was rather exclusive in its membership and thus three Carter brothers bought a second plot  of land two years later and built the hotel and later a restaurant.  This too was a private club but in time their doors were opened to the general public.  They became a popular tourist destination.   In addition to hauling logs, trains of the Little River Railroad brought passengers to the area and both the Hotel and the Club had small train stations adjacent to the railroad tracks.  The hotel was still operating in the 1970’s with 26 guest rooms and a dining room known for serving excellent food.  It closed in November of 1992 and alhough the buildings of the entire resort area were added to the Naitoinal Register of Historic Places in 1994, the money to restore them was not forthcoming until very recently and thus none of the Wonderland Hotel or its cabins remains.  This information and the vintage pictures come from the sign which attracted me.  These are the steps to the hotel in the past and in the present.

Steps to the Wonderland Hotel today

Just beyond the top of the steps I find this nearly obscured circular stone structure.  Could it be the fountain from the picture below it of the hotel?



Such a shame that these steps and what was once obviously a magnificient fire place are all that remain of the hotel a mere 26 years after it closed.  It’s up to all of us to make sure our representatives provide enough money for our parks so that we aren’t left with the ruins of things that should have been preserved for both their historic, cultural and architectural value.




I walk further up the road and find steps that go to ruins of the cottages which surrounded the lodge.  Nothing is left.



Amazing stone work.  It appears this entire chimney was made from river stone.


IMG_6511It was a lovely hike along Jakes Creek to the falls and beyond but as I climb back down the steps that once led to the Wonderland Hotel I am filled with sadness at the neglect. 

On another day, I’ll visit the 13 structures the park service decided eventually to save.  I know they will say they could not save them all but one that they saved, the Spense Cabin, is now available for rental and numerous weddings are held there.   This country spends a lot of money and how our government chooses to spend it speaks loudly about what we as a country value.  It’s not what we say, it’s what we do.  I believe the hotel and the club and their cabins might well have been money making enterprises for this park which charges no entry fees.  At the least they might have paid for their restoration and upkeep.  Where were our philanthropists?  Especially local ones?  The money spent on the TV campaign ads here in Tennessee alone for the congressional and gubernatoral elections this fall could more than have paid for this work.  I suspect that was true in the 1990’s as well.    Only the steps remain.


  1. There must have been a forest fire that destroyed them. Great hike and even better pics of it for us to enjoy. With all the heat this summer a place like that would have done a booming business.

  2. So interesting. It must have been a magnificent place.

  3. You are off to a good start;o)) Two falls down and how many too go?? With all the rains, the falls are really falling as are the rivers and streams!!! All the water makes everything so beautiful!!

  4. I'm excited about seeing all the falls as you reach your goal here! We've been enjoying several very full water falls this route. I'm guessing your forests must have less bugs, or you have good repellent. There are few flowers more beautiful that a pink rhoddie! Love all the pretty mushrooms. Too sad that the necessary funding wasn't applied to these wonderful old structures. I'd think that if fire destroyed them it would be included in the history plaque. Those chimneys and stairs are certainly hardy!

  5. It's sad that so many historic sites go to rack and ruin. We saw the same issues when we lived on Sandy Hook, NJ which has decommissioned Fort Hancock, so many beautiful historic buildings representing 1800s construction left to fall down. The NPS had very limited funding and they tried to do their best but it wasn't enough. And yet the park admission fees go to the U.S. Treasury and just a tiny fraction to the National Park. Go figure.

    PS: I had no idea what the trees on the cruise ship were. I should have brought you along, you're my flora and fauna expert. :c)

  6. That's so sad about the Wonderland Hotel. We actually spent a night there sometime in the 80s. It was not in great shape then but the setting was so peaceful. We will always remember sitting out on the big porch. It was definitely like going back in time. Such a shame the funding wasn't there to get it restored.

  7. The waterfalls are particularly pretty.

  8. I have to admit I skimmed your post as I have to lie down. I'll come back to read, but your pix are wonderful, as usual. I"m trying to keep up with reading all the wonderful blogs I love, but it isn't easy. I'll be back.

  9. Such a shame about the Wonderland Hotel...the stone chimneys and stairways to nowhere are so poignant. What a loss to our cultural heritage. Your hikes are so beautiful in those deep eastern forests. The lovely deep pools look so inviting! But really, aren't there any biting bugs? It looks like the perfect habitat for mosquitoes!

  10. Great pictures and I sure admire your determination.

  11. Such beautiful stonework on that old fireplace. Too bad the hotel is no longer.

  12. After reading this post I went back to my posts when we were at the Smokies and check if we had been to this area. It looked like this could be on the other side of the park. It looks like you are well underway with your waterfalls goal, for my post also had several visit to waterfalls.

  13. Oh those one log bridges. I crossed on one that leaned almost 45° in Olympic NP many years ago during a torrential downpour. Sadly, our managers of public lands sometimes don't want the responsibility involved in preservation and maintenance of structures. Plus there's usually no money. Often takes a friends of group or partner assoc. But with so many gone I wonder if there was fire. Glad at least some will be preserved. Nice start to the waterfalls.

  14. It is a shame that we've lost places like Society Hill and many old historical buildings, but it looks like Mother Nature is doing okay. That's my main concern. Nice Post.

  15. Nature is taking back the land. There is some mystery in the ruins. Lovely stonework on the chimneys. Beautiful falls and flower and muchroom pictures yet again.


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