"Lodge - noun : a house or hotel in the country or mountains for people who are doing some outdoor activity"
Viking Mountain Lodge is an old, rustic, hand hewn log cabin near the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It overlooks Paint Creek and is located about halfway between the quaint mountain town of Hot Springs, NC and historic Greeneville, TN. VML is large enough to sleep 15 people in beds, and provides an excellent jumping off point for all kinds of outdoor adventures. Backpacking the Appalachian Trail, whitewater rafting the French Broad, zip lining through the Smokys, fly fishing the Laurel River, mountain biking the Paint Creek Trails, kayaking on the Nolichucky, and horseback riding through Cherokee National Forest, just to name a few. VML is available as a vacation rental for large groups, family reunions, or couples just looking to get away from it all.
Welcome to Viking Mountain Lodge!
This ain’t Ft. Wilderness at Disney World. It’s the middle of the Cherokee National Forest, partner. Rustic is not a theme here. It’s a way of life. It’s taken me eleven years to figure out how things work up in these mountains. Let me get you city folk up to speed. Your lives may depend on it…
This log home was built in 1977 for a man named Jack Chandler, and some of the locals still refer to it as “Jack’s Place.” The logs are all made of hemlock, hand-hewn on the exterior side. You’ll notice that there’s spots where the logs have twisted and shifted with age and as the bedrock has heaved over the years. This mountain is a living thing that’s constantly changing, causing cracks and gaps to open and close with the temperature, humidity, and the mountain’s aspiration. Personally, I think it just adds to the charm of Viking Mountain Lodge. Anyone can have a new log home built with perfectly straight and level joints, but as with people, it takes time to develop character. It took decades of rain, sun, and cold to foster the dark, silvery patina you see on the wood outside.
I love this house. It’s my home away from home. I plan to move here permanently when I retire. I don’t have shareholders, a board of directors, a corporate bank account, or a warehouse full of supplies to replace things that end up missing or destroyed. My last name is Traylor, not Hilton. I’m a construction worker, not a CEO. I’m just a regular guy and you are my guests. It’s my hope that by the end of your stay you’ll cherish this place as much as I do.
You will probably see all kinds of bugs and wild critters you’re not accustomed to seeing back home during your visit. There’s flies, bees, mosquitoes, snakes, mice, deer, coons, flying squirrels, and bears in these hills. If you give them their space, they’ll give you yours. 'Cept for the skeeters of course. You’ll need some kind of bug dope for those blood suckers. And there will be dogs. Lots of ‘em. You’ll soon be meeting Rusty. He’s the, well, rusty colored dog that lives across the street at Junior’s house. But more on them later…
The water here comes straight from the ground. There’s sulfur down there, and it’s possible that the water out of the tap may have a slight smell to it. Sometimes it does, sometimes it don’t. I figure it just depends on the mood of mountain myself. Either way, the important part is that it’s good, clean water. It probably fell as rain thousands of years ago and filtered through the rock and soil to then be pumped up through the well and into the cabin. It hasn't been chemically treated or mechanically separated. It’s just pure, all natural water from deep within the mountain.
After spending the morning walking around outside you said to yourself, “I wonder what’s up the road behind the cabin. It looks spooky up there. What’s with all of the ‘NO TRESPASSING’ and ‘Does anyone know you came this way?’ signs?” Well, there’s an old man they call Chandler that lives up there in the holler. They say he runs a couple of 'shine stills on his land that are heavily booby-trapped and that he uses the spring that feeds my upper pond to make his mash. I've never even seen the man, but then again, I don’t go traipsing across his property either. Personally, I'd rather not find myself crumpled up in the bottom of an eight foot deep hole in the ground, impaled by some of the local flora. If you decide to go up there, and you make it back in one piece, be sure and write about it in the guest book. I’d like to know what’s up there myself…
I’m pulling your leg people! Lynn and her family live up there, not some psycho with a chainsaw! The property has been in their family forever. As a matter of fact, Jack was Lynn’s brother, and this property was once a piece of their family’s land. Lynn's mom, Roxy, recently passed away and is peacefully resting in an old graveyard up on the ridge by the AT. She lived in an old clap-board house back in the holler that’s still standing there. They are great people, but please don’t go back there unless you’re invited. It’s just not good manners. If you’re friendly and wave as they drive by, you never know, you might wake up in the morning with a pile of homemade biscuits on the front porch! It happened to me!
Junior, Janet, and, soon to be your best buddy, Rusty all live across the street. Junior is a semi-retired master electrician that's the spitting image of Santa Clause, and Janet, his wife, is a very proficient artist. Rusty is the quintessential mountain dog, living outside year round. He's a leaner (you'll see what I mean) and loves people, especially kids. As much as you'd like to, please don't feed him, or any of the other neighborhood dogs, people food. I know it's hard to do because he's so lovable, but feeding another man's dog just don't sit well with folks around these parts, and some of the people food just don't sit well with Rusty's guts either.
I was cowboy camping in the front yard with my nieces and nephews recently (two 5 year olds and two 8 year olds [my sister had two sets of twins, WOW!]) and all night that night Rusty stayed at the foot of our sleeping bags. He'd get up every few hours and run to one side of the yard and bark, then the other side and bark, keeping God only knows what kind of critters away while we slept. He's one hell of a guard dog. My 8 year nephew cried all the way back to Maryland, not because he was going to miss his uncle, but because he was going to miss ole Rusty. When you're gone, I bet you miss him too. I know I do.
Standing on the front porch facing the creek, to your right just on the other side of the pond is an old tobacco barn that's on my neighbor property. It's old, it's rickety, and it's trespassing. Please, don't go over there. It's dangerous and we don't want anyone to get hurt on their vacation!
Lynn’s other brother, Uncle Joe, lives to the left. I actually didn't even meet him until three years after I bought the place! Uncle Joe keeps to himself, so best treat him like the wild critters. Give him his space, and he'll give you yours.
You may have noticed the sign in the cabin that says, “Welcome to Shadow & Gail's Lonesome Pine Lodge.” Well, I'm not Shadow. They are the folks that I bought the place from in 2008 and I didn't have the heart to throw the sign out. Call me sentimental. They sold this place because they were in the process of building a new cabin about a mile down the road. And what a place it is. Take VML, make it new, inject it with steroids, slap it on top of a ridge, and you've got Shadow Ridge Cabin. Shadow, Gail, and their daughter Hanna live in Chattanooga and make the three hour trip as often as they can. Shadow is a singer/guitarist that has been involved in the music scene for many years and has played with quite a few famous people, including Greg Allman. Gail is an accountant and works for their church, while Hanna is currently deciding which college to attend. She's leaning towards Tusculum College which is only about 20 minutes from the cabin, just outside of downtown Greeneville. Shadow Ridge sure would make one heck of a dorm! I can just see Hanna brewing up some corn likker for Chemistry 101 in Gail's claw-foot tub…
Shadow Ridge Cabin and Viking Mountain Lodge were both built by the same man, Charlie Rice. He and his wife Lynn live down Viking Mountain Road a mile or so. Charlie is a third generation cabin builder, and a true craftsman. Lynn is the caretaker of VML. She handles all of the things that I can't do from Florida, including cleaning, fixing broken pipes, repairing the well, and any other surprises that rear their ugly head. I wouldn't be able to share this wonderful cabin without her, so if you see her, shake her hand and tell her thanks.
If you stand on the bridge facing Junior's and look left, you can see a small log cabin not 700’ down the road. Charlie and Lynn own that place and have poured blood, sweat, and tears into remodeling it. It was destroyed in 2001 when a 500 year flood tore through this high valley, taking homes, bridges, and the road with it. They've spent three years of nights and weekends working to return that little place to its former glory and I'm pretty sure that when it was brand new it wasn't nearly as nice as it is now. If you happen to run into Charlie or Lynn, ask them about it and they may even give you the tour.
Chuck and Valerie live about a mile and a half up the road towards Bald Mountain. They have a farm with cows, a huge garden, and pond that is filled with crystal clear water from Paint Creek. Chuck teaches at a local high school and Valerie is a realtor. If you meet Chuck, casually slip some political comment in your conversation and see what happens. Make sure it's at least an hour before supper time or you'll spend the night hungry!
These folks are all my neighbors, but they are also my friends. Please be kind to them, treat them with dignity, and respect their privacy. If you do, when you leave here they may be your friends too.
Look across the street. Do you see that house? See the ridge above it? Just beyond that ridge is the famous Appalachian Trail (pronounced APPLE-LATCH-IN in these parts). It’s a well-worn footpath that stretches over 2,180 miles. Make a right and go 286.5 miles south to get to Springer Mountain, Georgia. Make a left and go 1,894.5 miles north to get to Katahdin, Maine. Now that’s a long walk. There ain’t no pavement. It’s just a rocky, dusty trail that’s often only a foot or so wide. The AT, as it’s known, is marked with white blazes, which are basically just 6 inch by 2 inch white stripes painted on trees and rocks every few hundred feet. So if you’re out hunting for “The Trail,” that’s what you should be looking for. I've walked the 17 trail miles from the cabin to Hot Springs, NC many times. You can’t miss it ‘cause the AT goes right through the middle of downtown! The last time I was asked how long of a trip it was to get to the closest watering hole, I told 'em it was a solid 8 hours and that they may want to find a good place to hole up for the night along the way. When they looked at me funny, I realized they were planning on driving…
See the road out front across the creek? It don’t end in no cul-de-sac, friend. No, it stops at 4,500 feet above sea level atop Camp Creek Bald. It’s also known as simply Bald Mountain or Viking Mountain. There are spectacular views of Greene County Tennessee and Blackstack Cliffs from the site of an old ski lodge that was operating up there in the 70’s. The lodge has long since been torn down and the debris was used to fill in the Olympic sized swimming pool. Now, there’s just a road, a grassy field known a Jones Meadow, the AT, and great scenery from this spot owned by the Forest Service. If you’re heading up that way and the weather’s nice, bring some chairs, a cooler, and grill. You can thank me later. Just be sure and clean-up after yourself. It breaks my heart to see all of the trash people tend to flagrantly toss around up there.
Feel like a night out? Well, you have some options. For drinks you could hit the Iron Horse Saloon in downtown Hot Springs. If you’re feeling REALLY brave (notice the heavy emphasis on “really”) you could try the Mountaintop Tavern. I’ve only been once, and I won’t frighten you with the details, but there is a pool table and cold beer. At least, there was the one time I went. On second thought, best just stick with the Iron Horse. It’s a great bar with good food and pretty impressive old fireplace. Of course, you could make the trip to Asheville for some live music at the Orange Peel too. They have plenty of bars downtown if that’s your scene.
If it’s food you’re after, head over to Ma & Pa’s. It’s good ole, down home cooking. You know grits, greens, cornbread, and such. You’ll be hard pressed to spend $50 there unless you bring 10 friends and you won’t leave hungry. Guaranteed. Not only is the food outstanding and inexpensive, but it’s also the closest place to get grub you don’t have to cook yourself.
Need groceries? You could hit the Creekside Market for convenient store supplies, or Ingles is the closest full-fledged grocery store. Creekside sells gas, tobacco products, beer, some light fishing tackle, and they have really good soft serve ice cream too! Take the cabin key with you to Ingles and use the tag on the keychain to get a discount.
If you’re a fan of history, you’d probably enjoy the museums in downtown Greeneville. They include Dickson-Williams Mansion, Nathaniel Greene Museum, and Andrew Johnson National Historic Site to name a few. Also, there’s the Greeneville Antique Market as well as several other antique dealers that dot the downtown area. The town is rich in history and was once the capital of the lost state of Franklin.
The French Broad River and the Appalachian Trail cross each other in downtown Hot Springs. The town is named so due to a geothermally heated natural spring on the banks of the river. At Hot Springs Spa and Resort you can soak yourself in private tubs filled with water from this unusual phenomenon. It’s the only natural hot spring in the US that’s east of the Mississippi. There’s also the Iron Horse Saloon, Bluff Mountain Outfitters (an outdoor shop), Smoky Mountain Diner (another option for home cookin’), and Huck Finn Adventures if you’d like to go rafting on the French Broad.