Avent Cabin provides hiking treasure hunt and history lesson

June 19, 2015

Avent Cabin - photo by Julie Dodd

by Julie Dodd

Watercolor of Avent Cabin
Mayna Treanor Avent’s watercolor of Avent Cabin, dated July 1934.

If you’re looking for a Smokies hike that includes a treasure hunt, a trip back in time, and a dash of inspiration, the hike to Avent Cabin is for you.

The Avent Cabin is a real treat – but you won’t find trail markers pointing the way.

The hike is about two miles roundtrip and takes you to the cabin that was the summer studio of artist Mayna Treanor Avent from the 1920s to the 1940s.

The hike is in Elkmont area. Park in the parking lot at the Jakes Creek Trailhead.

To reach the cabin, walk up the Jakes Creek Trail. The trail follows the old railroad built in 1909 by the Little River Lumber Company when the company was  logging the area. During the first section of the trail, you will pass abandoned Elkmont cottages. After the logging company moved on, Elkmont became a popular vacation spot before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created and the cottages purchased by the park.

Log footbridge on way to Avent Cabin
A log bridge provides the crossing to the Avent Cabin. Photo by Julie Dodd

You’ll pass the Cucumber Gap Trail at .3 miles. Then you’ll pass the Meigs Mountain Trailhead at .4 miles. Both of those have wooden signs. Finding the trail to Avent Cabin is the treasure hunt. About a quarter mile from the Meigs Mountain Trailhead, start watching on the right side of the trail for a dirt indention from the trail and then a set of wooden steps.

Walk down the steps, then onto a path that leads to a footbridge. If you look uphill to your right as you cross the footbridge (be sure to hold onto the rail), you’ll see the roof of the cabin tucked into the trees.

After a short uphill, you’ll arrive at the cabin – with the sign, Avent Cabin.

The cabin was built in 1845 and purchased by the Avent family in 1918. Mayna Treanor Avent used the cabin as her summer studio for 20 years.

Avent Cabin exterior view
The porch provides a great location for having lunch and enjoying the view of the woods. Photo by Julie Dodd

The national park took ownership of the cabin in 1932, but the Avent family was awarded a lifetime lease and used the cabin until 1992. [FOTS Holly Jones interviewed Avent’s granddaughter about the cabin for a previous blog post about Robert A. Tino using the cabin as his inspiration for the Dance of the Firefly label for a special Sugarland Cellars 2013 wine.]

Another part of the treasure hunt is in the cabin’s kitchen – a notebook of laminated pages that includes a biography of the artist, photos of her work, and the park’s successful application to have the Mayna Treanor Avent Studio placed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 7, 1994. What a fun history and art lesson we had reading those pages. You also can sign a journal of those who share the adventure of finding the Avent Cabin.

Sitting on the porch or looking out the large windows of the cabin, you experience the inspiration of studio’s location. Mountain laurel was in bloom; the breeze rustled the leaves; sunbeams lighted up sections of the trees. We could smell the forest dampness after the rain and could hear the stream rushing at the bottom of the hill.

View from window of Avent Cabin
The artist’s son Jim added the windows to the cabin in the 1920s to provide more light for the studio. Photo by Julie Dodd

Mayna Treanor Avent was born in 1868 in Nashville, Tennessee, and studied at Cincinnati Art Academy and the Academie Julien in Paris. According to the documents at the cabin, Avent worked in oil and watercolors and also created wood block prints of the Japanese style. Her work is displayed in a number of galleries, including the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

The cabin contains bedframes, gardening tools, a stone fireplace, and an attached kitchen with sink and iron cooking stove. The cabin is so well preserved, I almost expected to look out one of the large windows and see the Avents walking up the path with their supply of groceries and art materials to set up the studio for the summer.

The Avent Cabin is on Friends of the Smokies’ 2015 Park Support List for the year – with funds being used to repair floorboards and seal log ends. To support historic preservation projects like this, make a donation below.