“The whole world comes here and visits with me.”



Born in North Carolina, Elmer Hall has been the innkeeper at Sunnybank–a Hot Springs and Appalachian Trail institution–since 1978. 

He attended High Point and later graduate school at Duke University, where he studied religion and philosophy. A member of the first class of Peace Corps volunteers, he taught high school for three years in (what was then) Singapore-Malaysia. He later became an ordained United Methodist minister, and was active in anti-war, civil rights, and environmental movements as the chaplain at Duke.

In 1973, Elmer co-started and ran North Carolina’s first vegetarian restaurant, Somethyme, located in Durham. The restaurant became a well-known gathering place for students, locals, regularly hosting poetry and music nights. It also saw a fair share of famous guests, including Allen Ginsburg, Joan Baez, and Jane Fonda. 

While hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail in 1976, he met Sunnybank and the Gentries. Well-known as ballad singers and folk musicians, the Gentries were also the only family in Hot Springs that took in hikers at that time. During his stay and over the subsequent years, Elmer became friends with the family. When they retired, the Gentries offered to sell him Sunnybank, and he joyfully accepted. 

Continuing its long history of hospitality, the Sunnybank Inn and Retreat Association officially opened in 1978, hosting retreat and workshops, as well as plenty of solace seekers and AT thru-hikers. Sunnybank has always had an intimate connection with the trail: over the years, dozens of former hikers have worked as staff members, welcoming newcomers and sharing knowledge. 

In the 1980s, Elmer and other Hot Springs community members co-founded the Bluff Mountain Coalition, opposing the US Forest Service’s plans to clear cut nearby Bluff Mountain. After 2 years, the campaign was successful—the mountain was preserved for future generations.  

Over the years, Elmer has embraced the vocation of innkeeper, what he calls “a cranky, old-fashioned profession,” fusing it with his love of cooking, good work, and Zen philosophy to create Sunnybank’s eclectic and welcoming spirit. In the tradition of Buddhist monasteries offering shelter to pilgrims, Elmer invites you to enjoy the beauties of Appalachia, meet other travelers from all over the world, and sink into a slower, more traditional pace of life.