The Mountains Are Calling!
There’s a good reason The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the country’s most visited national park, with more than 11 million visitors in 2017. Covering over 800 miles of awe-inspiring views of nature and wildlife, this bucket list worthy trip is one you won’t want to miss. Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the park is rich in Southern Appalachian history and world renowned for its diverse plant and animal life, lush forests, scenic byways, and breath-taking waterfalls.
Before heading into the park, you’ll want to check your route for road closures. There are 10 National Park Service campgrounds, however these campgrounds have no electric, water, sewer or other amenities. Be sure to read our April blog on boondocking to be prepared beforehand. Also, the park campgrounds will each have length restrictions, so you’ll want to check first to make sure your RV will be allowed. If you prefer a more modern campground and RV park, there are several available in Gatlinburg with full hookups, as well as in Pigeon Forge and in Asheville.
The Smokies are a sanctuary for such magnificent animals as black bear, elk, white-tailed deer, bobcat, great blue heron, red-tailed hawk, and wild turkey. Some species, such as the red-cheeked salamander, are found nowhere else on earth. It’s definitely worth a hike to see the diverse wildlife. Use extreme caution, though. Remember that an animal that approaches you does not want make friends with you. It has other motives… and you probably won’t like them. On the other hand, if you approach an animal so closely that it changes its behavior, you have approached too closely. Instead use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with telephoto lenses to enjoy the wildlife. Visit the park store beforehand to pick up some bear spray. And don’t forget to pick up a Tennessee and/or North Carolina fishing license. You’ll need that to take advantage of the many opportunities to fish while there.
The Smoky Mountains are equally as intriguing in terms of history. Roaming bands of hunters and gatherers passed through the Smokies more than 12,000 years ago. This was part of the homeland of the Cherokee Indians who cultivated complex systems of agriculture, government and trade. When Euro-American settlers pressed into the mountains in the late 1700s, they had the opportunity to build a new life, wrestling from the forest farms, homes, and communities like no others. Remnants of this past, preserved by the National Park Service, include the largest collection of historic log buildings in the East.
At least 19 species of fireflies light up the night skies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and one of the most interesting is the synchronous fireflies. Their display is so fascinating that special tours into the park are arranged each year during mating season. Check with Cataloochee Valley Tours to schedule your tour.
Your trip to the Smokies would not be complete without a visit to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Whether you’re seeking an adults only experience or a fun filled family adventure, Gatlinburg can grant your every wish. Downhill snow skiing, Class-IV whitewater rafting, world-class golf and fishing, and 600 miles of hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park make Gatlinburg one of America’s premier outdoor destinations. All of these don’t even scratch the surface of what Gatlinburg has to offer!
Not wanting to tow your vehicle? No problem! Gatlinburg’s trolley system passes all three of the campgrounds located in the city proper. Or if you choose to bring your vehicle, the trolley offers free park-and-ride lots. With the ability to board at more than 100 locations, your adventures are close at hand.
Ziplining, snowboarding, tubing, biking and horseback riding are other recommended outdoor activities for your visit. Check out Rowdy Bear Mountain Adventure Park for a chance to coast or zipline through the smokies. Enjoy authentic moonshine at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. Bring your A-Team and have a life changing adventure with a real life Amazing Race at Amazing Gatlinburg Race. See the awe-inspiring “Face of Christ” sculpture that seems to follow your every movement at Christ in the Smokies, featuring incredibly realistic life-size scenes in the story of Christ utilizing life-size figures in dramatic settings. Explore the mysteries and folklore of mountain heritage as history comes to life on a lantern-lit walk with Appalachian Ghost Walks – see whose ghosts you might encounter!
Take a short drive north from Gatlinburg to visit Pigeon Forge. It’s well worth the trip. Disconnect from life’s distractions and reminisce of childhood amusement park fun at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s world class theme park. Dig for fossils and gems such as Rubys and Sapphires at Pigeon Forge Gem Mine. Or Experience the thrill of white water rafting with Smoky Mountain Rafting
Venture a bit to the South and enter Cherokee country. See traditional crafts and hear the ancient stories of the resilient Cherokee people at Oconaluftee Indian Village. Be mesmerized as history comes to life on the interactive journey through the Native American’s lifestyle and history.
And it’s just not a true Smoky Mountain vacation without a visit to Asheville, North Carolina, the hub of the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains.
Be sure to check out America’s most famous house, Biltmore Estate, named the #1 Southern Attraction in 2016. Get a close look at original art by Renoir and marvel at the magnificent library featuring 10,000 volumes. Experience the historic town of Asheville on a nostalgic trolley car with a hop on-hop off tour through Gray Line Historic Trolley Tours. Explore the bustling local beer scene and breweries with Asheville Brews Cruise. Or perhaps take the scenic route through the mountains and take in the breathtaking views via train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
You’ll want to check out the many local farmers markets to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, jams, jellies and baked goods for your “home cooked” meals back at the campground. And if you’re not up to cooking or grilling out at the campsite, you’ll have plenty of meal options in Foodtopia, Asheville’s local food scene where you’ll experience unique and memorable foods and drinks.
And don’t miss the opportunity to experience America’s favorite drive while you’re in the area – Blue Ridge Parkway. Designed for slow paced travel (45 mph or less) and stretching almost 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains through North Carolina and Virginia, it encompasses some of the oldest settlements of both pre-historic and early European life. Blue Ridge Parkway is without a doubt one of the most scenic and magnificent drives you will take! Enjoy the breathtaking natural beauty of the majestic mountains and get a glimpse of how life was lived in times gone by.
The Smoky Mountains is a most spectacular getaway. Don’t let life pass by without visiting this area! While anytime of the year will be just as gratifying, a trip in the fall to take in the stunning foliage will make you want to go back again and again. With awe-inspiring sights to see, extraordinary experiences to be had, and incredible Appalachian history to be learned, it’s not hard to think of this magnificent place as a little bit of Heaven on earth. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to drop us a line and let us know about your travels and send us some pictures. We enjoy living vicariously through you!