Let's learn a bit about the wondrous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our top three recommended destinations in the park, camping in the park and what to do in surrounding area can all be found in this travel guide!
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the kind of place where you can commune with nature, completely relax, and tune out the rest of the world. While some people might focus on the things to see and do around the park, the real vacationers know that they can spend weeks at the National Park, and still not see everything the Park has to offer.
There are so many things to do when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains. Things that are great for families, couples, and groups of friends. There are also many different lodging options depending on your taste from hotels to cabins to campsites.
Three great places to visit within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park that are all free are Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, and Laurel Falls. I would suggest bringing some bottled water, comfortable sneakers, and snacks with you, and make sure to bring your camera!
Cades Cove has old log cabins, primitive churches, and graveyards. The great thing about this area is that you can either drive through it or hike through it. When you drive through it and spot an area of interest, you can park and walk to it. The scenery is beautiful and you are likely to run into a few deer and possibly spot a bear.
Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies, and the view from the top is absolutely breathtaking. The hike up to the top is rather strenuous because the path is so steep. You will probably have to stop and rest on the way up, but they have several large stones along the way to sit on. Also, there are restrooms about halfway up the mountain. This is a wonderful location for those who enjoy hiking and aren't too afraid of heights.
Laurel Falls is a beautiful waterfall you don't want to miss out on when you visit. The hike is moderate and a little over a mile one way. You'll want to be careful and watch your step because of the drop-off. There are signs at the path's entrance that warn hikers not to horseplay because falling deaths have occurred. This is a great option for those who enjoy hiking short distances.
Of course, if you really want to see the park, you can't go wrong with actually camping there. When it comes to camping here, the only limitations are your physical capabilities. If you struggle with strenuous activities, then you probably want to avoid backcountry camping. This type of camping requires hiking several miles into the wilderness to set up camp. Make sure you leave the hairdryer at home, but maybe bring along some extra toilet paper. You can also try front-country camping where you have access to running water and bathrooms, or group camping for larger groups of people.
The historic buildings are still a must-see. You might want to grab one of the guidebooks if you think you can see, and even find all the buildings in the park. The park has over 80 buildings that have been preserved and rehabilitated on-site, including grist mills, barns, houses, churches, and even schools. It's almost like stepping back into time.
Of course, nothing is better than communing with nature, and you'll find everything you can imagine here. There's horseback riding through the park, on designated trails of course. Don't worry about running out of places to see and ride through since they have several hundred miles of trails, plus the chance to rent/borrow a horse. You also have 700 miles of streams for fishing, and 800 miles of hiking trails, plus bike paths and waterfalls.
Some of the other places to visit outside of the National Park are downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which are both in Tennessee. Gatlinburg is also a great place to stay if you want to stay in a hotel. Most of the hotels are within walking distance of many restaurants, shops, and other attractions. The restaurants here range from fast food places to steakhouses, and there are several places that sell candy, ice cream, and fudge. Some of their top attractions are Ripley's Aquarium, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and Ripley's Davey Crockett miniature golf.
Ripley's Aquarium is a treat for all ages. The exhibits are wonderful and they also have a gift shop and restaurant. The Hollywood wax museum is a really fun place to take pictures with the likes of the Wizard of Oz crew and Michael Jordan. Each one of the wax figures is in a set that matches the movie or TV show they came from. The Davy Crockett miniature golf had a woodsy theme complete with arguing animal statues. There are also some other miniature golf places in Gatlinburg.
In nearby Pigeon Forge, two of their hot spots are the Applewood Farm and the Christmas Place. The Applewood Farm has many tasty treats from apple walnut bread to apple cider to popcorn; they also have a restaurant. The Christmas Place is a huge store that has just about every type of Christmas ornament and decoration you can imagine and they are open all year long. Pigeon Forge also has a huge outlet mall with more stores than you could possibly visit in one trip. This is also a great city for dining out because they have so many restaurants to choose from.
A word to the wise though, when you first enter the park, do yourself a favor and buy yourself one of the guidebooks. The Park has several different ones available, which makes it even easier to see as much as possible no matter how much time you have to spend there!
The Great Smoky Mountains are a great place for a vacation for everyone, and believe me when I say you won't run out of things to do!