Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains, and corresponding National Park, straddle the states of Tennessee and North Carolina in the southern United States. My entry point into this natural wonderland was Gatlinburg, Tennessee. As I enjoyed the breathtaking view from the rocking chair of my porch, the Smoky Mountains namesake morning mist hovered. It weaved its way through the mountaintops, providing a perfect sight from which to contemplate the day’s adventures on which I would embark! (For more on where I stayed during my visit to the Smoky Mountains, look for my Wyndham Legacy Smoky Mountains Resort tour blog linked below.)
Smoky Mountains National Park
A visit to Smoky Mountains National Park in undeniably the first place you are going to want to begin your adventure. This is one of nature’s ultimate playgrounds. Here you will discover many natural wonders, including beautiful natural scenery and wildlife. Additionally, as the National Park Service describes, “One of the best collections of log buildings in the Eastern United States. Over 90 historic structures – houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills – have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park.” (www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/historicbuildings.htm) These minimalist yet fascinating structures give a good glimpse of what life was like in the 1800s in the rural South.
For the energetically-inclined there are an array of hiking trails available. No matter what your difficulty level, there’s a trail here for you. They range from short to long, and from easy to challenging. Hiking options are listed on the National Park Service’s Smoky Mountains website. Hiking trail maps are available at the Welcome Center (as well as driving tour maps of the Park.) On these journeys you will witness waterfalls (in varying sizes), creeks, and dense forests of a multitude of varieties of trees. A hike in the Smoky Mountains stimulates all of the senses! You get spectacular views of the mountains, the soothing sounds of bubbling brooks and trees rustling in the wind, and the smell of pine… truly a feast for the senses! Enjoy breathing in the fresh, pure air while you indulge in the epitome of peacefulness!
One of the greatest perks of a visit to Smoky Mountains National Park is enjoying the abundance of wildlife! The Park is most well-known for their Black Bear population. When you see a log jam of cars parked illegally along the road and no scenic overlook – you can safely assume it’s a makeshift wildlife viewing stop! And if people are looking up into the trees, it’s probably not birds. Instead, they are likely viewing black bears, for whom the treetops are a favorite hangout! I also saw many deer in the park. This National Park is FREE, but the scenery is priceless!
If you still have the energy after all of the walking, hiking, and driving through the Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, minutes away, is billed as a tourist Mecca for the area, where nightlife is readily available and tourists flock to in droves! I quickly realized upon arriving in Pigeon Forge that, well… it’s not for everyone. An extreme contrast from the National Park, the area is overwhelmingly commercial, touristic, and in some cases, tacky. Nonetheless I was drawn to the giant Ferris wheel at “The Island,” which towered over the town. Here there is a small amusement park, numerous restaurants, and a bounty of retail shops. I had preferred to do my shopping at the National Park Service’s shop where proceeds from my sale went to help the park, so I wasn’t in the market for more retail outlets at that point.
For the celebrity restauranteur aficionado, Jimmy Buffett and Paula Deen both have restaurants here at “The Island.” There is also a pizza place I was familiar with called “Mellow Mushroom.” While I did not partake in their offerings on this visit, I had eaten at other locations for each of these restaurants in the past and greatly enjoyed the meal. So if you are looking for a dinner experience here in Pigeon Forge (and prefer to avoid the heavily billboard-promoted and, at least in some cases, “obnoxious” dinner show buffets in town), I would recommend any of these dining outlets.
More Smoky Mountains
Please refer to my post linked below if you are interested in great accommodations from which to enjoy your Smoky Mountain Experience! The Legacy Resort by Wyndham is definitely a place I look forward to returning to again and again:
And you can watch my video tour of Smoky Mountains National Park here: