Often this blog contains information for seasonal events or “hidden gem” locations that returning visitors may not yet have experienced. But a farflung friend recently asked me where to visit in the National Park after they settle into their Smoky mountain cabin rental for their first trip to the area. With that in mind, please consider these suggestions, based on what your family most wants to experience in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while here in Sevier County.
1. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
One of our favorites because of its easy access, basically go to the heart of Gatlinburg, and turn left at the convention center. This paved, 6-mile, one-way driving loop has multiple stopping points to spend as much or as little time as you desire. Historic sites of farm homesteads, cabins, and mills dot the trail, water streams are abundant throughout, and there are multiple spots for open vista overlooks. There are also trailhead starts for Rainbow, Baskins Creek, and Grotto Falls (each is lovely, all are popular, start early and hike well).
Thoughtful tip: please take a water break. Stop, get out of the car, (just sit if you can’t hike) and absorb the serenity of the natural white noise that the rushing water provides. Completely addictive. The picture above was taken with feet in the water at marker #9 in late summer.
Link for additional information: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/roaringfork.htm
If you want open vistas without steep mountain climbing or leaving the car, and truly hope to see wildlife in its habitat:
2. Cades Cove
Located closest to Townsend, Tennessee, this 11-mile loop road wanders through valleys and hillsides, with long-range, pastoral, picturesque mountain views. The area is very popular, and often crowded on the weekends. It has many historic buildings, and is a great day trip activity. Everyone visits the Cable Mill area, but please also choose to stop and explore one of the churches and attached cemeteries for a step back in time. Go early or late for best opportunity to see animals along the loop.
Thoughtful tip: On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the loop is open only to bikes and pedestrians till 10 am in season. It’s a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the scenery car free!
Lastly, if you are one who must be able to say you have “been to the top”:
3. Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap
To reach both of these locations, go straight through Gatlinburg into the park and keep going. Newfound Gap Road itself is a great scenic drive, and the substantial Gap parking area is on the way to the dome, where you can see mountain views and the original park dedication site, without hiking. Or drive the extra few miles to reach the trailhead for the highest point in the national park: Clingman’s Dome, which ends at the concrete lookout observation tower at 6,643 feet above sea level. The paved trail is only a half mile, but quite steep. If possible, go on a clear day, since distance visibility can reach many miles in all directions. Mountain haze impacts viewing distances substantially when it is present.
Thoughtful tip: Take a jacket just in case. No kidding. Even in summer, that elevation can be up to 20 degrees cooler than valley areas like Pigeon Forge. Forest and mountain views become far less enjoyable if you are uncomfortably chilly.
Last thought for new visitors in this post: buy those small guidebooklets that the National Park Service provides. They can be purchased online in advance, or in an honor box or visitor center at most park locations. For coffee change (usually a dollar or two), the in-depth information is well worth it, and helps you know the historical “who and what” along with the “where” you are standing.
Here’s a link for a starter kit, and you can also buy single brochures with all proceeds benefitting the park:
I know for certain that once you visit the Great Smoky Mountains, you will want to return. Come visit us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals very soon!