Eleven million people can’t be wrong. That’s how many Americans visit the area around Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year, and the gateway towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Once you come here, you’ll fall in love and want to come back again and again.
You’ll need to come back anyway, because there are so many things to do and see in this part of the world that it’s impossible to do everything in one trip. With this in mind, here are the top things you should consider for your own trip to the Smokies.
Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park
America’s most visited national park is one of the few that doesn’t charge admission. It’s huge, with half a million acres containing hundreds of natural wonders and points of interest. Try these three prime destinations for the best sample of what the park offers.
- Cades Cove. The most popular place in the park, this is a valley surrounded by mountains, with a tranquility that you have to experience. There’s a loop road with historic structures, walking trails and wildlife – including the famous black bears. The drive there is gorgeous.
- Clingmans Dome. The tallest spot in the Smokies features an observation tower from which you can see seven states, but even from the parking lot the views are spectacular. Highway 441 from Gatlinburg has several breathtaking overlooks along the way to get there – bring a camera.
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This is a trail made for cars, a loop road from Gatlinburg that traverses several changes in elevation and scenery. There are many places to stop and look. This trail makes some great parts of the park accessible to those with challenges, pets or small children, in a scenic drive as good as a hike.
Explore Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge
The towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are small but packed with attractions, events and festivals. Both towns are shopping bonanzas, with dining and entertainment galore. Everything is family friendly, and some of the attractions are fascinating museums loaded with wonder for students and home schooling parents.
Gatlinburg is home to the largest community of independent artisans in the country, and hosts many arts & crafts fairs each year, as well as featuring a scenic loop road filled with studios and shops. Appalachian history and music is everywher. The Aquarium is acclaimed and world class.
Pigeon Forge has all the go-kart tracks, and most of the dinner theaters and spectacular shows. It hosts a number of hot-rod and classic car shows annually. Both towns have beautiful parks, rivers and quiet spaces to get out of the bustle, and a colorful, inexpensive trolley system runs between them.
Visit Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area is just outside of Gatlinburg and open year round. It’s fun to take the Aerial Tramway from downtown Gatlinburg up the mountain. The ski area offers great snow tubing at the base of the slopes. The ski lift runs all year, and summer is a great time to take the ride up for some stunning views. With a mountain coaster, water slide, climbing wall and other kid’s activities, the resort also has a climate-controlled indoor mall with shopping, food, and a huge ice-skating rink.
Dollywood is a theme park made most famous by Dolly Parton, with a water park set next to it. The park occupies a couple of hundred acres on the edge of Pigeon Forge. It holds multiple festivals with music, theater, costume, fireworks and all kinds of spectacle throughout the year. There are several show stages, a chapel and of course a multitude of thrilling rides, including some leading-edge innovations that the park pioneered. Dollywood is a day-long visit for the family.
Stay in Your Own Cabin
The best lodging option when visiting the Smoky Mountains is staying in your own mountain cabin. A trip to the Smokies is not complete without experiencing a Pigeon Forge rental cabin. For a true mountain experience, the lifestyle of a cabin can’t be beat and is a big part of the vacation fun.
Staying in a mountain cabin doesn’t mean primitive accommodations. Rental cabins in the Smoky Mountains are air conditioned, have with Wi-Fi, fully equipped kitchens and fun amenities such as a pool table and video games. All of this keeps the kids occupied so Mom can relax. Many cabins have a Jacuzzi in the master bedroom, and most have a hot tub on the deck, to gaze at the mountains in the luxury of a soak. Most cabins are only a few minutes from the bustling towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.