Vacation Information for the Smoky Mountains

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Smoky Mountain Vacation:
A Weekend or A Week Getaway in
The Great Smoky Mountains

Vacationers coming to the Smoky Mountains have a bewildering number of options from which to choose. Whether it’s lodging, activities, or a good place to eat, there are many options available to suit every taste and pocketbook--if you can identify them. Two of the most often asked questions we receive include where to stay and what to do when you get here. We attempt to answer those questions in this article and help narrow the myriad of choices available. We even recommend some great places to eat.

We group the choices based on our own experiences and make recommendations based on proximity to each other to save a lot of time traveling from one side of the park to the other. Remember, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers more than a half-million acres.

You will notice that most of our suggestions for your Smoky Mountain vacation activities involve getting out of your vehicle and enjoying the best part of the area: the Park itself. However, you will also notice that, for those who really do enjoy touring from your vehicle, we’ve included some auto tours and described a few attractions in the towns.

One final note before we turn you loose to see what we suggest you try: Where we have more extensive information about a particular feature, we have included a hyperlink to that feature in one of our online publications.


If you only have one day or a weekend to spend in the Smokies area, we make three very popular suggestions. All three suggestions offer a great sampler of everything the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer: auto touring, idyllic scenery and mountain views, historic structures, quiet walkways, hiking trails, biking, camping, horseback riding, and fly fishing for the elusive rainbow trout.

TIP: Get out of your vehicle and enjoy the best the Great Smoky Mountains has to offer. Why breathe the fumes of the vehicle in front of you if you came here to have some fun?

Sugarlands Visitor Center

A good place to start your tour of the GSMNP is the Sugarlands Visitor Center just inside the Park entrance at Gatlinburg. It was named for the sugar maple trees, which contribute to the Smokies fall splendor each October. It’s one of three visitor's centers in the GSMNP (the other two are at Cherokee and in Cades Cove) and it’s a good source of information about park activities induding naturalist-led hikes, wildflower pilgrimages, and road closings. A theater presents a film about the GSMNP every 30 minutes on the hour and half-hour and there are several exhibits about the Park. The bookstore has a wide variety of publications for sale, including maps, screensavers, photos, and film. This is also the place to secure backcountry camping permits. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is just inside the park entrance at Gatlinburg. As you leave the Sugarlands parking lot, turn right onto Little River Road and begin the scenic drive to Cades Cove.

TIP: If you are starting your one-day Smoky Mountain vacation from Gatlinburg (and we recommend it), have a brunch at the Burning Bush Restaurant. It sits at the northern entrance (traffic light #10) to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is only 2 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
TIP: A good way to walk off your big breakfast at the Burning Bush is to take the 2-mile hike to the visitor's center. The Gatlinburg Trail trailhead is just beyond the parking lot of the Burning Bush Restaurant.
TIP: Pets are allowed in certain parts of the Park on leashes, but are prohibited on trails or cross-country hikes. The Gatlinburg Trail is one of two trails on which pets are allowed (the other is at the visitor's center at Oconaluftee center near Cherokee).

Cades Cove

The second suggestion involves a tour of Cades Cove in the northwestern part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cades Cove is the most visited part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park--and for good reason. This idyllic setting is a sampler of everything the Park has to offer the Smokies visitor. Historic structures that dot the cove tell the history of its early inhabitants. Wildlife is abundant and can be easily seen--especially early morning and late afternoon. Cades Cove itself consists of a self-guided auto tour that takes you to preserved historic structures. It accords fantastic views of the Smoky Mountains, which tower above the picturesque cove and serve as guardians to Cades Cove's serene beauty; and is one of the best areas in the Park to view the splendor of color when Mother Nature empties her paint buckets in the Fall.

Auto Touring Cades Cove

Turn right out of the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot and travel about 17 miles on Little River and Laurel Creek Roads (Little River Road changes to Laurel Creek Road at the "Y" turnoff to Townsend). You will dead-end into the Cades Cove entrance.

The 11-mile loop road, which meanders through Cades Cove and has pull-offs with trails to a number of preserved historic structures built by early settlers. The self-guided tour program allows you to visit each one at your own pace. Bring a camera to capture a record of the history and natural splendor of Cades Cove.

A short distance into the 11-mile loop brings you to the first unpaved road out of Cades Cove. Called Rich Mountain Road, this road climbs up and away from the Cove. A pullout affords a great view back into Cades Cove and the Baptist Church--one of the most photographed scenes in the area. Several hiking trails are accessible from this route.If you follow Rich Mountain to its conclusion, you will end up in Tuckaleechee Cove and eventually to Townsend, Tennessee, which bills itself as "the peaceful side of the Smokies".

About two-thirds of the way around Cades Cove you will encounter Parsons Branch Road (closed in winter) which also takes you away from Cades Cove. It leads you through isolated, little-traveled areas of the Park and eventually takes you to Hwy 129 and Fontana Dam.

TIP: If this is your first visit to Cades Cove, ignore both the Rich Mountain and Parsons Branch exits. This excursion is all about Cades Cove. Save the other routes for your next visit. FACT: You will want to return!

Cades Cove - Fly Fishing for Rainbow Trout

Crystal clear streams tumbling over age-old boulders hide great prizes for the fly-fisherman searching for the Rainbow trout. Abrams Creek flows through Cades Cove and culminates in the spectacular Abrams Falls. A short way into the 2.5-mile hike to Abrams Falls, the trail bends away north in a horseshoe shape. Take this tangent a few hundred feet and you will certainly find solitude, and you might even find a Rainbow trout. To obtain a fishing permit that is good in both the Tennessee and North Carolina sides of the Park, stop at the Smoky Mountain Angler in Gatlinburg prior to your visit to Cades Cove. The proprietors (the Thompsons) can also help you with hand-tied flies recommended for the area and can even outfit you with necessary items you might need.

Hikes in Cades Cove

Essentially, the Cades Cove campground sits at the center of Cades Cove and most of the hiking trails are accessible from the campground or the loop road. Hiking trails surround Cades Cove and lead to special attractions such as Abrams Falls and the view of the Baptist Church and the cove from Rich Mountain.

The Anthony Creek Trail is accessible from the far end of the Cades Cove picnic grounds. It courses alongside a rushing stream, rises through a virgin forest, and is popular because it is one of the shortest routes to Spence Field and Thunderhead Mountain, two premier attractions in the western Smokies.

Crib Gap Trail was used by settlers as a connector to the smaller Big Spring Cove. It's usually a muddy horse track because it's used as an outlet from the Anthony Creek horse camp and is also a connector linking Anthony Creek Trail in Cades Cove and Turkeypen Ridge Trail.

Mill Creek Falls trail is an unmarked trail, but it rewards the hiker with a waterfall 3 miles from the Cables Mill parking area.

Gregory Bald Trail is a provides the setting for a pleasant hike on your Smoky Mountain vacation. It is a 4.5 mile hike that leads to Gregory Bald, a ten-acre, dome-shaped grassy area bordered on the North Carolina side by hundreds of azalea shrubs, and on the Tennessee side affords a fantastic view from about 2,000 feet down to Cades Cove. The trail is accessible from the Cades Cove loop road--about 5.5 miles after entering the cove continue through the junction where Cades Cove Loop Road takes a sharp left turn. Follow the graveled Forge Creek Road 2.2 miles to the turnaround at the end. The trail begins along the upper end of the parking area.

There are about another dozen trails accessible from the Cades Cove area--enough to satisfy the most avid hiker and certainly enough to bring the visitor back to the cove for years.

Horseback Riding and Biking in Cades Cove

For those who want to take in the Cades Cove loop road at a slower pace, Cades Cove also offers the horse lover as well as the biking enthusiast ample opportunity for enjoyment. Horses are available for rent to take advantage of the selected horseback riding trails. And bicyclists can bring their own or rent one to take advantage of the special hours set aside for bikes only--Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10am from May 10 until September 27.

Horseback riding is generally available in Cades Cove from mid-March until November. For more details (rates, exact dates, miscellaneous questions) call (865) 448-6286. There are also 5 drive-in horse camps, with one in Cades Cove. Horse camps are open March 17 to November 1. For reservations, call 1-800-365-2267 (park code GRE) between 10am and 10pm or visit the web site at There is a site fee of $30 and a maximum of 4 horses and 6 people are allowed at each site.

Camping in Cades Cove

The National Park Service maintains a campground at Cades Cove (and nine others). During summer and fall sites can be reserved (only for May 15 until October 31) and can be reserved up to 5 months in advance. For reservations, call 800-365-2267 (park code GRE) or visit the web site at Two tents or one RV and one tent with a maximum of 6 people are allowed at each site. For backcountry information, call (865) 436-1297.


Newfound Gap Road

Our third suggestion is a tour of the Park via Newfound Gap Road. The 33-mile drive from Gatlinburg to Cherokee North Carolina along Newfound Gap Road (US 441) is the only route that completely traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The drive offers a unique opportunity to enjoy an abbreviated experience of everything the Park has to offer, without necessarily trekking far from your automobile. The drive takes about one hour, depending on traffic. The experience can take several hours if you stop at each of the suggested points of interest. June through August and the month October are the busiest months of the tourist season, and you can spend a lot of time looking at a bumper in front of you. You shouldn't let the congestion discourage you from the experience, however. If you want to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic, we would simply recommend you try the same experience in April or May (wildflowers are already blooming) or after peak fall colors. In fact, winter is even a wonderful time in the Smokies. Quiet walkways, unforgettable views of the various peaks in the Smokies, a vast variety of trees, flowers, and wildlife; campgrounds, picnic areas--they all await you on this wonderful journey. This road is closed to commercial traffic as well. You begin your drive from Gatlinburg (or from Cherokee for that matter--this travelogue assumes a departure from Gatlinburg) and go about 2 miles to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Its worth the stop here to view the displays of the natural history of the Park, get an idea of what to expect on the drive, pick up reading material to accompany your trip; and ask the Park rangers those questions you always wanted to ask.

From the Sugarlands Visitor Center you will turn left briefly before making a right turn onto Newfound Gap Road. The road takes its name from a discovery in the 1850s that Indian Gap, once believed to be the lowest point through the mountains, actually was not the lowest point--hence the name Newfound Gap. The road runs parallel to the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Its cool, crystal-clear water is inviting and cooling at the many pullouts accessible from Newfound Gap Road. Ultimately the Little Pigeon River finds it's way to the Tennessee River on its way to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, which ultimately spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

At approximately the 1 and 2 mile points from -Gatlinburg, you begin to see small signs indicating "quiet walkways". These walkways, while you are still in Sugarlands Valley, offer wonderful opportunities to view Fall color. The valley takes its name from the multitude of sugar maples in the area. As you move away from your vehicle down these quiet paths you become surrounded by sugar maples, resplendent with color. Early settlers used this tree for sugar and syrup. It takes about 30 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.

As you continue along Newfound Gap Road, a little over two miles you will come upon the Campbell Overlook, which offers arguably the best vistas in the Park. Mt. LeConte rises to 6,593 feet in front of you--the third largest peak in the Smokies. The overlook is named for Carlos Campbell, who wrote Birth of A National Park (available at the Sugarlands Visitor Center). Campbell was a devoted outdoorsman and was a devout supporter for the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Shortly beyond the Campbell Overlook, you will approach one of the more interesting quiet walkways. As you walk the path, look closely and you can still see the remnants of old farmsteads--parts of fireplaces and foundations. You can see the old roadbed, which led to White Oak Flats--what is now known as Gatlinburg.

As you continue along US 441, you approach the Chimney Tops at the 4.5 mile mark. Here you will find the Chimney Tops picnic area, which is home to one of the few remaining stands of mature cove hardwoods in the U.S. The Little Pigeon River runs through the picnic area. This river is named for the huge flocks of passenger pigeons, which once filled the skies over the Smokies.

White settlers named the Chimney Tops after stone chimneys which, if you use a little imagination, resemble the peaks. This area, and many of the higher regions of the Smokies, was once owned by paper and lumber companies, which highly prized the spruce fibers growing there for making quality paper. As a matter of fact, this prized resource and the thousands of acres of forests held by these lumber companies were a key obstacle in obtaining the land, which now makes up the Park.

If you are traveling from Gatlinburg, have breakfast at the Burning Bush Restaurant--right at the northern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you started from the Cherokee NC entrance and worked your way towards Gatlinburg, finish the day by stopping at The Peddler Restaurant. It's built around an old cabin belonging to one of the area's early residents and adjacent to a stream. You won't find a better steak in the area and the salad bar is also one of the best. Expect to pay a little extra for the aged beef, but the Peddler is guaranteed not to disappoint.

Plan your visit so you can select from lodging in the Gatlinburg area. If you enjoy a great bed and breakfast inn, stay at Hippensteal's Mountain View Inn ( and enjoy their wonderful breakfast--save The Burning Bush for your next visit, or the Buckhorn Inn in the Arts and Crafts Community. Hippensteal's has a very romantic atmosphere and boasts a splendid view of Mt. LeConte. The Buckhorn Inn ( was established in 1938 and today still serves as a tranquil retreat on 25 wooded acres with views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

If you prefer a cabin or chalet, stay in a property managed by Jackson Mountain Homes in Gatlinburg ( For a condominium, try Acadia Resort ( If a motel is your preference, stay at the Kingwood Inn ( Their hospitality is unbeatable and it's on a quiet side street right up against National Park property, yet only 1-1/2 blocks from the main Parkway. The Gatlinburg trolley stops at the front door.

If you need a great hiking outfitter, visit The Happy Hiker in Gatlinburg ( For the angler, the Smoky Mountain Angler shop ( is a must. Both shop owners know the area well and can make suggestions that will make your visit a pleasant and successful one.



The recommendations above assumed your interest in aspects of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and possibly a desire to avoid some of the crowds. If you have more than a weekend to enjoy your Smoky Mountain vacation, and you want to sample some of the action in towns, you've got it made. You can enjoy just about everything worth doing and repeat some of the things you like best. Certainly, you should include the activities described for "A Weekend", but you should also include the following:

Pigeon Forge Tennessee

Dollywood (, especially if the kids are along, has 22 rides, 40 shows, 50 craft showcases, and other attractions--all on 118 acres with views of the Smoky Mountains. (865) 428-9488
Dixie Stampede - Enjoy a four-course meal while you watch 32 horses, trick riding, racing pigs, and a rousing, patriotic finale. (865) 453-4400
Comedy Barn Theater - Comedians, magicians, jugglers, fire-eaters, and country music. Entertainment suitable for the entire family. Open year round. (865) 428-5222
Outlet Shopping Malls - more than 100 brand-name outlet stores (on both sides of the Parkway in Pigeon Forge) including Nike, Bugle Boy, Bass, Levis, and many more.

Lodging - In Pigeon Forge, stay at the Eagles Ridge ( or Country Oaks ( vacation cabin rentals.

Gatlinburg Tennessee

The Ripley's Aquarium is supposed to be finished in time for Fall 2000 (as of September 5, 2000 it is not finished). It is one of the most anticipated attractions for the city of Gatlinburg.
Walk the Parkway, people watch, ride the tram to Ober Gatlinburg for a magnificent view of Gatlinburg at night and the Smoky Mountains by morning or afternoon light and then stop at Humdinger's Frozen Yogurt shop just off the Parkway.
Arts & Crafts Community features the work of artisans in more than 70 shops. It's a day's worth of trip and you can stop at the Wild Plum Tea Shop for a delightful lunch.
Arrowmont Craft Shop features the products by members of the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild; Aunt Mahalia's Candy shop for the pecan nests; Humdinger's Frozen Yogurt for the strawberry or peach flavored yogurt.
The Village - ( 27 unique shops in the middle of downtown Gatlinburg in an Alpine setting.

TIP: Parking is at a premium and relatively expensive, so plan your stay in lodging where you can park your vehicle and take the trolley.

Sevierville area

Governor's Palace - singing and dancing on lavish sets, dazzling costumes on 3 stages. Features the Blackwood Quartet. (865) 428-5888
Tennessee Smokies baseball (seasonal) -
Southern Nights Theater - on the Parkway 800-988-7804

In Sevierville stay at the Blue Mountain Mist Bed and Breakfast inn (, which sits on 60 acres looking out on the surrounding mountains. The innkeepers are descendants of original settlers in the area and have a wealth of historical information about the Smokies area and inhabitants. Besides that, you get a delightful full country breakfast.

Townsend area

The Townsend entrance (northwest quadrant of the Park) is the most convenient to access Cades Cove (described above), which is the "must see" attraction in the Park.

Tuckaleechee Caverns (
From April until the end of October stop on the way to the caverns to eat at the Tuckaleechee Trout Farm Restaurant ( where you can catch your own meal (or the owners will catch it for you) and prepare only minutes later. If you like trout or want to try it for the first time, understand that their ponds are replenished from a natural spring that pumps over 1,000 gallons of water per minute--the result is no fishy taste! The hushpuppies are to die for, and save room for the fruit cobblers.

TIP: They are widening the road in Townsend to four lanes (as of Summer and Fall 2000). The department of tourism warns travelers of the construction, but fails to mention that it causes no real problem, because 2 lanes are open--which is how many lanes have been open for the past few decades.



Park Web Site: Lots of Park info at ( and

Waterfalls - ( hikes to waterfalls in the Smokies

Cataloochee is North Carolina's answer to Cades Cove--without the crowds. This is a place to avoid crowing and gain some solitude even in the Fall when foliage color is at its peak.

Cosby area - The Cosby entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the 2 quietest entrances (Wears Valley being the other) and offers access to some of the best hiking trails in the area.

Closest Airport: McGhee-Tyson by Knoxville, Tennessee - (865) 970-2773

J & S Cafeteria (Pigeon Forge) - great food and live music entertainment. If you are lucky, Clyde Foley Cummings will be entertaining the day you visit.

Tastebuds Café (Sevierville) - Gourmet cuisine in the hills yet! Terrific food and everybody knows it so call for a reservation -

Golf Courses: There are several golf courses in the area. For details, go to:

Directions to the Smokies: Visit our web site at:


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