by Alice Kemp
The Great Smoky Mountains. Just the name conjures up images of magnificent mountain peaks with “smokes” rising from their flanks. It’s easy to see why this is the most-visited national park in the United States with all that it has to offer, from activities that appeal to the outdoorsy, adventurous types to those looking for world-class shopping to the younger set wanting to fill their days with theme parks, game rooms and water parks.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, makes an ideal base camp for partaking of all those activities with the literally thousands of hotel/motel rooms, overnight rentals and campgrounds available. The location, near the middle of the northern boundary of the national park, provides access to anything you would want to do while in the Smokies. Just 27 miles west of Gatlinburg along the Little River Road (allow a good hour to drive this extremely scenic but slow road) lies the 6800-acre Cades Cove. Settlers came into this beautiful valley in the 1800’s; the National Park Service has restored some of the original buildings to give visitors an idea of what life was like back then. Seven cabins have been restored along with three churches and the Cable Mill area which contains a number of buildings as well as an operational grist mill and a visitors’ center.
Near the beginning of the 11-mile loop road and accessed by a short, well-maintained and traveled trail sits the John Oliver cabin, the first to be built in the valley.
I had an astounding bit of luck one day when I chaperoned a small group of mentally challenged adults around Cades Cove on their annual vacation. We walked the trail to the cabin when, lo and behold, a juvenile black bear crossed the trail just a few feet in front of us! As a matter of fact, another small group of tourists were just a little further ahead, and the bear actually passed between our groups, not paying the slightest attention to us.
I had been told that the black bear population is quite large in the Cove, and actually, that was actually the second time I’ve seen a bear there, but this sighting was much better than the first one. Needless to say, my little group was overjoyed to see such a sight.
Not only is Cades Cove of historical interest, but the hiking is quite good as well. You can do an easy nature trail or one of the more challenging trails. The Abrams Falls Trail is about five miles round trip and of only moderate difficulty. It presents a nice walk with a lovely waterfall at the turnaround point, although the trail actually continues quite a bit farther, all the way to the Abrams Creek Campground, if you feel up to it.
Not far beyond that point is the visitors’ center/Cable Mill area which sits beside the intersection of the loop road and Forge Creek Road, a one-way, unpaved, single-lane road leading south out of the national park into Tennessee. One morning in November some years ago, I got up especially early to reach the Cove as close to dawn as possible. It was well worth it: Spread across the Cove, peacefully grazing were literally hundreds of white-tailed deer.
No one else was around. The scene was incredibly beautiful and peaceful. This was what it must have looked like to the early settlers. I had heard that early morning was the best time to view the deer, and it is. But I got more than I bargained for that day. I was headed to the Forge Creek Road, off of which was the Gregory Ridge Trail, a 10-mile round trip hike up to the Appalachian Trail and back. The turnoff to the trailhead parking lot was not far from the loop road and just before you reach the one-way section. As I drove up the road, I spotted a wild pig trotting along the side, a pretty rare sight since these critters are extremely shy. Unfortunately, he veered into the woods before I could get my camera into position. That was my first sighting of a wild pig, although I had also heard that quite a few of them called this national park their home.
But that wasn’t the end of my wildlife encounters that day. The hike turned out to be quite exhilarating. The closer I approached the Appalachian Trail, the colder it became, of course, since I was about 2500 feet higher up. The weather conditions were just right for all the tree branches to wear sheaths of crystal clear ice. I appeared to be walking through a magical crystal forest. Quite a bonus! Finally, returning to the parking lot, I heard the unpleasant sound of someone insistently blowing their car’s horn. To make a long story short, another tourist had been trying to drive away a black bear that had broken into a car parked there: my car! I had left an apple in the back seat that it smelled through the vent, and it almost tore the door off to get at it. The critter was just coming out of my car when I arrived. What an ending to an incredible day! (Check out my blog at www.hikinggal.blogspot.com for a more detailed story.) One thing I learned, besides not to leave any food in my vehicle, is that bears don’t necessarily stay in hibernation all winter. As a matter of fact, they may not hibernate at all if they haven’t put on enough extra weight before the start of winter.
Every season is beautiful in its own way in the Great Smoky Mountains. Although the Rocky Mountains are higher and more rugged, the Smokies are more accessible in the winter. You can marvel at frozen waterfalls, crystal-wrapped tree branches, bear tracks in the snow, rocks encircled with crystal necklaces in every stream and more. All you need to do is get out of your vehicle and look. The pressing crowds of summer are gone, leaving you with a quiet, peaceful wilderness just begging to be enjoyed.
Alice Kemp, originally from Barberton, Ohio, has lived in Tennessee and North Carolina since 1985 and now lives in SW Virginia. When she's not writing fiction and non-fiction, she enjoys the natural beauty of the South through hiking and biking primarily.
Area: Gatlinburg, TN
Expert: Shawn Spiezio
Years living in Gatlinburg: 8
Company: Aunt Bug's Cabin Rentals
Subject: Gatlinburg Cabin Rentals
What makes Gatlinburg a great destination to visit and rent a vacation home?
Gatlinburg is quaint small town within a short driving distance to most of the Eastern U.S.'s population and is one of the main entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Over the years, the 11 million annual tourists have become accustomed to staying in Gatlinburg vacation rentals up on the mountain ridges, tucked away in the woods, or nestled on the river. The cabin rentals offer affordability, luxurious amenities, & the comforts of home which are great for a romantic weekend getaway, family reunion, and corporate retreat. After a long day of hiking, shopping, or nothing, a little relaxing in a hot tub feels very good. There is something for everyone in Gatlinburg.
What are the top things to do (attractions, activities, events, etc.) in the area? Are there any hidden gems that people may not be aware of?
Most tourists enjoy the Smoky Mountain National Park, Ripley's Aquarium, Dollywood, Dixie Stampede, music theaters, shopping, golfing, hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding. Cades Cove is an early pioneer area in the national park that is great for biking, hiking, and sightseeing for bears and deer. The Herbert Holt park in Gatlinburg is tucked away on the Little Pigeon River with picnic tables and a kid designated trout fishing area. The Arts & Crafts area is home to beautiful galleries and local artisans honing their craft.
What are the top 5 'must-try' restaurants in the area?
The Pancake Pantry is a must for breakfast enthusiasts. For lunch, I would recommend the Pottery Barn Café and the Bullfish Grill. For dinner, try the Cherokee Grill, The Apple Barn farmhouse, and the Peddler.
What popular entertainment/nightlife options in the area would you recommend?
If you don't feel like shooting a game of pool or relaxing in the hot tub at your cabin, Gatlinburg offers a variety of nightlife options. The Smoky Mountain brewery has live music and lots of tvs(I like their micro-brew Velles Helles.) Many locals enjoy Hellbenders Grill, Jared's Grill at the Ship, and TGIFridays. If you feel like dancing, Blaines restaurant doubles as a club at night. Also, Gatlinburg is host to the Smoky Mountains Tunes and Tales event in the summer which offers free musical entertainment and storytelling that appeals to all age groups along the streets of Gatlinburg.
You rent homes to hundreds of guests each year....so you must have a funny story or two about people that visit Gatlinburg?
I've got a few. Originally called White Oak Flats, there are many stories as to how Gatlinburg got its name, all involving a controversial figure who settled here in 1854. Radford C. Gatlin opened the town's second general store and when the post office was established in his store, in 1856, the town name changed to Gatlinburg. Legend has it that if he left town for good, he could keep his life and the town would bear his name.
Many people that come on vacation are looking for a little R&R. Instead of following directions or a map, people have become spoiled by their GPS devices. One of our homeowners who was from Alabama and has been here a million times programmed his GPS for Gatlinburg TN. At a stop, he hit a button on his GPS and followed its directions. Several hours later, he realized he was in Missouri!!
From a bubbling brook, to a mountain range, to an expansive desert - nature's beauty has inspired many writers throughout history. Something about being in touch witn nature and pushing yourself to your human limits is artistic and beautiful. These days, with the media landscape as it is, writing about your outdoor adventures is easier than ever, and generating a following is too. Writing talent comes from all over to enjoy the great outdoors, and if you're interested in learning more about certains areas before you go, we've created a list of our favorite 10 outdoor travel bloggers, along with a bit about each award-winner.
Adventure Inspired: "What's now Adventure-Inspired initially began as the author's personal blog, a way for her to share her adventures with her family and friends. But after realizing there was a possibility others might benefit from what she had to share, Adventure-Inspired evolved into an outdoor lifestyle website complete with instructional articles, interviews, gear reviews and trip reports, among other things. From rock climbing to hiking, from mountaineering to mountain biking and everything in between, Adventure-Inspired exists as a place to tell stories and share musings, gear reviews, and anything else related to playing outside. Katie hopes you're able to find inspiration in the stories, relate to the musings, and find awesome new gear you can't live without!"
Appalachian Trials: "Appalachian Trials teaches aspiring thru-hikers goal setting techniques that will assure they reach Mt. Katahdin, the common pitfalls and how to avoid them, how to beat “the Virginia Blues”, the importance of and meaning behind “hiking your own hike”, five strategies for unwavering mental endurance, the most common mistake made in the final stretch of the Trail, tips for enjoying rather than enduring each of the five million steps along the journey, and strategies for avoiding post-trail depression and weight gain."
Hiking in the Smokys: "HikingintheSmokys.com is the most comprehensive site on the internet for information on hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. We provide detailed information on more than 80 hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our site provides access to trail descriptions, key features, pictures, difficulty ratings, trail maps, elevation profiles, as well as our Book, Maps & Hiking Gear Store."
Hiking the Trail: "HikingTheTrail.com began as an online journal chronicling Adam Nutting's preparation for and hiking of the Appalachian Trail in 2013. 200 miles in, that adventure was sidelined but the journal lived on. Since then Adam has used Hiking the Trail to share his outdoor life through trip reports, travel, gear reviews, tips, and much more."
Hiking Forward: "Ever get the feeling you belong? You belong someplace, doing something, or with a particular group? Good! Wow I thought I was the only one. Many years ago I visited my first official National Park. The Smoky National Park and along with my family, fell in love with the park, the woods, the bears, the idea of that National Parks and felt that belonging to the outdoors that I once had as a scout and to hiking. For years as a youngster and young man in New England had always heard about the AT - Appalachian Trail - but finally got to set foot on it. Not only did I get to set my feet on the famed AT, but I did it atop Clingmans Dome the highest peak in the park and the highest peak on the AT that straddles North Carolina and Tennessee. An awesome experience. I think the wife thinks I am nuts. Maybe so."
Section Hiker: "The name of this site, Section Hiker, refers to the Appalachian Trail which I've been hiking section by section since 2007. To date, I've completed 840 miles of the trail and hope to complete all of the sections between Georgia and Maine someday. I've also hiked the 272 mile Long Trail in Vermont, climbed all of the 4000 footers in New Hampshire's White Mountains (including once in winter), and completed two coast-to-coast backpacking trips across the Scottish highlands. While I love backpacking, I am also a compulsive day hiker, peak bagger, and bushwhacker. I'm up for any kind of hiking and think it's a great way to get outside, give yourself a break from your worldly troubles, and get some natural exercise."
So Many Places: "In January 2014 my husband and I came back to the U.S. to accept a job as Backpacker Magazine's Get Out More Tour Ambassadors. We road-tripped across the U.S. from March 2014- October 2014 giving presentations about backpacking, outdoor gear and travel at outdoor retailers across the country. We drove 34,000 miles through 47 of the lower 48 states (we missed Rhode Island), hiking and camping our way around the country. We've now settled in Mexico until April 2015 where I'm working on my next book and Brian is running our e-course Travel School. The journey continues, albeit at a much slower pace for now. Over the years So Many Places has evolved from a hope to a plan to an action. My life has changed and my goals have broadened, but through it all this blog has always been the place I come to water the seeds of my dream. I hope that So Many Places is also a place where you will find encouragement to chase down the biggest parts of your own life, whatever they may be."
Southeastern Places: "I tell a story of the travel industry through my photography. Whatever place I visit, I jot a few notes down about first reactions, I chat with locals to find the really good spots to visit, and then I shoot photos that tells the story of that place. I don't create the story by using models, setting up locations, or making big announcements about my arrival. Instead, I talk with the owner or manager about who I am and what I'm doing and then I quietly sit on the side, stand in the middle, or lay on the floor to capture the photos to tell that story."
The Big Outside: "I started The Big Outside with a simple mission: to offer stories, photos, and expert trip-planning advice on America's and the world's best outdoor adventures—including many that are great for families. Most importantly, these stories are based on my on-the-ground, first-hand knowledge from having done all of the trips myself."
The Campsite: "As we sit and reflect on what the Campsite means to us, we discovered the concept of it runs deep and wonderful. The idea of camping and spending time in our glorious wilderness, with friendships, good roasted eats, singsongs and overall good times, and all the while gathered around a campfire, really sings to our souls. From creative ideas that spur adventure, dispatches of our own travel experiences, to subjects of conversation and debate, The Campsite is all about sharing and learning from one another just as we would sitting around that cozy campfire. Readers should walk away feeling they have been a part of our campsite - bring ideas away to enhance their own experiences or even know that - yep - we can all relate to life's inner journeys in this outdoor world! We strive to discover amazing like-minded peeps with a desire to feed their souls with adventure and travel experiences, and anyone looking to answer the insatiable questions surrounding why they do what they do and why life is made of mountains and canyons."
If you’re craving a break from the hustle and bustle of the city but don’t want to board your pet on your next vacation, look no further than a getaway to Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg has consistently ranked as one of the most popular vacation spots in the U.S., due to its’ close proximity to the Smoky Mountains National Park, southern charm, and endless activities for your family and four legged friend. For an outdoor adventure, head to Smoky Mountain National Park. In an effort to preserve the integrity of the park, select trails are off-limits to dogs, but many popular hikes such as The Gatlinburg Trail and Oconaluftee River Trail welcome dogs. Looking for a view without the effort of a hike? Try the Gatlinburg chair lift. Dogs are welcome on the lift, and the top of the lift offers views of the entire park at 1,800 feet.
If you’d prefer to stroll through stores with Fido, head to The Village Shops at Gatlinburg. This quaint outdoor shopping spot has a number of boutiques offering a range of products from hand crafted pottery to outdoor hiking gear. The River Walk, which stretches throughout Gatlinburg is a leisurely, scenic stroll with a number of stores and of course, beautiful views of the river. After a long day of hiking, shopping, and taking in the sights with your furry friend, make sure to rest up at one of the pet-friendly restaurants Gatlinburg has to offer. Crystelle Creek is a fan favorite, known for its expansive menu and dog-friendly setting. Gatlinburg is sure to be a vacation you and your pet won’t forget!
Any interest in a location that offers all things nature, history, comfort, and most importantly, Southern Hospitality? Thought so –let us tell you a little something about Gatlinburg, Tennessee and why this gem was deemed a top Southern Vacation Destination.
Gatlinburg, TN is a dream resort town for nature lovers that want to get away and explore. Whether you are looking for a summer or winter getaway, this town is filled with multiple lodging options ranging from B&Bs, cabins, hotels and campgrounds for the true nature lovers. However, that’s not where the list of options ends.
Take advantage of the many park-and-ride locations or jump on the trolley to get around town. With easily accessible city transportation why wouldn’t you give places such as Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, Cooter’s Place, Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Dollywood and Gatlinburg Space Needle a chance? These local attractions might sound strange but they have some real Gatlinburg spunk and are appropriate for multiple age groups.
Cooter’s Place is a museum devoted to those good old boys, never meaning any harm, otherwise known as the Dukes of Hazzard. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies has the world's longest underwater aquarium tunnel and over 10,000 sea creatures. Gatlinburg Space Needle has an observation deck that offers you great views and the opportunity to sneak in a few arcade games before dinner.
Not enough nature in those options? Good thing we’re not done…
The most well known draw for this southern destination is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The park hosts 8 to 10 million visitors each year and rarely disappoints! The park’s grounds have been known to “bloom with over 1,660 kinds of flowering plants and wildflowers all-year-round”, allows for hikes with expert guides, and the chance to get your heart racing with some whitewater rafting. Still not enough? Well don’t worry, wildlife is far from sparse in this area. Great Smoky is home to the largest protected bear habitat in the East, there are opportunities for horseback riding, and trout fishing!
Gatlinburg has certainly earned its position as best southern vacation destination but don’t just take our word for it, take that trip you’ve certainly work hard to earn.
The FlipKey Blog often features stories from recent guests of our many popular vacation rental destinations. We caught up with Paul T. who recently visited Gatlinburg with a whopping twenty members of his family that range between the ages of 22-81. Paul had great things to say about Gatlinburg and his experience as a vacation home rental guest.
Area: Vacation Rentals in Gatlinburg, TN
Guest: Paul T.
Paul, how did you find a vacation rental that was able to accommodate twenty people and fit all of your needs?
We planned for our family vacation 2008 in early in 2007 and looked at many rental properties in Gatlinburg. We chose BIG TIMBER LODGE rented by Jackson Mountain Homes. There is room to sleep 30 with adequate bathrooms.
What attractions, activities, and events would you recommend to other visitors of Gatlinburg, TN?
There was plenty to do for everyone, even in a house so diverse in age. The energetic crowd went to the national park to hike and learn about fireflies. The old folks spent time shopping at an outlet mall and dining in local restaurants in Pigeon Forge. On Saturday, we prepared pancakes for breakfast. They were exceptionally delicious. Most of the group went to Ober Gatlinburg; others went to Clingman’s Dome, while still others went gambling. While in the amusement park, we heard fire works used to scare away the bears.
After a cookout at the Big Timber Lodge, my grandson showed old home movies that he had put on a DVD. Then we played Cranium.
What was the best part of the vacation home that you stayed in?
While there was plenty to do outdoors, our vacation rental was well equipped with a Wii system, a large kitchen for dining, and a DVD player for movies. In the evening we sat around the big kitchen table and talked about old times. My grandson showed photographs of his wedding. Then some of us went downtown to shop and purchased candles. Others went to the swimming pool. Every night there was a talk session in and around the hot tub. Many of the world’s problems were discussed. Few if any were solved.
Any final thoughts about your vacation Paul?
On Monday 8-25-08 all of us were out of the lodge and headed home by 9:30 AM. The Big Timber Lodge was a great place for family time. We were able to eat meals together, have a good time together, and still find time for privacy if needed.
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The Smoky Mountains are home to one of the most popular national parks, as well as some fun attractions like Dollywood and Ober Gatlinburg ski resort. At just $29.62 per guest per night, it's also a great bargain destination.
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