Must-do List for a Gatlinburg Visit

I’ve got three different groups of friends visiting Southern Serenity in Gatlinburg in the next few months. None of them know each other. And yet each of them asked me what to do and see when they visit. I could go on and on about things to do, places to visit, food to eat and hikes to take. But instead I’m going to mostly leave it to them to find out what suits them best.

Having said that I did create a list which I texted to each of them. I sort of ‘distilled’ down my list of things to do. If you are going to visit Gatlinburg and you’re probably only going to do this once, and you’ve got 4-6 days, what would I tell you to be sure to do?

Well here’s the list, and it is in preferential order. Having said that, know that some of these will depend on who you are travelling with; very little people, older people who don’t walk much, young and energetic people. So I guess here’s the list – depending…

  1. Sugarland Visitors Center – start here. Ask the Rangers about hikes if you want to do them. Also there are often programs in the park, and they change weekly, ask about those too.
  2. Sugarland Visitors Center Movie – The movie plays every 30 minutes and lasts for 20 minutes, and it’s worth every penny. Especially since it’s free! Well worth the time – I’ve seen it numerous times and always learn something. Gives you a flavor for the history of the mountains and it’s people, wildlife are showcased and flora and fauna are discussed.
  3. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail – a favorite of ours!! My husband and I would drive this multiple times on each trip when we were in Gatlinburg. It is just beautiful with lots of windy roads and a few stops to soak in the mountain views. I even saw bear on this loop one spring. I feel like this is a gem that is not well-known, so Shhhh don’t tell anybody.
  4. Newfound Gap – Highest point in the park you will get to by car. You can stand in both Tennessee and North Carolina at the same time. A thrill for any schoolkid – and others as well. This is where FDR made his dedication speech when the park was opened. On a clear day you can see for over 20 miles.
  5. Glades Road/Arts & Crafts Community – This is an 8-mile loop with individual shops of all kinds. There are many talented artists on this loop so make sure to stop at some of the places that look a bit rustic – you never know what you’ll find inside. My favorites are Alewine Pottery and Paul Murray gallery.
  6. Hikes – Trillium Gap Trail is my favorite hike in the park because it is relatively easy and follows the river almost all the way to Grotto Falls, where you can walk behind the waterfall – very cool! Another favorite is a handicap accessible trail just south of Sugarland Visitors Center. The trail is paved, relatively flat, 1/4 mile loop with seats along the way, has old structures and plant information, and is right next to the river. I like this trail for any level hiker.
  7. Groceries – If you’re staying at Southern Serenity go to Food City. It’s a few miles away and has everything you’ll need for your stay. They also have small packaged items because of the amount of tourists that shop there.
  8. Dinner Shows – I’ve only been to one, Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge. It was great fun and an interesting experience. Watch the show in the horse arena while you are served the same food everyone else is eating. No menu so no choices to make.
  9. Where to Eat? – For really good homemade family-style food we like Mama’s Farmhouse in Pigeon Forge. The menu varies based on the day of the week and time of day. But again, you’ll be eating what everyone else is eating, and as much of it as you like. Be sure to have the Banana Pudding. Now my mouth is watering! Another EXCELLENT place to eat in Pigeon Forge is The Old Mill Cafe and Grille. All the food is made from scratch, and it tastes like it!  Mountain Lodge Restaurant in Gatlinburg is another favorite, the locals like it too. It’s located just a few miles from the cabin – so easy to get to.
  10. Pancakes – This is a must-do when you’re in the area. There are lots and lots of pancake houses, you can go to any of them and get pretty good ‘cakes. Of course we have our favorites because of the variety of options and quality of food and service; The Pancake Pantry was Ken’s favorite, I prefer The Log Cabin Pancake House, and usually have the Bananas Foster pancakes.

So there you have it – my distilled list of things to do in Gatlinburg. This should keep you busy for a few days.

Oh, and the Ultimate MUST DO when you are visiting Southern Serenity? Set a spell in the Rocking Chairs on the front porch and listen to the waterfall. It’s a great place to drink some sweet tea, rest yer legs and read a book on a sunny afternoon!4647820429

Elk at Oconoluftee

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The Oconoluftee Visitor Center is at the south entrance of Smoky Mountain National Park. They boast a re-created farm with a beautiful river on one side and a wide open field on the other. Of course the mountains are off in the distance as well. The park service has gathered farm buildings from all over the park and Southern Appalachian region and put together an historic and interesting farm depicting life as it was before this part of the Smoky Mountains became a park.

DSCN4222We were there on a beautiful fall day, the sun was out and the temperature was comfortable. I was struck by how well the farm was laid out for us tourists. It was very picturesque as you wound your way down the concrete sidewalk to the walkway between the river and the hand-hewn picket fence. The trees were still sporting a good amount of orange and crimson leaves which added to the beauty. There were chickens milling about to entertain us as well.

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Each of the buildings had some kind of placard or wooden label so we knew what it was used for. There is a separate ‘Meat House’, a Blacksmith shop, a large barn, chicken coop, a woodshed and ‘Spring House’ to name just a few. Life in these hills must have been busy, challenging, and rewarding all at the same time. It always amazes me how people were able to live in those days without all of our modern conveniences. The buildings were interesting inside and out. I love to look at the construction and see how they whittled away the corners to dovetail them together so perfectly.

There is also a trail along the river where you can take your dog. I spoke with a man who had just come back from the trail with his dog. He said it was absolutely beautiful, and they had even seen Elk while walking in the middle of the day. This is definitely worth a trip with the dog sometime. There are only two dog-friendly trails in the park. The other is at Sugarland Visitor Center at the north end.

But the best part of our day was yet to come! Once I had my fill of the farm we decided to venture a bit further south to Cherokee, just a few miles away, and on to Bryson City, home to The Smoky Mountain Railroad. We stopped for a late lunch and headed back from Bryson City to Cherokee then on to the park entering at Oconoluftee. When we were just south of the park we noticed a traffic jam ahead. At first it seemed odd but then we realized it was about 4:30pm, nearing dusk on this fall day. And that could only mean one thing; the Elk were in the field. And they were! There were over 25 of them; a very large buck, about 20 assorted females and their calves, and 3 other smaller bucks on the fringes of the herd.

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The first thing we saw was the big buck fighting with a smaller outlier buck. Then I noticed the line of cars on our side of the road, which numbered 25+ as well. People were out of their cars, Rangers were busy keeping the people safe and the Elk in the field. I got out to take pictures and ended up with a video of the activity. The Elk were simply grazing and making their way through the area living life as they do, we were the interlopers.

DSCN4283That big buck wanted one of those females, and he kept after her for a long time. But after a failed attempt at mating he switched his romancing to one of the other ladies in the group. Apparently all the offspring in this group belonged to Mr. Big Buck. The other males stayed far off at the fringes occasionally sparring but with no real outcome. I was told by a Ranger they were former calves that had outgrown their time in the herd and would be going off on their own soon enough.

It was fun and engaging to happen upon this scene, totally unexpected. We did find out the herd comes to this area at dusk and dawn, pretty much every day like clockwork. So if you are up for the adventure take a day trip to Oconoluftee; bring your dog, walk by the river, look at the old buildings, sit on the porch, and stay long enough to see the Elk.

Easy Hikes and Quiet Walkways

There are over 700 miles of hiking trails in the half-million acres comprising The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. With that amount of hiking trails you will be able to find a trail to satisfy anyone, from expert hiker to just getting started, and the littlest members of the family.

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River view from the trail.

Accessible Trails – There is one, just south of Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail is paved and relatively flat. It is a giant circle similar to a running track, and about 1/4 mile long. The river runs next to the trail and there are remnants of buildings from years past. There are plenty of benches along the way to offer respite and the opportunity to sit and reflect.

If you are hiking with others and want a workout simply walk fast around and around the trail. I think it is one of the prettier trails in the park since it has a mix of trees, water, wildlife and history.

I was pleasantly surprised to find bear tracks in the concrete as well. See if you can find them on your hike!

Bear track - up close and personal!

Bear track – up close and personal!

You can see where the bear crossed the concrete. Too fun!

You can see where the bear crossed the concrete. Too fun!

Quiet walkways – These designated trails are just that. There aren’t many people on them and they can be just a few hundred yards or longer. I’ve been on a few and they can be steep. All of them are not easily accessible. But if you are looking for an easy hike a Quiet walkway is a good place to try. They also offer learning opportunities. See this information made available for the third grade classroom.

You’ll see the signs for Quiet walkways along the road closer to the entrances and lower elevations. I’m sure this is because it is flat enough to provide an easy, quiet walk. Pull over and take a break, go for an easy, quiet walk.

Other Easy Hikes – If you are looking for more easy hikes, but that are a bit more challenging, you will find them in the park. There are plenty of miles of hiking trails to suit all abilities. My suggestion is to stop at a park Visitor Center and ask one of the Park Rangers. They will be able to help assess the level of difficulty you are looking for and where to do your hiking for the day.

Be careful and have fun!

Little River Trail in Elkmont

DSCN3677Elkmont is now a campground in the park, but the area is also chock full of history. Elkmont was a very busy place during the logging of the area. In addition to the logging, families from Knoxville and the surrounding area would vacation here during the summers. Homes were built and fun was had in the cool mountain air. Some of these buildings still exist, but are condemned and you can only view them from the road.

Two of the buildings are available for day use; The Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin. See the Park website for more information and to make a reservation.

DSCN3737      Appalachian Clubhouse

When I hiked the Little River Trail in Elkmont. I found many wildflowers in bloom and enjoyed the relatively easy hike. The trail is an old gravel road so it is very wide and easy to walk. The Little River runs right next to the trail, and there is a creek on the other side for some of the trail. I think it is a very pretty trail. The trail combines the best of the park.I love that is has water for the entire distance, beautiful vegetation, historic buildings, large boulders, and is easy to hike.

Warning for the squeamish – there is a snake and spider in the pictures below.

Wilderness Wildlife Week

Wilderness Wildlife Week Photos

I got an online newsletter from Jim Eastin at “Taking Better Photos” which reminded me of the Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, just up the road from Gatlinburg.  This event takes place at the Music Road Hotel and Convention Center. All lectures and seminars are FREE to the public. Jim Eastin will be teaching classes there on January 12th and 17th. In addition to classes there are organized hikes and field trips as well. There is even a photo contest for you amateur photographers.

What a wonderful way to take a mid-winter vacation with the family! We haven’t attended yet but it is on my bucket list to get to some of these interesting lectures about the area.  You can view the Class List to see the subjects and find out who is presenting, or pack your lunch and head out with the group on an organized hike. There is a wide array of subjects from photography to snakes to fly fishing to music. A bit of everything for everyone including classes for kids. Sounds fun!

Smoky Mountain Park Views

Autumn Panorama

Have you seen the view of the trees during leaf season in Smoky Mountain National Park? If you have, lucky you, the colors as you know are beautiful and vibrant.  The changing leaf color continues for a month starting in early October at the top elevations and working its way down the mountain to the lowest elevations in late October/early November.  It is a gorgeous time of year to be in the mountains .

Autumn view from Black Bear Falls

Grotto Falls Hike in Autumn

If you haven’t had the good fortune to experience Leaf Season in the Smokies you can see it from the comfort of your chair via these National Park sponsored webcams.  Enjoy!

Look Rock Camera

Purchase Knob Camera

Hiking Map 1941

When we bought Southern Serenity, our Gatlinburg Log Cabin, we wanted to do some redecorating to make the cabin our own.  It was evident a fresh coat of paint and some updated furniture and decorations were in order.

In the loft there was a pair of decorative snow shoes hanging on the wall, but since they were hung on either side of a picture they looked more like tennis rackets!  Here is what the loft looked like before we had our way with it.

Before

I really liked the theme of hiking and wanted to keep that going in the loft.  I had seen large maps of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park all around Gatlinburg that were really cool and interesting, the challenge would be to find a map that was suitable.

I found a map of the park that was very old looking and I loved it!  I bought it and we hung it on the freshly painted wall in the loft next to the snow shoes.  Here is a picture of the guys hanging the map and snow shoes (and being very patient!) on our freshly painted wall.

Almost After…

I often wondered where the original map was from.  It was obvious an old map was used to make this picture of a map.  I could tell it was probably an ‘official’ map as it had topographical markings, the mountain peaks are identified, and there are distances for driving and hiking.  The people in the pictures are dressed in styles from the mid-20th century I thought.  You could also see where the fold lines were in the original.

Then one day while I was trolling the internet I found it – our map!  In fact it is the same EXACT map we have on the wall in the loft at the log cabin!  How do I know this?  On closer examination it looks as though someone took a red marker to a location on the original, and that same red circle can be seen on our map.  This was probably the only copy the government had left to archive.

The first image below is the map I found while trolling the internet (you can also see it at this government website).  The second image is the map hanging in our cabin loft, you can see the red circle in the bottom right of both maps.

Map as found on Wikipedia.com

Our map as seen in the loft

The best part about the map is that we have it hanging in our cabin loft.  This means you can plan your hike in the park while playing pool or Wii and relaxing with adult beverages.  Don’t forget to use one of our hiking sticks for those steep climbs.  Happy hiking!