Visiting Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an incredible wealth of activities which should satisfy just about anybody, from the very young to the old but still young at heart. In this entry, I will discuss all the things to do on your trip so that you may start planning it accordingly.
Of these, my favorite as a professional nature photographer is hiking. The Smokies offer over 800 miles of trails which vary from easy, relaxing walks to multiday strenuous hikes in the Appalachian backcountry. The hikes can be as easy as stepping out of the car anywhere along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail which begins just outside of Gatlinburg. The quick mountain streams thundering among moss-covered rocks may be savored anywhere along the length of the curvy 6-mile one-way road via multiple pull-outs. Simply sitting down and enjoying the soothing sound of little cascades over some lunch is one of the highlights of the quintessential Smokies experience. There are trail heads along the road which will bring one to the gorgeous Rainbow and Grotto Falls after a short hike.
A slightly more strenuous but absolutely stunning 0.5 mile steep walk along a paved road takes one to the highest point in all of Tennessee, Clingmans Dome, towering 6,643 feet above the Smoky Mountains. The historic observation tower provides 360-degree views of endless Appalachian mountain ridges stretching to the neighboring states on clear days. The Clingmans Dome parking lot may be reached via a 23-mile drive from Gatlinburg by turning off just south of Newfound Gap and following Clingmans Dome Road. Please bear in mind that this road is closed from December 1st to March 31st and always dress warm as the temperatures at the summit tend to be 10-20 degrees cooler than at lower elevations. Take this beautiful walk with your loved one and watch the sunset at the summit for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Camping is a rewarding opportunity to be alone with nature. There are dedicated, well-maintained campsites throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Or you may choose to obtain a permit from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and trek into the backcountry. However, if you are less ambitious and prefer to simply stop by a picnic area for an afternoon barbecue with the family, Elkmont just off Little River Road close to Gatlinburg (see the map here) is just the spot for you. It is particularly beautiful in April with blooming dogwood trees seen all along the length of the pristine stream just a few steps from the picnic area.
Another highly recommended activity and a truly unique way to soak up the wonder of the Smokies is bicycling. While most of the roads through the park are not suitable for biking, taking the 11-mile loop road through Cades Cove on any Wednesday or Saturday morning from late May to early September when it is closed to motor vehicles will allow you to see the beauty of the countryside, historic homesteads dating back to the 19th century and plentiful wildlife in an intimate kind of way, free of the rush of traffic usually present in the valley. Another fun activity is taking a guided horseback ride from the stable at the entrance to Cades Cove.
Last but not least, the Smokies are a true haven for any fishing enthusiast and feature over 700 miles of crystal clear fishable streams. The Little River along the road connecting Gatlinburg to Cades Cove is relatively shallow and wide, and is home to smallmouth bass in its lower reaches, rainbow and brown trout in its middle sections and brook trout in its headwaters.
I hope that I have provided you with ample ideas on things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park while you are staying in Gatlinburg and look forward to sharing more information about the area in the posts to come! If you have not yet done so, please be sure to subscribe to or bookmark this blog.
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