The Great Smoky Mountains And Their Surroundings

by blackspanielgallery

The Great Smoky Mountains are worth a visit. The scenery is spectacular, and there is ample food and lodging just outside of the park.

The Great Smoky Mountains is a National Park and a World Heritage Site. It is a wonderful place to visit, with but four options. The first option is to simply travel across the Great Smoky Mountains. This is the one we will consider first in this article. The others are Cades Cove, and Clingmans Dome, with a lesser known section called Roaring Forks. The last part has a distinct entrance, and is a rather high and steep road that once entered must be traveled to the end. I shall not touch on Clingmans Dome since I have not traveled it.

I usually enter the park on the Tennessee side, although one can also enter on the North Carolina side. A third entrance is on the side road to Cades Cove.

Getting Started

Immediately upon entering the park at either Gatlinburg, Tennessee or at Cherokee, North Carolina one encounters a visitor station.  I recommend stopping on the first visit, especially if there is a plan to hike a trail.  Campers must register to camp, and at certain times of the year must have proper clothing for temperature drops.  Hikers must be aware of possible problems such as bear encounters.


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The Trip Across the Great Smoky Mountains

Starting from Gatlinburg, the road starts uneventful, rising gently between wooded trees.   But soon a stream appears.  The road follows the stream much of the way, with the stream being on one side of the vehicle for a distance, then on the opposite side.  Occasionally, the stream is joined by other streams coming out from the mountain.  Some have small waterfalls as the water cascades over rocks.  Unfortunately, the larger waterfalls require hiking to visit.


Soon the road gets high enough for spectacular scenes.  There are often small places for some vehicles to park for a time.  Here you can take photographs of vistas across a valley of mountains in the distance.  There are some nice trees, firs among them, that can be used to add to your photographs.  Artists can set up and paint.


The trip is leisurely, with few obstacles.  Road maintenance might be one, and wildlife another.  However, on the route over the mountain I have seen little wildlife.  For that a visit to Cades Cove is best.


Clusters of vehicles on the side of the road, sometimes overflowing the allotted parking space, belong to hikers.  This happens at the head of trails, especially trails leading to waterfalls. 


At the State Line

At the point half way through your journey you come to a huge parking area, and a wonderful vista.  The edge of the parking is tiered, so people can take photographs right over others enjoying the scenery. 


This point is also the head of the Appalachian Trail, a long hiking trail that runs through several states.  Some of the vehicles belong to hikers.


The descent on the North Carolina side also offers similar scenes.  It ends in Cherokee, North Carolina.  Just before getting into Cherokee, a reservation, there is a side road that is the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a road that runs a spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


This is the only place with facilities in the trip across the mountain.


Snow Adds Much

My first visit was in November, roughly fifty years ago.  We got to the mountain just after the first snowfall, and had to wait a few days for the road to open.  There was no sign of snow at lower elevations, but as we ascended the mountain the rocks protruding from the stream were snow covered.  The temperatures were quite comfortable, but in the depressed areas such as the stream the temperatures were cold enough for the snow to remain. 


As with many mountains, there are a few places where the road had to be cut into the mountain, and a vertical wall of rocks can be seen.  Water creeps through the rocks in places, and in cold weather this freezes into large icicles. 


Cades Cove

Cades Cove is a side trip, and should be given its own day.  The road in is along a stream that is wider than most, simply because this one is near the bottom of the mountain.  There are places with benches and facilities for a picnic lunch. 


Once inside Cades Cove the road is narrow and traffic moves in one direction, slowly with frequent stops.  Be prepared to use some time in passing through.  This is a huge area between the mountains, and the land is somewhat flat.  Mountains form a spectacular backdrop.  Some areas are wooded, others grassy.


It is in Cades Cove that one sees wildlife, including black bears, deer, and wild turkeys.  One cannot predict which, if any, animals will be present.  Finding a cluster of stopped vehicles usually indicates animals are being photographed.  On one trip we had to wait while a black bear with two cubs crossed the road, and when we got to the point where they had crossed we found a couple of frightened bicycle riders.


There are a few old structures along Cades Cove, with side roads going to them.  One is a church.  Others are houses and barns.  One can take a very short side road to a parking lot, then rejoin the main road when finished viewing the interior of the building.  These structures are great photography subjects.


Roaring Forks

Roaring Forks is a separate entrance on the Tennessee side.  It is a steep climb, and goes well up to where ear popping is possible.  The beauty is the stream which runs fast.  And, the road crosses the stream making for interesting photography if one has time to stop.  If the traffic does not allow stopping one can park and take the photographs.


The problem with this side trip is the breaks needed to be allowed to cool several times.  The descent is steep, and break overheating is a possibility.


Commercial Free

The entire park is commercial free, so if you need something bring it along.  And fuel is a concern.  Having enough fuel to get through is the responsibility of the driver.


On the main road over the mountain, and on the entrance road to Cades Cove, there are opportunities to turn around, but only in places where it is safe.  Some areas like Cades Cove and Roaring Forks are one way traffic, and once committed to going through one must finish.  There is no fuel available in the park.


The Tennessee Side

One can find lodging, entertainment, and food in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Seveirville.  There is a short trip of a few miles between Gatlinburg and the other two cities. 


Gatlinburg is the place I recommend as a base.  There is ample food, attractions that are family friendly such as miniature golf, museums, and arcades, and even a space needle for getting above the town.  A ski lift moves people up to an area called Uber Gatlinburg.  The Aquarium of the Smokies is itself worth a visit.  It has an advantage in that it has much in walking distance from the strip, or main road.


Pigeon Forge and Seveirville are different.  They offer an abundance of food and entertainment, but walking from place to place is not like walking in Gatlinburg.  Things are separated, whereas in Gatlinburg one is always feet from an attraction.


But, Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood, and Dolly Splash.  Also, the Dixie Stampede offers a unique dinner and western show.  Many other restaurants in the area offer dinner and a show as well, but these are not western themed with horses featured in the entertainment.  Some feature comedy, some others feature singing.


I recommend the food, and the entire experience, at Apple Barn.  There, set in an apple orchard, are two restaurants, an ice cream parlor, and gift shop. The theme is apples, and it is a great place to purchase apple butter. 


In Gatlinburg breakfast at Flapjacks is hard to beat.  They serve a haughty meal of tasty breakfast staples.  The menu offers so many wonderful choices it is difficult to decide what to order.



There are artists selling their wares in Gatlinburg, but for a different experience take the loop.  One road winds past artist cabins where differ artists and artisans operate small businesses.  They are scattered, so you will need a vehicle.  Eventually, the loop brings you back out, so there is no need to go back the way you entered.



Cherokee is a dichotomy.  There are modern amenities, and there is a Cherokee reservation offering a glimpse into tribal culture.  A visit is worth the time.  So, after passing through the Smoky Mountains, relax and take in Cherokee before making the return journey.


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Updated: 09/28/2017, blackspanielgallery
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frankbeswick on 08/17/2016

There is an ancient proverb [in Latin] "Solvitur ambulando" which means "It is solved by walking." Take a hike somewhere pleasant and clear your head. The Smoky Mountains seem ideal territory for doing this.

blackspanielgallery on 08/16/2016

Things there are peaceful. Even in Pigeon Forge just having the mountains is the distance is relaxing.

katiem2 on 08/16/2016

I love the smoky mountains, it is a great escape feeling like I have truly ventured into a new and old world treasure, I love hiking, climbing and the simple feeling that shifts my thinking clearing my head.

frankbeswick on 08/11/2016

we have no bears or wolves in the UK, but we have wild boar.

blackspanielgallery on 08/11/2016

Once when we were in Gatlinburg a bear entered the town and was on the news. On another occasion a bear was in the park with the park ranger trying to stop them from getting too close with their cameras. But, the mother bear and cubs was most scary. They defend the young fiercely.

frankbeswick on 08/11/2016

I agree. I am scared of bears. I fear big, aggressive animals. I don't mind admitting so.

There used to be a programme, Smoky Mountain Jamboree, to which I Iistened as a young boy. It broadcast country and Western music.

Veronica on 08/11/2016

I don't think we have bears in UK ..or wolves either .

blackspanielgallery on 08/11/2016

To Frank,

Some things are easier to remember. These are old mountains and have many trees, which makes the trails more inviting. However, I have no desire to come across a bear.

blackspanielgallery on 08/11/2016

To Veronica

This is the smaller mountains in the east. The Rockies are much higher in the west. But they are a popular vacation spot.

frankbeswick on 08/11/2016

I had heard of the Smoky Mountains, but until this article they were for me a name empty of detail. Thanks. It is great that you remember a trip from fifty years ago, it must have had an impact on you.

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