The Great Smoky Mountains: It Is Not Just Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains, is not just mountains - this place offers many wonderful things to do, places to visit, and is highly capable of making long-lasting impressions.
It was the year 2014 when autumn was bidding adieu and winter was giving hints of its arrival, we decided to do something different as well. Yes, off-season trips are considered different, sometimes trending or you are just so desperate to go somewhere. To cut the long story short, we decided to visit America’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky mountains - but believe me, it is not just mountains - this place offers many wonderful things to do, places to visit, and is highly capable of making long-lasting impressions.
Wondering why is this park is so popular? Among various reasons, the most prominent one is that it’s within a reasonable distance of 60 per cent of the United States population. Families like this place because of all the amazing attractions and fun activities it provides. And contrary to other national parks of America, entry to this park is totally free. Who wants to spend a fortune when there are plenty of budget travelling options are there! Right?
About the Great Smoky Mountains aka Smokies
How can I move forward without a brief introduction? The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. They are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains which were first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period.
Facts about Smokies
- As I have already mentioned earlier it is the most visited national park in the United States. There were over 12.5 million visitors in 2019, which is more than it’s ever had before.
- There are over 17,000 documented species of plants and animals in the national park. And the list keeps on growing with new findings.
- One cool fact about this place is that it is considered the unofficial salamander capital of the world. Over 30 different species of salamander live in the park.
- Let me tell you the story behind the “smokiness”. It is actually a blue-coloured fog created by the plants in the national park. The plants give off something called a volatile organic compound (VOCs), they create a vapour, making a fog. And you can imagine that thousands of plants in the area, can create such an effect. That’s why Smokies look so smoky!
- There are around 1,500 black bears living in the national park. That’s a population density of about 2 bears per square mile.
- Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hang on, I will tell you more about it in the next section.
Top Things to do
Whenever you get the chance to visit smokies, there are some popular places that you can add to your itinerary:
Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains
This is one of the prettiest spots in the Smoky Mountains. Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop that offers great views along the scenic drive. This is a must-visit place in my opinion. We really enjoyed this route.
Clingmans Dome, with the lookout tower
It is the highest point of smokies. The best part is that this hike allows you to see over 100 miles in the distance from the highest point in Tennessee. Don’t worry, it is a fairly easy hike - the trail is steep, but paved and with plenty of benches to rest on along the way.
Hiking to the Laurel falls is another popular thing to do in smokies. About a two-hour back and forth trip, this is a hike worth taking to experience true beauty in the Smokies. This is one of the most visited falls and the busiest hike in this park, especially in peak seasons.
Playing in the Snow at New Found Gap
Another pretty place to visit when you are in the Smoky Mountains. This overlook allows you to see the Great Smoky Mountains, peak after peak, and allow you to enjoy the beauty of this place to the fullest.
Though it’s just a theme park that you would prefer to visit if you are with kids. Dollywood is the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee. Again if you are a fan of Dolly Parton, the famous entertainer, then you must visit this park, located in the Knoxville-Smoky Mountains metroplex in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
These are just my recommendations, you can always choose places according to your preference and likings. Believe me, in this park, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
As I had mentioned earlier, we visited the Smokies just after the fall season. The best place to stay in the Smokies is the cabins. But we planned in such a short time, no cabins were available at the time. Fortunately, we were able to reserve rooms at Westgate Resort in Gatlinburg.
Our plan for the day was to go as deep into the Smoky Mountains as we can and to visit the New Found Gap. There wasn’t much to see as we started driving towards the New Found Gap – all around us were the bare trees after the fall season. We were already told that there has been heavy snowfall the day before and the roads may be closed at certain places.
After driving for about an hour, we reached New Found Gap. We were disappointed to see that the road ahead was closed because of snow. But our disappointment gave way to happiness when we noticed how beautiful New Found Gap was!
NC-TN State Line
The first thing we did was to play in the snow – again! After a while, we also realized that we were at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina at an elevation of 5046 ft!
Smoky Mountain Opry
We decided to enjoy some local shows that were the speciality of the festive season as Christmas was around the corner. The Smoky Mountain Opry is a musical variety show located in Pigeon Forge, TN. It is one of the largest and most-watched shows in the Smokies. Along the way, we saw a lot of beautiful and amazing buildings in Pigeon Forge with very creative architecture. The most noticeable being the Titanic Museum.
Christmas, The Great Smoky Mountains
We arrived at the theatre well before time and saw that they were already prepared for the upcoming Christmas. As we took our seats, we were already in awe of the grand theatre and the show was equally grand as well.
When we were booking tickets for the Smoky Mountain Opry, we were offered discounted tickets for another show – Comedy Barn at Pigeon Forge.
Comedy Barn Cast, Pigeon Forge
The next morning we planned to drive through a scenic route before heading towards the Pigeon Forge.
We were told that the Cades Cove Loop Road is one of the most scenic routes around and we decided to go for it. I must say – the route actually lives up to the hype. As we drove through the route, we came across beautiful vistas of valleys and mountains. We also came across a couple of churches and cabins along the way. We could not help ourselves from getting down and spend some time around the cabins. The cabins were really old and bore a haunting look.
My travel tips to visit smokies
I will only share two points here that I still regret after visiting:
- Plan a week-long vacation to enjoy this place to the fullest. There is so much to explore that you can’t afford to miss.
- Although this place looks surreal in any season, if you visit in summer or spring it is going to be an awesome experience. We visited in winter and missed the fall colours and summer greenery.
The visit to the Smokies has been one of the most memorable trips of my life. The place was so good that we stayed a day more than we had initially planned for. This is one of those places that I would like to visit again and again. If this is how it feels in the off-season, I can only imagine how it would feel during the spring season or the fall season.
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