The Great Smoky Mountains

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The Great Smoky Mountains are part of the southern Appalachian Mountain range and span the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains National park is the most visited National Park in the United States with around 9 million visitors per year. The 800 square mile park features over 800 miles of maintained trails and over 700 miles of fishable mountain streams cascading over countless waterfalls. Some waterfalls are over 100 feet high. The area is alive with wildlife including deer, elk and black bears along with over 10,000 species of plants.

Highway 441 is the most popular route over the mountains. This incredibly scenic drive covers 35 miles between Gatlinburg, TN to the north and Cherokee NC to the south crossing some of the highest peaks in the mountains. A short side route takes you to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at 6,643 feet and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

Gatlinburg, located in the foothills on the northern side of the mountains is a favorite tourist destination. This fun little town is loaded with hotels, shops, and restaurants. You will also find  haunted houses, an aquarium, a small convention center, chairlifts, and lots of other tourist attractions including Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum which features a 10,518 pound granite ball that floats on a 1/254 inch of water and can easily be spun around by hand.


Cherokee NC is located on the southern side of the mountain on the Cherokee Indian reservation and features lots of tourist attractions including a casino.

A few miles outside of Gatlinburg is Pigeon Forge, TN. Pigeon Forge is where all of the really touristy stuff is, Dollywood and hundreds of the typical tourist attractions such as miniature golf, go cart tracks, little "museums" and tons of shopping.

Nearby is Smokey Mountain Knifeworks, the worlds largest knife store.

Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the main highways and tourist areas can get very crowded during peak vacation times and especially during the fall colors. The good news is that even during the busiest times you can find lots of less crowded and even uncrowded areas around the Smoky Mountains that offer incredible scenery. Take a trip over the Foothills Parkway or the beautiful Cherohala Skyway for incredible scenic vistas off the beaten path. Highway 129 running between TN and NC includes a portion known as the Tail of the Dragon and is a favorite trip for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts who love the 318 turns in 11 miles of mountain road.

A great getaway is to rent one of the hundreds of cabins available on the hillsides and in the valleys. Cabins range from cozy one-bedroom units to huge 4-6 bedroom multi-story units suitable for family gatherings. Many cabins are new and well equipped with decks, fire places, hot tubs, and even game rooms. Some offer incredible mountain views from private decks where you can sit in a rocking chair and watch the sunset over the mountains. Prices are comparable to renting hotel rooms especially if you go with friends or family and split the cost. Beware that access to some of mountain cabins may cover some of the steepest roads you have ever seen.

Below are several of my favorite pictures from my frequent trips to the Smoky Mountains. Enjoy!


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