Great Smoky Mountains National Park

October 24, 2010
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The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the second largest National Park in the southeast (second only to the Everglades). The park itself makes up 814 square miles sitting along the Tennessee and North Carolina border.

Contained in the park, there are over 800 miles of hiking trails (including the Appalachian trail), along with numerous fishing, camping, backpacking, and bicycling opportunities .

The “Smokies” are generally considered part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, are the most visited National Park.

This park is a must see for any that live around the Southeast (and, frankly, for those anywhere).

The views of the mountains alone are worth the drive, and most visitors opt to stay in one of the two major tourist towns that are surrounded by the park.

Where to Stay

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN are easily the two dominate locations in the park to find a hotel. There are other areas, of course, and these are relatively easy to find.

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In the less dense, Pigeon Forge, you are likely to find more family oriented activities, like amusement parks and miniature golf.  There are also several outlet malls.

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Gatlinburg, on the other hand, feels much closer to nature. While it has its share of miniature golf locations and laser tags, it mostly consists of a downtown shopping area, filled with all of the typical mountain-town souvenirs any person could want.

For me, if I were choosing between these two towns, I would have to recommend Gatlinburg. The downtown is much smaller, and the proximity to many of the better nature drives and hikes seems much closer.  You can easily walk the entire downtown of Gatlinburg, where as you will most likely need your car to go from place to place in Pigeon Forge.

However, there is another option than a hotel, and often a cheaper option if traveling with a group or family (assuming you don’t want to camp).

Before traveling to the Smoky Mountain National Park, check out the options on Cabin rentals in the mountains surrounding Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

I have taken this route many times, when I opted not to camp. Cabins put you in the mountains that you are there to see, in addition to providing additional privacy and comfort.

Often, you will have the opportunity to see more wildlife staying in a cabin, and, depending upon the cabin location, one may be even closer to the nature trails.

Camping in the Smoky Mountains

The final option, is of course, to camp. Camping in the National Park is wonderful. You will be a little farther from the touristy areas, but much closer to the beauty of the park.  I recommend checking out Cades Cove for a great location to camp (I will write more about this area in an upcoming article) that is close to a number of trails inside Cades Cove, as well as fairly close to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

A number of other front country, more developed camping areas fall within the park.

For more information on these check out: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/frontcountry-camping.htm

I will write more about some of these sites as I have the opportunity to camp at them.

Additionally, the park is full of backcountry, primitive camping opportunities as well, and can be found here.

http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm

Hiking in the Smokies

I have been hiking in the Smoky Mountains my entire life, at least one to two times a year, and I can confidently say that I have not scratched the surface of all of the trails in the area.

Of the one’s I have recently hiked, the day hikes I have particularly enjoyed are:

Abrams Falls Trail (to be posted in the upcoming week) – 5 miles (roundtrip)

Laurel Falls Trail-1.3 Miles

Alum Cave Bluff (to be posted future)-  2.6 miles one way

Clingman’s Dome Trail – 0.5 mile one way

The National Park’s trail map can be found here.

There are numerous other trails that I will be writing about in the future as I spend a lot of time hiking in this area, and I look forward to hearing from you about some of your favorites. For any suggestions on trails you enjoy in the area, or you would like to see more about, leave a comment below.

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Nature Drives

While it will be somewhat unusual for me to recommend a nature drive, as opposed to a nature hike, there are some great nature areas that can be seen in the Smoky Mountains just by driving.

My two favorite are the Cades Cove and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

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These two drives provide excellent views of the Smoky Mountains, its history, and the wildlife contained in  them. I have spotted black bears and large white tailed deer on both of these drives.

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Each drive, also contains several opportunities to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and take a hike as well.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the best places for all things related to Southern Outdoor Adventures. From amateur outdoor enthusiast to the most seasoned A.T. thru-hiker, there is something in this National Park for everyone. I believe that if one vacations here for a weekend, they will be hooked into returning often for one more outdoor adventure year after year.

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