Vacations in the Smoky Mountains are all about family fun, peaceful mountain scenery, and outdoor recreation. You can choose to be in the thick of all the action, or to get away from it all.
The Great Smoky Mountains sit like a spine along the eastern border of Tennessee. Most of the Smokies are public lands, with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sandwiched between the northern and southern portions of the Cherokee National Forest.
That makes over a million acres of outdoor playground for quite a variety of activities. You'll find many places to go hiking, camping, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, bicycling, kayaking, tubing, and fishing. There are numerous attractions to explore: historical sites, caves, waterfalls, and an amazing diversity of plant and animal life.
The one must-see destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove, an area that is preserved much as it was when it was settled in the 1800's. But be prepared for traffic. Arrive early in the morning if you can.
Clingmans Dome (the highest point in Tennessee at 6,643 feet) is also worth a drive. Take the paved trail to the observation tower for some spectacular views.
For maps and brochures, stop at Sugarlands Visitor Center, the Visitor Center at the Cable Mill area in Cades Cove, or the Visitor Center in Townsend.
Camping is available in the park, but there are also numerous campgrounds, cabin rentals, motels and resorts in the the three towns outside the park. If you want to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Smokies, Townsend is the place for you. For family fun and an abundance of attractions and entertainment, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are the preferred destinations.
For most folks, vacations in the Smoky Mountains means those areas close to the National Park, but there's so much more. In the northern section of the Cherokee National Forest lies an area of mountain balds surrounded by forests of spruce and fir. The crowds here are sparser, and the amenities fewer than in the National Park. If you want to get away from it all and enjoy some breathtaking scenery, this is the place for you. If you can, get to Roan Mountain in mid to late June, when the Rhododendron Festival celebrates the brief blooming period of the Catawba rhododendrons, and bring your camera.
In the southern section of the Cherokee National Forest, whitewater rafting is a major attraction. The Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Olympics, and the facilities there make itappealine for serious rafters. For those not so serious, the Hiwassee River offers a gentler experience.