At 6,593 feet, Mount Le Conte is the third highest peak at Smoky Mountain National Park. — Photo courtesy of National Park Service
It’s hard to believe that less than two hundred miles from the hustle and bustle of electric Nashville lies some of the most mystical and awe-inspiring natural beauty anywhere in the entire country. But really, just a few hours’ drive east on I-40 is all it takes to put Music City in the rearview and the Great Smoky Mountains straight ahead.
The majesty of the mountains – other than the obviously physical attributes - is that there are so many different ways to appreciate all the treasures available, from the hundreds of miles of trails to hike and rivers to raft, to the over-the-top theatrical shows and luxurious digs to sink into at the end of a long, action-packed day – hot tub definitely included.
Cataloohcee Creek is a popular fishing spot. — Photo courtesy of National Park Service
1. On the ground
Camping, hiking, skiing, fishing – these are all activities that anyone can participate in abundance in the mountains. Even those who prefer to be a little less active while on vacation can still enjoy the natural beauty thanks to auto tours. In fact, there are more than 384 miles of road to choose from, including the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and along Newfound Gap Trail. Riding a motorcycle? All the better.
2. In the air
Thrill seekers can go to the next level in the mountains, thanks to zipline tours among the canopy of the trees at places like Smoky Mountain Ziplines, or even helicopter rides above the peaks at Scenic Helicopter Tours.
3. By the water
Sunset and wildlife sightseeing tours along Fontana Lake is another way to take in things you’ll never see in Nashville, like spotting while bald eagles, ospreys, black bear, wild boar, and bobcats. Whitewater rafting adds a level of excitement to it all.
Fire Chaser Express at Dollywood. — Photo courtesy of Dollywood
4. With the kids
Families have tons of activities to choose from that have nothing to do with breaking a sweat outside. The area would be nothing like it is now without Dolly Parton and her investment in the area. New this year at Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country is the Fire Chaser Express, the country’s first dual-launch family coaster that goes forward, and backward. On a smaller budget? Forgo the park and take in the many arcades and go-cart tracks in Pigeon Forge.
5. As a show lover
From the many musical stage productions at Dollywood, to the family-friendly entertainment abundant in the area, like the Lumberjack Feud and Cirque Du Soleil, any type of entertainment itch can certainly be scratched.
6. Among the artists
The largest group of independent artisans in the country are concentrated in a historic 8-mile loop, known as the Tennessee Heritage Arts and Crafts Trail. Established in 1937, these artisans whittle and weave amazing creations just perfect for purchase as a souvenirs. Expect to get up and close with the artists, like the family at Alewine Pottery, to get a very personalized experience. There are even candy makers and small cafes to get a taste of the local flavor.
7. As a newlywed
Young lovers, newlyweds and longtime couples celebrating a special occasion won’t be disappointed with a private cabin nestled in the woods, with a deck hot-tub offering steamy views of the Smoky peaks. Not married? No problem. Tie the knot with little notice at any number of the quaint chapels dotting the area.
The bed in the Singing Brook Cottage at Blackberry Farm. — Photo courtesy of beall + thomas photography
8. Luxurious living
It doesn’t get more high-end than spending time at Blackberry Farm in the foothills of the mountains, one of the country’s premier luxury hotels. The 4,200-acre estate offers the ultimate escape with “Foothills Cuisine” that pays haute homage to the mountain’s indigenous food. As for the accommodations, think feather beds and to-die-for plush robes.
9. As a shopaholic
From outlet malls toindigenous jewelry, if you’ve got money to spend, there is more than enough for you to choose from. Stop over by The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge for a cluster of shops that sell everything from old-school toys to hand-pulled taffy.
10. As a foodie
Pancake fans will have no shortage of options, but there is so much more to mountain cuisine than breakfast. If you couldn’t get in to eat at Blackberry, try Gatlinburg’s Park Grill, located in sprawling log cabin. Finish with a stop at Kilwin’s for homemade ice cream and some of the country’s best fudge for a seriously sweet note to end a great trip.