The Great Smoky Mountains are filled with adventure. You might pass bear cubs playing by the side of the road, visit Gatlinburg’s vibrant and eclectic downtown or take in a view that takes you above the clouds, all in the same afternoon.
How to get there
Most of your driving trip will be spent on southbound I-75, passing through Ohio, Kentucky, through Knoxville, Tennessee, then U.S. 441 S to Gatlinburg. If you’d prefer to fly, you can fly non-stop from Detroit Metro Airport on Delta Airlines to Knoxville for $299 round trip, then rent a car to drive one hour to Gatlinburg.
Best time of year to visit
The most scenic time of year to visit Gatlinburg is in September
and October, according to Travel.usnews.com. Two peak seasons are the summer months, and the month of October, when fall foliage is at its peak. It’s also the most crowded, and visitors can enjoy the beauty of blooming wildflowers, fewer crowds and cooler temperatures in April.
Things to do
• Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S., and for good reason. Cascading waterfalls, roaming wildlife and a view that stretches out over 500,000 acres are just a few of the reasons vacationers return, season after season.
• You can explore on foot or by car. From the original Appalachian Trail to breathtaking wildflower walks, there are 150 Smoky Mountain trails covering 800 miles of pristine background.
• Enjoy scenic drives from three different entrances to the park. Every trip to the Smokies begins with a drive on the Newfound Gap road, where you can see highlights along the way: Sugarlands Visitors Center, Newfound Gap, Clingman’s Dome Road, Ocanaluftee Valley and Mingus Mill.
• Cades Cove offers numerous hiking trails, including Abrams Falls, the Cades Cove Nature Trail and Thunderhead Mountain and Rock Top. There’s a trail for every skill set. Cades Cove is also open to bicyclists and the five-mile loop is closed to cars every Saturday and Wednesday morning until 10 a.m., from early May until late September. You can also horseback ride on this trail.
• Visit Gatlinburg’s Historic Arts & Crafts Community, home of the nation’s largest organization of independent artisans, featuring pottery, paintings, quilts, woodcarving, musical instruments, leatherworks and many mixed-media pieces.
• Don’t miss Dollywood Theme Park and Dollywood’s Splash Country in nearby Pigeon Forge.
• Family friendly attractions abound, from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park & Ski Area, Gatlinburg Space Needle, Gatlinburg Skylift, outlet shopping, miniature golf, themed dinner shows and more.
Where to stay
Lodging options abound in this unique mountain area, from mountain-top cabins and chalets to Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, national chain hotels, condominiums and inns like The Hippensteal Mountain View Inn (where this writer’s family has stayed and enjoyed many times).
Local specialty foods
From down-home American cooking to eclectic recipes from around the world, Gatlinburg offers more than 100 places to enjoy a great meal. Known for some of the best barbecue in the south, don’t miss dining at a top barbecue restaurant, from the humble but delicious Hungry Bear BBQ to Three Jimmy’s for dinner and entertainment. Also enjoy Gatlinburg’s locally made candy, jerky, baked goods, jams, sauces and other regional delights.