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The Great Smoky Mountains are one of my favorite places to visit. We normally stay up on the mountain just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee in a mountain loft. We try to avoid the summer months and heavy traffic that brings once school is out. We enjoy May or October / November. Gatlinburg is quite special at Christmas time as well, but it is too cold to fully enjoy everything the Smokies have to offer.
We travel to the Smoky Mountains every few years for a week. I remember the first time we decided to go for a week, we were thinking what will we do. Well, these days we spend a day or two looking for property, this will one day be our home. If you like nature, beauty, awesome roads, and the great outdoors, you must visit. Of course, odds are you already have, it is the most visited park in the United States.
On any given trip we spend a couple of days in Cades Cove near Townsend. Townsend is on the sleepy side of the park where we plan to live one day. Cades is an 11 mile one way loop that has to be enjoyed. You will see bears, deer, turkey and other wildlife. I personally park the car and ride my bicycle with my camera. The ride is not for beginners, you have some serious climbs along the way. You will pass hundreds of cars as they stack up and you easily ride by. It has two cut-offs; one is Rich Mountain dirt road that travels 12 miles through countless switchbacks towards Townsend. The other is Parson’s Branch that takes you to Deal’s Gap aka The Tail of the Dragon. This road is 8 miles, but it is very rough; expect it to take about an hour. Don’t even think about using this as a short cut with your sports car to reach the Dragon.
Clingmans Dome is up above the Tennessee / North Carolina boarder. It offers breathtaking views, especially at sunrise and sunset. You can also access the Appalachian Trail from Clingman’s dome. Some trips I will head up to Clingmans Dome before sunrise and setup my camera. It is at these moments you realize that their is more to life than we normally realize. It takes some doing to get up and drive the top of the Smokies before the sun rises, but oh is it worth it. The open roads and twisty turns are quite spectacular as well if you are in the right car.
Roaring Fork is a 6 mile one way motor trail through some of the most beautiful landscape the Smokies have to offer. Take the Historic Nature Trail right off the main road. After a few miles it turns one way. It then winds and weaves up and down through the mountain valleys and comes out on the other side of town. The first time we did this, it took us all day to go six miles. Roaring fork is a now a daily run for us on most trips, some days we do it twice.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a special place. Back in 2002 we stopped in for a weekend near Christmas. The place was beautifully lit up with lights and decorations. However, December in the mountains, even the foothills of Tennessee can be chilly. We normally come in early May before the huge summer crowds. The weather is still cool and the roads are not crowed yet. Come summer time, you won’t find us in the Smokies.
We don’t normally stay in Gatlinburg, but normally a few miles away. Gatlinburg is good for an afternoon or two at the most, we come for the great outdoors. Gatlinburg is at the eastern entrance to the park and you will either have to drive through it or take the bypass road to get into the park.
I would suggest a rainy day excursion to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It is spectacular. Check out my Aquarium Gallery. Personally, I have no use for Pigeon Forge. It does offer lodgig, shopping, restaurants, shows, go cart tracks and Dollywood. I can see a family with smaller children enjoying it, but for me, It is a rainy day shopping spree at one of the outlet malls or maybe a restaurant for dinner one night. We did go to Dollywood a few years ago, it is first class and very different from any other theme park we have ever visited. Their is also a water park.
All photos © Andrew Allen Photography / Corvetteman.com 2002-2015