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Your guide to Great Smoky Mountains
All About the Great Smoky Mountains
One of the great natural treasures of Appalachia, the Great Smoky Mountains rise up along the Tennessee-North Carolina border in the southeastern pocket of the United States. The Smokies are also a designated National Park, drawing nature lovers and outdoor adventurers from all over the world with lush valleys and challenging peaks. Wildlife is abundant here, with more than 1,000 black bears calling the park home and hundreds of bird species to be seen (look out for screech owls).
Whether you’re looking for the excitement of tubing down a snowy hillside, prefer a leisurely kayak along the river, or fancy an afternoon sampling the breweries in nearby Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has you covered. Enchanting fall foliage attracts annual visitors, while spring brings carpets of wildflowers and rushing waterfalls. Part of the fun is deciding just how you’ll explore the mountain range, which contains 150 hiking trails, the Cades Cove driving loop, and plenty of bike-friendly travel routes.
The best time to stay in a vacation rental in Great Smoky Mountains
Spring in the Smokies means wildflowers in bloom, black bears coming out of hibernation, and an exquisite spring vegetable harvest for the area’s restaurants. The summer brings an abundance of activity, both in the wild and in the mountain resort town of Gatlinburg, where open-air festivals fill the calendar. Fall is renowned for the changes in foliage that occur here, and if you’re taking advantage of the many Smoky Mountain vacation rentals or have a Smoky cabin rental lined up, there are plenty of viewing points around the park to make the most of the seasonal show. If you prefer crisp winter days — and have packed accordingly — the festive season makes neighboring Gatlinburg worth the trip, with parades and light shows accessible via the year-round trolley service.
Top things to do in Great Smoky Mountains
The Foothills Parkway
Lauded as one of the most beautiful drives in the United States, the Foothills Parkway winds its way across the foothills of the northern Great Smoky Mountains. The road runs for 72 miles along parts of the Little Tennessee River as well as through portions of Blount, Cocke, and Sevier counties, with numerous viewpoints over the Smokies themselves.
Take a five-mile hike or drive up to Cades Cove, a lush valley with a few historical timber buildings leftover from its time as a residential mountain outpost. This protected valley is now a favorite spot for visitors hoping to spot grazing wildlife, gold and pink sunsets, or a sea of dancing fireflies during summer. The paved loop is closed for cyclists on Saturday and Wednesday mornings, and there are hikes to Abrams Falls. If you’d like a guided tour, both public and private options are available.
Gatlinburg is a mountain resort town nestled on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. It has an interactive pinball museum, a Space Needle with panoramic vistas from 400 feet in the air, and plenty of local distilleries, breweries, and wineries worth visiting.