Gatlinburg’s biggest attraction is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Covering over 800 square miles of unspoiled Appalachian countryside, the park is the nation’s most visited and for good reason. Wondrous panoramic views, cascading streams and waterfalls, magnificent mountains, historic homesteads and wildlife abound, revealing a bounty of outdoor treasures. Gatlinburg, Tennessee is located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so you can easily access all of the scenic sights and natural wonders of Appalachia.
Highlights of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are 400 miles of roads through the National Park, each winding its ways past numerous scenic sights. An auto tour of the park allows you to see the best of the Smoky Mountains from the comfort of your car. Many of these scenic roads offer pull off stops perfect for snapping photos and taking in the view. Keep your eyes open for wildlife too. Bears share these roads. They can create quite the traffic jam, with everyone eager to get a view of these locals. Along the way you’ll also spot waterfalls, towering forests and ‘meandering creeks. Need a scenic drive suggestion? Three of the most popular scenic drives are Cades Cove Loop Road, Newfound Gap Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
In the Great Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg, you can choose from 800 miles of trails. These range from easy walks to strenuous treks, each offering a unique insight into the great outdoors. Hiking in Gatlinburg is the best way to experience the Smokies like the original settlers did as you can immerse yourself in untouched, unspoiled outdoor splendor. Choose which sights you’d like to see, then choose how long you’d like to hike. Some of the most sought-after sights include waterfalls, historic buildings and mountain tops with sweeping vistas. From the original Appalachian Trail to wildflower walks to waterfall excursions, there is a hike for every person and season of the Smokies. In fact, there are 150 trails to choose from which can be daunting. A few favorite trails include Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls, Rainbow Falls, Andrews Bald, Chimney Tops, Alum Cave and Porters Creek.
The mountains and valleys of the National Park is a haven for wildlife. During your days of exploring keep your eyes peeled for elk, birds, white-tailed deer, turkeys and black bears. The park is a thriving natural habitat for black bears, so there’s a good chance you’ll see one on vacation. Elk was successfully reintroduced to the park in 2001, while white-tailed deer have continued to prosper throughout the Smokies. Birdwatchers love the Smoky Mountains as over 200 species call the National Park home. Bring your binoculars and see which avian species you can spot. Of course, all of the wildlife is complimented by the forests, flowers, and fauna of the Park. There are over 100 species of trees and just as many varieties of shrubs. Add over 1,600 species of wildflowers, including mountain laurel, azaleas, and rhododendron, and it’s easy to see why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an outdoor wonderland.
Gatlinburg and its surrounding towns are rich in heritage. Settlers first arrived on these lands in just before the turn of the 19th century, and over 80 preserved log structures are still standing in the Park. Learn all there is to know about Appalachian culture, with educational opportunities at old homesteads, mills, and schoolhouses. Five of the most famous historical sites include John Oliver’s Cabin, Cade Cove’s first and oldest cabin; Noah “Bud” Ogle’s Homestead, located on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, features one of the last existing operational tub mills; Little Greenbrier School, a classic one-room 1800s schoolhouse; John Cable’s Mill, a classic waterwheel-powered mill in Cades Cove; and Mingus Mill, a turbine mill built in 1886 that is still operational today.
Along with the varied landscapes of the Smokies comes a variety of outdoor activities to experience. Try your hand at fishing in the Smokies. Anglers can cast their line in over 700 fishable streams in the park, and see if the trout are biting. Want to gallop through the countryside the way early settlers did? Go for a horseback ride on the hundred miles of horse trails. There are four stables offering guided rides so you can easily saddle up in the Smokies. Bicycling is another option. Cades Cove is perhaps the most popular place to ride, but other suitable areas include the roads in Greenbrier and Tremont as well as the Cataloochee Valley. Park trails open to bicyclists are limited, but you can bike on the Gatlinburg Trail, Oconaluftee River Trail, and lower Deep Creek Trail.