Written by MilwVon on 03 Jun, 2011
We left Lake Lure NC heading for the Blue Ridge Parkway and ultimately the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With really poor weather in North Carolina, we were looking forward to hopefully driving out from under the fog and clouds and into the clear in…Read More
We left Lake Lure NC heading for the Blue Ridge Parkway and ultimately the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With really poor weather in North Carolina, we were looking forward to hopefully driving out from under the fog and clouds and into the clear in the Smoky Mountains. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.We picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville and headed towards Cherokee. Before reaching there, however, we turned off to take the Balsam Mountain loop road which is just inside the Smoky Mountains National Park, still within NC.The start of the loop road was paved and two lanes. Just beyond a picnic area, it became a "primitive" one lane gravel and dirt road. In places, it was horrible, bottoming out our van in many places. While the ranger at the Waterrock Knob visitor's center on the Blue Ridge Parkway did forewarn us that it was slow going, but never did we think that meant an average of 10 MPH. I think it took us two and a half hours to do the 30 mile loop.It was a nice ride with some pretty forest area, along with creeks, waterfalls and lots of butterflies. No bears, however, which were the whole reason I wanted to take this journey.Once out of the forest, we drove on through to Cherokee which is also a very built up tourist area on the Indian reservation. This also serves as the main entry point into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from North Carolina. We passed on through town, stopping at the park's entry visitor's center (Oconaluftee) that has just opened earlier this year.While featuring a lot of exhibits and a gift shop, for us it was a chance to stretch our legs, use the bathrooms and get my US NPS Passport book stamped. With the biological needs taken care of, we estimated it would take approximately an hour to traverse the center of the park in order to head to our real destination - Cade's Cove - the main bear habitat where visitors can most frequently see these iconic animals. In total, the drive from the Oconaluftee Visitor's Center to Cade's Cove would be two hours.The road from the NC entrance over to Cade's Cove was very twisty with lots of hairpin and 360 turns. The views (when you could see through the fog) were pretty. I really enjoyed the drive from Sugerlands Visitor Center to Cade's Cove because the road followed along a decent sized stream with some white water rapids that were pretty in the setting sun breaking through the trees.By the time we reached Cade's Cove, it was around 6:00pm. Fortunately traffic wasn't too heavy in the park and we were able to take a nice drive at a decent speed. Inside at Cade's Cove, the loop road is also one way. The early part of the trip was nice, but not much in the way of wildlife. We did see some turkeys and deer, but no bear. I was become discouraged, while David and his Mom were patient but tired.We stopped at the visitor's center in Cade's Cove, again for bathrooms and for me to get my Passport book stamped. I asked the rangers about bears and was told that they often see them when they get off work in the evening (7:00p) which made sense since folks had been reporting seeing bears at dawn and dusk in this area of the park.About a mile down the road, I saw a black hump out in a field, through the trees. Sure enough, as we turned the corner, there were cars pulled off the road and down the side lane all gathering to take photos of a momma bear (sans cubs) dining on the tall grasses.We stopped and got some photos, which were OK given that she was some 75 to 100 yards away. The rangers on site here said that the momma did have two cubs tucked away out of sight along the tree line. As much as I would have loved to have seen cubs playing, I was ecstatic that I got to see a black bear in the wild here. Mission accomplished!From Cade's Cove it was just about an hour out to Gatlinburg, TN where we had hotel reservations. It was a very long day, but worthwhile in getting that Kodak moment of the bear grazing in the meadow. Close
I will start with a bias against shop after shop, tourist trap after tourist trap . . . for a far as the eye can see. Add to that arriving on Friday of a major American three day holiday and it is a recipe…Read More
I will start with a bias against shop after shop, tourist trap after tourist trap . . . for a far as the eye can see. Add to that arriving on Friday of a major American three day holiday and it is a recipe for disappointment.We arrived into downtown Gatlinburg around 8:00pm after being on the road since around 9:30am from Lake Lure, NC. Unfortunately for us, the weather was cool and foggy, with terrible viewing for most of the day. Having done the Blue Ridge Parkway up in Virginia in the fall of 2009, I really had big expectations for our transition day from NC to TN. It simply wasn't to be. The day of driving had taken its toll and everyone was pretty tired and a bit on the cranky side.We debated whether or not we should check into our hotel or go eat dinner at the place I had picked up a Restaurant.com certificate for. Since we were in the main downtown area and near where the restaurant was, we decided to eat first and then go to the hotel. Navigating "the Parkway" (essential "Main Street") we located the place but didn't see any place to park . . . NOwhere. We drove around the block and saw some space in a hotel lot, but they were clearly marked "TOW AWAY ZONE" if you are not staying there so we didn't chance it. There were a couple of street spaces along the side street, but nothing open.I then called the restaurant to get parking advice and was told to either pay $10 at the lot two or three blocks away or go check into our hotel and take the trolley (also for a fee). That seemed like a lot of effort to save $25 on dinner, so we just decided to punt and get to our hotel and figure it out from there.At the hotel, the front desk person suggested a very nice place (The Alamo) where we went. Generally we all avoid late evening dinners, but this would be an exception. I think it was 9:00pm when we were served our dinner salads. (See separate review)It was amazing just how many people were in this town. Most were walking from place to place . . . some using the trolley system. Those who were driving largely seemed like confused tourists like us . . . or locals just cruising the main drag. Very unimpressive!The next morning we found a nice pancake house (one of many in town) for breakfast. It was pretty amazing how expensive southern egg breakfasts were. The food was good and service fast, so we were generally OK with the "Hawaii" or "Alaska" prices. (See separate review on this restaurant too.)With food needs taken care of, we were on our way out of town and heading home. I suppose to be fair, had we arrived fresh and at a less crowded time, we may have liked it a bit more. We were too tired to schlep down to walk along the sidewalks to see the obligatory fudge shops, tee shirt stores or hand crafted gift emporiums.If I were to plan a vacation around more time in the national park, Gatlinburg would probably be my choice for no other reason than their location. Literally, they are just five minutes from the entrance into the park and ten from a major visitor's center. More importantly for my interests, Cade's Cove (a well know black bear habitat) is less than a hour from downtown. Close
Written by Sandy Goes on 02 Feb, 2007
On our drive to Gatlinburg which is approximately 750 miles from NYC we stopped for the night after being on the road about 7 hours. We spent the night in Natural Bridge VA. The next morning as we were ready to get back on the…Read More
On our drive to Gatlinburg which is approximately 750 miles from NYC we stopped for the night after being on the road about 7 hours. We spent the night in Natural Bridge VA. The next morning as we were ready to get back on the road we discovered that we were about 15 minutes away from a National Historic Landmark. "Natural Bridge" is located on US 11, 15 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway off I 81. This natural rock bridge is 215' tall and 90' wide was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. A pleasant descent into the ravine to Cedar Creek can be reached in about 35 minutes walking leisurely to the end of the trail where you view a waterfall. Unfortunately due to lack of rainfall, there wasn't much of a waterfall to look at when we visited but there were a bunch of huge yellow colored fish in the nearby creek, I believe they were trout but I can't get anyone to confirm if yellow trout exists. It was a pleasant walk in the woods on mostly level ground. Included with admission ($12 adults and $6 children) was a visit to an Indian Living History Village with descendants of the Monacan Indians where they depicted the way of life from 300 years ago. Two women descendants and a young boy dressed in Indian garb told of how things were done in the past. They told us that there were only about 1500 true descendants of the Monacan Indians still living in the area. We spotted a wild turkey roaming around outside the area as we were walking. You can visit the village going to or from your walk to the bridge.A visit to Natural Bridge is definitely a worthwhile stop. We got on the road to resume our trip to TN approximately 6 more hours of driving. If you have time there are also other interesting things to see here; caverns, wax museum and behind the scenes was museum factory tour. www.naturalbridgeva.com Close
Written by briggl on 16 Aug, 2006
Once at the park, I stopped at the Sugarlands visitor center, then followed Newfound Gap Road. This road runs at an angle through the park, and comes out at Cherokee, NC.The bluish mist, which clings to the mountainsides and fills the valleys, gives the park…Read More
Once at the park, I stopped at the Sugarlands visitor center, then followed Newfound Gap Road. This road runs at an angle through the park, and comes out at Cherokee, NC.The bluish mist, which clings to the mountainsides and fills the valleys, gives the park its name.The park encompasses over 800 square miles. There are over 270 miles of road, most paved, and the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars. There are eleven self-guiding nature trails available, as well as selected trails designated as "Quiet Walkways."One of the nation's largest collections of historic log buildings is within the park, including homes, schools, mills and churches of the mountain people.There are more species of trees here than in northern Europe, 1,500 flowering plants, dozens of native fish, more than 200 species of birds and more than 60 species of mammals. No place this size in a temperate climate can match the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's variety of plant and animal species.This information is from the pamphlet distributed by the rangers at the park.Newfound Gap is at an elevation of 5,046 feet above sea level. The Tennessee-North Carolina border crosses Newfound Gap east-to-west, as does the Appalachian Trail.Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains, standing at an elevation of 5048 feet.Also at Newfound Gap is the Rockefeller Memorial. A two-tiered stone structure, this monument is a thank you to the Rockefeller family's $5 million donation to complete the Park's land acquisition. Close
Written by Kataries on 20 Jun, 2005
Just walking through Gatlinburg, doing nothing in particular, is a lot of fun. During Christmas, the entire town of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is lit up beyond belief, and it is like walking in a wonderland. However, it is a great pasttime at any time…Read More
Just walking through Gatlinburg, doing nothing in particular, is a lot of fun. During Christmas, the entire town of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is lit up beyond belief, and it is like walking in a wonderland. However, it is a great pasttime at any time of year. It is a huge tourist area. You just park your car in one of the many parking areas--most cost about $5 for entire day--and start from one and go to the other. Everything is on one street, so it is really easy to see everything. And let me tell you, you can see just about everything!!
Let me see if I can share some of the things you'll find on this busy street. First, of course, you will find your tons of hotels and an equal amount of restaurants, from Burger King to seafood to BBQ. You'll find it all right here. There are tons and tons of souvenir stores with everything from toys to quilts to house furnishings. Most have to do with the black bear that can still be found in these parts of the woods. There are jewelry stores, clothing stores, and art stores. Thomas Kinkade, my favorite painter, has two galleries here in Gatlinburg. You can go in there and shop or just browse, cut down the lights, and watch the lights in his paintings light right up.
There are a couple of bars and a daiquiri factory serving only, well, you guessed it--nice frozen daiquiris of about any flavor you can imagine. There is a large assortment of fresh fudge shops where the fudge is prepared right there in front of you. The shops have many flavors of fudge and are always willing to hand out free samples to people passing by so they can try out the different tastes. There is a Build-a-Bear Workshop. If you have never been into one of these, they are great, especially for kids. You build your own stuffed animal from the skin up. You fluff it, you dress it--whatever you want. It is your very own custom-made stuffed animal.
There is a small river that runs right along the road, and it had ducks in it. Benches all along the river enable you to sit and watch the river, have a picnic, feed the ducks, and just relax and people-watch. There are a couple haunted houses on this stretch. The Aquarium is here. There are quite a few old-time photo places here as well. They will dress you up and set you up with props and take your old-time photo, alone or with a group of people. There are quite a few of them, so shop around to find out which one you like best.
Let's see... what else... there is a Guinness World Record Museum, an indoor mini-golf course, and an indoor earthquake ride. The skylift is in this stretch. The tram that takes you to Ober Gatlinburg, a ski area in the winter, is here. There are shops to buy dolls, swords, knives, cartoon character items, a huge magnet shop, souvenir T-shirts and sweatshirts, and dog and cat items such as special treats or sweaters, leashes, and Halloween costumes. It really is just a lot of fun to window shop and see all the different stuff for sale. They even have an "adult shop", if you know what I mean.
TIP: Check in the lobby of your hotel and in the lobby area of restaurants before you venture out too much at first. There are magazines and small books that are LOADED with coupons for all of the really good attractions.
Written by Muchmor on 23 May, 2003
When planning our trip to the Smokies, we decided it would be a good place to finally tie the knot (after 11 years together). I did extensive research on the web, checking out the rules etc for Brits to marry here and found that basically…Read More
When planning our trip to the Smokies, we decided it would be a good place to finally tie the knot (after 11 years together). I did extensive research on the web, checking out the rules etc for Brits to marry here and found that basically there weren’t any. We just had to find somewhere to marry and register our intent with the local city hall to get the paperwork before the ceremony.
Apparently this is the second most popular place to get married after Las Vegas. We wanted something nice and simple, so after lots of web research found The chapel in the Glen. This was a lovely little log chapel, with beautiful landscaped gardens including waterfalls, gazebos etc.
We booked our ceremony by phone a few weeks before traveling. They had several packages available depending on what type of bouquet, garter etc you wanted. You can also choose the size and number of photos you need, they can also provide a video. The ceremony can be performed inside or out.
There are also extras you can have such as champagne goblets, wedding cakes, limo hire, reception and even honeymoon arrangements.
As we already had a cabin booked and our actual holiday was our honeymoon, we chose a package of cascading bouquet, garter, buttonhole and 20 large photos in an album. This cost us approx $400.
We arrived half-hour before our allotted 12pm wedding. We chose to have an outside wedding, but unfortunately when we got there it was raining, so we decided to have the ceremony inside the chapel (it never rained again for the whole two week break). They have large (separate) dressing rooms for the bride & groom to change in. After checking your info is correct they take the wedding rings from you and at your allotted time, you are introduced to the reverend and taken through to the picturesque log chapel. Although you can have guests, there was only the two of us, so it was very intimate. The ceremony took place (to be honest I remember very little about it, but it was very simple and moving), then we were introduced to the photographer.
He took photos inside, but half way through the rain stopped and the sun came out, so the other half of the photos were taken outside on the chapel balcony. You can also have photos in the gazebo and near the waterfall.
Once the photos have been taken you go back into the office and collect your marriage certificate, change and leave as man & wife. We collected our photos two days later and they were very nicely presented in a white album with a brochure to order re-prints and enlargements later.
Once back in England, we ordered several photos and some enlargements and they arrived a couple of weeks later. I would definitely recommend this chapel, it was not too tacky and they treated us well at every stage.
Written by adventuregirl on 02 May, 2004
OK, I stayed at Gatlinburg Town square, directly off the strip. It's on "Historic Nature Trail." It's next to Outback Steakhouse (how conVENient) and is just up the street from the space needle (great for the view).
It is about a…Read More
OK, I stayed at Gatlinburg Town square, directly off the strip. It's on "Historic Nature Trail." It's next to Outback Steakhouse (how conVENient) and is just up the street from the space needle (great for the view).
It is about a block away from THE GREAT SMOKY MTNs -- The nation's only FREE national park -- and is home to Brown Bears, and a whole gamut of newly identified plant and animal species, not to mention beautiful and colorful salamanders! (note -- see more bears in June and July when it's bear mating season.)
The resort is also just DOWN the street from Roaring Rapids Fork -- a definitely gorgeous car-tour that winds through the mountains.
I'd recommend a visit to Cades Cove at dusk for the best opportunity to see the wildlife (boars, bears, deer, raccoons, rabbits, etc). And hikes to CATARACT FALLS (easy hike less than a mile round trip, no incline). We also hiked to Laurel Falls, and Grotto Falls. (Hey – grotto is CAVE in Italian). I would also suggest Abrams Falls. All of these were simple hikes, and Laurel Falls is a paved hike. And Rainbow Falls is an intense hike, but beautiful all the same. As the names indicate, we saw numerous cascading waterfalls, and though it's not recommended, we did find some time to play CAREFULLY in them -- avoiding touching the lichen behind the falls that is no place else in the world but there, and is an endangered species. Oh, and for those who care, they've even got hikes, specially created for the handicapped... they are beautiful, and paved. You can go on guided hikes with Rangers, or you can go on your own. We did a little of both for the experience.
Also in the Smokies you can go for a Lightning Bug Hunt... you actually sit and watch. Yeah, sounds real fun, huh? But get this -- It's one of two places in the WHOLE WORLD that the lightning bugs all light up in synchronicity -- ALL AT THE SAME TIME. How cool. The kid's loved it.
There's also a junior ranger program, and whole families can be involved, for kids to earn badges, do hikes, etc with the rangers. They get completely into it. Pick up an activities paper at any visitor's center at one of the park entrances.
Besides that we played in rivers, skipped stones in the deeper pools of the river, played in streams, and even got caught in the current a few places. Pure bliss.
And did I forget that so far we've spent NO MONEY on all this free entertainment, which depleted the energy stores of my children like no other activities can? Yeah, we love this place.
We also paid $35/head to take a rafting trip with USA RAFT (recommended) down the Pigeon River on a white water rafting trip that lasted a bit over an hour. The 5x7 shot of us in the rapids cost us $10 (owie)... and it was SO worth every single cent. This is for kids 8 and up... but they have a more mellow rafting trip for families with kids around 6 that was about $20/head.
And then there's the James Bond-esque Sky Tram... an aerial tram up the mountainside in a box that can hold up to 120 people as it runs on cables at 15 mph.... beautiful. And $8/ad, $6 kids for two days unlimited rides...
At the Top (and that was OBER GATLINBURG) there is a mini-amusement park for $18/ad, $14/kids for unlimited play. This is perfect for families with kids up to age...12..... older than that and they might be bored for lack of people to stare at and flirt with... but it's just large enough to have something for everyone, and still make parents secure in the fact that they're safe. They've got an ALPINE slide (right ON) that was my personal favorite ride - even with a 5 year old hitchhiker with me - and they've got a couple of water slides, and one water raft ride - the Cyclone - and some mini-carnival rides for the wee ones, with a playground. They've got a chairlift from there to the top of the mountain, where the views are spectacular, and of course you can purchase a beautiful picture of you on your chairlift with the Rockies in the background. $10. They've also got the go-karts (yeah, that can get a little intense for the adults... :) and the "Pirate Ship" that swings from left to right until everyone wants to hurl. But my son, 11, was on that more than ten times. The glory here? NO LINES. Even in June. Ahhh. I hate lines.
Okay, the area of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and Sevierville have tons of commercialism too, so if someone's into outlet shopping, wants to be in an old-tyme store with fudge and taffy, etc... or wants to be t-shirts, and any kind of souvenir known to man, then this is most definitely the place. They've got it all -- and they are tourist HAPPY.
You can eat anyplace from Shoney's to Outback steakhouse... even the Texas Road House and Panera are but a five/ten minute walk from the resort. EVERYTHING is within walking distance, it seems, and it's a good thing -- because this place has NO PARKING. I guess that's why they've got the TROLLEY service going to every hot spot! We rode one day for 2 hrs for a whopping $0.25 each... although some routes do cost more -- like the ones that go to Dollywood, a pretty good theme park.
I've heard that the shows are great -- particularly Dixie Stampede. It runs twice/evening and is like $15/head. Didn't catch any of that, myself.
Okay -- so that's the long version. And I'm SURE I didn't tell you everything. OHHHH, I forgot to tell you that they've got the World's most VISITED Aquarium there in Gatlinburg, and tonzO miniature golfing and that kind of fun, as well as every version of "Ripley's Believe it or Not" and the Guinness World Records Museum, and the Land of Illusions, etc.... All action -- all the time. Paradise for kids of all ages (even if it's agony to the parents). Ripley's cost $8/Ad, and $6 for the kids. It took about an hour to get through. They've got Ripley's haunted mansion, Ripley's Hollywood Cars Museum, Ripley's believe it or not, Ripley's Mini-Golf.... and on and on and on.
For adult fun, they do have a local winery close to the resort that gives tours and has a small wine and cheese fest daily from 10am to 4. Nice.
They've also got local artisans in their studios working and chatting... it's called the Artist's Loop and it's 8 miles of shop after shop -- about a hundred of em -- from super swanky to average... in every kind of medium, be it pottery or calligraphy or painting.... pretty interesting stuff.
Oh... and you can finish up the trip by getting tattoos for the whole fam. Yup. Me, too. From $8 and up you, too, can get an airbrushed temporary tattoo! They last about four days and are way too much fun, for the scaredy-cats like me who will NEVER get a real tattoo.
Written by EPearl on 12 Sep, 2002
This isn't as out of place as it sounds. We decided that we were not going to be able to make the trip (by car) to Gatlinburg in one day, so we had to decide about where to stop overnight. After getting out…Read More
This isn't as out of place as it sounds. We decided that we were not going to be able to make the trip (by car) to Gatlinburg in one day, so we had to decide about where to stop overnight. After getting out my trusty map, I determined that we could visit another very interesting area on our way to (and from) our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. We stayed at the main hotel that is part of the Natural Bridge area. We wandered around some of the paths and streams as we were walking to the Bridge. It is an absolutely mammouth creation of nature. If you look very closely, you could even see the cars overhead, driving across the Bridge. The Natural Bridge is considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. They have an evening show at the bridge, as it is getting dark, where they shine colored lights on the area, as background music fills the air. Very relaxing, even if the air had a bit of a chill. I felt like I was in church. It was very moving. You cannot get the full effect of the Bridge, though, in the evening. You can't really appreciate how big it actually is. Talk about feeling really insignificant in the grand scheme of things! Close
Written by lyss710 on 12 Jul, 2001
When we originally began planning our honeymoon, my husband had his heart set on a Carribean getaway at a tropical resort. Then we looked at our finances and reality set in - it would have to be somewhere cheaper. Our first choice in…Read More
When we originally began planning our honeymoon, my husband had his heart set on a Carribean getaway at a tropical resort. Then we looked at our finances and reality set in - it would have to be somewhere cheaper. Our first choice in the U.S. was the Outer Banks of N. Carolina, but the reality of having to fly and rent a car (we were under 25 and thus faced hefty surcharges) ruled out that possibility also. A friend of my mother's recommended that we consider Gatlinburg. I hopped on the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce website and requested a free vacation guide and lodging information.
After looking through everything we got, we were sold on Gatlinburg. We got a great romantic cabin for an amazing price (see my accomodation review), and had the most relaxing and wonderful week. We slept-in most mornings, ate a late breakfast/early lunch in the cabin (using our full kitchen and things we picked up at the grocery store), and headed out in the late morning for the day's activities, then ate dinner out and either poked through downtown or came back to the cabin and watched a movie. We easily could have spent another 3-4 days there and still not have seen everything we wanted to. It was the most relaxing vacation we have ever taken. Soon after we went, two other couples we know took their honeymoons in Gatlinburg as well, and had an equally wonderful time.
Written by titaniumcop on 11 Nov, 2000
As we drove up, we figured out why the Smoky Mountains are so named. They really are smoky. There's a constant haze that sits on the mountains, making thems seem cloaked in mystery. Quite pretty as you drive along the highway and they're directly…Read More
As we drove up, we figured out why the Smoky Mountains are so named. They really are smoky. There's a constant haze that sits on the mountains, making thems seem cloaked in mystery. Quite pretty as you drive along the highway and they're directly in front of you.
When we got to Gatlinburg, we were pleasantly surprised. It's a quaint little town with lots of little shops, attractions, and tourists. I don't know where these people came from, but they were all there enjoying their vacation in Gatlinburg. It appears that the town is a honeymooners spot. They also have a beautiful tram car ride to the top of the mountain. At the top is a ice skating rink (open all year round) with a ski resort in the winter and a playground in the summer (camping, etc.). Very interesting slice of life, seeing this bustling mecca for tourists that we had never really heard of before. Close