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There are so many things to see and do while you are in Gatlinburg that people seldom go on day trips from here. If you stay long enough to get bored, there are several places that locals tend to go.
With over 900 miles of trails, there is something for everyone inside the Jewell of the Park system. Created in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a treasure of historical artifacts ranging from log cabins and barns to small family cemetaries. At the time of its creation there were over 7000 people living inside the Park boundaries. When they left, they left a rich legacy of Southern Appalachian artifacts.
The Park is also home to more species of life than anywhere else on the planet North of the Tropics. Containing 1600 types of flowering plants, an estimated 20,000 types of mushrooms, at least 30 species of salamanders, 2000 miles of streams, as well as the highest density of black bears in all of North America, the Park offers something for every interest.
As the country's most visited National Park, with 9 to 10 million visitors a year, hiking might not be on everyone's list. That's OK, there are plenty of roads to explore, quiet walkways, picnic areas, campgrounds and two amazing Visitor's Centers. To plan your trip, be sure to visit the NPS website, http://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm.
Looking to explore the historic side of the Smokies and maybe spot a bear or two? Don't miss Cades Cove, located on the Western Edge of the Park. Cades Cove is a wonderful place to explore cabins, mills, churches and cemetaries from the 1800's. With a beautiful one lane road meandering through a picturesque valley, this is the perfect way to spend a lazy day. Be sure to go early to avoid the crowds and bring a picnic lunch. Wednesday and Saturday mornings in the summer, get there early for a quiet bike ride through the Cove without the worry of traffic. The road is closed to vehicles until 10 am on those days. Want to feel like a cowboy? Check out Cades Cove Riding Stables for a unique way to enjoy the Cove, http://cadescoveridingstable.com.
With so many options and so much to explore, you might wish to hire a guide. The folks at A Walk in the Woods have been taking tens of thousands of people out safely into the Park since 1998. As the only guide service in the East to be awarded the prestigious REI Top Guide award, you are guaranteed to experience the best that the Park has to offer. They offer every tour imaginable and tailor the tour to match your group. The guides are all naturalists, wilderness first responders and have years of experience leading people through the woods, http://awalkinthewoods.com/.
Looking for other adventures? Look no further than NOC's Great Outpost in downtown Gatlinburg. Whitewater rafting, zip lining, kayaking, a climbing wall and more as well as a complete line of outdoor gear and local crafts, make this shop a unique and necessary stop on your Smoky Mountain Adventure, http://www.noc.com/noc-gatlinburg/
Before you head out of this area, make sure you have first explored this wonderful place. Visiting the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community reminds one of the best that Gatlinburg ever was. Driving out Hwy 321, just outside of downtown Gatlinburg, you can take your car or the city trolley around the 8 mile loop and visit the shops, galleries, and studios of over a hundred working artists and craftspeople who live and work here in Gatlinburg. In the first mile and a half of Glades Road you will pass Loreli Candle Shop, Gemstones Jewelry, and the nice shops around "The Ship" restaurant as well as Alewine Pottery. With plenty of parking and enough different things to see and do to make it well worth your time to stop is Jim Gray Gallery. Located in a 100 year old former church building with a red tin roof and red shutters on the windows, they feature the entire range of Jim Gray's work from watercolor and oil paintings, to bronze sculpture, plus all his lithograph and giclee prints. This man sculpted the bronze of Dolly Parton that is over in Sevierville on the courthouse lawn, as well as the bronzes of President Andrew Johnson that are in Greenville, TN and on the Capitol lawn in Nashville. They are open year round Monday thru Saturday and choose to be closed on Sunday to honor the Lord's Day. They used to have a gallery right down town, but it was lost in a fire in Dec of 2007 and they are not reoccupying there, but are concentrating on this location in the Arts Community. From the gallery, you can walk over to Jeff Hale's pottery shop called Future Relics, or up to Fox Hill Gallery right across the road. The old Cliff Dwellers Shop was built downtown in the 1930's. The Grays saved this great old building and moved it next door to the Gallery. The Cliff Dweller's features probably 25 different artists and crafters and is, as it says on the sign, " A Very Interesting Place." Just down from Jim Gray Gallery you can walk to Cosby Hill Crafters, then The Smiths have a great knife and scrimshaw shop, and also the Arensbak's Troll Shop. Ogle's Broom shop makes brooms while you watch, and Ma's Kitchen will serve you a country plate lunch that is always good. There are lots of other great parts of the Arts Community, and if you have time you should stop at Paul Murray Gallery, G Webb Gallery, Vern Hippensteal Gallery and the group of shops at Turtle Hollow. When you come full circle on Hwy 321 headed back to Gatlinburg, watch for Buie Pottery and the shops at Buie's Landing, right across the road from the "golden arches." This will be a day well spent and for anyone who has been to Gatlinburg and found the strip too "busy." The Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community will be a refreshing and memorable addition to any trip to the mountains.
Asheville is about a two hour drive from Gatlinburg. You can take I-40 across the mountain or if you are feeling more adventurous you can follow TN 73 to US 23/70 into the northern end of Asheville. The latter route has some awesome scenery and takes you through the scenic little town of Hot Springs, NC. Downtown Asheville has a lot of shopping, dining, and entertainment and of course if you are in Asheville, you should take at least a half-day to visit the Biltmore estate.
This is a small town that is in the heart of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, with a good number of souvenir shops to choose from. Along with souvenirs of the Smokies and the National Park, this is a good place to shop for Native American items such as artwork, blankets, crafts, and much more. This is a lower-profile, less crowded area than Gatlinburg, although it does get a fair number of tourists. Driving though Cherokee will put you on a series of small highways winding through the Appalachians that will eventually bring you back to the Interstate not far from Chattanooga, or you can turn around and make the 45-60 minute drive back to Gatlinburg.
The town has a small collection of Indian stores but the real attraction is the Museum of Cherokee History, the outdoor drama "Unto These Hills" (a nighttime drama telling the story of the Trail of Tears) and the the Oconaluftee Indian Village where visitors can learn more about Cherokee people, crafts, and culture. Harrah's Casino is also in Cherokee and is always a good way to blow a little "extra" money.
The Blue Ridge Parkway ends in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park just 25 miles from Gatlinburg. It always amazes me how little traffic is on the Blue Ridge. The rest of the area can be totally jammed with traffic and then you turn onto the Parkway and it all melts away. You can follow the Parkway for the whole 465 miles, or just a few miles and come back. One of my favorite overlooks is Water rock knob which is just past the intersecton with US 23/74. A nice and scenic loop is to follow the Parkway to US 276, follow 276 into Waynesville, then take US 73 back to Cherokee, and then follow 441 back across to Gatlinburg Be sure to take advantage of the scenic pull-offs and short hikes along the Parkway.
This is a beautiful parkway that is built much like the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road gently climbs with large sweeping views over the surrounging mountains. The truly amazing thing is the almost total lack of traffic on this gorgeous drive!!