Give us a run-down of a best five day visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park...
September 9, 2007 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Last minute vacation help please ... My wife and I love to hike and see national park beauty and we've decided we'd like to visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park during the third week of September (both Tennessee and N. Carolina sides?) - some brief questions in explanation...

First question to ask is: How bad have the summer drought conditions hurt the natural beauty of the park?

We're not going to tent camp but rather stay in hotels or rent a cabin (any advice here would be great) - so we won't be lighting campfires - are the drought conditions dangerous for a hiker otherwise?

Can someone run down the best no-miss sights/hikes/attractions in the park (providing the answers to above don't change our plans!)?

Thanks in advance...
posted by mctsonic to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked out the website?
posted by edgeways at 5:12 PM on September 9, 2007

posted by edgeways at 5:13 PM on September 9, 2007

Jackson Cabin Rentals are great!

Chimney Tops, if you are an avid hiker and can handle it, is supposed to be THE hike to do for the spectacular views. My husband loved it. It's strenuous but worth the climb.

I am a wimp, and still enjoy the Chimney's picnic area, which has a lovely river running by it. Great place for couples and families (my boys like to try to dam up the river in narrow falls, collect stones, etc. in the freezing water). There are grills for hot dogs as well as picnic tables.

Drive to Cade's Cove, and take the Loop. You MUST do this. If you don't want to ride around in a car, you can bicycle parts of the loop. This is by far the best trail on which to see wildlife. We have seen deer, bears, turkeys and even a wild fox.

Stay away from Pigeon Forge (touristy to the point of downright tacky), but DO go into Gatlinburg and partake of the Smoky Mountains Brewery. Great restaurant, casual, with lots of beers to taste, and a band on Friday (and some Saturday) nights.

Lots of trails cross the Appalachian Trail, so be sure to set your foot on it if you can.
posted by misha at 5:36 PM on September 9, 2007

If you wanna do some sightseeing while mostly in the car, check out the West side of the Foothills parkway (see edgeways' link), which has some pretty nice areas to park and check out the view. It also has a very short hike to an observation tower. Also, to answer your first question: I haven't been in the park this summer, but the Look Rock observation tower's web cam has some archived photos that make it look pretty lush and green.
posted by kimota at 5:58 PM on September 9, 2007

Seconding the advice to stay away from Pigeon Forge, and really, Gatlinburg as well. If you must stay near the Smokies in Tennessee, hit Townsend. Cute, quiet and a few really impressive restaurants, although you do need to buy your booze in Gatlinburg because Townsend's dry.

A very pleasant hike is the Abrahm's Falls hike in Cades Cove.

And I know you've already decided on the Smokies, but equally beautiful and a lot less crowded is both the southern and northern branches of Cherokee National Forest. It's a gorgeous area and, to my mind, much more fun than the Smokies. Then again, I grew up less than an hour away from the Park so some of the shiny may have worn off.

Either way, don't feed the bears, enjoy watching the deer, and drive safe on the curvy roads.
posted by teleri025 at 7:12 PM on September 9, 2007

Another vote for Cade's Cove. I grew up going to the Smokies every year as a child, but it's changed by leaps and bounds since then, but Cades Cove is wonderful. Go very early or at dusk to maximize your exposure to wildlife. I once did a nightime hayride around loop which was lots of fun, but I don't know if they still do that.
posted by kimdog at 8:06 PM on September 9, 2007

I think that I shall never see...
A park as lovely as Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, the largest old growth preserve in the eastern US. True virgin forest here, just outside of the Smokies. The lake has the clearest water I've seen outside of the tropics--just beautiful.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2007

It is crackling dry here east of the mountains...a little better in the mountains as they have been picking up a little bit of the rain that hasn't made it as far as Charlotte but still very dry. We were hiking on the Parkway north of Brevard last week and the forest floor is very dry but the forest is still mostly green. Some of the more sensitive trees have started to color early and drop some leaves and the Fraser firs (christmas trees) seem to be suffering. The mountains have started to get some cool mornings (high 50s last Saturday up high) which will help and we are supposed to have more cool weather and some rain by the weekend. I suspect you won't notice the effects of the drought in the mountains but lake levels are the lowest I have ever seen. Many lakes have been down for so long that they have wide strips of grass growing where there used to be water.

Second forgetting the Tennessee tourist traps and can't say enough good things about the Joyce Kilmer Forest...a bit of a pain to get to depending on where you are coming from but worth the trip.
posted by cyclopz at 8:10 AM on September 10, 2007

Avoid the tourist traps of P.F. and Gat if you can.

But if you want a great dinner, try Bennett's Pit BBQ.

Sugarlands Visitor Center, just inside the park's boundary outside of Gat., is a must. LOTS of information there about the park and its current conditions. Also, a wonderful gift shop and a small movie theatre with a brief background of the park and its history.

Dollywood is touristy. But if you like that sorta thing, they do a pretty good job. Live shows with singin' and dancin' and carousin'. Folksy craftsmen/women makin' soap, quilts, wagons, knives, and blacksmithin'. A few really good roller coasters with really short lines. An eagle sanctuary with a bird-of-prey demonstration. An area especially for the kids.

As for the park itself, there are three places that are a no-brainer.

1. Cades Cove
2. Newfound Gap Road, up to Lookout Tower, and then walk as far as you dare along the Appalachian Trail that skirts around the area there.
3. Roaring Fork is a drive with many places to stop and hike a trail or five. As the name suggests, eventually, the road follows a stream that roars down the mountainside. Bring the camera.
posted by UnclePlayground at 8:43 AM on September 10, 2007

Your suggestion of Joyce Kilmer almost made me cry.
I'd happily watch the end of the world from the top of Stratton Bald with a cup of coffee and a hand-rolled cigarette, and maybe a bottle of whiskey. But Joyce Kilmer is the only reason I would be happy.

A hearty second.
--teenage nostalgia warning--
posted by Seamus at 10:44 AM on September 10, 2007

There's no denying that Gatlinburg is tourist-trap-tacky, is right on the border of the National Park. You can stay in a hotel there and do the park every day. We hiked on the AT this was AWESOME. In early August there were no problems related to the drought that we were aware of.

Have FUN! :)
posted by achmorrison at 5:53 PM on September 11, 2007

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