An autumn trip to Tennessee affords your family the opportunity to get your fill of gorgeous color, delicious apples and an abundance of outdoor activities.
Pigeon Forge is centrally located and offers many affordable options for lodging. You can choose a cabin or home rental or pick from one of the many hotels in the area. The most affordable option is a house rental because you have plenty of room for sleeping plus you can make one or more of your daily meals at home. Anyone with kids knows how picky they can be so being able to have breakfast and perhaps dinner at your rental cuts your food budget by half or more.
Pigeon Forge itself is an odd little city. It’s one long strip with chain restaurants, fast food places and entertainment lining the street. It’s definitely not sophisticated or a mecca of fine dining but it’s so bizarre and fun that it’s hard not to enjoy the wackiness. There are a ton of kid-friendly attractions that will be a hit with preteens and younger. Miniature golf and go-cart tracks are plentiful!
Gatlinburg is just down the road from Pigeon Forge and has a little more to offer adults with bars and restaurants and some nice crafts shops. Parking in Gatlinburg can be difficult to find and expensive. A better option is a shuttle that runs into town from a parking area just south of the city.
The real star of the area is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is the most visited national park in the United States attracting more than nine million visitors per year and encompasses 244,741 acres of Tennessee. In other words, it is huge!
There is no way to see everything the park has to offer in one trip so planning is key. Check out the park’s official web site or one of our other resources so you can plan ahead. Keep in the mind that the weather in the autumn months can change hourly so layer your clothing, pack extras and have rain gear handy.
Must See’s within Great Smoky Mountains National Park
• Cades Cove. You can see churches, a gristmill, old barns and restored homesteads all from the comfort of your car as you drive the 11-mile loop of Cades Cove. Start early in the day and be prepared for very slow driving (several of us sat facing backwards in an SUV with the hatch open through most of the drive). There are lots of places to stop and explore with most just a few minutes from the main road. Plan on spending at least 4-5 hours along the route. You may want to plan two sessions: one in the morning to catch the sun coming up high in the sky and another later in the afternoon as the sun sets. Depending on the time, you’ll have varied light for photos and different wildlife.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays the road is closed to motor vehicles until 10 a.m., making it a perfect time for cyclists to tour the area.
On the drive you can get a better look at various historical building like John Oliver’s Cabin, one of the oldest structures in the Smokies. It’s just a short walk off the main loop of Cades Cove. John Cable’s Mill is a waterwheel-powered mill that is still in operation, grinding corn for tourists to purchase as a souvenir. You’ll also find a smokehouse, blacksmith shop and barn close by. Two churches are on the drive as well as a cemetery with graves dating from the 1800s.
• Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This six-mile, one way loop is just a mile from Gatlinburg. There are places to pull over and look around all along the trail. There are also quite a few hiking trails right off the loop.
• Hiking. The hiking options in the park are numerous and include options for just about every level of fitness. Depending on the weather, you can easily fit in several short hikes daily or for those with more experience, a strenuous multi-day hike deep into the park. Check the park’s website for all of the options.
But remember, even if you don’t plan on doing strenuous hikes, wear the right clothing and carry the right gear. Long pants, a portable windbreaker, water bottle, hiking boots (with warm socks) are a must even if you’re doing short treks. The park is so massive that it’s easy to get carried away so proceed on any hike with care. If you’re not an experienced hiker, stick to the very simple, short trails and teach your grandchildren to never veer off the trail.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an American treasure and a truly spectacular destination for a family getaway.
For more info:
www.nps.gov/grsm: Official website of the park with just about everything you need to know.
http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/great-smoky-mountains-national-park/: Be sure to check out the excellent “Best Hikes in Great Smokey Mountains” article.