The Smoky Mountains are like a second home to me and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to do everything we want when we visit. But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about all the other fun things!
Growing up, we rarely took a daytrip to Gatlinburg without eating lunch at The Pancake Pantry in The Village. Obviously, they sell pancakes of all kinds, but there’s WAY more than that. In fact, my favorite meal is not even breakfast-related! While I do like eating their crepes, I love The Continental sandwich–it has a sauce on each bun (Russian and a Tarragon Bearnaise) then ham, turkey, corned beef and swiss cheese. OMG. It comes with kettle chips made onsite, a cup of onion soup (also homemade), and an amazing cucumber/onion concoction. Mr. loves to get the silver dollar pancakes, while my mom loves buttermilk pancakes, but my dad prefers the Viennaburger. Beware of the hours (7a-4p) and the popularity, though. This restaurant is no secret and the line will wind down the main street of Gburg without even a thought! But before you high-tail it over for some scrumptious, belly-lovin’ yummies, make sure you have CASH because they don’t accept cards (they do have an ATM nearby).
Next door to The Pancake Pantry, is Smoky Mountain Candy Kitchen. They draw quite a crowd, especially kids who want to watch taffy being made. I used to watch until my mom pulled me inside for a treat. They have other treats as well–even sugar free!
One simple activity in Gburg is riding the chairlift from downtown’s main street (close to Ripley’s Believe It or Not) up into the surrounding mountains. It’s almost always open and runs at night as well. At the top, you get a wonderful view all of Gatlinburg and the surrounding area, as well as the mountains above you. Particularly amazing during the fall when the leaves change!
We’ve been meaning to try one of the many zip line businesses that have popped up in this area over the last decade, but with buying park season passes, we opted out this time. Maybe next year. However, I spent a lot of time comparing the major zip lines in the area and someone should benefit! My top 3 zip line options were FoxFire Mountain, Smoky Mountain Ziplines, and Wears Valley Ziplines. Value was key for us, much more than length of time. The greatest about these was the overall lack of bad reviews, plus the experience they offer. While I’m experienced with ziplining, Mr. is not. All 3 of these offer an experience in nature, fairly lengthy lines, as well as upgrade options. It was a hard choice, but I decided to go with Wears Valley Ziplines for the price/value.
Rafting is huge in the mountains and we are lucky to have a company in the family–well sort of. Feldy is a family friend, but he is our go-to person for rafting. His company Big Creek Expeditions is located nearby on the NC border and can provide a great break from shopping and people-traffic!
Many people head to the Smokies for the opportunity to hike the many trails available. Here’s my faves:
- Laurel Falls – the most popular trail for the faint of heart. People, it’s paved and a little over a mile (1 way). The falls are beautiful and a real treat if you are new to the Smokies. Please visit the official park site for up to date info. Trip Advisor reviews are here.
- Rainbow Falls – another popular trail but a bit longer 2.25 (1 way). The mist from the falls produces rainbows easily seen on sunny days. Past the falls, you can follow the trail as it heads to Mt. LeConte. Please visit the official site for updated info.
- Clingman’s Dome – is not really a hike for the seasoned athlete or hiker, but for many new visitors the altitude makes it somewhat difficult. The view is immaculate once you reach the lookout at the top. On a clear day, Knoxville, Maryville, and Sevierville areas can be seen. Turn around and you can see further into North Carolina. Official site; Travel Advisor reviews.
Alum Cave Bluff
– I can’t remember a summer growing up that we didn’t hike this trail. Mostly known as one of the more popular trails that lead to Mt. LeConte, the trail to the Bluff itself is not very difficult itself. Official site; Travel Advisor reviews.
- Chimney Tops – Another popular trail, it’s somewhat difficult and should be used by seasoned hikers or athletic persons. Another perfect view. Please see the official site, as this trail has been closed for construction in 2013. Another information site . Trip Advisor reviews. Not to be confused with Chimney Rock or the Chimney’s Picnic Area.
Want to know more about hiking in the Smokies or other trails? Click here.
More Fun in Nature
Not into hiking or activities that cost money? That’s ok because the park is free…it’s actually one of the few national parks that do not charge for admission. As a result it is one of the most popular national parks in the country.
If you are in the Gatlinburg area and don’t want to drive far for a little nature, you are in luck! One of my personal favorite places inside the city limits is Mynatt Park. The park includes a pavilion (which can be reserved), a baseball field, open grassy areas, and picnic tables next to a lively stream. It’s cool and quiet and a little slice of heaven.
A more popular spot, especially in the summer is Metcalf Bottoms. A favorite in our family for Father’s Day, we’ll pick up some KFC and stake out a picnic table next to the river. Depending on the water level, the river can be fun to drift along in a tube or sit in a camp chair. Careful though, it can be very popular on holidays in the summer, so prepare to come early and claim your spot!
THE MOST POPULAR place in the Smoky Mountains is Cades Cove. Tourists flock to this little piece of paradise all year long. Often, deer and wildlife can be seen from the 11 mile loop, even when it’s bumper to bumper. Though driving around is free, many people are willing to pay for a hayride to avoid the hassle. Trip Advisor reviews.
Lastly, a newly popular attraction is the Synchronized Fireflies (Travel Advisor reviews). While mostly found in the Elkmont Camping area, rangers report that the fireflies have also been found in other parts of the park. During their yearly mating season (late May to mid June) the fireflies in this area light up in sync, providing nature’s light show. According to the park, thousands of people visit to see this wonder. While campsites at Elkmont can be rented for a fee, visitors can take a free trolley from the Sugarland visitor center (the trolley stops at 5 pm). While there are parking spots at the visitor center, it doesn’t take long to get full. However, Gatlinburg also has a city-run trolley that stops at both the center and Elkmont. Though I do remember on our one attempt at this, we encountered numerous issues, therefore I recommend you to plan ahead.
To read about my recent trips to this area, click here.