Unlock the Secrets to the Great Smoky Mountains in a Weekend

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

With 520,000 acres spanning North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest protected land area east of the Rockies and the most visited park in the American Park System.

The park preserves the history of the Appalachian Mountains from the prehistoric Paleo Indians to the European settlers of the 18th century to present day efforts to protect the ecosystem, wildlife and nature.

The park is a great place for hikers of all levels, offering 800 miles of trails. Visitors can choose from a serene wildflower walk all the way up to extreme mountain climbing in thick forests.

The park is world renowned for its abundant wildlife – both in animal and plant form.

Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

Ocanaluftee has a busy visitor’s centers and is also the entry point into Mountain Farm Museum. The museum grounds host a unique collection of historic 19th century log buildings that were gathered from throughout the Smokies in the 1950’s and assembled together as a cohesive and preserved piece of the area’s history on a single site.

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

The types of buildings vary, including a farm house, a spring house, an apple house, a smoke house and a barn. There’s also a working blacksmith shop and a collection of equipment and tools from days gone by.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is the most popular attraction in the park. It consists of a lush, green valley, surrounded by the majestic mountain range.

Motorists start with the 11-mile, one-way road that loops around the cove. It’s a virtual guarantee for sightings of wildlife such as black bear, white-tailed deer, coyote, turkey, ground hog and other animals. It’s a slow pace, especially at peak season, because even though there are formal pullouts as well as abundant signage that prohibit stopping on the main loop, they are largely ignored by motorists seeking photos of the spontaneous wildlife opportunities.

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

There are numerous places to pull off the road, get out of the car to take a stroll or enjoy a picnic in the meadows. You can visit some of the tiny preserved historic villages, farms, mills, homesteads such as John Oliver’s cabin, grist mill, and primitive churches and imagine what it would have been like to live in that period of time.

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

Allow up to four hours to tour Cades Cove. If you want to hike, some of the trails will add substantial time on top of that. There is a 5-mile roundtrip hike to Abrams Falls and longer hikes to Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain.

Clingmans Dome

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

Clingmans Dome offers the most dramatic views of the Smokies and should not be missed. At 6,643 feet, it is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

The drive to the observation tower parking lot is about seven miles of spectacular scenery, with pullouts for photos. There are plenty of spectacular views at the parking area, but be sure to walk the half-mile to the observation tower at the summit. Although the walk is paved, the incline is quite steep, so allow extra time to rest on benches along the side, if necessary. You’ll not be disappointed. The tower offers a stunning 360° panoramic view of the mountain range, ridges and valleys.

On a clear day, the expansive view can take in up to 100 miles of the sprawling alpine beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains

photo ©Kary Kern

By the way, did you know that hiking can actually change your brain and body?  Have you ever heard of “forest bathing?”  Check out all of the benefits of hiking in this terrific article by Bianca Knauf , an avid hiker, in her blog My Wild Earth.  Prepare to be blown away by her knowledge in this area!

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Comments

  1. I have never been to the Great Smoky Mountains and I had no idea it was the most visited park in the US park system. I would love to visit the Mountain Farm Museum since I love history. I also think Cades Cove looks spectaculiar. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • luggageandlipstick says:

      Cades Cove is a great place to walk around and enjoy a picnic while taking in the views!

  2. Thanks for this great overview of the Great Smoky Mountains; really liked the layout of this post. We didn’t visit this place on our last trip in the southeastern United States, but hopefully we’ll visit this gem on our next vacation. We love your photos too much!!
    Hang Around The World recently posted…Blogger Recognition AwardMy Profile

  3. I’ve visited the Great Smoky Mountains a number of times, but I always find more great places to visit — John Oliver’s Cabin looks especially interesting as a destination for my readers.

  4. I drove through the Smoky mountains last year and it was amazing. That observation tower looks like a great spot to take in the views.

    • luggageandlipstick says:

      The observation tower has the absolute best views, even though it can be a challenge to get to.

  5. One of my goals is to eventually visit all must-see national parks in the US! Just ’cause I love the nature and hiking (okay, this, not as much!haha)! Have to plan another US roadtrip soon! Smokies is definitely on my list!

  6. This was the first ever destination my friend ventured to, after she moved to USA was this!!! I ended up printing those pics for her not-so-techsavvy grand parents to see, here! So yeah, I won’t ever forget this place! That vintage house with a mill beside looks awesome! Is staying there overnight allowed?

  7. I drove through the Smoky mountains last year and it was amazing. That observation tower looks like a great spot to take in the views. I hope to go back and check it out.

  8. That view is really awesome! I would love to go there one day. It’s surprising that it’s the most visited national park actually. I didn’t expect that.
    Danique recently posted…MIND / Over thuiskomen na die fantastische reisMy Profile

  9. I love Nature! Such beautiful views here! Looks like you had a lovely day :)

  10. This is really nice.. I espeically like the Dome; from plattforms like this you have always such a stunning view! My kids would love this! As well the old farmhouses and mills, great location to spent a good time!
    Lena from fouronaworldtrip recently posted…Traveling Families: 8 Duffels & 2 MuttsMy Profile

  11. There are just so many beautiful national parks in the US. I haven’t been to the Smoky Mountains but I’d sure like to get there. Your photos are just beautiful.
    Sue Reddel recently posted…George’s At The Cove in La JollaMy Profile

  12. Looks like a wonderful weekend getaway! Beautiful place and you have such amazing pictures. Particularly, Oconaluftee I loved with its vintage looks. Great place to spend a good time in a serene surrounding.

  13. It sounds like a great trip. I love viewing towers and panoramic views of the mountain range, ridges and valleys. I have visited few other National Parks in US and I really loved them. Thanks for sharing!
    Anita recently posted…david says:My Profile

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