Touring the Tennessee Smokies

Activities, Magazine Features

A popular national park, first-rate attractions and the best in mountain crafts lure groups to Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg.

Long before theaters, theme parks, shopping centers and attractions graced the hilly landscapes of Eastern Tennessee, there were the Smoky Mountains. In 1934, 500,000 acres became Great Smoky Mountains National Park and today it attracts more than 9 million visitors a year.

Any visit to the area should begin at America’s most visited national park. It’s filled with adventures that can accommodate the interests of any group. A stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center gets you started. Park rangers and volunteers are there to share their knowledge and answer questions. The on-site museum tells the story of the park’s plant and animal life. A must-see film serves as an introduction to the park.

A mile-long trail just outside the visitor center provides a leisurely hike. Markers on the path and a corresponding pamphlet describe many of the trees along the way. Whether you explore this natural wonderland by hiking, bicycling, horseback riding or motorcoach, take time to enjoy the beauty of the park.

Located in scenic Townsend, Tennessee, near the west entrance to the park, is the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. In addition to the early 1900s Appalachian community and the lifestyle portrayed, the center features a look at early transportation, Native Americans and an art gallery. It is also home to Cades Cove Heritage Tours. These tours through Cades Cove (within the park) share the story of early settlers. Wildlife viewing and outstanding photo opportunities shine. Box lunches and step-on guides are available. Because of the narrow two-lane road through the park, it’s recommended that groups transfer to the Heritage Tours vans. An early morning tour is best.

Little River Outfitters, also in Townsend, can introduce your group to another park asset. The 800 miles of fishable streams in the Smokies are ideal trout habitats and that means fly fishing. Although specializing in full-day beginner fly fishing programs, they’ll work within your time constraints. It’s amazing the knowledge you can gain in just a half-day of instruction.

Island Show Fountains, Pigeon Forge

Island Show Fountains, Pigeon Forge

To many of us, golf is an “outdoor adventure,” and one of the best places to pursue that option is the Sevierville Golf Club. Both 18-hole courses are outstanding. True to its name, Par 70 The Highlands Course features rolling hills, a few dramatic drops and inclines and scenic freshwater ponds. Par 72 The River Course parallels and crosses the Little Pigeon River to elevated greens. Both courses are wide open without forced carries and feature large, well maintained white sand bunkers. With course views from the Stone Hill Lodge at Wilderness in the Smokies Hotel, the club is adjacent to the Sevierville Convention Center.

Much of what we consider crafts today were necessities of life to our forefathers. However, when the national park opened it didn’t take long for the area’s early settlers to discover a livelihood. The arts and crafts community was born. In Gatlinburg there’s no better place to begin than the eight-mile loop presenting more than 120 working craftsmen and artisans. Virtually every medium is explored from pottery and watercolors to stained glass and soap. The G. Webb Gallery, Jim Gray Gallery and Cliff Dwellers Gallery should be on your itinerary. The trolley system serves the entire loop for individuals in the group with varying arts and crafts interests.

At one time or another many of us remember watching an elderly family member quilting and probably didn’t give it much thought. Quilting seemed to be associated with bedspreads and the possible arrival of a new cousin. Although quilting may have been born of necessity, it is a true American art form. Plan to spend time in Cosby, Tennessee at Holloway’s Country Home Quilts. In a historical log building you’ll find exquisite American-made quilts that will awe you with their beauty and craftsmanship. Classroom demonstrations and instruction can be arranged for groups.

In the Smokies, arts and crafts were not the only things being “Made in Tennessee.” Thanks to Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, the traditions and recipes of the art of distilling are being preserved. Groups are invited to visit the Gatlinburg distillery to watch how moonshine is made and sample the many flavors. It’s a great way to end the day with a tour, a little tasting, some shopping and relaxing in a rocking chair listening to music.

One does not survive on moonshine alone and many of our elders chose to make wine. Five wineries in the area have joined together for the Rocky Top Wine Trail. Your trek begins at Sugarland Cellars Winery in Gatlinburg and continues with a stop in Pigeon Forge, two tours in Sevierville and finishing in Kodak. A free wine glass is provided at the third stop, a commemorative gift at your fifth and final stop.

Dixie Stampede

Dixie Stampede

Popular additions to any itinerary are Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (you’ll love the penguins); The Island, a Pigeon Forge shopping and dining destination featuring a new fountain presentation created by the same folks who did the Bellagio in Las Vegas; and Tanger Outlet Shopping.

Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede is a Pigeon Forge favorite any time of the year, but Christmastime is extra special. Soul of Motown and America’s Hit Parade, both at the Grand Majestic Dinner Theatre, will keep your toes tapping.

Though any visit to Dollywood is delightful, a Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood is truly memorable. The lights, rides and crafts blend with shows like Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to create a truly magical experience.

The Smoky Mountains area has a vibrant arts and crafts scene, varied outdoor adventures, history and traditions, and dining options for every palate, plus world-class theater shows, shopping and attractions. What more could any itinerary need? Start your planning online at

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