Most vacations are all about the destination, but when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains, getting from place to place becomes a part of your adventure, not just a means to an end. Not only are there plenty of things to see and do in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but there are also dozens of ways to get there.
Get Closer to Nature
Perhaps the best way to really experience all that this vast wilderness has to offer is to step off the beaten path and go exploring on foot. Walking and hiking trails crisscross the mountains and offer you and your family the opportunity to see the beauty of nature from a vantage point many will never enjoy. Choose from well-maintained trails that meander through some of the park’s most popular locations, or take a less-traveled path for a quiet afternoon just enjoying the stillness of nature.
Early settlers to the area explored the valleys and rivers of these mountains on horseback. You can re-create their adventure when you hop in the saddle and head out for an afternoon, a day, or even overnight. Your guide will lead you far off the common paths, where ancient trees tower overhead, and whitetail deer scamper through hidden meadows. Stop for lunch beside a sparkling stream, and enjoy the sweet sounds of the forest before heading back to the cacophony of modern life.
Grab a Seat and Enjoy the View
Of course, you don’t have to immerse yourself in nature to enjoy the show. There are plenty of comfortable seats available, and they all boast a great view. From downtown Gatlinburg, hop aboard the aerial tram for a trip up the mountain to Ober Gatlinburg. Along the way you’ll enjoy amazing scenery as the valley spreads out below, while the mountain looms overhead. For a few minutes, you’ll feel as if you’ve landed in a Swiss village.
If shopping, dining, or Dollywood is on your agenda, the Gatlinburg trolley is your ticket to a fun afternoon. Pick your route and hop aboard for an entire day of sightseeing for one low fare. A trip along the popular 8-mile arts-and-crafts loop is a good way to discover one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs, while the Dollywood route offers a convenient and inexpensive way to get to the park without the hassle of traffic or parking.
Choose Your Own Adventure
For the ultimate relaxed tour of the area, you can wander the mountains in your own vehicle. Hundreds of miles of scenic highways let you experience the grandeur of the area from the air-conditioned comfort of your car. No matter which road you choose, every few miles brings you to another scenic turnout perfect for practicing your photography skills or just enjoying the view.
Feeling a little more adventurous? Consider renting a Jeep so you can explore the roads a family car might find intimidating. Single-track trails climb high into the mountains, fording streams and offering the opportunity to stop for a picnic lunch in an out-of-the way clearing decorated with summer wildflowers. A 4 x 4 and these dirt roads are a great compromise between seeing the area on foot and traveling by car.
Getting around in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge can be just as much fun as the destinations themselves. Whether you pull on your walking shoes or put the top down on your Jeep for an afternoon drive, one thing is certain: Your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains will be one you won’t soon forget.
Jon Hoffman is Reservations Manager of Volunteer Cabin Rentals specializing in Wears Valley cabins. Visit the main website to book cabins for your next vacation in Pigeon Forge, TN.