Weary city dwellers can find relaxation and much needed respite in the verdant hills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A vast and beautiful part of Appalachia covering the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, the park is home to a large number of plant and wildlife species, as well as scenic trails and challenging hiking routes. It is also a place steeped in interesting history dating back to the Paleo Indians and early European settlements.
Top of the list when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park is usually a trip to the Cades Cove, Fontana Dam and other star attractions, but it also pays to go further afield, on roads a little less travelled, to experience some other equally rewarding adventures. Here we break down some of our favourite overlooked attractions in the vicinity and what you should do once you get there.
The Roaring Fork Trail has a number of particularly beautiful waterfalls – Rainbow and Grotto Falls immediately spring to mind, but along its route there is one waterfall that often doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. Place of a thousand drips is a network of intricate cascading waterfalls that travel through complex rock formations, formed hundreds of years ago. Visitors can view the spectacle without leaving their cars on the main trail path, and the most impressive time to catch a glimpse of the labyrinth of waterfalls is during the rainy season, when it is in full effect.
The same height as a city skyscraper, at 480 feet high, the Fontana Dam up close is a pretty foreboding sight – whether you’re seeing it for the first time or consider yourself a regular visitor to the area. But close by there are some stop offs that offer the chance to mingle with locals and learn some interesting facts and age-old tales about the region. With several social events taking place throughout the year, why not experience it for yourself when visiting the park? Meet the mountain folk of Robbinsville at the annual Wild Game Festival, which takes place in September. Here, you can sample local game delicacies, learn about traditional hunting methods and watch some classic sporting events. Or attend one of the Concerts on the Creek, which take place every Friday between Memorial Weekend and Labor Day in nearby Sylva.
But if you’re really hankering after seclusion, Cosby should be on your radar. Set deep inside the National Park, there are several traditional campgrounds where you can pitch up and simply enjoy the peace and quiet of the wildlife around you. The main draw of the area is its hiking – the 13-mile low gap trail is a strenuous and challenging loop, but the scenery along the way is well worth the inevitable exhaustion.
It isn’t just nature worth uncovering during your time in the mountains, the park also houses over 90 historical buildings that have either been carefully preserved or lovingly restored. Take a step back in time by visiting some historic buildings dotted throughout the park, and if you’re lucky, you might even encounter some Elk, deer and bears.
Auto touring is still the most popular way to see interesting vistas and out of the way attractions in the park. The ease and convenience makes it a great alternative to more strenuous activities such as biking or hiking. But auto touring doesn’t have to mean simply following the crowds, taking the Rich Mountain Road is a great way to avoid overrun areas filled with other holidaymakers.
From the skies to the soil, visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers numerous refreshing possibilities to experience one of the great wilderness spots in America.
Written by Chantelle Symester
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