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Which entrance

San Francisco
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Which entrance

Hello,

We have never gone to the park and we have 5 days for a visit. Trying to figure out where to fly in to...I live in California and my friend lives in NY. We will be traveling with our teen daughters, in April. We will do some day hikes and driving thru the park...no backpacking. Which is the best entrance to the park--Tennessee or NC? and what are the must-sites for our visit? We are just beginning to plan the trip so any advice would be appreciated

Mother-daughter

Tennessee
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1. Re: Which entrance

I don't think there is a best entrance. Anyway you go is a beautiful drive. Cades Cove is wonderful any time of year. Also, Clingmans dome. There are many quiet walkways, you can stop at any of these and walk along paths which can take you many places. Enjoy!

Grove City, Ohio
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2. Re: Which entrance

Most people stay on the Tennessee side of the park, because that is the most developed area. Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are full of hotels, motels, cabins and condos. Cherokee and Bryson City are probably the best places to stay in NC. The park is easily accessable from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and Cherokee.

As far as must see things, I would echo Cades Cove. It is the most popular place to visit, but that is because it's a great place. The Newfound Gap area and Clingman's Dome are cool places in the Park. I'm sure you will get many more suggestions.

You might want to post you question on the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge forums, as they get much more traffic than this forum. I hope you enjoy your time in The Smokies.

Boston...
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3. Re: Which entrance

"You might want to post you question on the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge forums, as they get much more traffic than this forum."

Yes, but questioners are also more likely to hear the same things over and over again on those forums because many of the users who post on them them visit the same places over and over and over. Mother-daughter, most visitors to the park are actually vacationing in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (two gateway communities that have taken on a life of their own) and visit the Smokies as part of their trip instead of their trip's focus. Most of these visits are made by car (and the majority of them don't leave the car) to scenic drives on the Tennessee side like Roaring Fork, Cades Cove, and Clingman's Dome. These are nice, but there's a whole lot more to offer.

The North Carolina side is much quieter and more remote. There's one gateway community: Cherokee, located on the southern end of Newfound Gap Road (the highway that bisects the park) in the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The main areas on the North Carolina side are Lake Fontana, Deep Creek, Oconaluftee, Balsam Mountain, and Cataloochee. Because there is not a connecting highway on the North Carolina side like in Tennessee, it takes longer to get to and from these different areas.

Both Tennessee and North Carolina have a lot to offer. Since your main focus is the park, I would recommend that you stay in Townsend or Wears Valley on the Tennessee side or Bryson City on the North Carolina side. Since you have five days you could spend two or three nights on each side and spend the day driving in between enjoying the sights on Newfound Gap Road (hwy 441).

Must sees depend on where you are staying, how far you are willing to drive, if you want to put up with crowds, and what your interests are. That's something easier to plan once you get an itinerary in place. I don't associate the Smokies with any singular "must sees". There are over 800 miles of hiking trails in the park, many of which are well suited for day hiking. Again, this is something to be planned once you get an itinerary in place. There is a good day hike pretty much wherever you go. April is a great time to visit by the way, probably my favourite.

One question- is five days really all you want to/can do? With that you'll just be skimming over what the park has to offer. Anyway, here's a sample itinerary for three days: Day 1: Drive from Nashville or Knoxville to Bryson City via I-40 so you can raft or visit Cataloochee on the way. Day 2: Check out Deep Creek and drive the Cherohala Skyway, stopping at Bald River Falls, Hemphill Bald, and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Day 3: If yesterday's driving wasn't enough for you check out the Blue Ridge Parkway and Balsam Mountain Road. Also see attractions like the Cherokee Museum in Cherokee and items in Oconaluftee like Mingus Mill and Mountain Farm Museum. Day 4: Drive over to the Tennessee side, visiting Clingman's Dome on the way and walking the Cove Hardwood Forest trail. Day 5: Cades Cove and Little River Road. Day 6: Oops, time is up. Geez.

And I didn't incorporate any hiking, either.

Kristian

San Francisco
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4. Re: Which entrance

Thanks so much for this insight!!

b

Paris, Tn
Destination Expert
for Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge
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5. Re: Which entrance

If you wish to avoid all the big crowds when staying at your motel or cabin,yet close enough to all the major sights, attractions shopping and fine restaurants....consider possibly staying at Cosby or Townsend Tn, also known as "the peacefull side of the smokies." If you stay at either of the communities, you are still well within the Smoky Mountain Park area. You may also want to consider Cherokee NC. Lodgings are quite quaint and reasonable in prices, and still quite close to the Park. If I'm not mistaken, the town is ran and governed by the Cherokee indians. There is also legal casino gambling in Cherokee, if thats your thing. And plus, and certainly not the least attraction is the heavily native american influenced attractions such as the Cherokee native american museum. and the Cherokee working village. (a must to see)

Boston...
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6. Re: Which entrance

Yes, on the Tennessee side Townsend and Cosby (as well as Wear Valley) make good quiet, un-commercialized alternatives to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (which is essentially more Gatlinburg but urban sprawl style). However, I wouldn't consider Cherokee a quiet alternative; Maggie Valley, Dillsboro/Sylva, and Bryson City better fit that ticket. Cherokee is smaller than Gatlinburg, but it has the same tourist traps (along with some high-quality attractions like the museum, the village, and the "Unto these hills" production) not to mention a degrading representation of Cherokee culture. I've spent a large amount of time there and while it does have it's merits, on the whole I am not impressed. However, it is very convenient to Newfound Gap Road and the Oconaluftee part of the park. At twenty minutes away Bryson City is the next closest alternative.

Illinois
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7. Re: Which entrance

My family is a fan of Townsend, Tennessee and will be returning in 3 weeks for 4 nights. Townsend is smaller and more laid back than Gatlinburg. However, Gatlinburg has its merits. It is also right outside the park, and offers plenty of lodging, dining, shopping, and attractions, which may be important to your teens. I have 2 daughters and one is happy to hike the whole trip, but the other needs a little commercial entertainment to keep her satisfied.

Last summer was our 2nd visit to the park but our first visit was when the girls were very young. This past trip, we stayed in Townsend but visited Gatlinburg twice, drove throughout most of the park all the way to Cherokee, stopped at many places, took some hikes, had picnics, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Our highlights were Cades Cove, Roaring Fork, Rich Mountain Road, and Clingman's Dome. We kept very busy the entire 5 days we were there and still didn't see everything we wanted to, which is why we are headed back. This trip, we're hoping to hike a bit more and drive a bit less, but we have no regrets with our last trip. The beauty of this park is that I think you can go many, many times and make it a different trip every time.

Besides our short visit to Cherokee, we have little experience on the NC side and hope to explore that further in the future. An ideal situation for us would be to have 10 days or 2 weeks and split the time between the TN and NC sides.

This forum is very helpful but I would also recommend doing some reading out of travel guides either from your library (that's my librarychick plug!) or purchasing books from a local bookstore or preferably, from the park's bookstore. My favorite source is "The Smokies Road Guide"

Finally, if you're interested in Townsend and a cabin, check out Top of Townsend. Great cabins, great prices. We love it there.

leftcoast
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8. Re: Which entrance

Regarding the part of your inquiry about where to fly in to...I live on the West coast too, so our airfares will be similar.

Nashville is by far the cheapest area airport, but you're then looking at a 3 hour drive to the closest gateway community (Townsend) plus a time change from Central to Eastern time.

The two close airports are Knoxville and Asheville, but they are typically rather expensive airports to use. Chattanooga tends to be cheaper than those two, but not as cheap as Nashville. Chattanooga is a 1.5 - 2.5 hour drive depending on where exactly you're headed.

I'd second Blue's suggestion - stick to Townsend or Wears Valley. Plan to spend a half day in Gatlinburg and skip Pigeon Forge all together. Plan on one day on the NC side of the park.

I'd guess you'll be coming back again because this will merely give you the yearning that all the rest of us are afflicted with...we want to go back all the time.

9. Re: Which entrance

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