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Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

Peoria, Illinois
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Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

My husband and I are planning a trip to the Smokies/Gatinburg area for early July. We plan on renting a cabin in the mountains and prefer a more low-key vacation that doesn't involve a lot of the touristy attractions. For instance, I'm not a big fan of amusement or theme parks, would like to avoid huge crowds as much as possible, etc. We would come into town for dinner daily, most likely, but would like to take it easy the rest of the time.

Because we have a 9.5 hour drive, we want to stay about 5 days. I know the national park is huge but we would not be interested in seriously strenuous hikes--more picturesque drives, possibly biking a flat route, doing some easier hikes, etc. We want to take in the mountains as much as possible but are not up for 5 hour, difficult hikes. Is there enough to keep us busy for five days of pretty much just spending it in the park? Are there some other things to do/places to go nearby that aren't busy tourist traps that might mix things up a little bit and give us other things to do also?

Grove City, Ohio
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1. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

The Smokies area has plenty to do, even for "low-key" days. For a lot of info about the area see www.discoverthesmokies.com . It has info about all that you would want to do from dining to lodging and attractions. The Park itself has things to do for hard core outdoor folks or for people that just want to enjoy things as leisurely as possible. The park's web site is www.nps.gov/grsm.com . Sugarlands Visitor Center is the best place to find out what's happening in the Park. It's south of Gatlinburg, just past the edge of the Park. You can get plenty of info from the Rangers there. July might be crowded, but if you adjust the time that you do things, it's easy enough to avoid the crowds. I hope this helps and I hope that you have a great time in the Smokies.

Paris, Tn
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for Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge
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2. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

There are several self-guided (travel at your pace) auto tours in the park. Our personal favorite is CADES COVE tour....an 11 mile drive which takes you past old (some pre-civil war) churches, homesteads, and cemetaries. Another popular drive inside CADES COVE is RICH MOUNTAIN RD. This road is located at post marker # 8 across from the MISSIONARY BAPT. CHURCH. Another auto-tour is ROARING FORK nature trail.

Another nice site is NEWFOUND GAP on top of the monument is where Pres Franklyn D. Roosevelt stood in 1940 to dedicate the park.

A little further up 441 is KLINGMANS DOME. This is the highest point in the smokies. From the parking lot itself, there are the hauntingly scenic dead fir trees, killed years ago by a "woolly adelgid" insect. Further up the trail (.5 mile) is the observation tower itself. A walk up to the tower affords you some of the most spectacular views, depending on cloud conditions.

So, you see, there ARE several sites and locations you can enjoy with a small aount of effort.

Hebron, Indiana
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3. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

I think you'll find plenty to do for 5 days . I agree with the above suggestions but do keep in mind that it will be more crowded in July so if you decide to go to Cades Cove, head out really early to get a jump on things. Along the road to Cades Cove, which follows the river most of the way, there are many pull offs to get out and enjoy the views and take photos. Also along the way is a small waterfall you can see from the road, Meigs Falls and an area known as "The Sinks". It's beautiful there! About 6 or 7 miles before you get to Cades Cove, you can turn on Tremont Road. There isn't much traffic down that way (at least when I've gone) so it's a nice, peaceful drive along the river. There are trails off of this road but I have never gone on them. Having MS, I can't do most of the trails. Had a bear run right behind my Jeep on that road though a couple years ago...that was exciting! :)

There is an easy , flat trail (a little less than 2 mi.) called The Gatlinburg Trail, that runs from the very far end of Gatlinburg to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It runs next to a river and you can see some old chimney's and homestead foundations from the trail. Check out the visitors center, too.....they have a great book store there!

Another nice place to explore is the Elkmont area of the park. There are still some old cottages standing but many have been torn down or in the process of being torn down. There is a nice trail near the cottages called The Little River Trail. I just walked a little bit on it before and that part was flat and easy.

Take a drive from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC on Newfound Gap Rd (Hwy 441) ....lots of places to pull off there, too for photos and really nice views of the mountains. Just past Newfound Gap (the TN/NC border) is Clingman's Dome Rd....follow that for 7 miles to Clingman's Dome. I am unable to go up to the observation tower (looks steep but a paved trail) but the view from the parking lot is spectacular.

Just before you get to Cherokee, you'll come to the Oconaluftee Visitor's center, another place to check out. Behind the visitor's center is the Mountain Farm Museum, which is a collection of old log buildings that were moved here from various areas in the park. There is also the Oconaluftee River Trail here which is a nice easy trail. Not far from that visitor center, is Mingus Mill.....just a short walk from the parking lot. Great place for photos. Mingo Falls is another beautiful place.....the trail starts at the parking lot but the first part is stairs.....I think about 160 stairs and then there is a short (but for me it was a little uneven but probably fine for someone without balance issues) path to a bridge that crosses across the bottom of the falls. These falls are very tall and so pretty.

Of course , if you are interested in casinos, Harrah's Cherokee Casino is just a few miles into Cherokee. Back on the TN side of the Smokies, the Greenbrier area of the park is really nice....it's another place that doesn't ever seem to be crowded. The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is always a must for me. So easy to get to...turn at light #8 and follow it to the end and you'll find it. There are several old homesteads along the way, trails to waterfalls (which I have never done so can't comment on them) and while it seems like a lot of people see bears in here, I never have. I have more luck in Cades Cove.

Take a drive on the Foothills Parkway. The east Foothills Parkway is only 5 miles long with several pull offs and the other Foothills Parkway (near Townsend) is around 18 miles long, maybe a little more. Also when you are near Cherokee you can enter the Blue Ridge Parkway......amazing views from there, too and it's not nearly as crowded as other places. About 20 miles down the road is Heintooga Ridge Road......once again, some beautiful views of the Smokies from there.

If you like browsing in little shops, take a drive through the Arts and Crafts Community.....lots of cute little shops. My favorites are Alewine Pottery and Santa's Clauset. There are a lot of little art galleries there, too and a few little restaurants.

I know you said you didn't like amusement parks but the new Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is so fun! It's not far off the parkway in Pigeon Forge on Wears Valley Rd (light #3). It takes about 5 minutes to get to the top and only about 2 to come down....super fun!

Enjoy your trip and like I said, I think you'll find plenty to do in 5 days. A lot of people that wonder if there is enough to do, realize once they are there that there is too much to do and are planning another trip by the time they leave. :)

Melbourne, Florida
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4. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

Ditto all of the above, there are plenty of hikes that are relativly easy. At the visitors center pick up the brochures on the various things to do in the park. There is one with waterfall hikes and it tells you how much time it takes and how easy or hard they are. On one of our drives we took a picnic lunch and drove out to the Natahala river where the rapids are. There is a nice picnic area and we sat and watched the kayaks doing tricks in the water. It was a nice relaxing day.

Peoria, Illinois
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5. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

Wow thanks for all the detailed responses!

I think taking a drive to Cherokee sounds perfect ,as does the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hadn't even thought about heading that direction. When I think of taking a trip to the mountains, i think of wandering around and exploring deserted back roads. While that might not be possible in such a busy month as July, it sounds like there are many places we can go to get away from the main crowds. The visitor's center sounds like a must and probably the first place we will go.

P.S. Oh! I forgot I had one more question. I had read in a guide book that from GSMNP you can hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Is that true? How would we get there?

Edited: 20 January 2014, 21:15
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6. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

Absolutely true. Actually the Appalachian Trail(AT) follows along the main spine of the Smokies for some 80 miles, right through the center of the park. You will cross it as you drive up to Newfound Gap Overlook on the main road( 441). It runs right across the gap on the left side of the parking lot, and crosses the road to head towards Clingman's Dome.

You can take the trail 4 miles northeast to Charlie's Bunion, an interesting rock outcropping with great views. If you're not into hiking, maybe you could just hike along for awhile. Enjoy the Christmassy smells of the Spruce-Fir forest before returning to your car.

I was also going to suggest driving into Cataloochee Valley on the SE corner of the Park. It is an "out of the way" area and a fun drive. You can get to it from the Maggie Valley, NC area via a fairly-narrow gravel road. Cataloochee is beautiful, sort of a smaller version of Cade's Cove but without the traffic. There are homesteads left over from the 19th century, along with a campground and more trails. If you get there in the morning or a few hours before dusk, you will certainly see many of the Park's Elk population.

Alabama
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7. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

Don't waste your time on the section of the BRP that you can get on at Cherokee. We could hardly wait to get OFF at the first chance. So boring and woodsy compared to the REAL Blue Ridge views over north of Asheville, NC. We love that section between Asheville and Boone. Going to get on up into VA one of these years.

Peoria, Illinois
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8. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

Oh man, we were hoping to do part of the BRP. It's a drive I have always wanted to do. About how far in do you have to go to get the awesome views? I think we were maybe thinking of taking a whole day to explore part of the BRP.

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9. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

You don't have to go all the way to. Asheville to get tremendous views. It is true though that the first part of the BRP is pretty wooded, with only occasional vistas. I would reccomend getting on the BRP at Maggie Valley and taking it east toward Asheville. Maybe you could add it along with a side trip to Cataloochee Valley. The BRP begins to climb as you go southeast from US19 in Maggie Valley and actually reaches it's highest spot at Richland Balsam. There are amazing 360° views at Waterrock Knob and many many overlooks like Devil's Courthouse and Looking Glass Rock. Mt. Pisgah Inn is a great place for lunch and it is right on the Parkway. Great views from the dining room.

So there are plenty of wonderful sights on the BRP SOUTH of Asheville. It's just the last 20 miles or so of the Parkway as it descends into Cherokee that are sort of covered up..

Hebron, Indiana
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10. Re: Enough to do for 5 "low-key" days?

SeeJessTravel......I Sent you a PM in case you didn't see it.