Attractions, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks

Quieter areas of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The timing of your Great Smoky Vacations determines how many other visitors you will encounter.  Week days are always less crowded than the weekends.  January, February, May, Early November and Early December are also less traveled months in the Smokies.

However, there are many places in the National Park that you can still enjoy without encountering large groups of people.

Cades Cove is a very popular attraction in the Smokies.  If you get there early in the morning, you can avoid the crowds.  Many of the trails are not utilized.  Many travelers just stay in their car and only get out at the historic structures.  You can encounter the wildlife and not even have to get out of your vehicle.

Rich Mountain Road is a scenic drive located on the loop road at Cades Cove at the halfway point, across from the Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church. You’ll pass by waterfalls, streams and cliff sides as you drive up Rich Mountain and down the other side toward Townsend. Rich Mountain Road is about 7 miles long — be prepared for a winding mountain drive with plenty of curves and turns!

Parsons Branch Road offers another way to leave Cades Cove. The entrance to this gravel road is located right at the halfway point of the Cades Cove Loop Road. Parsons Branch Road is an 8 mile, one-way road, along which you’ll cross 18 creeks and see plenty of beautiful scenery. This road ends at US 129, which is also known as the Tail of the Dragon, a popular motorcycle drive just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Newfound Gap Road is surrounded by trails that are much less traveled.  Yet, just as beautiful as other trails.

To visit the Jump Off, hikers will follow the Appalachian Trail northbound from the Newfound Gap Parking area.  After a short hike on a gorgeous mountain ridge, you’ll be treated to a stunning drop-off with views of some of the most rugged parts of the mountains.

Charlies Bunion is another highlight on the Appalachian Trail near Newfound Gap. This challenging hike yields great rewards. The impressive mountain views and sense of seclusion are well worth some hard work on the trail.

Cataloochee Valley is another peaceful valley at the other end of the park that boasts historic sites, hiking trails, and wildlife. This peaceful mountain valley is famously home to a large elk herd and is one of the only places you can see wild elk in the Eastern US.  Warning, the road is quite squirley on the way in.  It is also a hike from the TN side of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Tremont is home to some of the most scenic sections of river in the national park. Tremont is a trout fisherman’s paradise and has some gorgeous waterfalls and hiking trails.

Upper Tremont Road is one of the best Smoky Mountain scenic drives that still remains a hidden gem. Located near Wears Valley, this drive is more popular in the fall and is perfect for those looking for a peaceful drive. It’s about 3 miles in length and follows a mountain stream with several waterfalls. At the end of the road, you’ll reach the Middle Prong Trailhead, which offers an easy waterfall hike. If you want to stretch your legs some more, hike to Spruce Flats Falls at the Tremont Institute while you’re in the area!

The Middle Prong Trail in Tremont is a waterfall hike that’s well-known for being quite easy. After only 1 mile of hiking, you’ll be treated to several cascading waterfalls.

The Greenbrier Road follows along a stretch of the Little Pigeon River. You can stop to fish or even go for a swim!  The scenic drive is about 6 miles long and offers views of large hemlock trees, maple trees and historic structures. Some of the structures you can see along the road are the John Messer Barn and the Tyson McCarter Place. The Greenbrier section is also home to Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the Smoky Mountains!

 

Great Smoky Mountains, Parks

Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration

MonarchTaggingByWarrenBielenberg-e1509738109435-300x210Monarch butterflies migrate south each summer and spend their winter hibernating in parts of Southern California and Mexico where the climate is warm year-round. Monarchs living east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico overwintering in Oyamel Fir trees. Monarchs living west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in Pacific Grove, California in eucalyptus trees. The butterflies return to the same trees each year which is unusual because the same butterfly never makes the trip twice and yet, somehow, the fourth generation of Monarchs find the right tree!  Amazingly this fourth generation migrates over 2,500 miles each year for the perfect hibernation climate and tree.

The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont monarch butterfly tagging program is an effort to monitor the health of the Monarch population and to track the butterflies progress along their migration route. Each year in late summer and early fall volunteers flock to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains Tagging program. Part of the fun is discovering, months after the event, that the butterfly you tagged was located thousands of miles away.

Monarch Tagging and Butterfly/Moth Identification

Great Smoky Mountains, Parks

The single most underrated way to step out of your comfort zone while on vacation

When it comes to travel, almost everyone likes the idea of stepping out of their comfort zones. The mere act of leaving our normal routines, friends, homes and entering new environments has a beautiful way of shaking up our perspectives on ourselves, our lives, and the world.

Many of the best, most transformative travel experiences are direct products of the unfamiliar and unexpected: doing things we wouldn’t normally do, meeting people we wouldn’t ordinarily meet, and learning new perspectives that make us better versions of ourselves.

However, for most travelers, the actual process of stepping out of our comfort zones can be uncomfortable, or daunting or downright scary — step too far and we risk remembering a vacation for all the wrong reasons. As a result, we tend to revert back to the safest, most predictable plans, taking solace in knowing exactly what we’ll get.

This is why I’m an advocate of single decisions that make the process of stepping a little bit outside your comfort zone on your next vacation easy, automatic, and even fun! From years working with the most innovative vacation rental hosts in the world on the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog, my favorite single decision lies in the kind of accommodations in which you stay: instead of booking a traditional hotel, choosing the right vacation rental property opens many doors and facilitates all kinds of meaningful experiences.

Embedding one’s self in a residential neighborhood away from groups of tourists means meeting local culture in an entirely new way. And in this environment, we’re more likely to encounter delightful surprises and explore more of the unknown. No matter where you’re heading for your next vacation, choosing the right vacation rental can be that single choice that makes all the difference.

Here are four ways in which choosing the right vacation rental can make your next trip almost by default more adventuresome, interesting, and memorable.

1. Automatic Local Friends

Since most vacation rental operators live in the area and love it, they make for the ideal destination ambassadors and therefore the perfect local: friends. The best vacation rental hosts are able to recommend their favorite haunts, introduce guests to the right guides or contacts, and even let visitors in on insider secrets. One of my favorite anti-comfort zone moves is to invite your vacation rental host out for lunch to their favorite restaurant.: Use this chance to pick their brains, to help you organize your itinerary, or merely to get a lay of the land. Very few hotel concierges are able to offer this level of personal attention due to the size of the business — a vacation rental host is that all-too-valuable connector you can’t do without.

2. The Excuse to Be Curious

Staying in a vacation rental as opposed to a traditional hotel means everything is less formulaic and that is the best way to digest local culture. Instead of relying on room service or overpriced hotel taxis, I like to encourage travelers to wander out and use the excuse of being a new neighbor to ask questions! Where’s a great place for a lazy afternoon lunch? What’s the best way to get downtown? What’s it like to live here? Preface any of these questions with the fact that you’re only playing neighbor for the week and you’re bound to get a warm reception and sense of place.

3. The Fun of Dining In

Eating out on vacation every day can get expensive, if not downright exhausting. A vacation rental’s kitchen is the ideal alternative and amenity that breaks down comfort zone barriers because it encourages local grocery shopping excursions and the improvisation of putting together a meal of your own. If you’re looking for inspiration, try to replicate a popular local dish or seasonal specialty… experiment with something you’ve never made before. If you’re feeling fancy, ask your host about a private chef. And if you’re feeling lazy, order delivery and enjoy lounging around the ultimate comfort zone — the living room.

4. The Permission to Get Lost

At home when we’re in our typical routines, getting lost is frowned upon: it makes us late for work, embarrassed before friends, and disappointed in ourselves. But when traveling, getting lost is a virtue — a plus that leads to some of the best vacation memories. By choosing a professional vacation rental instead of a traditional hotel, we remove the compass and maps of structured tourism and embrace the idea of not knowing exactly where we are or where we are going. This is not an endorsement to put anyone’s life in danger — it is permission to enjoy the journey and not just the destination. It is a good reminder to relish the beauty of travel at its core, which is the consent to relinquish a bit of control and find your own way.

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Attractions, Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains, Staying Active

4 of the Best Places to Go Ziplining in Gatlinburg TN

Want to get your adrenaline pumping on your vacation? What better way to get excitement in than to go ziplining in Gatlinburg TN! You’ll love racing through the trees at top speeds, feeling the wind on your face in the summer. Check out 4 of the best places to go ziplining in Gatlinburg TN on your vacation:

 

  1. CLIMB Works

 

Do you want to zipline with someone else to help you be brave? At CLIMB Works, they have a dual zipline where you can ride side by side with your friend or significant other down the mountain. If you’d rather ride alone, you can go on the treetops ziplines that include 9 ropes, 3 sky bridges and an ending that will surprise you! To get up to the beginning of the courses, you’ll ride an ATV up the mountain. You’ll love seeing the stunning view of the Great Smoky Mountains while you ride down! If you’re still craving adventure after you go ziplining, be sure to check out their mountain bike trail on a rental bike!

 

  1. Zipping in the Smokies

 

Zipping in the Smokies has a total of 2,400 feet of ziplines you’ll get to ride! You’ll come across 2 sky bridges where you can see awesome views of the Great Smoky Mountains terrain. The ziplines self-brake, ensuring your safety. You’ll be in a full body harness and helmet, attached to the cables with a carabiner. Once you’re done ziplining, you should go white water rafting or hang out in the picnic area to eat some snacks or a meal — you’ve earned it! This outpost is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so get your summer fun in while you can!

 

  1. Anakeesta

 

Not only is Anakeesta a great place to see amazing mountain views, shop til you drop, and eat some delicious food, it is also great since it has ziplining! You can ride down the mountain with a friend or family member on the dual ziplines. You’ll be able to zip over 150 feet of zipline ropes  over the forest floor 50 feet in the air. Once you finish your ziplining adventure, you take a short trip back to the chondola station to ride back to the top where you can ride the Rail Runner, a mountain coaster, or check out the tree canopy walk and watch other people zipline!

 

  1. Zip Gatlinburg

 

Looking for a place that will accommodate anyone from 5 to 85 years old? Head over to Zip Gatlinburg, where you will ride 9 lines through the treetop canopy. You will also find 14 elements in the self-guided TreeTrek, which is sure to be fun! Guides help you at every step along the way, from walking to the next line to braking when you’re close to a sky bridge. They also offer ziplining in Gatlinburg TN off the dome at Pigeon Forge light #10 for a fantastic view of the Pigeon Forge Parkway. You definitely don’t want to miss it!
If adventure is in you, you’ll definitely want to go ziplining while you’re in town! Not sure what else you want to do in Gatlinburg or the surrounding cities? Take a look at all the other things to do in the Smoky Mountains!