If you think about the Great Smoky Mountains you probably immediately think of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Dollywood. You probably even know about the Titanic Museum or Ripley’s Believe it or Not. But if that is the extent of your Smoky Mountain fun, then you are missing out on some of the best hidden Smoky Mountains attractions the area has to offer.
Smoky Mountains Attractions: Cades Cove
Cades Cove is a step back in time. There is a campground, picnic areas and a small visitors store, but the main attraction is the 11 mile one way loop that goes through the valley. Expect to spend between 1-2 hours driving at a very slow speed as you watch for bear, turkeys, deer and other wildlife. There are historic homes, churches and even a mill where you can stop, park and tour along the way. Plan for some extra time to hike back in to see one of the area’s most popular waterfalls, Abrams Falls.
If you are interested in getting a little closer to the Cove, there are designated times where only bikers and walkers can tour the loop. Located in the heart of the Smokies outside Townsend, Cades Cove is only about an hour from the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area.
Smoky Mountains Attractions: Clingmans Dome
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is a 7 mile road that leads you to the base of the hike. Once you get there, you can climb a monument that gives you an amazing view of the Smoky Mountains (which is stroller friendly). Be prepared to be amazed. Just to warn you, because of the altitude, this hike may be more strenuous than you expect. There are pull off points along the drive and benches along the final hike to give you a place to catch your breath and experience the awesome views of the surrounding areas. It is typically 10-20 degrees colder at the top, so keep that in mind.
Smoky Mountains Attractions: Sugarland Visitor Center
If you’re heading toward Clingmans Dome or over to Cherokee, NC, the Sugarlands Visitor Center is worth a visit. There you can get an up close view of the animals that have been found in the Smokies. There are interactive maps, working grist mills as well as periodic programs presented by the Park Rangers. Not only is this a great stretch break, but a great stopping point as well.