Anniversaries are funny things. They seem to come around faster than imagined. I have visited Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains three times.(www.greatsmoky.com) Once was on our last family vacation, while I was in high school; once about 15 years ago; and now just recently. I enjoy the area for its unique Americana feel, as do many Americans since it is the most visited U.S. National Park. This year is its 75th anniversary and a perfect time to experience it or plan your next soft adventure visit.
This trip found me exploring many of the out door attractions in the near by towns of
Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. The new water park resort of Wilderness Lodge (www.wildernessatthesmokies.com) is an adventure in itself, with its extensive outdoor and indoor water attractions, including a surfers wave, an ocean wave pool, and a river float area, among other pools. The wildest and most inventive is the Storm Chaser tubing adventure. Passengers are thrust into a colorful rafting tube, and then flushed out into the inside of a cone, reminiscent of the inside of a tornado. Only those staying in the hotel can enjoy the water park attractions.
Another wet and wild adventure is kayaking or floating down the little pigeon river with Smokey Mountain River Romp. (www.riverromp.net) Of course depending upon Mother Nature the river trip can be a fast paddle or a lazy float. If this up close and wet exercise is not for you a leisurely hike up the Little Pigeon River Trail, in the Great Smoky Mountains National park, will let you enjoy the sights and sounds of cascading water. There are several scenic turnouts throughout the park, with trail heads where you may want stop and adventure out onto wooded trails.
A stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center gives a good overview of the park, with the aid of knowledgeable rangers, a brief film, museum of the flora and fauna of the area, and an extensive gift shop. High up at Newfound gap you will be half way between Tennessee and North Carolina, and a crossing of the Appalachian trail, where you may brush shoulders with hikers in the midst of their 2,178 mile trek from Georgia to Maine.
If hiking is not your forte then a gentle horse back ride through the hilly forest can be experienced at the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm, (www.deerfarmzoo.com/horserides.html) Their gentle instruction in horsemanship will guide even the first time rider to a pleasurable stride high on horse back.
A real soft adventure can be experienced at the Bluff Mountain ATV center. (www.bluffmountainrentals.com/Adventures.asp) Novices to ATV vehicles are instructed in the safe and edgy riding experience over and up rough stone trails, accented with a splash here and there over a stream or mud hole. While the average speed is about 10 miles per hour, you will feel an unexpected exhilaration when you reach a neck breaking 20 miles per hour, on occasional down hill runs on Bluff Mountain.
For an underground explorer the Forbidden Caverns (www.forbiddencavern.com) offers a glimpse of subterranean wonders complete with stalactites and stalagmites and an underground stream. Once used for early Indian retreats it also hid moonshine stills. Remnants of an old still rests beside the underground trail.
The sky is the limit with Scenic Helicopter Tours. (www.scenichelicopters.com) The thrill of a gentle helicopter ride near the tree tops is enhanced by gaining first hand geographic knowledge of the area. Rides can be as short as 6 minutes or over an hour in length according to the breath of your desire and pocket book.
Of course you can not visit the area without a half day or longer stop at Dollywood, with its crafts village, stage shows and amusement rides. (www.dollywood.com) The Thunderhead wooden roller coaster and the Mystery Mine coaster delights thrill seekers; however Dollywood’s newest attraction is the SkyZip. In a two hour experience, novices are harnessed up and gently introduced to the world of zip lining. After an introductory instructional zip of only about 10 feet off the ground, the remainder of the 4 zip lines take adventurers high over the park, and through the woods.
It’s a valuable bonding experience for the small groups that participate, along with three accompanying expert guides. While safety is of prime importance, good natured fun is encouraged as you let go and let gravity take you on a wild ride. I’d love to see Dolly Parton zip across the sky! Reasonable additional fees and advance reservations are required, for this attraction. Be forewarned that for the safety of those below the zip line, cameras, and other personal affects are forbidden on the ride.
You’ve got to eat while on your family outing, and I can personally recommend TK’s and the Chop House, (www.thechophouse.com) both located in the upscale Tanger Outlet Mall. Additionally the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant and complex (www.stokelyhospitality.com) offers tasty breakfasts of apple flavored dishes, along with an extensive apple themed gift shop and exposure to their apple product processing. Flapjacks Parkway serves up a variety of breakfast pancakes and Damon’s Grill specialty is ribs. If you haven’t gained enough pounds while on this outing, the Islamorada Fish Company restaurant inside the Bass Pro Shop will be of assistance.
A casual night at the ball park can be on your schedule as well, by visiting a game with the Tennessee Smokies (www.smokiesbaseball.com) . The Smokies ball park near I-40 offers treats of hot dogs, popcorn, pizza, and ice cream to accompany the open air evening. If your summer plans are filled be sure and check out the other area seasonal attractions such as the Christmas festival beginning in November. Needless to say if you’ve never been to the Great Smoky Mountain area, you need to go; and if you’ve been before, its time to return and see what’s new. And by the way, it’s the only National Park without an entrance fee!