I probably should have written this blog post at the beginning and not a few years in, my apologies. When coming to the area locals and frequent guests throw out some terms they just assume everyone knows like; the spur, the bypass, the parkway, etc. Let’s make you a functional tourist, here is A Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area.
There are three “parkways” in the area The Parkway, The East Parkway and the Dolly Parton Parkway.
The Parkway, otherwise known as 66/441/321 runs from I-40 on the north down through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and ultimately continues through the National Park all the way to Cherokee NC.
The East Parkway is where 321 splits from the main parkway in Gatlinburg and heads out east towards Cosby and the Greenbrier area of the National Park.
The Dolly Parton Parkway (411) splits off in Sevierville and heads East towards well….really nothing, it turn into the Newport Hwy and takes you back to I-40. You can take the Dolly Parton Parkway to Veterans Boulevard and head over to Dollywood, what’s also nice about this route is it also avoids the vast amount of traffic in Pigeon Forge.
Along with the parkways there is also “The Spur” this is a section of the Parkway that connects Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg. It’s a pretty drive through the forest.
Next is “The Bypass” – this runs from the Spur on the Parkway to the entrance of the National Park at Sugarlands thus avoiding the traffic in Gatlinburg.
Continuing A Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area, let’s talk about the towns themselves.
Gatlinburg, is a quaint but bustling town nestled right up against the Smoky Mountains. You do need to park your car and walk to most places or you can take the Trolley (highly recommended). What used to be many local shops and eateries, Gatlinburg has begun to see national chains start to move in and take away some of the charm the old town possessed. Still, there a lot to do and much to see in this town. Watch out for traffic during busy times, backups can be quite long. Also pedestrian traffic has the right-of-way all throughout the town so no rubber-necking when driving.
Pigeon Forge is known for attraction, attraction, attractions! Plus, hotels and restaurants. If you want the action this is it. The big attractions are all in Pigeon Forge; Dollywood, Titanic, Alcatraz, The Island and more. Pretty much every restaurant know to man is located in Pigeon Forge. Traffic can be heavy at times and the road is three lanes wide.
Sevierville while not as popular as the other two towns has it’s share of attractions and restaurants but is has all the big box stores the other two towns don’t have. Shopping malls, hotels, etc. Sevierville is much more like a typical suburban town than the other two which are gears to tourists. The one don’t miss in Sevierville is the Dolly Parton statue which is located in the downtown area.
Continuing A Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area, let’s talk about the area history. You will see the name Ogle quite a bit around the towns. William Ogle was the first settler to the area and his relatives are still present. William Ogle’s cabin has been restored and you can see it on the Parkway as you pass though Gatlinburg. You’ll also see the name Gatlin for which Gatlinburg is named. Radford Gatlin was the postmaster back in 1856 and decided to name the town after himself. Well that didn’t sit quite so well with the other settlers who arrived in the area around 1805. By 1858 a full blown feud had erupted between the Gatlin’s and the Ogles and Radford Gatlin was run out of town.
Let’s take our Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park has three main entrances; Sugarlands, Cherokee and Townsend. The main entrance is Sugarlands, this is located just outside of Gatlinburg and is probably the busiest of the entrances.
Mt LeConte (elev 6,594) is the third highest peak in the park yet when most people talk about it you’d think it’s the highest. There is a guest lodge up on top which makes the peak very endearing to most hikers. Clingman’s Dome is actually the highest peak in the park at 6,643ft. There is an observation tower on Clingman’s Dome which on a clear day offers spectacular views of the Smokies and surrounding states.
Other popular sites to see in the park are Laurel Falls, the most visited waterfall in the park and Cades Cove which is a settlement in a valley out near Townsend on the west end of the park. I will be doing a Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area focusing on the park itself in the upcoming weeks.
I hope this Beginners Guide to the Smoky Mountains Area gives you just a bit of knowledge to take the novice tourist edge off your visit. I will be doing follow-up blog posts around this same topic for the next few posts.
Are you planning a visit to the Smokies and are wondering how to fit it all in? Check out our sample itineraries: https://dancingbearfoot.blog/2018/08/30/smoky-mountains-vacation-itinerary-day-1/
If this is your fist time coming to the Smokies and renting a cabin check out out blog post in what to look for when renting a log cabin.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to learn more about our cabin or other great things to see while visiting the Smoky Mountains please visit us at Dancing Bearfoot.com.