We have spent last Sunday and Monday having a great time exploring Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains National Park.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a small mountain resort town that is surrounded by high ridges and the Smokey Mountains National Park. The history of Gatlinburg goes all the way back to when Native American hunters that pre-dated the Cherokee used a trail thru what is now Gatlinburg to access the forests and coves of the Smokey Mountains. The first permanent settlers arrived in the very early 1800’s. In 1900 the first sawmill was erected in the town which led to a major increase in logging in the area. The extensive logging increased the calls by the conservationists for the federal government to take action.
The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was opened in 1934 and Gatlinburg was radically affected. In the first year 40,000 visitors passed thru the city that had only 600 residents just 20 years prior. A year later the number of visitors increased to 500,000. Today the town has turned into a tourist mecca with lots of shops selling all kind of wares, lots of places to eat and various tourist traps. Ripley’s has a major stake in the tourist activity in the town with 7 separate attractions.
There is a private trolley system in Gatlinburg that appears to be well run with very reasonable fairs. We wanted to visit the Fine Arts Festival which only ran from last Friday thru Sunday, so we decided to brave the masses and take the trolley in from the visitor’s center that located between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The ride that on other days takes about 15 to 20 minutes took just over 45 due to the traffic. We wondered through the arts and craft festival (small but very nice) and then started walked up the main street in search of food. It is kind of amazing even though the town is very touristy, it is still very nice. Although they do have a building the call “The Space Needle”, which you can see in the pictures below, is not at all like the “real” Space Needle.
We returned to Gatlinburg Monday after we spent the day exploring a little of the Smoky Mountains National Park to ride the Sky Lift and have some dinner. One of the attractions in Gatlinburg is a ski chair type lift that goes up one of the mountains that surrounds the town.
The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was authorized by Congress in 1926 there was no federally owned land in the area at the time to house the newly authorized park. Over the next 8 years the Federal Government, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina assembled the necessary land. Today the park encompasses 522,419 acres making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. I was surprised to learn that the park is the most visited National Park in the United States.
We left our RV park and drove into the park to Cades Cove which was the valley home to many settlers prior to the formation of the National Park. Cades Cove is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district due to the number of historic building in the area.
We continued our drive thru the park to visit the park headquarters and main visitor center in Sugarland. On our trip there we made Leslies day when we spotted a bear in the woods. Prior to us seeing the bear I was speaking with one of the park rangers who said that some people will see a bear right away and others, like him, work in the park for 3 years before they see their first bear.
Well our time here in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains has come to an end without a visit to the Dollywood amusement park (yes Char – we actually did not go to an amusement park even though we were so close), so I guess we will need to return to see more of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and visit Dollywood.