Local Cities And Towns

By: Jackie Eurice-Kenney
an aerial map of the region

For modern amenities, delectable food and non-stop entertainment, visit any one of the neighboring cities and towns that surround the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In both Tennessee and North Carolina, you’ll find bright lights, welcoming people and tons to see, do, and try!

Known as the Gateway to the Smokies, Gatlinburg is located just outside the main Tennessee entrance to the park. Enjoy modern living in this city with a small-town feel before delving into the wilderness. Plus, the views here are spectacular! Whether you’re on a sky lift, gondola ride, a mountain coaster or at the top of Gatlinburg’s 342-foot space needle, you’ll get a picturesque view of both the town and the mountains. Throughout the city you’ll also find interesting although slightly unusual places to tour including the Ripley’s attractions and aquarium, the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, and old homesteads and log cabins. Venture a few miles north of the city center to see the handiworks offered for sale at the many shops in the Arts and Crafts Community. Here you’ll find the largest community of independent artisans in America—all with one-of-a-kind creations.

In Pigeon Forge, entertainment is king. With over a dozen venues that offer shows presenting country music, comedy, modern rock, circus acts, magic and even acrobatic stunts, you’ll find at least one that suits your taste—probably more! Prominent attractions including Dollywood, the Hollywood Wax Museum, WonderWorks, MagiQuest and even the Titanic Museum call this city home. Perhaps you would like to take a helicopter tour to see the city from the sky! Many other fun, family-friendly activities such as racetracks, laser tag, adventure parks, mini golf and even zorbing (defying gravity down the side of a hill in a plastic ball) can be experienced. Hungry after being on-the-go all day? There are tons of mouth-watering places to eat in Pigeon Forge offering cuisines from barbeque to sushi, and the adults may want to sample some Tennessee moonshine at a local distillery. There is no shortage of fun, entertainment and shopping in the valley that was once just wide-open farmland.

Dolly Parton is the sweetheart of the Smokies. She was raised in Sevierville where you can even pose with a statue of the music legend! This town is a wonderful place to explore the outdoors while horseback riding or journeying around on an ATV. The scenery contains mountains, fields, rivers and streams and it is breathtaking. It’s also possible to venture underground to check out the Forbidden Caverns and wander around the stalactites and stalagmites that have been forming for thousands of years. Aerial attractions are quite popular here as well. Zip lines, rope courses, and canopy tours are just a few of the more adventurous activities that travelers to Sevierville can have fun doing. Around the town, visitors will find an assortment of restaurants, wineries and cideries where taste buds will surely be pleased. Look for great deals at the Tanger Outlets or visit unique shops such as the Lodge Factory Store where their famous, long-lasting cookware can be purchased. Sevierville is a town that should not be missed!

There are other small towns on the Tennessee side of the Smokies including Townsend — known as the gateway to Cades Cove —and Cosby. These towns are on opposite ends of the park with Townsend southwest and Cosby northeast of Gatlinburg. Those who like rugged outdoor adventures may particularly enjoy a trip to Cosby (follow signs on Route 40 for nearby Hartford). It is here along the Pigeon River where strong rapids lead to excellent white-water rafting expeditions. To try a calmer float down the river, head to Townsend for leisurely tubing with a few fast-paced spots on the water.

On the other side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina lies Cherokee — a sovereign nation and home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The residents of Cherokee are directly descended from the clans that have lived on this land for countless centuries. Visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian where displays of artifacts present the history of the tribes from the early 1700s to the Trail of Tears in the 1800s. At the Oconaluftee Indian Village, visitors can explore the life of Native Americans, interact with residents, and see demonstrations in traditional trades. You’ll see canoes being made, preparations for war, cultural dances, and re-created dwellings. In the late spring and summer, gather under the stars to watch Unto These Hills—an outdoor drama that portrays the Cherokee people through song, dance, and historical stories. The exploration of this land would not be complete without visiting the Cherokee Botanical Garden and Nature Trail or the Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual. Over 350 native artisans present their crafts for sale at the mutual, giving visitors a chance to purchase an authentic Native American work of art. Modern-day fun can also be had at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. Try your luck to win some cash! With so many things to do, you may want to give yourself more than a day to discover the treasures in Cherokee.

Other towns you may want to visit in North Carolina that are close to the National Park include Dillsboro and Bryson City. In Dillsboro there are interesting artisan shops and wonderful restaurants with local cuisine. Bryson City is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and its historic train depot. Book a seat for one of the fabulous trips on a steam or diesel engine. Try a river tour such as the Nantahala Gorge Excursion or maybe a journey while sampling wine or moonshine. Traveling by steam will be a historic and memorable experience!

Welcome to the Great Smoky Mountains! We hope you enjoy your visit throughout the entire region!