Hiking in the Smoky Mountains: Gatlinburg is more than just tourist traps
I grew up in Nashville. That means for many of my formative years I was another one of those kids who went along on the annual family pilgrimage to one tacky place—Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Now, there’s nothing innately wrong with Gatlinburg if you’re in to bear memorabilia, putt-putt golf and bedazzled big haired women crooning country hits of the 1960’s. My understanding has simply been that if you’re under the age of 12 or over the age of 65 it’s an enchanting place that provides an abundance of amusement and entertainment but if you find yourself in the median age range of 13-64 well, you might detest every moment you spend in Dolly-ville.
I had a friend invite me to east Tennessee for the weekend in September. Because I love my friend who I had not seen recently I begrudgingly shuffled all the way along interstate 40 from Nashville (the 3 hour drive actually flies by) to exit 407 to endure my weekend in the Smokies. I arrived and for the first time was struck by the serene beauty off in the distance beyond Pigeon Forge. As a kid I guess I never noticed the beauty of the mountains that lay beyond the mini golf and go-karts. Also, apparently cabins are pretty affordable there (especially if you have quite a few people going in on one with you.) We spent the weekend enjoying the rides at Dollywood, the shopping at the Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall and the hiking in the breathtaking Smoky Mountain National Park.
The Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall has two of my favorites: the Polo Factory Outlet and the Banana Republic Outlet. It also has some 138 other retail stores worth visiting if the words Polo and Banana Republic don’t make your eyes sparkle like they do mine.
Which is bread over at the outlets the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area also offers the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has an abundance of trails for every skill level with more than ten different trails that include awe-inspiring waterfalls. I hiked the Indian Creek trail. Even though I do proudly own a pair of Chaco’s I am by no means an outdoorsman. I scaled this trail with ease and enjoyed my ever so slight windedness when the hike was done while still appearing not so sweaty. If you are an avid hiker/camper you might check out Laurel Falls or Rainbow Falls where a rainbow peeks out on sunny afternoons.
Even though I had been to the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area plenty of times I had never gotten to experience the beauty of the national park in all its glorious fall wonder. Hiking and laughing with friends truly made the experience so memorable. And beautiful pictures of the landscape (waterfalls included) to put on Facebook was definitely a plus. An even bigger plus? The pricetag. Outdoors-y activities like that one are absolutely free. So think outside the box and outside for your next weekend excursion. No need to look any further than East Tennessee.
By Hillary Sutton