Gatlinburg is known for its great summer and winter vacations, and one reason is because of the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park location at the end of the main parkway and everything that you may need or want to enjoy a vacation located within the one area. Every season in Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is not only beautiful, but accessible for many outdoor activities.
The best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a subject of endless debate, but one of the more difficult hikes is Rocky Top. It's not just a song from Tennessee. It did inspire the song, but it is a peak on Thunderhead Mountain. Why should anyone do a 12.5 mile, strenuous hike to get to Rocky Top? The reward for making it to the top, in the late spring, is the panoramic view filled with mountain laurel. The flowers are pink and white and blanket the mountain slopes like a scene in the Alps from "The Sound of Music." Not all the hiking trails are so long and many are lower than 3600 feet in altitude.
The Gregory Bald trail is about half the distance and goes to heights of about 3,000 feet. This peak shows off its azaleas in June and wildflowers in the spring. The view of Fontana Lake from Gregory Bald is breathtaking all by itself. The trail starts from Cades Cove, as does the Rocky Top trail. Cades Cove is about 27 miles out of Gatlinburg.
Cades Cove is on the Tennessee side of the national park in a lovely valley with historic homesteads listed on the National Register. Cades Cove is the first spot that would be recommended if you want to see the Smoky Mountain wildlife such as black bears, deer, turkeys, elk, horses and just about every animal that you can think of that lives in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park all in their natural habitat. With a driving loop that also accommodates bicyclist and runners during the early morning hours before opening to vehicles it is easy to enjoy the trails however you prefer. Cades Cove has about two million visitors a year because the early settlers' homes and land are preserved so that many generations can learn about life in the early 1800s.
Some easier trails just a few minutes from Gatlinburg have waterfalls and do not involve overnight camping. Laurel Falls is a two and a half mile paved trail that includes an 80-foot high cascade. Bring the camera. The Abrams Falls trail is five miles long round-trip and has a 20-foot tall waterfall. There is a very deep pool below the falls, but there is no swimming because the currents are too fast; there were tragedies in the past.
Hikers that enjoy camping can take backcountry trails away from almost everything. There are also camp sites much closer to car parking that have flush toilets and cold running water. Group sites and horse camps are also available. Cabins in Gatlinburg, TN is a wonderful way to enjoy being in the Smoky Mountains and near all of the trails and not giving up on the comforts that you want at the end of the day. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park anytime of year.