The 6 Best Things to Do When You Visit the Smokies

So here you are, on vacation, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. You get the keys to your lovely cabin, unpack your bags, and then ... what? What to do? You don't want to do the regular "touristy" things such as play mini golf and watch big logs of toffey candy get stretched out and cut into little logs of candy. You've been there, done that. Or, you've never been here before, but you're not into doing "touristy" things. You like doing what locals do. After all, when in Rome (or in the Smokies) ...

So you get up off the comfy chair in your rental cabin and head outdoors. Surely you'll find inspiration out here. Suddenly, a guy standing on the street corner, wearing a trenchcoast turns to you and says, "Psst! Hey, buddy! Come over here. Have I got something for

You do a doubletake. Where'd this trenchcoast-wearing guy come from? And how can he be standing on a street corner when there is no real street here. This is out in the country!

But your curiosity (and suspension of disbelief) takes over, and you cautiously walk over to him. "Hi, there," you say timidly.

"Hiya, pal! You're not from around here, are you?" he asks.

"No," you reply. "How'd you know?"

"'Cause not too many locals stay in overnight rental cabins," he says laughing, and pats you on the back.

"Oh, yeah," you say, hoping the bright smile you're wearing helps to distract the guy's attention from the fact that you're slowly stepping away from him. Staying inside and watching DVDs suddenly sounds like an attractive way to spend your entire vacation.

But Mr. Trenchcoat senses what you're thinking and reassures you that he's only here to help you.

"Help me, how?" you ask.

"That's easy, pal. I'm here to let you in on some well-kept

"What secrets?"

"Things to do and places to go, where most tourists don't, normally," he says as he whips open his trenchcoat.

Instinctively, you start to turn and run when a strong hand grabs you by your arm. "Hey, don't worry, pal! I'm just getting out my list."

"Your list?"

"Yeah! My list: 5 Interesting Places to Go When You Visit the Smokies," he says happily.

Hmm. This could be interesting, you think, and you continue to listen as Mr. Trenchcoat reads off his list to you ...

1. The Sinks - When you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Gatlinburg entrance, take the second right turn, which takes you by the Park's visitor's center, and travel towards Elkmont. Not too far past the turn-off to Elkmont you'll encounter the Sinks on the right. The Sinks is a popular swimming hole. There are falls that you can walk under -- if you don't mind all that water falling on you -- and you jump off a relatively small cliff into the water below. Just be sure to always exercise caution. You're out in the woods, you know. There aren't any lifeguards around. I also recommend wearing water shoes.

("Hey, pal. You wanna buy a pair of water shoes?" Mr. Trenchcoat asks as he opens up his coat to reveal a pair of water shoes dangling from the lining. "No, thanks," you say, and take a small step backwards, but continue to listen to him read the list.)

2. Elkmont - Remember I said that the Sinks are just past the turn-off to Elkmont? Well, Elkmont is another place that's great to visit. And I'm not talking about the Elkmont campground. Just as you get to the campground, you'll see a road on the right. Get in the right turning lane and turn up that road. It'll take you to a neighborhood of old houses, most still standing, that were built around a century ago. Elkmont used to be a summer neighborhood for families from Knoxville. In the summertime, when school was out, the women and children would take the train from Knoxville to Elkmont and stay in small rustic cottages. On Friday afternoons, after work, the husbands would take the train to Elkmont, joining their families for the weekends, and then go back to work on Monday mornings. Elkmont is the only place in the national park that has buildings from this era. It's like taking a step back in time.

("That's pretty cool," you think, deciding to take your camera
with you when you go there. Sounds like a lot of interesting photo opportunities await in Elkmont.)

3. Cataract Falls - OK, remember when I said enter the Park from Gatlinburg? (You shake your head "yes.") After you enter the Park, go 1.5 miles and turn right (you'll see a "Dead End" sign) and then take the second right, about 1/10th of a mile. You'll see Park Headquarters' parking lot on your left and the trail head to Cataract Falls on the right, along with parking. It's a nice and easy half-mile trek to the falls on a flat trail. Some people even choose to get married there.

4. Visit the library - That's right, pal. I said visit the library. Pigeon Forge and Sevierville have nice libraries and Gatlinburg is getting ready to build a brand new library in November 2008. The Anna Porter Public Library currently is located one block off of Gatlinburg's main street, the Parkway, so until the new one is built (it'll be located next to Gatlinburg-Pittman High School on Hwy. 321), you can still visit the library. All of the libraries have computer and Internet access, and also things such as videos and audio books you can read (and hear).

5. Visit Mynatt Park - Mynatt Park is located on Historic Nature Trail Road (formerly Airport Road) in Gatlinburg. It has a covered pavilion, grills, picnic tables located next to a stream, walking trails, tennis courts, basketball court and a baseball field. It's a great place to take the whole family. Plus, it's only a couple of minutes from the Parkway, and only about 5 minutes from the next thing on my list ...

6. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail - is an 8-mile, one-way loop off of Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg. Turn left at Traffic Light No. 8 (Historic Nature Trail Road/Airport Road) and drive straight through til you see the entrance on the right. Even though the one-way road is narrow, there are places along the way where you can pull over or park. Several historic homesteads dating from the late 18th Century are located just off the trail and are easy to get to. Plus, colorful leaves and flowers are abundant in the spring and autumn. It takes about an hour to drive the loop, and is well worth the time.

"Hey! That's six places to visit, not five," you point out to the stranger.

"Oh, yeah. Well, math was never my best subject in school," he jokes.
"So, go on, now. Scoot!" "Huh?" you ask, confused.
"Now that you know the five, er, six best-kept secrets in the Smokies, what are you doing standing around here? Go!" says Mr. Trenchcoat as he waves good-bye to you.

That guy was nice, you think as you turn to walk back to your cabin. Maybe I'll buy him some taffy when I'm in Gatlinburg.

"Hey, do you like taf- ...," you start to ask Mr. Trenchcoat, and
then stop, because suddenly he's no where to be seen.

"Where'd he go?," you ask yourself, then realize he's no
doubt gone to the five er, six interesting places to go in the Smokies.

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