Foray Into The Smokies
When it comes to the Smokies, you either get the biker gang vacation (Harrah’s casino, late night bars and big, state of the art Harley’s on the Blue Ridge Parkway in packs that number into the fifties) or the extreme hiker types that pack a month’s worth of provisions and handheld toilets into backpacks the length of their entire backs…but both groups are onto something: there’s lots to see in the Appalachians.
Whether you’re on search for a great homemade biscuit or just want to get back to nature, check out my spots to hit up along 441 and beyond and get to foraying in the Smokies!
One of my favorite stops once you get into the park is Abrams Falls; it’s a sweet little hike that ends in a waterfall that spills water over the bridge running across it. In the summer, it’s a delightful break from the heat, during the winter, it’s a daring challenge to cross for the perfect picture without getting your boots absolutely drenched in freezing cold, gushing spring water.
A perfect one-mile hike, with very little incline, makes it ideal for families, with young and older members, or just for the less-than-thrilled hikers. Since it’s on the road to Cades Cove (and also to Townsend), it makes for a great break in the almost 2 hour car ride it takes to get to the valley paradise. Since the trail can get narrow at a few points, leave everything but the camera; you won’t be needing any of it anyway.
The Pink Motel
My vintage heart, with it’s love for early 1960’s cars, record players, and pastel colored Kitchenette mixers, loves everything about the Pink Motel. Harking back to age where Route 66 was dotted with bright neon signs in creative mod designs, the Pink Motel is a getaway not just from home but into another time.
A first floor, classic roadside motel with a killer motel sign and interior designed boutique rooms with river access, you can’t go wrong with a weekend spent here among the pink tiled bathrooms, plush rose shag rugs, and salmon motel exterior. Plus, it’s convenient location right next to the best breakfast in town is a major plus!
Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles
This little gem is my favorite place to grab a bite in Cherokee; following the same vintage feel (although in this case I would say it’s authentically homegrown Southern rather than trying to harken back to a bygone time, making it more than Instagram-worthy, but actually real).
Serving diner-style breakfast with piping hot cups of coffee that never end, a full menu with favorites like fish and grits and steak and eggs until 2pm (when they shut down for the day), there’s nothing I like more in a breakfast spot. As far as I’m concerned, Manhattan can keep their fancy brunch spots; I’m chowing down at Pete’s.
The Native American Craft Shop
There are lots of shops lining the main road through Cherokee; the one that follows the river and has Minnetonka signs all over it. But the shop that I love the most (and definitely because it’s genuine Native American made art) is the Native American Craft Shop past all the newer looking shops and just a little further down the road that leads to the park.
From handmade bow quivers to head to toe feathered headdresses, the Native American Craft Shop has one of kind pieces that come from reservations all over the country (and Canada as well) which means you’re putting the proceeds back into the communities that these pieces came from, and that just makes me feel good about buying art; artisans that aren’t the starving kind are the best, especially if their art is the ancient kind, and is desperate need of preservation and life.
If you’re not one for typical souvenirs though, one of the souvenirs you can give from the smokies is a killer view, and by sharing the fantastic vistas, you can also help the community by bringing more visitors, and more awareness for the beauty and cultures that live within the mountains. Great apps like Postagram let you add your own pictures to postcards and send them for less than $1–add a little bit of local lore and you’ve got the best gift there is. All you need is data to download, add a credit card for purchases, and send.
In my house there’s a picture of my mother holding me high in the air; we’re on a picnic blanket in a vast sea of green. Maybe there are daisies dotted here and there, but the rolling, fresh hills are so much more prominent you don’t even notice.
This is Cades–a vast valley expanse framed, hidden, by the mountains on all sides, with soft sweet winds and horses that run in the fields to play during the day, and bed down in huge stables at night. You can ride around the outer edge of the valley, visiting the old homesteads and learning the history of the land in your car, on a bike that you can rent at the shop, or even on from horseback–your chosen experience is completely up to you!
My suggestions is to make sure you go into all the little churches, and the raised barn along the way–they’re my favorite things to see–and it’s absolutely imperative that you don’t leave without an ice cream. Bought at the campground shop, it’s huge, refreshing, and exactly what you need after a long day so don’t miss it!
The Mingus Mill
This stop found just inside the park is a great way to learn about the way people of Appalachia used to get their grains; The Mingus Mill is a still-working, authentic mill where you can walk up into the house for an up close look at the mechanics of how the turbine turned water into energy. But more than just checking out how it works, you can follow the diverted river up a ways, where the original settlers put it on an intricate path of wooden terraces that still holds strong today.
Bonus: you can get some of the grains made from the mill here during the season, and try your own hand at great cornbread!
The Great Smoky National Park Visitors Center
Why is the visitor’s center on here, you may ask yourself; is it really worth a mention? For me, absolutely. Not only do they sell the best t-shirts alive (go with the long sleeve tri-picture style in coral or seafoam, it’s the greatest fabric ever made and it supports a great cause), but if you’re lucky and catch them on a good day, there may be piping hot cornbread baking outdoor on the wide front porch fireplaces, with a good slathering of molasses to give it that rustic mountain sweetness.
I also love the 3D topographical map in the center of the brand new building; it lets you get a bird’s eye view of the entire park and follow the trails from above before making the decision to go out for a trek. And best of all, the rangers are the perfect guides to figuring out the park; from weather advice, to places where you might catch some elk (or if you’re lucky, a black bear), they’ve got the 411 on exactly what goes on between the territory lines and there’s no one better to get a recommendation from.
Have tips and hints to make my next adventure one to remember? Drop me a line in the comment section and do tell me all about it!
Until then…bon voyage!