3 Unique Destinations In Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the must-dos when visiting Gatlinburg is to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP.) You could spend a life-time discovering all the secrets she holds…boy, would I love that.

In the meantime, here are three amazing places to park the car and explore. They are relatively easy, but super fun…so they work for adults on their own or families with kiddos.

Grotto Falls courtesy of Timothy Wildey

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Take light #8 in Gatlinburg and head into the park to enjoy this drivable loop in the forest. Don’t let the name fool you, though; there are plenty of places to pull over the car and enjoy the scenery.

First, be sure to keep $1 in cash handy, because you’re going to want to pick up the self-guided tour brochure right as you enter the loop (just follow the signs from this light to get you there.)

The brochure is packed with a dozen fun things, but we loved the waterfalls. The three you should know about are Rainbow Falls (5.4 miles roundtrip) which was closed for repairs in Summer 2018 when we visited, so we had to miss this one, Baskins Creek Falls (3.8 miles roundtrip) and Grotto Falls (2.4 miles roundtrip.)

Baskins Creek is a moderate hike with a 25′ waterfall, and we loved that there were only a few other people visiting here.

Grotto Falls is more popular, probably because this 25′ waterfall is an easier walk and because …wait for it….you can walk BEHIND the waterfall!! In fact, this is the only waterfall in the whole park that offers this awesome perspective.

Greenbrier.  Come through Gatlinburg on 321, past the Arts and Crafts Community heading northeast, and you’ll find another entrance to the Park called Greenbrier.

Here you’ll find about 6 miles of mostly gravel road…it’s not too bad; we took it in a MINI Cooper. The road primarily follows the cascades and every inch is simply gorgeous.

There are plenty of picnic spots, so bring your lunch! There are also trails, and this is a super spot to drop your fishing pole. We also loved that, despite the crowds in town, there was almost no one here.

We didn’t hike the Ramsey Cascade trail because of time, but we read about the 8-mile round trip hike and hope to do it one day. It takes you by one of the tallest waterfalls in the park (and supposedly the most beautiful) by way of an old-growth section of the park. Sounds amazing.

Here’s the secret, though. Many many people visit here to swim. The water is chilly, so be sure it is a warm day. But it is crystal clear –Cooper, our oldest, said it reminded him if Cancun. There are rocks and the water was rushing hard on the day we visited (from heavy rains) but we still found a few spots for the boys to splish and splash – it was THE BEST! The locals even call it their “swimming hole.”

Elkmont Ghost Town. Not too long ago, this was Daisy Town, a summer resort community. 100 years ago families arrived by train to seek refuge from the big city. This was during the logging era, so there were not big trees here like you see today. These homes were inspired by a “back to nature” movement, with large porches and rustic design.

These were all once part of the Appalachian Club, a private social club, generally pulling families from Knoxville. In the 20s/30s the homes were acquired by the state to form the Park. Most people left…a few were able to procure lifetime leases and stayed until as late as 2001.

Today, no one lives here. Many of the homes are condemned…you are still able to enter a few of them and see what life must have been like on “Millionaire’s Row.”

What I think is neat is that it was one of the owners of these homes, Willis P Davis, that visited Yellowstone and loved the idea of a National Park so much that he started the talk in the area about making the Smokies a park. He’s the one that started lobbying state and federal officials to make it so.

There is talk of restoring the cottages now. I hope they do that….what a wonderful way to celebrate the park’s origin story.


365 Daily posts are short and sweet, designed to highlight the discoveries we unearth on a daily basis as we explore Atlanta, the South, and the world!

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