Smoky Mountain Highlights
United States is a nation blessed with literally hundreds of scenically
beautiful locations. Dozens of national parks are scattered throughout
the country- standing as a testament to the picturesque brilliance
of the natural world. In addition to the many all-natural vacation
destinations America has to choose from, this is a country also
endowed with a wide variety of exciting and entertaining cityscapes.
These popular locales offer live entertainment, regional cultural
highlights, theme park recreation and more. In certain rare instances
there exist holiday locations that offer a combination of recreational
flare that allows for visitors to experience all of the above. The
Smoky Mountains region of East Tennessee and North Carolina is just
such a destination.
The area's top attraction, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a unique American treasure trove of diversity that attracts more visitors per year than any other national park in the nation. And the surrounding East Tennessee cities of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville offer their own unique and complimentary blend of Smoky Mountain charm and cultural flare. The combination creates an All-American vacation destination that serves to attract over 12 million visitors a year. Who wouldn't enjoy a holiday to the spectacular Smoky Mountains region? This region of the country offers dazzling alpine splendor, a plethora of outdoor recreational activities, and a whole host of "man-made" entertainment attractions in the sister cities that surround the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundaries.
While the region of Appalachian splendor that runs through both East Tennessee and North Carolina is today a multi-faceted recreational hub with hundreds of options for tourists to explore, there is no doubt that what kicked off the tourism explosion in this part of the country was the official designation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1930. Since then the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has also been designated an International Biosphere Preserve. These designations recognize that the unique beauty of the park has everything to do with the incredible diversity of life found here. Whether you're Smoky Mountain vacation takes you along the Newfound Gap road by car, or into the scenic treasures of Cades Cove by foot, everywhere you look the dense Appalachian foliage makes it clear that this is a special place indeed.
The area that falls within the borders of the greater Smoky Mountains region is actually the largest protected landmass east of the Mississippi River. So what is it about the Smokies that make it so rich and diverse in comparison with other regions of America and elsewhere in the world? Well, believe it or not much of this has to do with events that date back as far as the last major Ice Age. It was a combination of events brought on by a major shift in the Earth's climate that made this part of modern day Tennessee and North Carolina a region of refuge for animal species from around the continent.
During the last Ice Age creeping sheets of ice forced species more accustomed to northern climes into what is now the Smoky Mountains park area. These species found habitat that suited them in the higher elevations of the Park. Those species more typically accustomed to a southern climate continued to make their home in the lower levels of the Smoky Mountains. Really it is the combination of the diversity in elevation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the onset of the last ice age that accounts for the diversity of life that still exists here today. And Smoky Mountain vacationers can explore this magical, Appalachian wonderland through a variety of means; whether through hiking or walking, driving tours, fishing, or camping.
Once the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had been officially christened slowly but surely the places surrounding the Park boundaries began to develop infrastructure and recreation to support the tourism that was beginning to spring to life in the area. Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg were once out of the way towns mostly populated by lumber industry employees and their families. As the lumber industry began to fade tourism quickly took over the position of the area's top industry. Soon hotels, mountain cabins, lodges and restaurants began to line the streets of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and the area was on its way to becoming the juggernaut of recreational appeal that it is today.
No doubt those early settlers of the area would have a hard time recognizing modern day Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or Sevierville, Tennessee. Each of these cities now serves as a world-class mountain resort destination in its own right. And put together with the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park these three sister Smoky Mountain cities help make this region of East Tennessee unlike any other in the country. Modern day Pigeon Forge is the Smoky Mountain capital of live entertainment and theatre. A wide variety of top musical, comedy, and theatrical acts including the Country Tonite Theatre, the Black Bear Jamboree, the Patty Waszac Theatre, the Smith Family Theatre, the Smoky Mountain Jubilee, the American Jukebox Theatre and the Triumphant Quartet. One of the real highlights in Pigeon Forge is Dollywood; the world-famous theme park named after Pigeon Forge's most famous resident, Dolly Parton. This theme park offers thrill rides, the fun-filled Water Park for the kids, as well as special cultural events such as the annual Festival of Nations.
Gatlinburg, TN maintains the charming, small-town European village feel that marked its earliest beginnings. Visitors to Gatlinburg might well think they've landed somewhere in the Swiss Alps rather than the Appalachians of the Eastern United States! Arts, culture, and shopping are front and center in this unique Smoky Mountain city. Gatlinburg boasts some 400 plus gift and specialty shops including: leather shops, custom jewelry stores, wood carvers, quilting stores, basket weavers, jams and jellies stores, homemade fudge and candies shops, custom glassware and furniture stores, antiques stores and much more. Many people find that Gatlinburg is the kind of town that is best enjoyed on foot. Smoky Mountain vacationers can happily meander through the streets while taking in the craftsmanship of local Smoky Mountain artisans. Gatlinburg is also home to the world's largest aerial passenger tramway. This tram takes vacationers from downtown up to the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and Recreation Park in grand style. The view from the summit is absolutely breathtaking; revealing a panoramic view of all of Gatlinburg against a backdrop of surrounding Smoky Mountain splendor.
While Pigeon Forge is known for its live theatre and theme park attractions, and Gatlinburg may be known for its European styling and artisan shops, Sevierville is known for its laid-back, family-friendly nature. During the high season in the Smokies many vacationers find Sevierville a pleasant change of pace. And yet, far from being a sleepy little Tennessee town, Sevierville makes available wide variety of its own recreational highlights for Smoky Mountain visitors to enjoy. These attractions include live theatre shows, museums, musical theatres and acts, modern and antique shopping as well as theme-parks. The Governor's Palace is perhaps the most famous of all attractions located in Sevierville. Salute Our Heroes, Journey to 50 states, and an indoor water show appropriately titled April Showers are just a few of the exciting performances that can be viewed at the Governor's Palace. The Great China Acrobats is another of Sevierville's most popular attractions. This unique theatre shows off death-defying stunts and acrobatic marvels on a daily basis. This makes the Great China Acrobats just one of the many attractions within Sevierville that is great for the entire family.
When you add up all the recreational highlights available to Smoky Mountain vacationers, its no surprise that this beautiful and entertaining region of the country plays host to over a dozen million visitors per year. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park serves as the star of the show- eclipsing every other national park in the country in terms of popularity. Gatlinburg is a large scale alpine village that offers a special blend of Smoky Mountain charm and culture. Pigeon Forge is home to the Dollywood theme park and a broad assortment of top-notch live entertainment shows. And Sevierville is a multi-faceted, family-friendly location that offers a little bit of everything for Tennessee tourists to enjoy. Put this all together with the famous hospitality of the Smoky Mountain locals and it's easy to see why this part of East Tennessee serves as one of the nation's most elite vacation destinations.