What to Do, Where to Go in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunday, April 19, 2009

GETTING THERE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is about 500 miles from Washington. Take Interstate 66 west to I-81 south, I-40 east, U.S. Route 321 south to Gatlinburg, then U.S. Route 441 south. By air: Airfare from Washington to Asheville, N.C. (about 65 miles from Cherokee), starts at about $208 round trip; to Knoxville, Tenn. (about 40 miles from Gatlinburg), about $226.

STAYING THERE: Two of 10 park campgrounds are open all year; none has showers. Four take reservations for May 15-Oct. 31; others are first come, first served. Fees are $14-$23 per night. Call 877-444-6777; http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/frontcountry-camping.htm.

LeConte Lodge (865-429-5704, http://www.lecontelodge.com), at 6,360 feet, is reached only on foot; the shortest route is 5 1/2 miles. Seven kerosene-lit rustic cabins and three group sleeping lodges, none with showers, can accommodate 60. In cabins, daily rate is $75 per adult, plus $35 per adult for breakfast and dinner. A two-bedroom lodge is $600 per night for up to eight people, plus $35 a day per adult for meals. A three-bedroom lodge is $900 per night for up to 12 people, plus per-person meal charges. Open March 23-Nov. 24.

For a list of surrounding communities with accommodations, see http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/lodging.htm.

North of the park, lodging is plentiful in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg; find rooms in the south in Cherokee and Maggie Valley.

We stayed in Gatlinburg at Rodeway Inn Skyland (223 E. Parkway, 800-255-8738, http://www.rodewayinngatlinburg.com), where doubles are $35.99-$109.99 a night and views of the mountains priceless. At Sidney James Mountain Lodge (610 Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, 800-362-9394, http://www.sidneyjames.com), doubles are $49-$104. At Jack Huff's Motor Lodge (204 Cherokee Orchard Rd., Gatlinburg, 800-322-1817, http://www.jackhuffs.com), doubles cost $48-$85.

Cabin rentals are numerous in the Smokies; at Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg (888-609-4654, http://www.gotogatlinburg.com), prices start at $510 a week for two adults; for 16 people, from $2,250 a week. There are also private campgrounds, such as KOA Cherokee (828-497-9711, http://www.koa.com) and bed-and-breakfasts (http://www.smokymountainbb.com).

EATING THERE: In the park, Cades Cove has a snack bar with breakfast and sandwiches. Surrounding communities have options from takeout to upscale.

In Gatlinburg, locals go to Mountain Lodge Restaurant (913 E. Parkway, 865-436-2547) for sourdough French toast and huge cinnamon rolls. At Smoky Mountain Brewery (1004 Parkway, 865-436-4200, http://smoky-mtn-brewery.com), hearth-baked soft pretzels are a specialty. At Corky's Ribs & BBQ (519 Parkway, 865-430-8069, http://www.corkysbbq.com), we had the ribs-chicken-pulled pork platter in the Elvis Room. Upscale options include the Park Grill steakhouse (1110 Parkway, 865-436-2300, http://www.peddlerparkgrill.com), constructed of massive spruce trees.

In Cherokee, Peter's Pancakes and Waffles (1384 Tsali Blvd., 828-497-5116) serves belly-busting breakfasts. At Harrah's Cherokee Casino (77 Casino Dr., 828-497-8706 or 828-497-7777, http://www.harrahscherokee.com), Sycamores on the Creek offers fine dining.

TO DO IN THE PARK: Three visitor centers (Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Cades Cove) are open daily except Christmas Day. A free brochure has a map with highlights; $1 auto-tour and hiking guides are available. More information: 865-436-1200, or http://www.nps.gov/grsm. See http://greatsmokies75th.orgfor June 13-15 anniversary weekend events and exhibits.

Highlights include, in the north: Sugarlands Visitor Center's 20-minute film and natural history museum, and five-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail's historic buildings. West: Cades Cove historic district, an 11-mile loop with churches, homes and a gristmill. Center: From Newfound Gap on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, hike to 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome. Catch a sunset at Morton Overlook. East: Cataloochee has old homesteads and elk. South: Oconaluftee Visitor Center, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, has a logging exhibit. Mountain Farm Museum & Mill is a collection of preserved log buildings.

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