The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Awesome Places of the Appalachians

Welcome to the Great Smoky Mountains, home to some of the most spectacular locations on earth.  Formed over 200 million years ago when two major continents collided, is it any wonder that these amazing mountains are the single, most sought after vacation destination in the country.  Millions of visitors flock to these mountains every year to enjoy the plants and wildlife that live in abundance here.  Who could resist when area attractions have such wonderful names as: Tuckaleechee Caverns, Forbidden Caverns, Rainbow Falls, and Place of a Thousand Drips.  These names inspire curiosity and the need to know more.  Why were they given these names?  Are they Indian names? What makes them so special?Cades Cove

Tallest single-drop waterfall in the Smoky Mountains

This is not a hike for young children so be sure to plan ahead.  Grab your sturdiest boots, a nice lunch and plenty of water.  This trail is approx. 2.7 miles one way and has an elevation change of 1,700 feet.  This rocky and often strenuous trail follows LeConte Creek and takes about 3.5 hrs to complete.   Aaif you see a “shortcut” along the trail, beware it is more difficult than it looks- stay on the trail.  After following the creek for a while, you will enter an area blooming with an array of rhododendron, teaberry, mountain pepperbush and even pink lady slipper.  Two miles from the trailhead a log bridge crosses the stream and then crosses a tributary of the creek without  the aid of a bridge.  After Two more bridges the Falls appear.  The 80-foot waterfall is the tallest single-drop waterfall in the National Park, crashing like thunder over a jutting cliff face and then rushing dramatically to the rocks at cliffs base.  On sunny afternoons, visitors are treated to a beautiful rainbow prism created by the water’s mist.


The trail to Rainbow Falls is one of the oldest in the park and very well used.  The terrain is rocky and often uneven, shoes without tread such as sandals and flip-flops are not recommended.  Good sturdy hiking boots with ankle supports will make your ankles, knees, and back much happier and safer.


Although the waterfall is amazing, the trail itself has plenty of beautiful views, scenery, foliage and wildlife that should not be missed.   Mini-falls, boulder fields, scenic bridges, and bubbling creeks are just a few of the things you will see on your hike to the Rainbow Falls.  Spruce, mountain ash, asters, monkshood and the bright red blooms of the crimson bee balm, also known as scarlet bergamot, grow in profusion along this trail.  The relative high humidity in the Smoky Mountains allow for its diverse
plant growth and vegetation, so be sure to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy one of the most picturesque spots for a meal in the entire park.


Warning:  Do not climb on the rocks surrounding  Rainbow Falls.  The mist and algae make these rocks extremely slick.  These rocks may be very tempting be aware that several deaths have occurred in recent years and serious injuries continue to happen on a regular basis.  Please be Safe.


Insider tips:  If the first parking lot is full, there is additional parking one-tenth of a mile past the primary parking area.


Directions:  At the Space Needle (traffic light#8), turn onto Historic Nature Trail Road.  Follow to the ODD intersection.  Take far right fork (Cherokee Orchard Loop). Drive 2.2 miles and enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop.  The Parking area for the Rainbow Falls is 0.6 miles after the one-way loop begins.


Although this trail is difficult and will take 3-5 hours to complete, it is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains.  Do not bring children or pets, but it is highly recommended for anyone capable of hiking a moderately difficult 5+mile trail.  Hope to see out there.


Home to the world’s largest onyx wall

Tennessee is home to over 8,300 caves and caverns, known and registered to date.  Not surprising considering the manner in which they were formed.  They were literally shoved up out of the ground by two continents colliding. Common sense says there will be empty spaces left behind for us to explore.  Forbidden Caverns, located in Sevierville, Tennessee is one of Americas most spectacular caverns, filled with sparkling formations, towering natural chimneys, grottos and crystal clear streams.  Special lighting effects, stereophonic sound presentations and well trained tour guides combine to offer the most  exciting and enjoyable experience possible.  Young or old, the amazing formations found in this cavern are sure to bring out the wonder and child in us all.


The first to use these caverns were the Eastern Woodland Indians (most likely the Cherokee) who roamed East Tennessee in search of good hunting.  The cave was used as shelter and the cave river provided year round water.  Flint or Chert is found in limited quantities and was used in the making of arrowheads, knives and scrapers.  The cave also features the largest wall of rare cave onyx or dripstone known to exist anywhere in the world.  From the early 1920s until 1943 the cave was famous for making moonshine.  The constant water supply and the isolated location, was perfect for the making and storage of the Appalachians most sought after mountain brew.  In 1967, after 3 years of excavation and development, a group of businessmen were able to open this natural attraction to the public.  To reach the cavern you must pass through a strikingly beautiful mountain valley containing primitive farm houses, a quaint old gristmill-museum and a trout farm.  The average guided tour is 55 min., the trails are well lighted and there are handrails at all necessary locations, for your safety and comfort.  So be sure to include the Forbidden Caverns on your next exciting trip to the Smoky Mountains.


The greatest site under the Smokys

Carved inside the earth’s oldest mountain range and estimated to be 20-30 million years old, the Tuckaleechee Caverns are rich in history and Indian lore.  On one end of the tour is a large room called the “Big Room” that could hold a football stadium and on the other end of the tour you will get to see “Silver Falls” a 210 foot double waterfall and the tallest subterranean waterfall in the eastern United States.  These are only two of the millions of fantastic formations to be seen along this 1.25 mile round trip adventure.


The Cherokee Indians who lived in this part of the region knew of the caverns and used them for shelter when hunting and to escape the notice of the early white man.  The first white men began settling the area  in the late 1700s.  In the mid-19th century written reports from local sawmill workers tell how they found the entrance after watching water from a heavy rain pour into a sink hole.  Although the hole was blocked with debris they were able to find their way to what is now the entrance of these amazing caverns.  

Even before the caverns were discovered, Indian women and white women alike, would bring their sewing and other easily carried “chores” to this location because it was always much cooler there around the sink hole.  During the summer months young children loved to hang out there, play, and take naps because of the mysterious  cooling breezes.  The constant 58 degree temperature of the caverns were cooling those who played and worked around the sink hole and now those same cooling breezes are used to cool the gift shop and visitor center and to help air-condition the buildings.  Isn’t nature fantastic!!


The caverns were first opened to the public in 1931, but the timing wasn’t right, with the start of the Depression the caverns were closed and not opened again until 1953.  W.E. Vananda and Harry Myers had always played around the caverns as children and decided they would one day reopen them to the public.  They went to Alaska and worked on construction sites to raise the funds.  After four years, the men had carried in hundreds of tons of sand, cement and gravel on their backs to build steps and passageways.  Even more exciting than opening day, came in 1954 with the discovery of the “Big Room”.  More Than 400 feet long, 300 feet across, and 150 feet deep, the Big Room has stalagmites over 24 feet high.  The newest section opened to the public includes a 200-foot double waterfall named “Silver Falls”.
Only the lower section may be fully viewed, but visitors may look up into a lighted upper chamber where the second falls is located.  


Wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of film (don’t forget the flash), and be prepared to be amazed by this beautiful creation of nature.  And please remember to take full advantage of the one-of-a-kind photo opts available.  Don’t be shy these are once-in-a-lifetime pictures that you can’t take anywhere else in the world.


Roaring Fork Motor Trail

I have talked about several places that are not child (small) friendly and are designed for those who like to get out do some serious hiking, but what about the rest; those with screaming toddlers, or those who can’t get out and do all the walking and climbing, but still want to enjoy the beauty of the park and the waterfalls.  There are two waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that can be accessed by vehicle.  That’s correct you can drive right up to them.  The Place of a Thousand Drips is located near the end of the Roaring Forks Motor Trail and is so named because of the intricate lacework of thousands of tiny streamlets that have carved their way down the hillside.

This waterfall is best seen during the rainy season due to variable water flow.  Dry weather can slow it to almost a trickle and make it very hard to notice, where as heavy rains can make it over flow with bubbling rivulets.  The many tiny runoff streams have worn grooves and channels in the boulders and the rock face of the ancient hillside.  The green of the moss and the sun sparkling off so many different tiny water sources blend to give this unique water feature a truly spell binding sight worth seeing.  The water fall is a stunning 80 feet tall with many streamlets falling 10-20 feet at a time.   Glacier National Park in Montana has one of these beautiful waterfalls, it is known as the “Weeping Wall”.  Nature can make some really amazing and fascinating creations.


The Roaring Forks Motor Trail is a 5.5 mile one lane road with many historical points of interest along the loop located just outside Gatlinburg, TN.  About 4.9 miles along this trail there will be signs giving directions to the waterfall and pull-offs on the left hand side of the road.  Feel free to get out and walk around.  Climb to the top if you like.  Sit on the bench at the bottom of the huge sandstone cliff and listen to the music of the water as it plays a natural chorus as it tumbles and drips and bounces over rocks and branches.  Let yourself be mesmerized by the tiny dancing lights as they sparkle and shimmer on the thousands of tiny drips casting off the brilliant colors of the rainbow.  The Place of a Thousand Tears is definitely a must see for anyone who loves the beauty of nature.


Whether you are coming for a day or a week there are plenty of beautiful things to see and do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The local Caverns and waterfalls are just a handful of the many adventures waiting to be discovered in the Smoky Mountains.  Bring the whole family there are plenty of affordable cabin rentals in all price ranges, with alot of modern amenities, like dishwashers, hottubs, and media rooms.