Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Parkis located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. This is the United States most visited national park with 12-14 million annual visitors. The Smoky Mountains became a National Park in 1926, and in 1983 the park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at 6,643 ft. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. We will drive almost to the top, where you will find a visitor center and a 1.3-mile out-and-back paved trail, (but a bit steep) to the top of the mountain, where there is a viewing tower with 360° views of the Smokies and beyond.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park have some of the best historical buildings in the United States. Over 90 historic structures such as houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and gristmills, have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park. Many of these have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. We will visit some of these historical wonders.
We will visit several visitor centers on this tour, both in the National Park and in other National Forests and State Parks. These are good places to pick up park maps, get info and they usually also sell souvenirs as well.
Mountain Farm Museum
The adjacent to one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor centers, you will find the Mountain Farm Museum. This is a unique collection of farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the park. You can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago. The site also demonstrates historic gardening and agricultural practices, including livestock.
Gatlinburg SkyPark - Longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America
At the Gatlinburg SkyPark, you will experience the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, the 680 ft long, Gatlinburg SkyBridge. With a height of 140 feet at its midpoint and 30 feet of glass-floor panels in the middle of the span, the SkyBridge is an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime. The view from the bridge is considered some of the best in the Smoky Mountains.
To get to the bridge, we will first ascent in a scenic chairlift. After we walk across the SkyBridge, we will take a short hike along the SkyTrail and climb the Tulip Tower to the observation area. Lastly, we will relax and take in the view from the SkyDeck, and you will have some time to shop in the SkyCenter for souvenirs.
Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park is a nature lover’s paradise, with a mixture of spectacular views and incredible hiking trails. Chimney Rock, the 535-million-year-old monolith for which the Park is named, is considered one of the most iconic sites in North Carolina. From its top, you'll soak in the 75-mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. You can also hike above it, which is where the photo above is taken from.
To get to the top of Chimney Rock, you can either take an elevator up to a short staircase leading to the top of the Rock. Or, you can climb the 500 steps to the top of the Rock. Along the way, you'll be able to explore the many amazing unique viewpoints. For the average adult, it takes about 25 minutes to walk up to reach the Chimney.
Hickory Nut Falls Trail — You will have time for an additional 1.5-mile roundtrip leisurely walk to the bottom of the 404-foot waterfall.
DuPont State Recreational Forest (High Falls)
DuPont State Recreational Forest, commonly known as DuPont Forest, is a 12,500-acre state forest, located in North Carolina. In this park we will hike to the most impressive waterfall in the park and one of the most impressive waterfalls in all of North Carolina, High Falls. This is a 150-ft tall spectacular waterfall. To get to the falls, we will hike a 1.5 Mile Roundtrip hike with a modest elevation gain of about 200 ft.
Caesars Head State Park
Caesars Head State Park is a park within the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Here we will indulge ourselves in a short hike to the main overlook in the park. From the main overlook you will see majestic views. There is also a short side trail to an interesting rock crevice called the “Devil’s kitchen”.
Bald Rock Heritage Preserve
This preserve offers one of the best panoramic views of the South Carolina foothills. From the parking lot it is a quick walk to a large open rock façade which is covered in graffiti. Some people see the graffiti as vandalism and others as art, come and judge for yourself.
Qualla Boundary - Museum of the Cherokee Indian
We will visit the Qualla Boundary or the Qualla, this is a territory held as a land trust by the United States government for the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who reside in western North Carolina. They are descended from the small group of Cherokee Indians who remained in the Eastern United States after the US military, under the Indian Removal Act, moved the other Cherokee to West of the Mississippi River in the late 1830s. Within the Qualla Boundary, we will visit the 120-ft tall Mingo Falls and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. At the museum you will experience the history, culture, and stories of the Cherokee people.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and America's longest linear park. The Parkway is 469 miles long and links the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It was constructed in 1936 and the parkway offer visitors encounters with unsurpassed diversity of climate, vegetation, wildlife, and geological features. We will drive several times on the Parkway and stop at some of the most spectacular overlooks.
Linville Gorge Wilderness (Linville Falls)
The Linville Gorge Wilderness, is part of the Pisgah National Forest. (a.k.a. the “Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians”) The gorge is formed by the Linville River which drops 2,000 feet into the valleys below the Jonas Ridge and the Linville Mountain. The gorge is one of the most rugged gorges in the eastern United States. It's an outdoor paradise for hikers. We will hike to a couple of overlooks, including one of the probably most photographed waterfalls in North Carolina, Linville falls. To get an idea about the size of the gorge, please note the people on the rocks below the falls.
Mount Mitchell State Park (Tallest Mountain in the Eastern US)
Mount Mitchell is a 6,684-feet tall mountain located in the Black Mountain range of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina; it is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. We will drive almost to the top. To get to the top observation deck, we will have to hike/walk a 0.4-mile roundtrip trail with an elevation gain of 91 ft. On a clear day you can see as far as 85 miles. At the top, you will also a small museum, a shop and restrooms.
Cradle of Forestry in America (First forestry school in the US)
The Cradle of Forestry in America is nestled in the Pisgah National Forest along the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It was established to “preserve, develop, and make available to this and future generations the birthplace of forestry and forestry education in America.” You will have amble time to explore this place on your own. You will find a large Discovery center, with a museum/exhibit hall, gift shop and a theater showing a documentary about the history of the site.
You will also find a one-mile paved trail with 6-7 historical buildings that you can enter.
Whitewater Falls (Tallest Waterfall in the Eastern US)
Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. The falls plunge an amazing 411 feet. To see this mesmerizing waterfall, we will hike/walk 0.6-mile roundtrip on a paved trail with an elevation gain of about 200 ft. (The photo is not a good representation of the true beauty of this waterfall.)
Many Other Waterfalls
The area we will be staying and exploring during this tour is a true waterfall enthusiast paradise. As an example, in Transylvania County, NC alone there are 250 waterfalls. On this tour we will visit many waterfalls, some of them we will hike a relatively short hike to get to, and some of them are right off the road. Please see some of them pictured here. Warning! If you don’t like beautiful waterfalls, this tour is definitely not for you.