With so much to do in the Smoky Mountains, as we’ve shown you in many of our other blogs, why ever would you want to go somewhere else while you’re here? Well, because exploration is part of the fundamental thrill of going on vacation, that’s why. You drove this far to get here and see some things you don’t get back home, what’s a little further to add even more entertainment, possibilities, and memories to your Smoky Mountain vacation?
In this article, we’ll list some of our favorite day trips to recommend to groups that are interested in going even further but wanting to be back to our luxury cabins, hot tubs, jacuzzis and amenities before it gets too dark and soak away the sore muscles of an adventure worth venturing for. Many of these will be roughly one hour away from Sevier County depending on the cabin you choose and, by definition, require a little more effort to get to than the attractions we have around here, but those who put the work in will get the rewards they seek.
One of the closer day trips in the area is just outside of Gatlinburg on the Spur and one of the major ways to actually enter the Great Smoky Mountains, National Park. Welcome to Newfound Gap! If you went nowhere else for your GSMNP fix, you’d still get practically everything you want here. This is a major roadway that goes through dozens of miles of pure Smoky Mountain wilderness (minus the road of course), offers many, MANY pull-offs where you can view stretches of mountain wonder that you can’t find anywhere else on terrestrial Tennessee Earth, more hiking trails than you could visit in a week (although if you were really committed, it could be done) and both the Sugarlands Visitors Center and, at the FAR end of the road that goes into Cherokee, NC, the Oconaluftee Visitors Center. Best part? Pretty much all of it is free, thanks to being a national park!
Not as little known as it used to be, but Wears Valley and Townsend are a welcome and comfortable day trip for those in Pigeon Forge who want to see the other side of the Tennessee Smokies and enjoy what amounts to the “Arts and Crafts Community” equivalent of the city. Starting at the big crossway in Pigeon Forge is Wears Valley Road and it goes straight for about 40 minutes (with quite a few turns along the way) until it ends at the big split fork in Townsend, TN.
In-between the two is Wears Valley, a little community very similar to the Arts and Crafts Community of Gatlinburg with the exception that theirs is heavily covered with foliage while Wears Valley is big and open with amazing views of distant mountains. There a couple dozen or more shops along the way, specializing in locally made crafts, antiques, and unique items that are some distance away from the main traffic of the bigger cities, some exquisite restaurants and eateries, and other roadside attractions.
Then there’s Townsend, which is bigger than Wears Valley but still far more minimal than Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Townsend is famous for being the “quiet side of the Smokies” and for the Townsend River that runs through it. There are still many visitor-oriented shops, restaurants, and attractions with horseback riding, tubing, fishing and other excellent things to see out there.
And on the other, OTHER side is Knoxville, TN. Knoxville, for the rare few that don’t know, is THE big city of East Tennessee and might as well be the entire rest of the world for those of us who get to visit it; that’s how much variety this city offers. Granted, this is just about as far from the nature-centric Smoky Mountain environment that we cultivate as you can get, but wow if you won’t be astounded what you can find with some digging – authentic ethnic food markets, worship centers for all faiths, hardcore hobby stores for every interest, famous big-name store chains you won’t find in Sevier County, tiny boutiques that are every bit as interesting as you want them to be… man, the list goes on.
And that’s before we even talk about the kinds of special events and things visitors can enjoy other than shopping. Knoxville is home to much that is history and therefore has historical tours and other civic amenities of that sort for visitors. Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee Vols Football team and has visitor amenities for football fans as well. Ghost tours? Knoxville’s got that, too. Concerts from known indie entertainers and big name rock stars? Knoxville’s got that, too. Honestly, some people spend their entire lives in Knoxville before they’re seen everything the city has to offer.
You get to Knoxville from Sevierville on Dolly Parton parkway. You go straight and West on Dolly Parton parkway until it becomes Chapman Highway and then it’s another 30 minutes or so from there until you reach the famous bridge that connects you to the city. On the way there, you pass through Seymour, TN, a worthy stop in its own right.
Now this is the one that truly takes away any doubt of being a real day trip. As we mentioned above, Cherokee is at the other end of the Newfound Gap road, so you’re getting quite a series of sights and a mini-adventure just on the way there. Cherokee is the official headquarters of the Cherokee Native American tribe and, yes, they still have tribal traditions and tribal business there in the modern age. The big attraction is the huge Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, but the city around it is sort of like Gatlinburg of its own right – with tribal themed souvenir stores (some that cater more to tourism and some that cater more to the seekers of authenticity), arcades, family fun centers, a huge museum that showcases the history of the Native American tribe and the Oconaluftee Nature Center.
For something that brings you more to the spirit of Cherokee, there’s the “Unto These Hills” outdoor dramatic theater where actors perform the story of the Cherokee up to their removal in 1838 and featuring famous names of Cherokee history such as Sequoyah, Junaluska, Drowning Bear and more. There is also the Oconaluftee Indian Village (which is different than the Visitor’s Center) that showcases an authentic Native American village from the 1760s and more that you can see.