You know about Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville in Tennessee, and Asheville in North Carolina. All of these the National Park area towns are great to visit, but each of them can be quite crowded any time of the year. What you may not know about are the many smaller towns in the vicinity that are definitely worthy of your time and effort.
Each of these three towns are places we love to visit and aren’t too much further than the more popular destinations. If you are thinking about making a trip to these places, you could go to Townsend and Wears Valley in one day, and Bryson City on another.
Considered the “peaceful side of the Smokies,” Townsend and the surrounding Blount County area makes a great quiet alternative to the busier Park entry points. It’s a convenient side trip from Cades Cove if you’re visiting there already. You’ll find that the former Cherokee settlement called Tuckaleechee offers plenty of scenic wonder, especially during the fall with vibrant colors from the surrounding forests and groves. Fly fishing is also a popular activity in the area.
Another defining feature to this town of roughly 450 people is the frequent arts and crafts demonstrations at its visitors’ center. At the Wood N Strings Dulcimer Shop, bluegrass and country musicians perform in small concerts. You may also want to visit the Tuckaleechee Caverns, which have a fascinating geological and human history waiting to be discovered.
Wears Valley, TN
Just seven miles up from Townsend and down the road from Pigeon Forge on US 231 is Wears Valley. With a population of about 7,500, the farming community serves as another entry point into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s surrounded by mountains on all sides, giving it a dramatic backdrop any time of year. Take advantage of this amazing scenery with a leisurely drive on the rural roads in the vicinity. These include Wears Valley Road, Lyon Springs Road, Foothills Parkway West and several others.
Festivals and celebrations are another reason to visit Wears Valley. During the next month, you can delight in traditional Christmas decorations and take part in events signaling the season. Some events expected to take place include tree tours, storytelling and horse-drawn wagon rides. Look for unique only-in-the-Smokies gifts in the local shops and stores.
Bryson City, NC
Drive from Gatlinburg through the Park and into North Carolina on US 441 and 19, and you’ll end up in the charming town of Bryson City. In its downtown area, you’ll discover shops offering unique handmade arts, musical instruments, foods and home décor, not to mention incredibly creative cuisine in its restaurants.
During the warmer months, the most popular activity is river rafting on the Nantahala River. In fact, Bryson City is called the state’s rafting capital. It also features superb hiking and biking on the trails in and around town. Be sure to take the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which chugs along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers and takes visitors on several different routes.
These are just three of the small town surrounding the National Park.
Photo courtesy of David Wilson.