|Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg/Cades Cove|
In Cherokee visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian (recently renovated), Qualla Arts & Crafts (real Indian handicrafts), Oconaluftee Village (especially enjoyable for children, open May 15th through Oct 25th), and then catch Mingo Falls on the way to the Park. The Mountain Farm Museum is a 20 minute self-guided tour and Mingus Mill, an operating grist mill, is manned by members of the Historical Society on Holidays and summer weekends. Driving US 441 (You start off paralleling the Oconaluftee river - a great trout stream) through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park affords great views and ample opportunities for both picture taking at overlooks and short quiet walks. A stop at New Found Gap at the North Carolina/Tennessee border offers spectacular vistas and an opportunity to say: "I hiked The Appalachian Trail" (The Appalachian Trail is at the NE corner of the parking lot, and there is a sign there so you can get photographic proof of your claim!). For a 360 view take a 20 minute driving detour and a 15 minute cardiovascular exercise to the top of the Observation Tower on the top of Clingman's Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies. By the time you reach the Visitors Center at the Tennessee entrance to the Park, you are probably ready for a pit stop and the display of mounted wildlife and wildflowers is well worth a stop. Depending on the time and your inclination there are two options for continuing.
a. I love the outdoors - She loves her crafts: Before you leave the Visitors Center pick up a guide for Cades Cove. Leave the Park on US 441 North and go into Gatlinburg. Turn right at stoplight #3 (You don't have to count, this tourist savvy and over-visited town has numbered their stoplights.) onto TN Highway 321 and shortly thereafter turn left onto Glades Road and then right on Buckhorn Road which leads back to TN Highway 321. Along Glades Road and Buckhorn Road are over 70 craft and artist shops. Arriving back at TN Highway 321 turn right and at stoplight #3 turn left on US 441, continue through Gatlinburg and re-enter the park. At the Visitors Center, turn right and head West on Little River Road. See b.
b. We both love the outdoors: Turn right out of the Visitors Center parking lot and head West on Little River Road - one of the most scenic roads in the area with wonderful rapids and tumbling falls to photograph or picnic alongside. If you didn't bring a picnic lunch head into Townsend to the Tuckaleechee Trout Farm Restaurant. They will give you a pole and bait, and take the trout you caught in the back door while you go in the front door to greet your fresh-caught and cooked trout on your plate. If a thunderstorm comes up or you want to cool off, you may visit the Tuckaleechee Caverns just pass the Trout Farm. Returning to the Park, turn right to continue to Cades Cove, an eleven mile loop through an old frontier community where old churches, log homes and barns still stand.
You may return the way you came, or for a little adventure, and the opportunity to see more wildlife, take the road less traveled: Parsons Branch Road, a one lane gravel pioneer road - you actually ford the streams - and come out of the Southwest corner of the Park onto US 28.