Trip to the Mountains

Smoky Mountains & Coffee

With at least a month left before the unofficial end of summer takes place (day after Labor Day) and school starting back soon, it may be time to take that last vacation of the season. So if you made it to the beach already consider heading to the mountains. If you only have a day or two available then a local trip may be a good option for you. If you have more time available, then venturing out of state should be a great way to enjoy your time away.

For the short trip Cheaha State Park is a good option. This area provides the highest elevation in Alabama, and there are trails to explore, a lake to enjoy and lodging (or a campground) to accommodate your overnight stay. There is also a restaurant, store, and other amenities to make your trip enjoyable. You are also close to places to ride a bike, an ATV, or shop.

Another short trip option is Mentone. This little town in North Alabama is a jewel on top of Lookout Mountain. If you like quaint shops, unique restaurants and beautiful scenery this would be a good destination. A short drive away from Mentone is DeSoto State Park which has a magnificent waterfall along with lodging options, swimming, boating, biking, hiking, etc. Also in the area is Little River Canyon National Preserve. This Preserve has one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi River along with a waterfall and hiking trails.

A day trip to Oak Mountain State Park is a good option. You can enjoy golfing, hiking, biking, watersports, fishing and relaxing areas (the park has it all). From the mountains to the lake you can enjoy nature while being close to home.

For a longer trip go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park is visited by over 11 million people a year and is the most visited national park in the USA. If you have not been before, or at least not recently, there is a lot of new (along with the old) to see and do in the area. Although camping in the park is an option, many people opt to stay in one of the gateway cities like Gatlinburg, TN, Pigeon Forge, TN, or Cherokee, NC. Almost anything you could want to do that does not include the ocean is possible here. If you like to walk or bike, the Cades Cove area of the park is open for bikes and pedestrians only on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 10:00 A.M. during the summer to allow a vehicle free experience. This area is an 11 mile loop road surrounded with beautiful meadows, mountains, historic buildings and wildlife. There is also a free picnic area where you can grill out, relax in the cold mountain stream, or enjoy nature.

A short drive from Cades Cove is Townsend, TN, and if you want to take a slow, lazy trip down the river there are several companies that will provide a tubing experience for you. You may also enjoy the paved bike path, and other options in the town that refers to itself as the peaceful side of the Smokies.

If spending time in the city in addition to the scenery is what you enjoy, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge both offer an abundance of shopping, restaurants, dinner shows, attractions, etc. Dollywood is a theme park located in Pigeon Forge, and there are plenty of other things to occupy your time in the city like site seeing from a giant Ferris wheel, playing mini golf (and regular golf), riding go carts, indoor snow tubing, fishing, water parks, etc.

If you want to shop, there are many stores that offer traditional souvenir items along with specialty stores carrying items like candy, candles, clothing and knives. There is also a very large outlet mall for those looking for their next deal.

If you are wanting to look at (or maybe even purchase) arts and crafts there is a whole community named The Glades near Gatlinburg which showcases local artisans. From pottery to paintings crafts are abundant and ready for sale in this unique area.

One must stop place for the first time, or infrequent visitor, is the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg (or Oconaluftee Visitors Center if you are near Cherokee). Each facility is staffed full time with National Park Service Rangers who can answer questions and give advice to enhance your trip. There is also a free museum that gives good information about the Park.

If you are in Tennessee and want to explore over the beautiful mountains you can go to the town of Cherokee, and you will be on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. There you can see authentic Indian culture and shop for your favorite item. A little further away in Bryson City, NC you can take a train trip on the Great Smoky Mountains Railway. You may also wish to go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River which is near Bryson City. If you are up for a day trip while on your mountain vacation you can go to Ashville, NC and visit the Biltmore House, Grove Park Inn, or other areas of the mountain city.

So far that last summer trip it is time to consider that “the mountains are calling” and take advantage of your freedom to relax and enjoy your time away.