Sure, it’s fun to people-watch along the Parkway in Gatlinburg. That’s certainly part of the Gatlinburg experience. But you might want to spend some quieter time exploring Gatlinburg and the vicinity’s hidden gems, exceptional adventures and unique shops and restaurants that are local favorites.
Here’s our list of options for getting off the beaten path.
The Walker Sisters Cabin Lose the crowds that visit the most popular historic sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a visit to this former mountain community. Accessible by the Cove Mountain Trail from the Sugarlands Visitor Center or the Little Briar Gap trail from the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, the site’s historic landmarks rival those of Cades Cove. Either way, wildflowers and wildlife abound along the trails. From Metcalf Bottoms, where there’s plenty of parking, it’s an easy, peaceful walk of a little more than a mile to the Walker sisters homestead. A family with 11 children lived in the cabin, built in 1859. Six sisters remained in the cabin all their lives, and you get a real feel for what pioneer life was like. The homestead includes the picturesque cabin, barns and a small cooling shed over the creek. Lots of information about the Walker sisters is available at the visitor center.
Baskins Creek Falls Although it is located on the popular Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, this 25-foot waterfall is one of the most underrated and under-visited in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s reached via a 1.5-mile trail that is a bit challenging at times—you’ll have to ford across Falls Branch Creek at about 0.9 miles and the last 50 yards down to the falls is pretty steep and rugged, but the destination, a 40-foot, two-tiered waterfall, is absolutely worth it. The trailhead is on the left after you drive about 0.2 mile on the Motor Nature Trail. Want to find other trails less traveled? Ask the Rangers at Gatlinburg’s Visitor Centers.
A Chimney Tops Hike For an even more challenging hike, try the 2-mile trail to Chimney Tops. Although it’s a popular trail that was recently renovated by the National Park Service, many hikers don’t reach the top. It’s a gorgeous walk that climbs more than 1,300 feet through the forest along a tumbling mountain stream that you’ll cross several times on quaint footbridges. The trail is moderate for the first mile, but the second mile, and especially the last section on the Chimneys themselves, will tax experienced hikers. The very top portion requires some steep, bare-rock scrambling. Be forewarned that many injuries have occurred here, and it’s not for inexperienced hikers or those with fear of heights. At the 4,800-foot summit, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views encompassing Mount LeConte, Mount Kephart, Sugarland Mountain and, on a clear day, the Sugarlands Valley. Access the trailhead roughly 6.9 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center between the lower tunnel and “the loop”on Newfound Gap Road.
The Gatlinburg Bypass The 3.6-mile by pass of U.S. Highway 441 begins at the intersection of Newfound Gap Road and travels northward to the intersection of U.S. Highway 321. Along the way, there are plenty of overlooks where you can enjoy the breathtaking landscape and picturesque views of Gatlinburg. There are many wonderful places to watch the sunset, and the views here are so beautiful and romantic that these overlooks are the perfect place to propose!
The Top of Mount LeConte at Sunrise If you’re an early bird, you’ll beat the crowds and enjoy an incredible view of the sunrise with a hike to the top of Mount LeConte. At just short of 6,600 feet, it’s a trek to the best viewing spots at Myrtle Point. Have lunch at the Mount LeConte Lodge by calling ahead for reservations, or relax on the porch of the Mount LeConte Lodge before heading back down. The summit is accessible by five trails: the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail takes you underneath Arch Rock and is one of the best hikes in the Smokies. The Boulevard Trail is a longer but easier ascent and the Rainbow Falls Trail is a more challenging walk. Find trail maps and directions at the Visitor Centers.
Wild Plum Tea Room This lovely tea room tucked into the woods beside a mountain stream is a great place for a quiet lunch. Located at 555 Buckhorn Road in the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community, it’s open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. Bet you’ve never seen anything like this collection of more than 20,0000 salt and pepper sets and a huge collection of pepper mills! The Ludden family’s collection began with the acquisition of a few personal favorites and has grown to an incredible size. It includes shakers of all shapes and sizes representing animals, holidays, plants, and much more—there’s even a Beatles set. You can buy your own unique set at the gift shop. Open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the museum is located at 461 Brookside Village Way in Winery Square. Admission is $3 for adults and goes toward your purchase in the gift shop. Kids 12 and under are admitted free.
Scenic Helicopter Tours There’s no other way to see the Smokies quite like a thrilling helicopter ride. Departing from downtown Sevierville, you’ll soar like a bird over rivers, lake, high mountain valleys and foothills, and buzz like a bee in your black-and-yellow helicopter over portions of Great Smoky Mountains National Park where few people have ever set foot. Tailor your route to your tastes and budget; you can choose from a dozen options. Call 865-453-6342 for information and reservations.