by Sharfunnisa Quadri
This is a scenic one-way loop that you drive around and you can take as long or short of time as you please. Start at the Visitor Center and get the Map and Guidebook with plenty of information about the history of the area. The restrooms at the visitor center are clean and perhaps the only place in the trail that has restrooms, so use it before entering the trail :) This is definitely our top choice and we are lucky that we spot one or many bears, wild turkeys, coyotes, and Deers every single time we go there. There is plenty of places to take pictures, stop and hike the beautiful off-road trails, as well as old home sites, churches and even a cemetery to wander around. The views are simply breathtaking around here, as they are in rest of the Smokies! It is also a great idea to take your picnic blanket and lunch.
It was slightly difficult for us to find the entrance of this Trail. To access Roaring Fork Motor Trail, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. Just beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead, you will see the entrance to the motor trail. Roaring Fork is a 5.5 mile long One-Way Loop Road that you can drive around, and see the interior of the Park. As with Cades Cove, make sure you pick up the map and guidebook at the Visitor Center first, All the spots are clearly numbered so you get a history lesson and reminisce the life of old time settlers if you are interersted in that sort of stuff. Else Just follow the traffic and take as long or as little time you like on this peaceful and relaxing drive. You can stop to see the wildlife or take one of the many off-road trails. We didn't see any rangers in the park, but use common sense and respect the nature and wildlife, and admire and soak up the beauty of it all. Dont rush, take your time and listen to the soothing sounds of birds, insects, and many beautiful small and large creeks, streams, and waterfalls along the way.
If you had rather hike than drive, there are three easy trails to choose between; Trillium trail, Rainbow Falls or Grotto Falls. But If you have the time and are in good shape, then continue on and hike up to LeConte Lodge (the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States). It is situated on an open glade just below the summit of Mt. LeConte at an elevation of about 6400 feet. If you ever get the chance to spend a night there. The views of the Smokies from the summit of LeConte are nothing short of spectacular! Trails to LeConte Lodge range between 5.5 and 8 miles each way. Hiking up Mt. LeConte is definitely on our bucket list, once our little kids grow up and can hike with us. The trail is one of the more difficult trails. So if you are a hiker and up for a challenge, most definitely do this trail.
Update: Looks like Walden Creek Stables has closed down since. Want to have the most amazing experience riding the most majestic mountain horses over the smoky mountain's secret and beautiful trails? You absolutely should not miss this experience if you are staying at our Bear Ridge cabin. RIght down the mountains, you would see these stables, with horses and men both of whom love their jobs and tourists! If your kids love Peppa and George, make sure you ask for Ruby (the pig) to walk the trail with you. She would love to and your kids will love it! I bet you will come back every year just to ride the horses :)
Have your kids pick what they want to do from the latest visitor guides.Island at Pigeon Forge, Dollywood Splash Country or Anakeesta are fun if you want to spend the day.When at Island, Just get unlimited ride bands so they can ride until they get bored.
My 7-year-old loves the Nascar speedway, and various go-kart tracks. if I would let him he would drive around that all day with his dad.
There is a lots of zipline and mountain coasters in the area.
You could go to the outdoor gravity park to roll down in large Zorbing balls. just something unique if you haven't done before.
But here are my top suggestions for just some stuff you could do in short time, and avoid all the crazy traffic in the area too.
You could take your picnic & drinks and a picnic blanket and head to Cades Cove. Use Waze to show you the back roads to avoid the parkway traffic. Laurel Falls is an easy 1 1/2 mile paved hike. With Older Kids you can do any of the other beautiful and longer hikes like Abrams falls. Great Exercise for all :)
Even if you dont want to hike there are still several smaller falls and creeks along the drive itself. Just Sit back and enjoy a slow drive around the eleven-mile Cades Cove loop, stopping to explore the old buildings. Keep an eye out in the fields and near the tree line for deer, turkey, bears, and maybe a coyote. You can pull off and have a picnic on the ground or go to the picnic area near the entrance ...
If you are staying at our Bear Ridga Cabins, Save One of the days to go get lunch at Gepetto's pizza on Wears Valley road and then drive along the beautiful foothills parkway .. it's a beautiful 35-mile drive with lots of breathtaking scenic overlooks.
Or if you are going into the city towards pigeon forge there are 2 moderately thrilling mountain coasters - alpine coaster and goats on the roof. we love alpine coaster because we do it once while going into the city and then save the receipts. So that on the way back we stop again and ride the coaster one more time at night for half the price :) - just 2 minutes of pure thrill, without the long wait like disney or other theme parks haha
lastly one of the days may be go tubing and white water rafting on River Rat. call them ahead of time to check on water levels if they are safe for rafting/tubing. its definitely fun for all ages to do as a family.