Posted by Darryl Payne in Gatlinburg, TN
Gatlinburg has been the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains national park since the dedication of the park in 1934. Although times have changed since the 1930s, the role that Gatlinburg plays as the host in welcoming visitors to the Smoky Mountain area remains ever the same. While the tourist mecca that is Gatlinburg was born out of the desire to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the city easily stands today as a vacation destination in its own right. Whether your main interest lies in the great outdoors, the air conditioned indoors, or the opening of restaurant doors, Gatlinburg serves up several combinations that can whet your appetite.
For those that prefer sunscreen to freezer burn, Gatlinburg offers three city parks; Holt, Mills and Mynatt, of which Mynatt Park is one of the more popular parks. Mynatt Park features tennis and basketball courts, a baseball field, horseshoe pits, a playground area, a picnic area with grills next to a mountain stream, restrooms and a covered pavilion. The covered pavilion is available for use by reservation. Reservations may be made by calling the Gatlinburg Recreation Department at (865) 436-4990. Any fees that may be associated with the reservation must be paid prior to the scheduled usage. The Gatlinburg City Commission provides free usage of the covered pavilions to Gatlinburg residents. For anyone not living in Gatlinburg, the fee structure is $25.00 for zero to four hours and $35.00 for four plus hours.
Just up the road from Mynatt Park is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Along with Cherokee Orchard Road, the nature trail forms an eleven mile loop with about five miles of the loop being one way only. It is not suitable for bicycles, buses, trailers, or RVs. As the trail meanders through the lush mountain greenery and old growth forest take note of the historic Bud Ogle Farm, many trail heads, and the ever present ramblings of Roaring Fork Creek. The creek, which roughly parallels the road to its headwaters, provides countless photo opportunities with its cascades, falls, and rapids. If you would rather experience the local trails on foot, but are afraid to go it alone; then check out A Walk in the Woods for nature guide services. On the other hand, if you would rather experience the local trails with four feet on the ground, the creaking of saddle leather, and the smell of fresh…air; then check out Smoky Mountain Riding Stables. Horseback riding in the National Park and only minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, but remember; this is the mountains and there isn't any flat land.
Speaking of flat land, Gatlinburg is also home to the first 4th of July parade in the entire country. Beginning at the stroke of midnight, balloons of all shapes and sizes chip in to help honor our country's five branches of military service. Over 150 volunteers donate their time each year to ensure that the parade is a red, white, and blue success enjoyed by everyone. Not to be outdone by the 4th of July, Winterfest brings the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade. Millions of twinkling lights line the parkway through Gatlinburg as marching bands and helium balloons make their way from one end of town to the other. Last but not least is Santa Clause as he and his elves make their VIP appearance before heading back to the North Pole to put the finishing touches on the holiday season. Little does everyone know, he spends the summer playing putt-putt while the elves take up bowling.
Open 365 days a year, Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is one indoor adventure that is guaranteed to satisfy everyone. Once inside, it is easy to recognize that this 1.4 million gallon aquarium featuring twelve-foot sharks and over 10,000 exotic sea creatures from around the world is truly a world class addition to downtown Gatlinburg. Getting up close and personal is a breeze traveling through the world's longest underwater aquarium tunnel on a 345 foot glide path. As they say, no aquarium gets you closer.
Paris has the Louvre, New York City has the Guggenheim, and Washington DC has the Smithsonian. While in Gatlinburg, the museums of choice are the Guinness World Record Museum and Ripley's Believe it or Not. Size up the world's tallest man, gaze in awe at the Batmobile, and marvel at the two-headed calf. Between the two museums there are literally thousands of unique exhibits and unusual artifacts with a few that could even make the Mona Lisa crack a smile.
Located streamside and with beautiful views of the Little Pigeon River, the Peddler is one of Gatlinburg's more unique restaurants. The timbers of four original Gatlinburg log homes from the 1800s were carefully laid into place around the original C. Earl Ogle homestead giving us the design and structure of the restaurant that can be seen today. The history and uniqueness of the building is only equaled by the quality of the cuisine served inside. A custom cut ribeye or New York strip and a salad bar that is nothing less than hedonistic provides the Peddler with a level of success matched by few others in Gatlinburg.
Surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg welcomes a variety of visitors to experience its rich Appalachian heritage and laid back mountain charm. Only in Gatlinburg can you find over 800 miles of hiking trails so close at hand, more than 450 unique shops selling the perfect souvenir, and over 35,000 people per night wishing that their vacation never had to end. So, at some point between that first hike and that last romantic dinner, you realize that the best souviner is a Gatlinburg vacation that you will always remember.
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