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The Great Smoky Mountains, Sevierville, and Dollywood in Pigeon Forge Tennessee

Early afternoon brings a layer of vapor gently flowing over the dense tableau of forest that is quiet, until broken by the trill of birdsong. Underneath the thick canopy, Showy Orchids and ginseng grow wild and black bears roam about in a cloak of wilderness known as Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is part of the Appalachian Trail (the trail covers 14 states) with 130 different species of trees that create a lush mosaic. Spruces, magnolia, red sugar maples, dogwoods, white oak, Fraser fir, black walnut and eastern hemlock are just a few of the trees that make the Smokies so visually stunning.

The almost continual bluish mist that drifts over the Smokies is the result of moisture created from the thick population of trees. Diverse plant life also thrives in the park due to the wide elevation levels that range from about 875 to 6,643 feet. Conservation efforts to protect these trees, plants and wildlife began in 1923 and the Smokies became a National Park on September 2 1940. Unfortunately, as the Smoky Mountains became a national park, the mountain residents were displaced.

Greater awareness of the mountain cultural heritage was eventually realized and the preservation of historic structures, artifacts and stories of the Native Americans and European decedents that once lived in the great mountains began.

The national park is free to visit and is located close to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville with an estimated 10 million travelers a year. However, even during the summertime, the park never seems crowded. The outdoor activities in the national park range from over 800 miles of maintained hiking trails and camping, to fishing, nature watching and auto-touring with magnificent viewpoints situated through the entire park. The best time to visit is in spring and fall when the impressive tapestry of colors is at its fullest around the third week in October.

Maps of the Smoky Mountain National Park, historical videos and a wealth of information are located in several information centers in the park, such as the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Sevierville

Sevierville and Pigeon Forge are located several miles north of the Smoky Mountains with Gatlinburg adjacent to the park. Sevierville is the largest of the three towns with an amazing amount of activities, shows, restaurants, art galleries, Tanger Outlet Mall, near-by Dollywood, wineries, spas and gorgeous upscale modern log vacation homes. The town is a friendly place and the atmosphere is conducive to playing, contemplation and relaxation in an urban-country environment.

One of Sevierville’s draws is the enormous Tanger Outlet Mall with great restaurants and even a cool miniature golf center, Old MacDonald’s. The course proffers a farm setting with amusing animatronics and is perfect for those in your party less enthusiastic for a shopping foray.

Tanger’s complex consists of over 110 name-brand stores, such as Coach, Jones of New York, Chico’s, Nine West, Liz Claiborne and Harry and David. There are always fabulous bargains year-round in Tanger’s designer outlet stores. Make sure you plan plenty of time for this excursion; time evaporates when you’re having a blast and finding the purse or sunglasses you can’t live without at 75 percent off.

For a captivating and unique performance found outside of China and only in Sevierville, it's the thrilling and magical Cirque de Chine. This creative fusion of music, aerial, art acrobatics, vibrant costumes and performance is one of the best shows you will see in the country.

The 50-cast members from Asia have trained from childhood to achieve incredible disciplined talent. From the rhythmical cadence of synchronized women traditional drummers and hoop divers to the delicate mouth balancing, your eyes will be riveted to the stage. One of the most lovely and artful performances in Cirque de Chine is the aerial ballet of the Butterfly Lovers. Two performers beautifully spin and weave through the air in a flowing and elegant eulogy of love that is emotionally poignant. Another breath-holding moment is the five motorcyclists that circle each other in a round ball-cage with just inches to spare in their revolving Guinness World Record act. The performance is located in the former Governor’s Place and is a lovely venue perfect for this enchanting show.

Dollywood

Dollywood, located in Pigeon Forge, adjacent to Sevierville, is homage to southern fun and entertainment with the lush Smoky Mountains as a backdrop for this award-winning theme park. The park is not all about Dolly as the name might suggest. With over 150 acres of rides, entertainment, local artisans, and good old fashioned-delicious southern cooking in several of the park’s restaurants, Dollywood is an exciting destination.

Of course, there is the Chasing Rainbows Dolly Parton Museum where fans are able to explore Dolly’s life and career through interactive exhibits and loads of the famous singer’s elaborate costumes. It is amazing to see how much Dolly has accomplished since her humble beginnings in Sevierville, Tennessee and the wall of her awards is simply astounding.

Tennessee Scenes by Patrice Raplee
Besides the seemingly endless and fun rides, is a show not-to-be missed, the new production of Sha-Kon-O-Hey. The vibrant $1 million stage production focuses on the story and people of the Great Smoky Mountains. Dolly wrote eight of the production’s touching songs and the moving performance with an excellent cast captures the spirit and heritage of the Smokies. The sets are spectacular and the story and songs of this superb production entrance the audience immediately.

And More

With all of the activities and adventures in Sevierville, visitors need some calm time as well. Hillside Winery, located on Collier Drive, produces over 23 different excellent wines. The winery’s tasting room is a nice causal affair and is perfect to sample reds, whites and of course, the region’s sweet Muscadine. Hillside’s fruit wines are especially good and not too sweet, allowing the full flavor of the fruit to pervade. Try the Raspberry Blush and if you enjoy sparkling wine, Hillside’s Sonata will definitely impress. For additional information, call 1-877-908-9460.

Landscape art enthusiasts will love the celebrated Robert Tino Gallery, located on Old Douglas Road. Tino’s artistic interpretations of the Great Smoky Mountains and wildlife are an expression of realism and impressionism that brings to life the subtle detail and mystery of the Smokies. His gallery resides in an historic homebuilt in 1844 by John Andes with carpentry and woodcarving by the area’s revered Lewis Buckner. Tino’s art and gallery meld in a tranquil environment that is ideal for perusing his incredibly beautiful oil and watercolor paintings.

Food and Lodging

Sevierville excels in picturesque and serene accommodations. The area’s modern log cabin vacation homes are a great choice to stay in while visiting. Oak Haven Resort and Spa tops the list for their luxury log cabin rentals and their marvelous spa. The cabins are new and beautiful with full amenities, kitchens, game rooms and enclosed wrap-around porches that overlook wooded landscapes. The Oak Haven spa provides an oasis of stress escape with their signature treatments, such as the Almost Heaven Massage with atmospheric music, thermal relaxation and long fluid strokes to soothe those aching back muscles. Their Ice Cream pedicure is another indulgence designed to appeal to the tummy and the toes.

Three top recommendations for dining in Sevierville are: The Diner with a superbly ‘50s flair and fare that is top quality and cooked from scratch. The Tin Roof, situated in a period home, with zesty lunch offerings of creative Paninis, salads and gourmet coffee is stellar. The popular Apple Barn Cider Mill & General Store is a complex of produce, candy, Christmas shop and gift shops, accompanied by the best in down home southern comfort cooking. Arrive early, as there is always a line to get in this outstanding restaurant. For additional information, visit .


Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Travel Writers Alliance (ITWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger, Seattle Weekly and the Oregonian. As a freelance photojournalist, she has also worked with acclaimed musical entertainers, such as Santana, Billy Joel and Steven Tyler. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
All photos by Patrice Raplee

© 2009