Free Ranger-Led Programs in the National Park

We understand that vacations can cost a dollar or two, especially if you’re planning on treating the whole family to several days’ worth of food and fun. This week, however, we’ve got some great suggestions for ways everyone can have a good time in the Great Smoky Mountains, and it won’t cost mom and dad a dime.

Which brings us to one of the main advantages of visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the summer. It should go without saying that the Smokies are the main attraction around here, but in addition, the park service offers dozens of unique, interesting and fun programs for visitors of all ages. The best part is that the vast majority of them are absolutely free. These programs are led by park rangers, so participants get special insight into everything that makes the national park special.

Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll find taking place within the next week on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, which means they’re all easily accessible from our cabins in Gatlinburg, TN as well as Pigeon Forge and Wears Valley.

A Walk in the Woods

6/22 – 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Sugarlands Visitor Center

This is an easy stroll along a scenic wooded trail that starts at the visitor center.

Evening Program: Most Dangerous

6/22 – 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Cades Cove amphitheater

Learn about the most dangerous animals in the park and how you should behave when you meet them in this entertaining and humorous program.

Cades Cove Night Hike

6/23 – 9 to 10:30 p.m.

Orientation shelter at entrance to Cades Cove loop road

A park ranger will lead you on an evening walk to discover the night creatures of Cades Cove. Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Bring a flashlight.

Highland Homeland

6/23 – 1:30 to 3 p.m.

Noah Bud Ogle cabin, Cades Cove

Learn about the families who once called Cades Cove home. Demonstrations and activities will vary throughout the season.

Islands in the Sky

6/24 – 1 to 2 p.m.

Forney Ridge trailhead

Learn about what makes the high-elevation forest of the Smokies one of the most interesting and endangered ecosystems in the Eastern U.S.

Junior Ranger: Explore Cades Cove

6/24 – 1 to 1:45 p.m.

Cades Cove Visitor Center

Join a park ranger for a hands-on exploration of the Smokies.

Evening Campfire

6/25 – 8 to 9 p.m.

Cosby campground

Join a ranger for a traditional evening campfire. Topics vary from night to night, but you’re guaranteed to learn something new about the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

People who visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park go there for a variety of reasons, but it’s generally agreed that the single most popular activity in the Smokies is hiking. It’s something that family members of all ages can participate in, and there’s no better way for a person to immerse him or herself in the beauty and tranquility of unspoiled nature. So if you’re staying in one of our secluded Gatlinburg cabins this summer, consider incorporating hiking into your travel plans.

But whether you’ve never hiked in the wilderness before or you’re a seasoned pro, a little bit of cautionary information always bears repeating. For starters, always make sure you have enough water, especially on hot, humid days. If you’re going on a short hike of just a few miles, you can probably get away with carrying a bottled water or two. Longer or overnight treks might require more elaborate solutions like a reservoir backpack.

Also make sure you’re properly clothed for the distance and the elements. Sturdy hiking boots or shoes are always recommended for sometimes-unstable surfaces like gravel or rain-soaked paths. Many trails also have embedded rocks and tree roots that can make for tricky footing. And pay attention to the temperature. Wear cool, breathable fabrics on hot days, and be sure to wear multiple layers on cold days to prevent hypothermia. And if rain is in the forecast, pack a poncho, just in case.

Now let’s pick a trail. Did you know there are more than 850 miles of hiking trails in the national park, covering both Tennessee and North Carolina? That’s a lot of potential footsteps, so you’ll need to make a few decisions about what you’re looking for in a hike before you pick a destination.

If you’re not accustomed to hiking or physical activity, keep it simple. You can find short, level nature strolls near the Sugarlands Visitor Center or hike the relatively short, paved trail to Laurel Falls. Also, the observation towers at Clingman’s Dome and Look Rock are fairly short, paved hikes from the parking areas to the observation decks.

Among the most popular hiking destinations in the national park are Charlies Bunion (4.0 miles from trailhead); Alum Cave Bluff (2.5 miles from trailhead); Andrews Bald (1.8 miles from trailhead); Rainbow Falls (2.7 miles from trailhead); and Chimney Tops (2 miles from trailhead).

Alum Cave Bluff, by the way, is about halfway up Mt. LeConte. Many folks stop at the bluff to rest or treat it as their outright destination. Chimney Tops, you should know, is fairly short but a very rigorous and challenging hike that pays off with remarkable views.

What you choose to see on your hike also has a great bearing on your trail selection. You can go for views, waterfalls, old-growth forests, historic sights, wildflowers and more. If you’re hiking with children, also note that the park has several kid-friendly hikes to offer.

We’ll end with another caution: Always stick to the designated trails, even if you’re an experienced hiker. Most cases of missing persons in the Smokies originate from people wandering off the trails. It also increases your chances of crossing paths with a black bear. So stay safe out there, but more importantly – have fun!

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music

Are you a music fan? If so, traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee is a great way to indulge one of your favorite pastimes. This region is the cradle of country music and is also known for its bluegrass and even its rock and roll roots. And of course, gospel music is deeply appreciated by many who call this area home. So no matter what your preference is, you’re probably going to find your favorite tunes being played somewhere in the Smokies.

So where exactly does a person go to experience the energy and excitement of a live music performance? That’s what we’re going to tell you about this week – some of your best options for hearing and seeing a live band. The good news is that the choices are plenty, and you’re never too far away from a venue willing to let the music play.

  1. Music Theaters

This one’s sort of a no-brainer. Most of them are in Pigeon Forge, but you’ll also find showplaces in Gatlinburg and Sevierville. Between them, there are more than a dozen theaters and even more shows featuring musical genres such as country, bluegrass, gospel, oldies rock, Broadway, patriotic and more. Most theaters have matinee performances, meaning that during peak season, you can see shows and hear music day or night. Of course, not all the theaters have productions that are strictly music-based, but even the more variety-oriented theaters have at least some musical component incorporated into the show.

  1. Dollywood Theme Park

The area’s biggest family attraction has plenty of music to offer inside its gates. There are multiple venues throughout the park, both indoor and outdoor, that are home to original musical stage productions or live band performances. The theme park features Dollywood Celebrity Theatre, which not only hosts larger-scale music-themed shows, but it also welcomes Dolly Parton herself to the stage from time to time. You’ll also find Showstreet Palace and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame at Dollywood, both of which have a lot to offer, both in terms of the history of gospel music and live performances by the park’s resident gospel quartet.

  1. Music Festivals

Any time of year, but especially spring, summer and fall, you’re likely to find a special concert or festival event taking place in one of our Smokies communities. Some festivals are one-day-only gatherings, while some are multi-day affairs. Generally, the music is centered on country, bluegrass or gospel music, so if that’s your cup of tea, keep an eye peeled for the special events taking place in town on your next visit.

  1. Local Restaurants

Many eateries offer live entertainment as a side dish to their regular fare. In such cases, the settings are usually more intimate, and the styles of music can run the gamut. Sometimes, it’s a great chance to spot an up-and-coming artist before he or she hits the big time.

We hope that our thriving music scene is an additional enticement to come to the Smokies soon and make a reservation for one of our overnight rentals. Great music, luxury cabins, Smoky Mountains scenery and one of the South’s great family destinations… Doesn’t that sound like music to your ears?

Cades Cove Highlights

Great Smoky Mountains National Park received a record 10 million visitors in 2015 and is on pace to meet or top that mark this year. But did you know that the Cades Cove section of the park alone saw more than 1 million visitors last year? That shouldn’t be surprising; the 11-mile one-way auto loop of the historic mountain community is one of the top attractions within the national park.

If you’ve never toured Cades Cove, we highly recommend it, and even if you’re a repeat visitor, perhaps you haven’t fully explored all that this living museum has to offer. That’s why this week, we’re mentioning a few of the must-see points along the way. From hikes to history, Cades Cove has a lot explore.

barn-in-cades-cove

  1. Historic Homesteads

As you drive along the one-way road that circles the perimeter of the scenic mountain-ensconced cove, you’ll encounter a number of structures that once served as homes to early residents of the valley, before it became part of the national park. Look for places like the Carter Shields cabin, the Dan Lawson cabin, the Gregg Cable house and the John Oliver Cabin. These homesteads features authentic log cabins as well as a number of out buildings like corncribs and barns. It’s a fascinating look into the way late 19th century and early 20th century mountain settlers lived.

  1. Historic Churches

Within one short stretch of the tour, you’ll find the Cades Cove Methodist Church, Missionary Baptist Church and Primitive Baptist Church. There are interesting stories behind how these churches came to exist, and features such as separate male and female entrances are glimpses into the folkways of yesteryear.

  1. Abrams Falls Hike

About halfway through the tour, on the western end of the loop, you’ll find signs for the trailhead to Abrams Falls. A gravel road goes about 4/10 of a mile to a parking area, and from there, a wooden footbridge leads you to the trailhead. The hike is 2.6 miles to the falls, which is a beautiful spot to stop and rest and gawk at nature.

  1. Cades Cove Visitor Center

Not far beyond the Abrams Falls turnoff, you’ll find the official Cades Cove Visitor Center. The center offers restrooms, a bookstore and a gift shop, but the more interesting part of the center is its collection of historic structures on the grounds, including a gristmill relocated there from the Becky Cable house. This is also the location you want to meet up for most of the ranger-led programs offered within the cove.

If you booked your overnight rental through Timbercreek Cabins Pigeon Forge, you’ll be able to easily access the Cades Cove area, starting in Wears Valley and entering the park through the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area. From there, you take the main road west until you hit the cove. In addition to the many historic sites within the community, there’s a campground and picnic area located just outside the entrance to the loop road, and there are also horseback stables on the property.

Folks also like going to Cades Cove to picnic within the loop property itself, and the road is often used by cyclists and runners in search of exercise in the beautiful outdoor setting. In fact, the one-way road is closed to auto traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from May through September.

Wilderness Wildlife Week

Are you going to be staying in one of our Wears Valley cabins this week? If so, your timing is good, because this week, one of the Smokies’ most popular annual special events returns to Pigeon Forge. Wilderness Wildlife Week, which takes place at the LeConte Event Center May 18 through 22, is designed to give nature lovers, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts of all types a truly enriching Smoky Mountain experience.

This five days of walks, talks and workshops features a variety of programs that are geared toward all ages and areas of outdoor interests. And not only do guests get to hear from some of the nation’s foremost experts in their respective fields, but they also get to participate in multiple outings, ranging from short nature strolls to more challenging hikes. Best of all, everything during Wilderness Wildlife Week is free.

The week offers something for everyone, from kids to adults, and there are many brand-new events for all ages this year. Below is just a small sampling of the dozens of programs available throughout the week, most of which take place at the LeConte Center. Note that some activities require guests to sign up at the LeConte Center on the morning of the event they’re interested in joining.

Forest Health and You: What’s Happening to the Forest and What You Can Do

Fred and Ted the Fish: Keep Sevier Beautiful

Painting the Smokies

Learn to Sew

Hiking & Backpacking: Getting Started with the Right Gear

Learn to Play the Spoons

Leave No Trace: The Principles of Outdoor Ethics

Children of the ‘60s

Fly Fishing the Smokies

This year’s outdoor excursions, which are led by expert guides, include hikes of destinations like Abrams Falls, Rainbow Falls, Andrews Bald, Charlies Bunyon, the Chimneys and Elkmont. There are also bus tours of the Bush Beans Museum as well as tubing, whitewater rafting and owl prowls. Hikes are rated anywhere from easy to strenuous, and all participants are responsible for dressing appropriately and bringing the right gear to the excursion.

Sign-ups for these outings take place at the LeConte Center the day PRIOR to the specific activity you’re interested in joining (except Wednesday outings, which have sign-ups that morning).

Wilderness Wildlife Week also features a farmer’s market, nature-themed arts and crafts exhibits, vendors selling outdoors-related gear and paraphernalia, a photo contest and more. The dozens of participating experts represent some of the most notable names in their fields and include Bill Landry of The Heartland Series and noted forensic anthropologist Dr. William Bass.

If you’re staying in one of our cabins, Pigeon Forge is usually only a 10-minute drive from Wears Valley, and once you get to town, the LeConte Center is just a mile or so away on Teaster Lane. We hope to see you this week!

5 Things to Look For in a Rental Cabin

Summer is rapidly approaching, which means if you’re thinking about visiting the Smokies before next fall, you really need to be making those plans now. Especially if you’re going to book an overnight cabin rental, it’s always better to get the process started early, because many properties get booked up for the peak tourism months.

But before you go out and rent just any cabin, however, make sure you take a little time to do some research and find out what you’re getting into – not just with a specific property but with the rental company you’re dealing with.

This week, we’ll pass along a few things to keep an eye out for when browsing through listings of rental properties. Being better informed will help you make the best decision when it comes to booking your vacation getaway.

  1. How many bedrooms does the cabin have?

That’s important to know, depending on how many are in your traveling party. Just a couple? Then book a one-bedroom home. A family reunion? Go for at least a three- or four-bedroom cabin. At Timbercreek, our Tennessee cabins have as many as five bedrooms. 

  1. Where is the cabin located? 

Is it in a secluded, scenic area or close to town? Some people prefer the peace and quiet of a rural setting, while others like to be close to all the action. Many of our cabins are in the Wears Valley area, which offers the best of both worlds. They benefit from quiet and scenic surroundings but are also just a short drive from Pigeon Forge.

  1. What amenities are included?

This is often where you see the most disparity from rental company to rental company. But at Timbercreek, we pride ourselves on making sure all our properties have all the amenities that travelers usually seek out, including outdoor hot tubs, whirlpool tubs in master baths, game rooms with pool tables, porches with scenic views, fully equipped kitchens, TV/entertainment centers and outdoor grills, to mention just a few.

  1. Is the cabin in good condition?

You’d be surprised what sometimes passes for rental property in the Smokies. But there’s no reason anyone should settle for less than high-quality accommodations. All our properties are individually owned, and each cabin must meet our specifications before we put it on our rental program. We offer only high-quality, luxury cabins that are well taken care of and tastefully decorated.

  1. Are there any discounts available?

It’s always worth checking to see if any specials or promotions are being offered on a particular property. We run deals throughout the year, including our Year Round Special – book seven nights for the price of five – and our Repeat Guest Special, in which repeat customers receive 10 percent off their bill, any stay, any time.

Ranger-Led Programs Return to the National Park for 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the number one reason that people come to this part of the country in the first place. Without the mountains, there likely wouldn’t even be tourism here.

It’s no surprise then that a lot of our guests incorporate one or more visits to the park into their vacation travel plans. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails and fishable streams, not to mention picnic areas, nature walks, auto tours and historic structures to see and explore.

But sometimes, when guests staying in our secluded Pigeon Forge cabins are looking for something to do that’s a little extra, a little unique, a little different, we often suggest that they take advantage of the wide range of ranger-led programs offered by the National Park Service at GSMNP. They’re fun and interesting and geared toward all ages. And most of them are free, so you can’t beat that.

Now that spring has arrived, the park has cranked up its calendar of offerings once again for 2016, so we thought we’d give you a sampling of what’s coming up in the next few weeks. Note that these events take place at sites all over the park, in both Tennessee and North Carolina, but more activities on the Tennessee side will be offered as summer approaches. You can always check back for new listings at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/calendar.htm.

Return of the Elk

Tuesday, May 3

3 to 4:30 p.m.

Cataloochee Valley, Rough Fork Trailhead

A ranger will lead you on a guided hike to an elk acclimation pen, where you will explore how, when and why the elk were returned to the Great Smoky Mountains. The hike is less than a mile, and the event is free.

Back Porch Old-Time Music Jam

Saturday, May 7

2 to 4 p.m.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center Porch, North Carolina

Visitors are welcome to get in on the fun at this free event by bringing an acoustic instrument and sitting in on this old-style mountain jam. Or if you don’t play, you’re welcome to just enjoy the sights and sounds as others play traditional Appalachian music.

Science Friday

Friday, May 20

1 to 3 p.m.

Sugarlands Visitor Center, Tennessee

On the third Friday of every month, park guests are invited to learn about and engage in ongoing scientific research happening inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The topics vary from month to month, and the event is always free.

One of the advantages of staying in one of our properties is that it’s easy to get to the national park. Many of our cabins are located in Wears Valley, and there’s a little-used back entrance to the park that takes you directly from the valley into the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area. It really just takes a few minutes to get there.

Or you might drive back to Townsend and take that entrance to the park, which gives you quick access to notable sites like the Townsend Y swimming hole, the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and Cades Cove.

Celebrate Our Planet During Earth Week in Gatlinburg

If you happen to be staying in one of our secluded Gatlinburg cabins this week, you may be thinking about ways you can get outside and interact with the beautiful natural surroundings of the Great Smoky Mountains. This week, we have several suggestions for you, most of which are tied into Earth Week celebrations in Gatlinburg. Almost every day this week, the city is offering special ways for the whole family to learn about green practices while enjoying live music, games, crafts, food and more.

We’ll start with a big event we mentioned in last week’s post, the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, which is back for its 66th year. Through April 23, everyone from serious botanists to weekend gardeners can experience unprecedented access to some of the nation’s leading botanical experts and Appalachian wildlife authorities at this event, which takes place at the W.L. Mills Conference Center on Historic Nature Trail in Gatlinburg.

On Thursday, April 21, the Earth Day Festival will take place at Mynatt Park in Gatlinburg from 3 to 6 p.m. Gatlinburg-area green businesses and organizations will be on site with lots of fun things for everyone in the family to do as well as important information about easy green practices. Earth Week T-shirts featuring the artwork of a local student will be for sale, and all sales will benefit the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which provides local scholarships as well as donations to area schools and the Gatlinburg Goes Green program.

On Friday, runners and walkers are invited to celebrate Earth Week by participating in the 4th Annual Earth Day 5k Run/Walk in downtown Gatlinburg. Starting at 10 p.m., this USATF-sanctioned event will also benefit the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

There’s one more important event to note for this weekend, and while it doesn’t directly tie in to Earth Week, there is an outdoor component to it that makes it worth mentioning. On Saturday the 23rd, the 9th Annual Mountain Man Memorial March will celebrate the service and honor the ultimate sacrifice of fallen military men and women. Along with more than 20 ROTC units, participants will include active-duty military, reserve and guard units, veterans of all services, family and friends of the fallen, JROTC units and even Cub Scout packs.

The March consists of events for runners and marchers, military and civilian personnel, teams and individuals, including a marathon, half marathon and a 10k race. The course goes through downtown Gatlinburg and then along U.S. Hwy. 321 into the Smoky Mountains.

Even if you’re not planning to be in the Smokies this week, remember that virtually any time you plan to come to our area, there will likely be fun and interesting special events taking place in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville or perhaps all three. That’s in addition to all the unique attractions and recreational activities available in East Tennessee year ‘round.

So whenever you do head over to our neck of the woods, plan to have fun and be sure to check our available inventory of rental properties in the Smokies. We have a wide range of luxury cabins for overnight rental all year long and in a variety of locations.

Big Events Roll Into The Smokies This Week

You can tell we’re moving straight through spring and steamrolling toward summer in the Smokies; the calendars of special events in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville are crammed full, and this coming week is no exception. In fact, some of the biggest events of the year are coming to town, and we’re here to tell you about what’s in store.

The Pigeon Forge Spring Rod Run rolls into town this week, Thursday through Saturday. Based out of the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, this semiannual event has hundreds of hot-rod enthusiasts bringing their custom cars to the Smokies, where they will sit on display and compete for $8,000 in cash prizes. The Rod Run also has custom-car vendors, a swap meet, door prizes and live music.

Even if you don’t plan to attend the Rod Run, chances are you’ll see a lot of the participating cars as they cruise up and down the Parkway in Pigeon Forge this weekend. Keep in mind, however, that Rod Runs historically slow down traffic through the entire Smokies corridor, so if you foresee that being an obstacle to your weekend plans, either research alternate routes or consider coming back another weekend.

Meanwhile, things are taking a more natural turn in Gatlinburg this week. For starters, Earth Week will be celebrated there April 18 through 24. Gatlinburg will be going green in a big way with multiple events geared toward caring for planet earth and sharing green practices through games, crafts, music and more.

It all starts on Tuesday, April 19, when there will be a Spur Clean-Up on the section of U.S. 441 connecting Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The city will be teaming up with Keep Sevier Beautiful, and volunteers will pick up trash beginning at 9 a.m. The group that collects the most litter will win a pizza party courtesy of Big Daddy’s Pizzeria. (We’ll have info about more Gatlinburg Earth Week events in next week’s blog post.)

Also beginning April 19, the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage returns to Gatlinburg for its 66th year. As the colors of spring begin to sparkle throughout the Smokies, Gatlinburg blossoms into the center of all things botanical through April 23. Everyone from serious botanists to weekend gardeners can experience unprecedented access to some of the nation’s leading botanical experts and Appalachian wildlife authorities at this event, which takes place at the W.L. Mills Conference Center on Historic Nature Trail in Gatlinburg.

The Wildflower Pilgrimage offers more than 150 programs, including an array of seminars, instructional walks and guided hiking tours tailored to meet the individual abilities of participants. Tours showcase the abundant varieties of wildflowers, plants, ferns, mosses, trees, shrubs and wildlife that are native to the Smokies.

Even if you don’t plan to visit the Smokies this week, we hope you’ll be coming to the mountains at some point this year. And when you do, be sure to check back with us and book a week in one of our Smoky Mountain cabins.

Planning Your Smoky Mountain Vacation

Now that spring is here, more and more folks are starting to think about returning to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Whether you’re thinking about a quick weekend of shopping, hiking or relaxation or pulling out all the stops for a full-blown family vacation, we can give you some ideas for planning your trip, especially when it comes to accommodations. Our Smoky Mountain cabins offer a lot of options, and we can give you some recommendations when it comes to picking the one that will best suit your travel needs.

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make pertains to the size of your travel party. Is it just you and a spouse, or will you be bringing a bunch of kids along too? Or maybe you plan to travel as a group of friends or even a large family reunion. However small or large the group, we have rental cabins in a wide range of sizes, from cozy one-bedroom cottages to massive multi-room lodges that can accommodate more than a dozen guests.

Our one-bedroom rentals are ideal for couples, especially if it’s a honeymoon, anniversary trip or just a weekend romantic getaway. They’re the perfect cozy size for just two people, but even our smallest cabins are still big on amenities, including whirlpool tubs in the bathroom, outdoor hot tubs, fireplaces, game rooms and more.

Two-bedroom cabins are well suited for parents with a couple of kids, two couples traveling together or even a small group of friends. And like all our cabins, the two-bedrooms include a full kitchen, so if you don’t want to eat out on the tow every day, you can still have everything you need to prepare your own meals and snacks.

Our three- and four-bedroom cabins offer even more flexibility. These are well suited for multiple families traveling together as well as larger groups of friends or even corporate retreats and family reunions. Features like game rooms and outdoor hot tubs mean there are ways for everyone to enjoy time together, but there are enough bedrooms, foldout couches and loft sleeping areas to ensure that everyone has plenty of space and privacy.

Once you’ve decided how large a cabin you need, be sure to consider which locations and activities you want to be close to. For example, if you plan to do lots of outlet mall shopping, it might be nice to have a property closer to Pigeon Forge or Sevierville. If you’re interested in seeing lots of attractions and music shows, you definitely want to be closer to Pigeon Forge.

Those interested in touring the Arts & Crafts Community or spending a lot of time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park should consider somethin closer to Gatlinburg. Or if a quiet setting with beautiful scenery that’s close to the park sounds like your idea of a great location, you might consider something in the Wears Valley area.

Even if you aren’t sure what your plans will be at this point, we still recommend booking as far ahead in advance as possible, especially as summer approaches. Call us today, and we’ll help you find the ideal rental cabin in the Smokies.