Rolling misty hills, ladened with pines and rhododendron, the Smoky Mountains are a historic, tranquil introduction to southern mountain living. Stretching over parts of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, a list of towns, from small to bustling, have rooted into this special part of the United States and offer access to an array of outdoor adventures. There’s a cozy, homey feel one gets when roaming these parts, and these places are perfect to start when looking for a getaway in the Great Smoky Mountains.
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Franklin, North Carolina
There’s no better way to start delving into the Smoky Mountains than by visiting Franklin, a stunning North Carolina gem hub. Pan for your own sapphires and precious stones, or sink into the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum offering a look into the past of what has been touted as one of the best gem mining sites in the world. Beautiful waterfalls envelope the area, and it’s surprising to know the best restaurant is attached to a gas station. The elegant French American eatery, Caffé Rel, could easily be overlooked (heart clutch) so we are here to tell you to eat there, and to savor the creme brûlée and cakes.
Asheville, North Carolina
Downtown Asheville has plenty of things to do, from experiencing its charming artsy vibes with musicians set up on the streets to browsing shops selling local creations. The food scene is heavily charged by farm-to-table initiatives, and it’s simply divine. While The Inn on Biltmore Estate is one of the more notable places to stay, and certainly worth a visit, Asheville is also home to the historic Omni Grove Park Inn—a spa day here might change your life.
Gatlinburg is nestled right within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is brimming with exciting activities for families or just adults, so it’s a gold mine destination for those who like to have constant adventure at their fingertips. One thing you’ll notice is there’s quite the list of distilleries and wineries, so yay for that. Zip lining and riding up to the top of the famous Gatlinburg Space Needle are musts. Other top foods include, but are not limited to, the cinnamon bread at Donut Friar, a banana split from Glades Soda Fountain, and the fried mac n cheese and pulled pork at Delauder’s BBQ—kind of seems like we should’ve thrown a salad in there somewhere.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Quite close to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge is like one big playground with arcades, roller coasters, lots of booze, and most famously, it’s known for a theme park created by the beloved Dolly Parton. Pure magic. Go zorbing, then head over for a tasting at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, because you probably don’t want to do it the other way around. This Tennessee gem truly is a blast for the young and old, and the mountainous setting is just the cherry on top.
Boone, North Carolina
Being named after Daniel Boone himself, this town exudes history via old buildings and interactive museums. Explore the rock steps and waterfall of the Cascades Trail, shop for antiques or enjoy the tender wild game from GameKeeper Restaurant. Don’t worry if you’re not a meat eater, Vidalia and F.A.R.M. Cafe are just two of the many diverse spots to munch. If you get the opportunity, stop by the Watauga County Famers Market for local eggs, meats and veggies.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Blowing Rock is technically an interestingly formed portion of mountain rock, and travelers flock to the iconic North Carolina spot to see the rock and to soak into the lovely town, also known as Blowing Rock. Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock is a great place to stay if you’re wanting to traverse the town by foot. An abundance of local eateries are nearly rated at a five on TripAdvisor, so one could say this is a pretty sweet spot for foodies particularly. The Restaurant at Gideon Ridge features upscale fare like escargot, tiger shrimp and cheese plates, but if keeping it cheap is key, Sunny Rock Eggs and Things has dream-worthy breakfast tacos and croissant French toast.
Bryson City, North Carolina
Beer, wine and a lot of reasons to get outside—this defines the North Carolina town which sits one hour west of Asheville. While the town area is small, there are some downright magical places to dine, like Fryemont Inn Dining Room, along with a handful of lively inns to stay at. But people come to Bryson for the kayaking, zip lining, rafting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking and biking, and maybe a scenic train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
One of the precious shopping stops along the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway route is lovely McCaysville. When the train isn’t chugging through, it’s a quiet, peaceful nook in the mountains to seek refuge in a rustic cabin. Whitewater rafting adventures and fishing are top activities around, and there are a handful of top-notch places to grab a bite. Melt into the apple pie at Cider House Cafe, or taste traditional southern fare like fried catfish and perfected cornbread at Pat’s Kountry Kitchen. Blue Ridge typically takes the notoriety for this part of Georgia, but you should really give little ol’ McCaysville a try.
Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Right beside Banner Elk, a popular small town in North Carolina, Beech Mountain gets blanketed with a surprising 100 inches of snow every winter, on average. That’s a pretty big deal for southerners, who can easily access slopes for snowboarding, skiing and even tubing. During the summer, the area turns into a hiking haven with too many great overlooks to count, and local brews to cool you down after a day on the trails. The Land of Oz theme park is another quirky yet alluring factor that brings visitors for a “Beech” Getaway.