Roam Guide / Smoky Mountains
Dr. Jenny Lee is a native of Fargo, North Dakota. She studied Biology at UND and went to medical school at the University of Minnesota. As a child, Jenny's family spent as much time as possible at their cabin and camping, fostering her love of the great outdoors. She now shares her passion for nature with her teenagers who have already visited 11 National Parks! She lives in Minneapolis where she practices Dermatology and is married to her high school sweetheart Greg. Next up, they are headed to Glacier National Park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park / Gatlinburg, Tennessee
When to go?
Really, it is a matter of personal preference. We choose to go early June to beat the summer rush. It is the most visited National Park in the Country, but don't let that deter you, it is also one of the most unique and beautiful.
How to get there?
We drove from Minneapolis to Tennessee and broke it up with an overnight stay in Champagne, Illinois, about a 9 hour drive. We got on the road early the next morning and drove the rest of the way (7 hours) to our first stop, the Charit Creek Lodge in Jamestown, Tennessee.
Where did you stay?
In Jamestown, we stayed 2 nights at the Charit Creek Lodge in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. It has one of the oldest buildings being utilized by the national park system. It is accessible by hiking, biking or horseback only. If you are driving, you park your car in their lot and they give you the GPS location of the trail-head where you hike in about a mile. Load up your packs and lock your car, make sure you get there before dinner because they only serve it once, and they operate on Eastern time. We had our own comfortable cabin but used a community bathroom.
It's like a fairytale going back in time with no electricity and only lanterns for light.
In Gatlinburg, our next stop (3 hrs by car) was The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, where we stayed for three nights. During the 2016 fires, all but one lodge building tragically burned down. The remaining building "the woods" is a gem, so stay there if you can. The new lodge is situated atop 26 forested mountain acres and offers stunning views of the Smokys.
For our final two nights, we drove 2 hours to Asheville, NC and stayed at The Inn on the Biltmore Estate. After a week of camping we always look forward to staying at a luxury hotel to end the trip.
What should we do?
At Charit Creek Lodge we would head out to hike each day. The lodge provides you with a map and will pack you lunches to go.
I suggest buying A Falcon Guide to hiking, it will break down options for specific hikes at any National Park.
While at The Lodge at Buckberry Creek we hiked during the day as well. I have three favorites hikes. The first is The Cove Harwoods Natural Trail, which gives a history of The Smokys and it's foliage. Seems lame, but it was really fun. Grab a pamphlet from the head of the trail so you can learn about the history, geology, and nature along the way. It is a mile long and took us about and hour with kids. We found picnic tables to enjoy our lunch.
Next, is Alum Cave Bluffs. We did this after The Cove, it's not a quiet hike, in fact it's rather busy but the sites are breathtaking. If you want to keep hiking continue on to Mount LeConte.
Last is my favorite hike, Ramsey Cascades, it's like Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest, filled with beautiful wildflowers and waterfalls. This hike is 8 miles long and took us 6 hours with stops for fun and snacks.
Of all the National Parks, the Smokey's is one of my favorites. It's how I imagine Jurassic Park. Trees so tall you can't tell what they are when you look up, because you can't see the leaves.
In Ashville, at The Biltmore you can take a shuttle to tour the Biltmore Mansion and its grounds. There, you can learn about the Vanderbilts, the surrounding architecture, design, and artwork. You can also visit the Biltmore Village, which includes a barn and playground.
Where should we eat?
In Jamestown, Charit Creek serves a family-style breakfast, lunch and dinner in their main lodge. If you are hiking off property over lunch, they will pack you sandwiches in a picnic.
In Gatlinburg, made to order breakfast came with our stay at Buckberry Lodge, and it was delicious. Yogurt & granola for me, and omelettes and pancakes for my family. We also enjoyed dinner two nights a the lodge, where they offer outdoor seating and mountain views. We headed into town for a burger on our last night. The Smoky Mountain Brewery is a good choice, also serving house-made microbrews. During our days here, we packed our own lunch and snacks for hiking.
In Ashville, we ate dinner on property at the Biltmore. It's lovely. While I do wish we would have gone into the city and found some live music and a good restaurant, we were very happy relaxing and using the amenities at the Inn.
Tell us something we don't know?
The glaciers never hit the Smoky Mountains, so all the growth and species are different. It has the most diverse salamander population in the world, outside of the tropics. I loved seeing them!
My Derm Tip: Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide doubles as diaper rash cream. That is useful when taking little ones, or really for anyone going to the bathroom in the wilderness.
What should we bring with us?
I suggest you split supplies between two backpacks. And always bring two sets of keys. God forbid you loose the backpack with your car keys in it! Someone, somewhere will thank me for that tip someday.
Click here for Jenny's National Park hiking essentials.
What is the one can't miss item on your itinerary?
Charit Creek Lodge is a treasure.
RTip: If you have a 4th grader, be sure to check out Every Kid in a Park, they offer free passes to all National Parks in the U.S. The pass is exclusive to 4th graders but includes all children and up to 3 adults.
Click to see everywhere we explored in My Maps.