Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cades Cove is one of the more heavily visited spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The cove is an open, relatively flat valley in the middle of the very mountainous park. The dramatic change in terrain, from fields to mountains makes for some very pretty scenery. The Cades Cove fields also provide good wildlife viewing opportunities.

The 11 mile one-way Cades Cove driving loop is popular and gets crowded during the summer and most weekends year-round.  Allow lots of time to drive the loop. Traffic moves very slowly. Don’t do the loop if you’re in a hurry. It takes a while to get there – about 10 miles from Townsend or 27 miles from Gatlinburg on winding mountain roads. So, once you’re there, take your time and enjoy it.

There are interesting buildings from early settlements all along the loop. Some you can see from the road, others take a short walk to get to. Before you start the loop, stop and pick up one of the loop guide maps. It will tell you what you’re seeing and where the side trails are.

The Cades Cove visitor center is located at about the halfway point along the loop. Its a good place to get out and stretch your legs. In addition to the visitor’s center, there’s a nice old water-powered grist mill here and some other old Appalachian buildings.

Note: The loop road is closed to everything except bicycle and foot traffic on Saturday and Wednesday mornings until 10:00am from early May until late September.



Bring food and drinks with you. Once you’re in the National Park, the only place to get anything to eat or drink is the Cades Cove Campground store (off to the left, before you enter the one-way loop).

Plan on stopping for a picnic. There are lots of little pull-off areas along the loop. It’s nice to get out of the loop traffic for a bit and enjoy the views. Bring a couple lawn chairs and a lunch and relax.

Come early if you want to see wildlife. You may see a few deer and other critters if you’re there in the middle of the day, but the best times to see lots of wildlife are early morning and at the end of the day, around dusk.  The loop road is open from dawn to sunset.


Avoid the crowds by following these tips from the NPS.

Cades Cove page from GSMNP


The WDVX Blue Plate Special Concerts

WDVX Blue Plate SpecialTaking in a Blue Plate Special concert  is a must-do for Knoxville visitors.

These free concerts are held at the Knoxville Visitor Center at noon each Monday through Saturday.  WDVX, a listener supported station with an Americana/roots format, has their studio in the Visitor Center building and they broadcast the Blue Plate Special concerts live.

While you’re there, you can pick up tourist information about the area and do some shopping in the Visitor Center’s gift shop.

The Visitor Center is located at 301 S. Gay Street, at the intersection of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive. There’s free two-hour visitor center parking in a lot right next to the building.  Just go inside the visitor center and get your parking pass.

There are a limited number of seats available, so come out a little early to make sure you get a spot to sit.

See the Blue Plate Special schedule

Visitor Center Information

Knoxville’s Dogwood Trails

Dogwood Trail - Fountain City

Dogwood Trail - Fountain CityEach year in April, as part of the Dogwood Arts Festival, Knoxville features a number of neighborhoods that have exceptional displays of dogwoods and other flowering trees and gardens. These “dogwood trails” are listed on the Dogwood Arts Festival website. Once you get to the trail location, the trails are marked with painted lines and arrows on the street. Don’t worry too much about bringing a map of the trail. It’s easiest to just follow the markings on the street.

The Fountain City trails are particularly lovely, although all the trails are really nice. Each neighborhood has its own character and gardening style.  You’ll see white and pink dogwoods, red buds, cherries and other pretty things on all of the trails.

The bloom time for dogwoods, redbuds, and other flowering trees varies from year to year. You’ll want to watch for when things start blooming and time your dogwood trail drives accordingly.

Dogwood Arts Festival Dogwood Trails webpage


Boomsday FireworksKnoxville’s Boomsday is the largest Labor Day fireworks display in the nation.

Neyland Drive, the road that runs along the river in downtown Knoxville, is closed to traffic for the event and transformed into a festival area with food, vendors, entertainment, and activities.

There are things going on throughout the day, but everything really picks up in the evening when hundreds of thousands of people arrive to see the fireworks show. Neyland Drive, as well as surrounding yards, balconies, and side roads fill with people who come out for the show.

The fireworks are set off from a bridge over the river, to music, and it really is a big show. Lots and lots of fireworks. The crowd really gets into it. It’s a fun atmosphere.

See a Boomsday video.

Fall Homecoming at the Museum of Appalachia

Museum of Appalachia Homecoming

Museum of Appalachia HomecomingIf you enjoy traditional bluegrass, folk, gospel, old-time country, and mountain music, you’ll love the annual Tennessee Fall Homecoming at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee. The event is held in October of each year on the museum grounds.

This event features three days of non-stop music on five outdoor stages. Bring your folding chair. Attendees neatly line up their chairs around the stages and leave them there throughout the day and even overnight so they’re all set for the next day.

The Museum of Appalachia isn’t your run-of-the-mill museum. It’s a collection of historic log buildings and other structures typical to life in the Appalachians, housing an extensive collection of relics from the mountain lifestyle. It’s fun to wander around the grounds and check out the buildings when you’re ready to take a break from the music. Proceeds from Homecoming support the museum.

There are plenty of food vendors as well as craft vendors, several whom demonstrate their crafts during the event.

The Museum of Appalachia is located 16 miles north of Knoxville, about a mile of I-75 exit 122.


Read the Homecoming FAQ

Information about the Museum of Appalachia and Fall Homecoming


Cumberland Gap

Pinnacle Overlook at Cumberland Gap

Pinnacle Overlook at Cumberland GapCumberland Gap National Historical Park is located at the point where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet. Parts of the park are in each state. The line between Virginia and Kentucky is painted on the Pinnacle Overlook path. It’s a favorite photo opportunity for visitors to stand with a foot in each state.

The discovery of the Cumberland Gap by early settlers as a way to cross the mountains had an important role in the early settlement of the western parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. Daniel Boone led a group of men who widened the road through the gap. The way through the gap became known as the Wilderness Road. That road carried hundreds of thousands of people who made new homes in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.

The best view at the park is from the Pinnacle Overlook, where you have views of all three states and can see the historic Wilderness Road below. Skyland road takes you up to the pinnacle. The road is about four miles long and very winding. Be prepared to drive slowly and make lots of turns. There’s a big parking lot at the top.

Tours of Gap Cave (formerly known as Cudjo’s Cave) are available. The tours last two hours and include about a 1.5 mile hike inside the cave as well as a mile hike along the Wilderness Road. Reservations are recommended and can be made up to a month in advance.

Don’t skip the visitor center. The films they show there are well-made and interesting, and the theater is nice and comfortable. The gift shop in the visitor center is run by Cumberland Crafts and features high-quality works by members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

There are plenty of trails in the park for hiking. Some short and some, such as the 21 mile ridge trail that follows the top of the Cumberland Mountains, are pretty long. Here’s a trails map.

Cumberland Gap Park Map

Google Map showing location of park, tunnel, visitor’s center, and Pinnacle Overlook.

The park is about an hour and a half drive from Knoxville.



Stanley’s Greenhouses

Stanley's Greenhouse

Stanley's GreenhouseStanley’s is a great place to visit if you enjoy plants and gardening. Their large, beautifully maintained greenhouses are  filled with row after row of plants and flowers. The plant tables are stocked with so many colorful flowers that it makes for a jaw-dropping display.

In addition to plants, they have a big selection of pots in all shapes and sizes, plus garden ornaments, bird baths, and all kinds of other fun things.

Located in south Knoxville, Stanley’s is just a short drive from downtown.

Stanley's GreenhouseVisit the Stanley’s Greenhouses and Plant Farm website for more information, including hours of operation and directions.



Songbird Trail at Norris Dam State Park

A trail leads through a wooded area

Songbird Trail at Norris Dam State Park

The Songbird Trail Loop at Norris Dam State Park is an easy two mile hike. The flat, firm surface makes the trail popular with joggers and people out walking for exercise.

One side of the trail runs right along the water, providing good views of the Clinch River. The other side of the loop goes through more open areas, closer to the roadway that travels through the park.

The mixture of wooded and open areas, as well as the waterfront location, makes the trail a good spot to observe songbirds. I saw cardinals, phoebes and bluebirds when I walked the trail, and I could hear many others singing from the surrounding trees.

There’s a parking area for this trail south of the visitors center and a little north of the grist mill. Here’s a map that shows the trail.


View of the Clinch River from Songbird Trail

View of the Clinch River from Songbird Trail

Clear Creek Trail at Norris Dam State Park

Clear Creek flows along Clear Creek Trail

Clear Creek and Clear Creek Trail

Clear Creek Trail at Norris Dam State Park begins at the Grist Mill and runs along Clear Creek, near Lower Clear Creek Road.

The trail is a good place to see woodland wildflowers in the spring. And the views of the creek and several of its ponds are very pleasant.

There’s a lot to see along the portion of the trail that travels less than a mile from where the start at the Grist Mill to where the trail intersects with High Point Trail at the water treatment tank.

The trail starts along the sluiceway for the grist mill. There’s a spur that goes down to a pretty spot by the creek that has a picnic table. Further along the trail there’s a sign that marks the site of another old mill. One of the prettiest spots is an area where the creek has been contained by a small dam. The water spills over the dam in a pretty waterfall into the cascading stream below.

The trail sign for Clear Creek

Clear Creek Trail sign at the Grist Mill

And in the spring, many different types of wildflowers are scattered along this trail.

The trail connects up to the Norris Watershed trail system, which has lots of other trails to explore. Here’s a map.



Waterproof hiking boots are a good idea. There were some wet spots along the trail

There’s a small parking area at the trail head in front of the Grist Mill.



Norris Dam State Park

Norris Watershed Trails Map

Norris Dam State Park Trails Map

Personal account of a trip to the park, with photos of this trail.

Norris Dam State Park

Norris Dam at Norris Dam State Park

Norris Dam at Norris Dam State Park

Norris Dam State Park is a short drive from the Knoxville area, making it a nice day trip. Or, if you’d like to go and stay for a while, there are both rustic and deluxe cabins available for rent in the park. Cabin rental rates for Tennessee State Parks. There are also camping areas available.

The dam is surrounded by thousands of acres of parkland. Some of the land is part of the state park, some is Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency land, some TVA land, and some is City of Norris Watershed land. Here’s a map that shows all the boundaries.

There are lots of hiking trails to explore, many of them short and easy. Be sure to see the old grist mill. Water still flows there and it sits in a picturesque setting along Clear Creek.



Grist Mill at Norris Dam State Park

Grist Mill at Norris Dam State Park

Print out some trail maps before you go. Since the park is managed by several different entities, the trails are shown on several different maps.

The best view of the dam and Norris Lake is from the TVA overlook on the west side of the dam. Watch for a gate and sign for the overlook off Highway 441 (Norris Freeway). Here’s a map of the overlook location.



Norris Dam State Park Trails Map

Norris Watershed Trails Map

TVA River Bluff Trail

Personal account of a trip to Norris Dam State Park