Fort Loudon State Park

Fort Loudon Garrison DaysFort Loudon was built during the French and Indian War in hopes that it would act as a bridge between the people of South Carolina and the Cherokee.  Now, the fort is a state park and historic site that offers plenty of amenities to the people that visit the park throughout the year and it is also a place of living history where people from all over the country can come and learn about the French and Indian War and that time period in history.

Fort Loudon was built by the British Colony of South Carolina in 1756.  It was named for the Earl of Loudon and the people of South Carolina hoped that it would strengthen the ties between the Cherokee people and South Carolina during the French and Indian War.  Though that bond was beneficial to begin with the talks with the Cherokee broke down and on August 7, 1760, the fort fell.  The Cherokee razed the area to the ground and the site was forgotten for years.  In fact it was not until 1917 that a memorial marker was established in the place that was once the site of Fort Loudon.

Fort Loudon Garrison DaysIn modern times, you can visit a Fort Loudon that has been rebuilt to what it might have been like in its heyday.  You get to experience the time period and through living history you get to talk to the people that worked the fort.  The reenactors and volunteers make this an amazing visit for people of all ages.  They not only appear in the clothes that the people of the 18th century would have worn but they are conversant on the topic so f the day, showing crafts and skills that the people of the garrison and the communities around the fort would have possessed.  If you are really interested in that time period then you might want to plan your visit to the historic site for one of the Garrison Weekends that they have throughout the year.  On those weekends, they have crafters and vendors come in with 18th century materials and they also have a mock battle between the British from the fort and the French and Indians that would raid the fort sometimes on a daily basis.

Fort Loudon Garrison DaysOf course, this is also a state park so there is plenty to do here besides learn about the fort.  You can also play in the beautiful countryside that is East Tennessee.  Most of the Fort Loudon State Park is located on an island in Tellico Lake.  A boat dock, picnic areas and trails are only a few things that you will find to do.  The access to Tellico lake is one of the highlights and the fishing could not be better.  They even have a fishing pier that is fully handicapped accessible.

Get out in the open, spend some time outdoors.  Bring the kids to the fort and let them learn about history in a whole new way.  Explore the fort, do some hiking and get closer to history.  Experience Fort Loudon Historic State Park.

Ober Gatlinburg Set to Open Friday for Snow Tubing

*Ober Gatlinburg is scheduled to open their snow tubing park Friday, November 16th, 2012.

The idea that good skiing can only be found in the northeast or out west has been debunked by places like Ober Gatlinburg in the recent years. With the number of great changes every year to the current resort, things look to be getting even better at Ober. And that starts this year with an even earlier opening date thanks to some new snow making equipment.

Right now, officials with Ober Gatlinburg plan on opening the snow tubing area this Friday. Their new Snow Magic system has enabled the Gatlinburg resort to begin snow making even earlier, and in less than adequate temperatures.

When you think of the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort, you think winter sports from skiing to snowboarding and everything in between. Here, you can experience all your favorite winter sports on 8 different trails, varying from beginner to the advanced. Experience the breathtaking views and vistas of the Smoky Mountains on your way down the slopes. You’ll notice the majesty of the Smokies’ snowy peaks, white forests, and the lights of Gatlinburg. For the novice skier, or if this is your first time skiing or snowboarding, take a lesson at Ober’s Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School, located at the resort. You can take lessons as an individual or with a group. It’s a great way for families, friends, or large groups to learn how to ski.

Ober’s gear store allows people who don’t own skis or boards to rent everything they need before hitting the slopes. They offer ski gear in a variety of sizes and styles for kids and adults.

If you’re in town during the spring, summer, or fall, don’t think that Ober just shuts everything down because the temperature is a bit warmer. Ober Gatlinburg’s amusement park features some great warm weather attractions like the Alpine Slide, an indoor ice skating rink, and a scenic chairlift that takes visitors on picturesque rides up Mount Harrison. Guests will also find a waterslide, arcade, pirate ship, bungee jumping, bumper cars, Velcro jump wall, shooting range, and mini golf course at Ober. Ober Gatlinburg literally has something new around every corner. You could visit twice and still find new activities you didn’t get to try the first time.

Winter sports at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort is a must on everyone’s Smokies “To Do” list. Ski or snowboard the slopes, ride up and down the mountain, or just take in the spectacular views of Gatlinburg and the Smokies.

Tweetsie Railroad

You know, Dollywood isn’t the only theme park in the Smoky Mountains. A quick drive east in the charming mountain town of Blowing Rock, NC, you’ll find Tweetsie Railroad – one of the most original Wild West attractions in the nation. Since the 1950s, Tweetsie’s famous steam engine, No. 12, has taken park-goers on the ride of a lifetime through the old west. One of the best theme park train rides in the southeast, Tweetsie Railroad also offers plenty of other attractions to entertain its guests during their park visit.

Obviously, people come to the park to ride the train first and foremost. You’ll be taken back to a time when guns and horses were the things men relied on to settle the open plains of the West. Only this time, you’ll take a train through the Great Smoky Mountains. Look out for bandits trying to rob the train in true outdoor drama style. It’s a spectacular Wild West show, and while you enjoy it, sit back and relax on a grand piece of American history. Built in the 1800s, this particular steam engine had been around the country before the people at Tweetsie gained ownership of the nostalgic locomotive during the middle part of the last century.

Live shows also make up a big part of the theme park, in addition to the show on the train. Hop on over to the saloon and you can take part in a live 1800s style saloon show with bar girls, gamblers, bandits, and the like. Stay for the Tweetsie Cloggers, who have been entertaining crowds for years. Roam the streets with the Tweetsie Railroad cast as they pull you into their wild-west story.

Tweetsie RailroadKiddie rides abound at the Tweetsie Railroad theme park. Inline cars, a merry-go-round, planes or any of a number of other rides have been built with children being the sole focus. This is a great time – while the kids are enjoying the rides – for parents, or anyone else to get something to eat in the park. The food is all carnival-type fare, and really good. From cotton candy and caramel apples to ice cream and hot dogs, all are available at the park’s restaurants or food vendors. Just be sure to ride everything you want before you eat.

Whether you’re just there to hop a train ride or sample park food till your heart’s content, you will have the time of your life at Tweetsie Railroad. The Tweetsie Railroad theme park delights thousands of guests each year. You’ll find yourself having more fun then you thought you could ever have in Blowing Rock, NC. Check the Tweetsie Railroad website for operation times before you go because their hours are limited. They are only open during the better weather parts of the year so please plan your visit accordingly. Tweetsie Railroad is a sure-fire, fun time in the Great Smoky Mountains.

New River State Park

The New River State Park celebrates one of the oldest rivers in North America and the people and cultures that grew up around it.  The New River is one of the few rivers in the US that flows northward and adding that to its age, you have an unique area that is fun to explore.  The New River State Park has lots of amenities and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure.

The New River is in the northwestern corner of North Carolina.  Potentially, scientist think, this might be one of the oldest rivers in the US.  It was in place before the Appalachian Mountains grew up around it.  For 10,000 years or more the native people of the Smokies and the Appalachians used the New River as a waterway to transport goods back and forth between their communities.  Over the years, as the European settlers moved into the area, the New River area became a hotbed for new communities and settlements.  The easy flow of the river, the farmland surrounding the river and of course trade routes that the river provided made it a no-brainer when people were looking for a place to set up a farmstead.

New River State ParkWhile you are at New River State Park, don’t think you are going to be at a loss for things to do.  Hiking, fishing, camping and picnicking are only a few of the activities that you have to choose from .  Canoeing is probably the number one activity for people coming to the New River area.  The gently flow of the river, the gorgeous scenery around the valley that it has created and of course the relaxation that you experience as you canoe down the New River are just a few of the reasons that people flock to this area. And for flatwater kayakers, there might not be a more picturesque place to get out and play.

If the idea of the number of people that have lived in the area intrigues you, you should spend some time learning about this interesting tract of land around a truly ancient river.  The exhibit hall in the visitors center of the New River State Park houses a hands on interactive museum about the New River and the cultures that grew up around it.  From the science of the river to the native people and even modern times, you will get a look at the history and make-up of the river.  Also, they have a video on canoeing the New River.

The New River State Park in North Carolina makes for a great stop while you are on your vacation in the Smokies.  Spend a day or a weekend hanging out in one of the oldest rivers in North America.  Play in the great outdoors.  Canoe or kayak the river and experience the thrill that it has provided to people since the dawn of time.

Wheels Through Time Museum

Wonder how we got to the point of everyone having their own form of transportation, whether it is a car, a truck or a motorcycle?  Well, then you might want to step into the Wheels Through Time Museum in beautiful Maggie Valley, NC.  Celebrating all the ways that we get around and of course focusing on the motorcycle.  Yes, ladies and gentleman this is a motorcycle museum tucked into the corner of the Smokies.

The Wheels Through Time Museum boasts more than 300 classic and rare motorcycles from America’s past.  Harley Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Henderson, Crocker and many more are lined up and cared for to show off the shine of the chrome and the paint jobs that might make you go back to the car for your sunglasses.  This is one of the best niche museums that you will find in the Smokies.

Among the motorcycles you will find:

  • 1917 Henderson Special
  • 1917 Traub
  • 1914 Hedstrom Prototype
  • 1914 Flesher Flyer
  • 1948 Panhead
  • 1949 Hot Rod Panhead ”Revised Modified”

Wheels Through Time MuseumAmong the classic automobiles:

  • 1932 Clobes
  • 1954 Cadillac
  • 1954 Eldorado Convertible
  • The Locomobile

Again, you are looking at a transportation museum, there is something here for everyone.  Bring the bike enthusiast, bring the car enthusiast, bring the family and get ready to learn enjoy and have a great time at the Wheels Through Time Museum.

Wheels Through Time Museum
62 Vintage Lane
Maggie Valley, North Carolina 28751
(828) 926-6266

Little River Railroad Museum

Little River Railroad MuseumVenture over to Townsend and check out one of the hidden gems of the Smokies – the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company. The early history of the Smoky Mountains is on full display at the museum as visitors can come face to face to the inventive, industrious spirit of those early Smoky Mountain settlers. These frontiersmen and their families, as well as other settlers looking for new opportunities, struck their picks in an area of Appalachia eventually becoming the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The beginnings of the Little River Railroad were due partly to the changing landscape. Settlers had to adapt to their new surroundings and adapt their tools to meet the conditions they worked in. The paths they took indirectly assisted in establishing the roads that we travel today through the Smokies.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company museum should be a “must stop” for anyone coming through Townsend, whether on vacation or just passing through. History enthusiasts and railroad historians should definitely pay a visit. The old trains that paved their way through the Smokies are now parked for everyone to see in the museum yard – the Shay Engine, a caboose, a set of turn-of-the-century homes, and a water tower. Each was used in the Smokies as part of the early logging industry.

Little River Railroad MuseumThe Shay engine is the centerpiece of the museum and rightfully so. This was the engine that blazed the trail through the Smokies hauling log cars down the mountain to the saw mill. It also transported lumberjacks and other workers up the mountain and back to work. One could say that the Shay engine was the Little River Railroad Company’s backbone in those early years. For train enthusiasts it’s a must-see. You won’t find many of these Shay engines around now-a-days. And to find one as carefully maintained as the one at Little River, that’s a task in itself.

Don’t get too wide-eyed outside, make sure you go inside for a more detailed look at the history of the logging industry in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Elkmont pioneers and the area’s natural history are presented in the first display. Next, you’ll see the rise of the logging industry in detail, as well as the different train models that were used during logging expeditions. The inventiveness of the loggers comes into view in the museum too – designs for new types of rail cars to a swinging bridge for flatcars is detailed and highlighted. The exhibit concludes with a detailed look at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and how the lumber and railroad industries played a role in its beginnings.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is as much a part of early Great Smoky Mountains National Park history as Cades Cove. Another thing is people wonder about the evolution of the land and how it was used before the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here, you see that evolution in vivid pictures. Vivid pieces of history are preserved, read about the logging industry, or just soak up the essence of early America and the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a historical experience… stop by and stay for awhile.

Photographer’s Paradise

Fall FoliageThe Smoky Mountains truly are a photographers paradise.  From the wildlife that roams the area to the plants that help to make up the ecosystem to the formation of the mountains themselves, there is always something to take a picture of.  Getting out in the wilderness, driving through Cades Cove or taking one of the many hikes in the Smokies gets you into an environment to capture tremendous pictures.  If you are a photog, if you are someone that enjoys taking pictures, the Smokies hold all the wonder and excitement that you will be able to stand.

What to Bring:

  • SLR or DSLR Camera – Bring your phone camera for snapshots but if you are wanting to capture the best images that you can find, bring a good camera.  Also, if you are wanting to learn to use your camera and have a blast while you experiment,  the Smokies are one of the best places to break in new gear.
  • Tripod – For sunsets and low light conditions you are going to want a tripod.  The sunrises and sunsets in the Smoky Mountains are spectacular and a tripod will allow you to get those still images of the mountains that you will be showing off for years to come.
  • Hiking Boots and Clothes – Get off the beaten path.  If you see a tree that needs to have a picture taken of it.  Get out of the car and get up close.  Pull on the hiking boots and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and take a hike with your camera in hand.
  • Picnic and Plenty of Water – If you are really serious about taking pictures, you are going to be out in the wild for a while.  Bring a lunch and plenty of water and spend the day out in the elements.

Somethings to keep in Mind:

  1. If you can see it from your car… so has everyone else.  Get out of the car and get a different perspective on the scene you want to capture.
  2. Those baby bears are cute but I would bet that there mother is close by.
  3. Elk are not deer – they are bigger and much meaner.  They will charge you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get dirty.  Changing your perspective might mean the difference between a good picture and a great picture.
  5. If you have a macro lens, you have found your new home.  The opportunities for a macro photographer are second to none in the Smoky Mountains.  From insects and amphibians to plants and wildflowers, the shots are endless.

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park

Sycamore Shoals State Historic ParkSycamore Shoals is more than just a state park, it is a state historical area that celebrates the frontier spirit and the courage of the early settlers of the United States.  Now, this area lets you relive that era in history and explore the outside areas that the settlers of this region of the country fell in love with, in the 18th century.

The historic significance of Sycamore Shoals is twofold.  Number one, it was the site of the first major land purchase in the US.  In 1775, this land purchase – called the Transylvania Purchase – added 20 million acres between the Cumberland River and the Kentucky River.  Later, during the Revolutionary War, the Overmountain Men of the Sycamore Shoals area defeated the Loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain.  The victory of this militia from the Tennessee area over the British at King’s mountain is considered by many scholars to be the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

Sycamore Shoals State Historic ParkTo celebrate the history of Sycamore Shoals, they put on a number of special events throughout the season.  Here are just a few of the events that the put on each year at this great historic site:

Colonial Kids at Fort Watauga – Designed for kids of all ages, this gives you an idea about the life of small children during the heyday of Fort Watauga and Sycamore Shoals.  Games, kid’s activities and of course some black powder fun will be had by all.

Annual Siege at Fort Watauga – During the Revolutionary War the community that existed around Fort Watauga prepared for war.  This event allows you to see that preparation and even a few skirmishes throughout the weekend.

Sycamore Shoals Native American Festival – This is a two-day celebration of the people that called this place home before the European settlers arrived.  There are demonstrations of Cherokee arts and crafts, discussions and guest speakers.

Liberty: The Saga of Sycamore Shoals – this is the presentation of Tennessee’s official outdoor drama.  Come see this taste of the life of Tennessee during the pioneer days, as the saga of the Sycamore Shoals area unfolds in play form.

Civil War Camp at Carter Mansion – Visit the recreation of a Civil War camp as it might have existed in the Sycamore Shoals area in the 1860s.  Walk around the camp see demonstrations of weapons and camp life.

Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival – Celebrating the Celtic heritage of the people that settled this area, the Celtic festival at Sycamore Shoals has been going on for over a decade, drawing in thousands of visitors each year.

Overmountain Victory Trail – Two events that celebrate the muster of the troops that made up the Overmountain Men and their march through Sycamore Shoals toward the battle of King’s Mountain.

Fort Watauga Knap-In – learn how the Native Americans that called this area home made their stone tools before their introduction to steel and iron.  Demonstrations of these primitives toold take place throughout the day.

Tennessee Museum of Aviation

Sevierville celebrates everything to do with Tennessee’s aviation history in the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.  One of the best niche museum you will ever walk through is combined with a hangar full of aircraft give you a knowledgeable and fun way to explore the world of aviation and of course how Tennessee has figured into that history.

The museum has been lovingly curated and tells not only about the history of aviation but it also weaves in the important roles that the people of Tennessee have played in the history of aviation.  From a timeline showing the evolution of aviation (this take sup an entire wall) to a wall depicting the Tennessee Hall of Fame, there is nothing like this museum.  Everything it labeled and the exhibits move from one era to another, from one topic to another.  It becomes very easy to know what the subject matter is and even the youngest in the family will enjoy the information they are absorbing.

The hangar is, maybe, the most exciting part of any visit to the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.  Most of the planes are still, airworthy aircraft that are flown on occasion.  Here is a partial list of what you might see in the hangar at any one time:

  • 1902 Wright Glider
  • Beechcraft SNB
  • Bell 222 – Airwolf
  • Boeing P-12E
  • Douglas A-1H – Skyraider
  • F-86 Sabrejet
  • MiG 17
  • MiG21
  • North American P-51D – Mustang
  • North American Rockwell OV-10 – Bronco
  • North American T-28 – Trojan
  • Republic P-7D – Thunderbolt
  • Sikorsky UH-34G
  • T-33

The Tennessee Museum of Aviation is located in Sevierville, TN.  If you come to town from I-40, you will find yourself on Hwy 66 (Winfield Dunn Parkway).  When you get to Sevierville proper, you are going to make a left hand turn onto Dolly Parton Parkway.  Follow Dolly Parton Parkway through the main part of town.  After you cross the turn off to Veterans Blvd, start watching for the Tennessee Museum of Aviation on the right hand side of the road.  From this point, follow the signs.

The Tennessee Museum of Aviation is a great museum to learn more about the history of aviation and Tennessee heroes of aviation.  Browse through the Hall of Fame, look through the exhibits and then stand in awe among some of the most famous types of plane sin the world.  Remember that most of them are airworthy and that they are all marvels of the creative spirit of the aviation pioneers that invented and designed them.  Spend the day with the family learning and marveling at the rich history of Tennessee in the world of flight.

Tennessee Museum of Aviation
135 Air Museum Way
Sevierville, TN

Gem Mining

The gem mining industry in North Carolina has been a part of that culture for decades.  When the first settlers came to the Smokies to put down roots, they discovered that the soil of the mountains contained precious and semi-precious stones.  All of a sudden, the economy in these quiet mountain towns changed.  People came to the mountains look for what they hoped would be the next gold rush in the country’s history.  And while they found some wealth and they did mine gems from the mountains, the gold rush they were hoping for never really took off.

In modern times, the land that once housed big operations that mined the hillsides, is now a tourist mecca.  And the people that still own that mine land, have decided to give those visitors to the Smokies the chance to try their hands at finding that treasure in the Smokies.  You can pan for gold, sift in a sluice for gems and in some cases even go dig the dirt out of the mountain face itself.

Jackson Hole Gem MineJackson Hole Gem MineHighlands – This roadside attraction on the road between Franklin and Highlands, has been attracting visitors for a long time.  With the promise of hot boiled peanuts on the marquee outside, you get to sit under a covered area that contains the sluice or the water trough that you use to mine gems.  The earth that you sift through has both native and enriched gemstone sin it.  Experts are on hand to help you see what you have found.

Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire MineFranklin – The Cherokee Ruby and & Sapphire Mine tries to keep it ‘real.’  If you are looking for an outdoor activity this is the place to go.  The natural stream that feeds the water flume keeps the water nice and chilly as it runs downhill.  The dirt you are sifting through is full of naturally occurring gems, some of which are of facet quality.

Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby MineCherokee – In downtown Cherokee you can not only mine for gem stones but also pan for gold.  If your children are learning about the gold rush, there is no better way to spark their interest in history then by letting them get their hands dirty.  And at the Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby mine you are guaranteed a find!