State Parks

Around the Great Smoky Mountain area there are numerous state parks that offer hours of recreational activities and educational opportunities.  Whether the state parks are dedicated to a natural wonder in the park itself or attached to a historic event that took place, the state parks on both sides of the Smokies are remarkable.

Tennessee State Parks

State ParksFrom Roan Mountain at the top of one of the highest points in Tennessee to the birthplace of Davy Crockett, the Tennessee state parks cover lots of history and lots of territory, from the northern part of east Tennessee to the area near Chattanooga.  The parks also range in size and activities that are offered – camping, historical monuments, hiking, swimming, fishing and much more.

North Carolina State Parks

State ParksCelebrating both the wonders of nature and historic people from Western North Carolina, the state parks on the eastern side of the Smokies are spectacular.  New River State Park celebrates the New River area which was labeled as one of the National Scenic Rivers during the country’s bicentennial.  Great mountain scenery and plenty of wildlife make this a gorgeous park.  Mount Mitchell celebrates something else all together.  Mount Mitchell, at 6,684 feet is the tallest point east of the Mississippi River.  Majestic and beautiful this is the best way to enjoy the wonder that is Mount Mitchell.

Spend some time at one of the state parks, either in North Carolina or Tennessee. Learn more about the area you are visiting, appreciate the natural resources that the government has set aside and protected for future generations and of course enjoy the activities and services that are added by these state parks.

Franklin, NC

“Discover Us”

Franklin is located in Southwest North Carolina and though it has a thriving commercial side it also has a lot to offer visitors of all ages when they pass through the area.  From museums and history to performing arts and beyond, Franklin brings a different palette to the table for visitors to the Smoky Mountains.

The Cherokee were the first people to call the area of Franklin, NC home.  This area had an enormous mound and was one of the sites of the sacred fire that the Cherokee had kept burning since the founding of their civilization.  With the influx of the European settler, the Cherokee were forced to relocate.  The European settlers soon found that the area was full of priceless gemstones and the mining industry took hold of what would become the city of Franklin.

The gem mining industry in North Carolina had a short-lived history.  The mines eventually became overshadowed by other countries and places in the US that could mine the gems more easily and get to market much faster.  As the industry of gem mining dried up the town of Franklin shifted to other economic methods and embraced the tourism industry as its main way of making money and supplying jobs for its citizenry.


Most Recent Posts

  • Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum - If you are interested in the lapidary arts you might want to take a ride into Franklin, NC and visit the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum.  Due to the history of the area, it is no wonder that a museum has been established to show off the gems and the mining industry that brought Franklin … Continue reading "Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum"
  • Franklin, NC - “Discover Us” Franklin is located in Southwest North Carolina and though it has a thriving commercial side it also has a lot to offer visitors of all ages when they pass through the area.  From museums and history to performing arts and beyond, Franklin brings a different palette to the table for visitors to the … Continue reading "Franklin, NC"
  • Scottish Tartan Museum - It was easy for the people from the Highlands of Scotland to find a home in the Smoky Mountains.  They found in the Smokies a place that resembled home, a place that looked like the land they had left.  The Scottish and the Irish that live din other parts of the former British Colonies made … Continue reading "Scottish Tartan Museum"
  • Smoky Mountains Center for the Performing Arts - Places everybody! You’re likely to hear just that, or something similar, if you find yourself in the middle of Franklin, NC.  Coming from one of the side streets just off the main drag that is. The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts (SMCPA) is a hidden gem in a small, tucked away town in … Continue reading "Smoky Mountains Center for the Performing Arts"
  • History of Franklin, NC - Long before the first European settlers arrived to the mountains of Southwestern North Carolina, they were home to the Cherokee Indian Nation. In a valley surrounded by some of the oldest mountains on earth, the Cherokee called the area that is now Franklin, NC, “Nikwasi” or “center of activity”. Nikwasi was an ancient and important … Continue reading "History of Franklin, NC"

Cherokee, NC

Cherokee is first and foremost a reservation for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  This community has turned their proximity to the Smokies, the number of people traveling to the area and the fact that they were allowed to open a casino into a thriving tourism industry making Cherokee a destination in the Smokies.

“Trails of Legends and Adventures”

The Cherokee people have lived in the Smoky Mountains for thousands of years.  They were the first people to settle in this area and they had a highly developed culture at the time of the arrival of the first European settlers.  As the European settlers increased in number and started to take over the Cherokee land, the Cherokee contracted their territory and at times had physical confrontations with these trespassers.  They culmination of the Cherokee confrontation with the US government came through Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears that moved the Cherokee to Oklahoma and out of the mountains.

Some of the people in the area stayed however, and those that fought against the oppression and those that came back from Oklahoma were eventually given land by the US Government to form the Reservation at Cherokee, NC.  Over time, the town of Cherokee has reinvented itself as times dictated and they are now one of the premier areas to visit in the Smokies.  Outdoor adventures, historical reenactments and much more await visitors in 21st century Cherokee.


Most Recent Posts

  • Paula Deen’s Kitchen - Paula Deen’s Kitchen in Harrah’s Cherokee Casino closed in 2013. Information below is maintained for historical purposes. Cherokee stepped up its reputation in the eyes of foodies in 2011 by adding a restaurant named after Food Network Star: Paula Deen.  Since that time, Paula Deen’s Kitchen in Harrah’s Cherokee Casino has become THE place to … Continue reading "Paula Deen’s Kitchen"
  • Kermit Hunter - Kermit Hunter is a well known American playwright.  But, he is also known in the history of the Smokies due to the fact that he wrote Unto These Hills, the second longest running outdoor drama in the US and one of the highlights to any visit to Cherokee, NC.  He also wrote the outdoor drama, … Continue reading "Kermit Hunter"
  • Harrah’s Cherokee - There is only one place to go if you are looking for world class gaming in the Smoky Mountains and that is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Cherokee, NC.  This casino and hotel opened in November of 1997 and it has become a desination unto itself in theyears since its opening.  The casino boasta hotel that … Continue reading "Harrah’s Cherokee"
  • Teepees in Cherokee - I remember as a child, when we were vacationing in the Smokies, the signs in Cherokee, NC advertising “real live indians” always intrigued me.  Now that I am an adult, I realize that at that time, the people of Cherokee were giving the people that visited the mountains what they expected.  They were giving the … Continue reading "Teepees in Cherokee"
  • Cherokee, NC - Cherokee is first and foremost a reservation for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  This community has turned their proximity to the Smokies, the number of people traveling to the area and the fact that they were allowed to open a casino into a thriving tourism industry making Cherokee a destination in the Smokies. … Continue reading "Cherokee, NC"
  • Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians - As I have been writing about various locations, cities, restaurants and other touristy concepts in the Smoky Mountains area, one thing that I have realized that I have not focused on is the people that inhabited the area before the European settlers moved in. To that end, let’s talk about the Native Americans that dominated both sides of the … Continue reading "Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians"
  • Unto These Hills - If you only have time to take in one attraction while you are in Cherokee, NC, that one attraction needs to be Unto These Hills.  This show has been part of the attraction scene in Cherokee for more then sixty years and it is the second oldest running outdoor drama in the US.  Combining the … Continue reading "Unto These Hills"
  • Santa’s Land - Theme Park & Zoo Right outside of Cherokee, NC is a smallish theme park that needs to be on your list of things to do at least once when you are in the Smoky Mountains.  This attraction is part theme park, part zoo and all Christmas all the time.  Themed as if you are visiting … Continue reading "Santa’s Land"
  • History of Cherokee, NC - Cherokee, North Carolina is synonymous with such word s as casinos, gambling, and resort town, but it wasn’t always like that. The now sprawling vacation spot was once as heavily forested as other parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and once consisted of about 135,000 square miles of land owned by the Cherokee … Continue reading "History of Cherokee, NC"

Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain near Linville, NC is a North Carolina state park. It’s one of the highest peaks at 5,946 feet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway passes by the south side of the mountain.

Grandfather MountainGrandfather Mountain operated as a nature preserve and tourist attraction until 2008. Known for its mile-high swinging bridge, the bridge links the mountain’s two rocky peaks.

On September 29, 2008, the state of North Carolina Governor announced that it had agreed to purchase 2,600 acres of the undeveloped portions of Grandfather Mountain from the Morton family for $12 million. It has since been added to the North Carolina State Park system, becoming the 34th North Carolina state park.

The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation was established by the Morton family to continue to operate Grandfather as an educational nature park. In addition, the Morton family agreed to form a new non-profit organization and transfer ownership of the attraction. This arrangement was made as an alternative to the state acquiring the entire mountain.

Grandfather MountainGrandfather Mountain rises 5,946 feet above sea level, and due to the considerable elevation gain the mountain boasts 16 distinct ecological communities. The mountain is famous for its rugged character, and is home to many hidden caves and significant cliffs.

Two rivers originate on Grandfather Mountain, the Linville River, flowing east, and the Watauga River, which flows west. Many lesser streams also originate on the slopes of Grandfather, including: Upper Boone Fork, Little Wilson Creek, Wilson Creek (North Carolina), Stack Rock Creek, and others.

Like many other mountain peaks above 5000′ in North Carolina, an “island” of Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest grows on top of Grandfather Mountain. Though once thought to be on the verge of dying out during the 20th century, the forest has flourished despite intrusion of a non-native species. You’ll notice that a number of fir trees have been permanently bent by the high winds. In addition to fir trees, these “mountaintop islands” are a valuable and threatened habitat for many other flora and fuana that grow and thrive in higher elevations like that found on Grandfather Mountain.

Besides the Mile High Swinging Bridge, numerous other attractions now make up the mountain is via an entrance road, marked at 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646. To get in you must pay a fee at the main gate, and are as follows: adults – $18, seniors – $15, children 4–12 – $8, and children under 4 are free. On occasion, the park gives discounts due to certain activities and times of year.

“Backcountry” hiking and camping are FREE and can be accessed via areas marked with the state park sign. In years past when the whole mountain was privately owned, hikers and campers were required to pay fees and still are today.

History of Waynesville, NC

Colonel Robert Love, an American Revolutionary War soldier, founded the western North Carolina town of Waynesville in 1810. Love is the one person to thank for donating the land that the courthouse and jail now stand on. It also makes up the town square. Waynesville gets its name from Love’s former commander in the Revolutionary War, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

The town of Waynesville was incorporated in 1871. It wasn’t until 1995 that the town of Hazelwood was merged with Waynesville to form one community. Today, Waynesville boasts a population of almost 10,000.

Waynesville started to see major development 1884. During that year the railroad officially pulled into town. Waynesville began to see the fruits of the agricultural, lumber and tourism industries that were beginning to pop up throughout town as well as the county and western North Carolina.

The railroad – its first tracks, was located along Richland Creek in Waynesville, northwest and downhill from Main Street. Primarily swampland before then, it was the first real construction in the area albeit the few scattered buildings. Upon completion of the train depot and all that the railroad brought to the area, development of Richland Creek began again. It also became known as Frog Level by townsfolk because of its low-lying location along the creek. When the rains came in and it flooded, the town was at “frog level”.

Frog Level and downtown Waynesville continued to be the central focus socially, economically, and commercially with a growing number of retail businesses springing up through the 1940s. From hardware stores to auto dealers and garages, and furniture stores to wholesale groceries, warehouses and lumber companies, business was booming in the Frog Level area in the 1930s and 1940s, and all of it dependent upon the railroad. However, as the automobile industry flourished, the railroad began to slip in need and in importance and led business away from Frog Level. In 1949 the last passenger train pulled into the depot in Waynesville. Though freight trains still pass through Frog Level two times each day, most just continue on to the neighboring town of Sylva.

Cooper Creek Trout Farm

From trout tournaments to just recreational fly fishing, the Smoky Mountain trout brings many visitors to the National Park each year.  However, trout fishing is not necessarily the easiest way to spend a day in the Smokies.  It actually takes time and lots of patience to become good at and requires a lot of gear that can be, at times, a hassle to carry around – especially around the creeks and rivers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park .  That being said, at the Cooper Creek Trout Pond in Bryson City, NC you can catch a trout; take it home to eat, and all without having to ford a mountain stream or spend hundreds of dollars on a rod and other fishing equipment.

A little over an hour south of Sevierville, TN traveling U.S. 441, Cooper Creek Trout Farm sits on 70 acres of land in western North Carolina. Cooper Creek was originally constructed in the 1970s, and though it has gone through a handful of owners, the current ones have kept the farm open year round.  So yes, you can fish even when there is snow on the ground.  There’s no better way to trout fish and get a guaranteed catch then by fishing at the Cooper Creek Ponds – a place dedicated to helping you catch trout.

A number of branches and streams flow from the pond through the farm.  Again, you’re guaranteed to catch a fish.  The staff will even catch the fish for you if you’re having a hard time just to make sure that you take a fish home with you.  Don’t worry about bringing gear either, they provide it. Rods and reels are available for you to use or you can bring your own and break them in at the farm. You don’t even have to have a license to fish here.

Cooper Creek Trout FarmAt Cooper Creek you keep whatever you catch.  Once they’re caught, the fish don’t get thrown back in for someone else to catch, it’s yours. Cooper Creek staff will also clean the fish for you.  Or they’ll show you how if you plan on trying it out for yourself.  It’s a very clean operation, from the fish all the way down to the streams they live in.  Just make sure that you give yourself enough time to hang out for the whole day, especially if you’re bringing a family or large group to the creek. It’s going to be a lot of fun that you don’t want to miss and won’t forget any time soon.

As previously stated, Bryson City, NC is home to the Cooper Creek Trout Pond.  Right outside of town you can spend the morning riding the train and then spend the afternoon catching trout in the mountains.  Fresh caught trout is one of the delicacies that the Smokies offers to its visitors.  Rather than fishing somewhere that you can’t be sure to catch a fish, go to Cooper Creek.  They will help you fish and make sure that all of the kids and adults get to reel in their supper.

Check out Cooper Creek’s Facebook page for the latest goings-on at the creek.


Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians

cherokee crestAs I have been writing about various locations, cities, restaurants and other touristy concepts in the Smoky Mountains area, one thing that I have realized that I have not focused on is the people that inhabited the area before the European settlers moved in. To that end, let’s talk about the Native Americans that dominated both sides of the mountains in the pre-pioneer days: the Cherokee Indians.  I will attempt to build a very brief history of the people.  Obviously, in the space of this article I am not going to touch on everything that is interesting, remarkable and culturally relevant about the Cherokee people but I hope that it spurs you on to go read more about them.

Before the English settlers first made their appearance on the scene, the people known as the Cherokee, or the Tsalagi as they call themselves, had an established culture and society.  They were hunter gathers but they also had a very advanced economic and political structure.  At their height, they took in parts of 7 southern states and they numbered over 150,000 people.  Their economy included trade routes that reached out to Native American tribes on the coast of North Carolina and even included reaching out to the first Europeans in the area, which came with DeSoto.

With the incursion of European people into the area, whether they were traders, trappers, explorers or settlers, the Cherokee way of life began to change.  The Cherokee lifestyle was governed by everyone, the women of the tribes appointed the leaders who ran the seven clans.  The women also controlled marriage and property while the men were in charge of educating the children.  The Cherokee chose to change their society and adapt some of the European ways as a chance to coexist with the new people that were moving to the area.  This was the Cherokee means of survival.  During this time of acculturation, the Cherokee adopted a very English way of educating their young and they taught their people English so that they could further their contact and interactions with their new neighbors.  By the time that the 1800s rolled around, the Cherokee had adopted a written constitution and they had establish boundaries to their lands, schools and they had even accepted the Christian missionaries into their communities.

ebci signThe start of the downfall of the Cherokee people was the passing of the Removal Act of 1830.  When President Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act, the Cherokee people, 20,000 of them were forced to leave their tribal lands in North Carolina and walk, along the Trail of Tears, to reservation land in Oklahoma.  Only 16,000 of those 20,000 that started the walk, survived the journey westward.  You would think that this would have been the end to the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, but a small group stayed behind, defying the US Government.

The Reservation Act of 1819 and the fact that some of the Cherokee evaded the army, left this small group landless but looking for a way to stay on their lands.  Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee, started buying land using these displaced people money, seeing as the Cherokee could not buy land.  Over time, the Cherokee formed a corporation to own the land and they became a thriving community.  Fast forward to now and the Qualla Boundary or the reservation that is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is a destination in the Smokies and the heart of gaming in the Southern Appalachians.

Again, this is not a complete or even concise history of this amazing group of people.  If you want to have a much better understanding of the Cherokee and their history in the Smokies, then you might want to visit Cherokee, NC and experience many of the historical and cultural legacies of the Cherokee.

Mountain Man Statue

“As you get older, remember to be yourself”

And it is from this saying that the Mountain Man, Yosef, got his name.  And of course, Yosef is the mascot for Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Now, when you find the statue on campus, you might wonder: why does he look so angry and why does he seem to be charging off the base of the monument itself?

Well, the answer to those two questions in in the very essence of the Mountain Man himself.  Appalachian State chose as their mascot the embodiment of the people that tamed the mountains, that picked the Southern Appalachians as their home, that decided this was the place to live and fought to keep it and make it home.  The mountain men of the area faced a lot of adversity:

  • mountainmanstatue1The Terrain – One of the primary adversities that the mountain men faced was the terrain.  While the Appalachians are not the tallest mountains in America they are a wooded wasteland of trees and mountains that can be inhospitable at best.  A lot of the mountain men were descended from Scots-Irish stock and they felt they were back home when they reached the mountains in North Carolina.  These hardy men tamed the wilderness, cut trails, made farmsteads and eventually led to other people coming to the area and towns being founded. 
  • The Native Americans – The Mountain Men were not the only people that decided to call this land home.  They worked with and at times in opposition to the Native Americans that were already living here.  They fought to take and then keep the land they were on and they lost many of their numbers during these conflicts.
  • The US Government – The government of the United States tried to tame these mountain men as well.  Against all odds, and against laws and regulations that the government tried to enforce, the mountain men triumphed and carved out the wilderness to make their homes.
  • Other Mountain Men – Of course, the determination of the mountain was put to the test when they were put up against other mountain men.  These mountain men challenged each other as much as they waged war against the elements and the indeginous people that were already living in the mountains.

It is for these reasons that Appalachian State University picked the Mountain Man to be their mascot.  They wanted to show the determination that they had as a campus.  Their determination to excel against all odds.  They wanted to show that they had the skills and fortitude to succeed.  You can see this in the face of the statue, in the way that with upraised fists, he refuses to go down, refuses to be put aside or ignored.

Make sure that you go by and meet Yosef the next time you are in Boone, NC.  This tall, solid bronze statue is beautifully made and is a piece of art.  Take the kids by to see the mountain man with the crazy eyes and fists raised to the air.  Take a look at the people that helped settle the mountains and tame the wilderness.

Highlands Playhouse

highlandsplayhouse1Highlands, NC has one of the best repertory theaters in Western North Carolina.  The Highlands Playhouse puts on countless shows throughout the year, using both professional and amateur actors.  They stage productions that range from one man shows to full stage productions to the delight of both the local and the tourist alike.

In 1938 a group of dedicated Highlanders presented a version of Kaufman and Connelly’s Dulcy. They put the show on in the local school auditorium.  Thus, the Highland Playhouse was born.  Over the years they have been under many different artistic directors and have seen many different actors on the stage.  They have performed everything from comedies to drams and everything in between.  This quaint theater has moved several times over the years but it is now in its own theater, near downtown and within easy walking distance for all of those tourists that enjoy Highlands throughout the year.

highlandsplayhouse2The Highlands Playhouse – whose legal name is the Highland Community Theater – is a non-profit organization that is funded by the people of Highlands, by companies in the area and of course by ticket sales to the shows they put on each year.  The monies they collect go to pay for the professional actors and actresses they bring in and of course to maintain the theater that they perform in.

Visit the Highlands Playhouse website and see what they have to offer the next time you are in town.  Plan your visit around taking in a show.  Sit down in an audience with towns people and tourists alike.  Especially, if you are in Highlands for a romantic getaway, there i snothing better for a night out with that special someone then to take in a play or live show.

Highlands Playhouse
362 Oak Street
Highlands, NC

Unto These Hills

untothesehills1If you only have time to take in one attraction while you are in Cherokee, NC, that one attraction needs to be Unto These Hills.  This show has been part of the attraction scene in Cherokee for more then sixty years and it is the second oldest running outdoor drama in the US.  Combining the story of the Cherokee people, the music and sounds of the mountains and of course all of it under the stars in the Smoky Mountains, this action packed presentation has been bringing the people back year after year.

Unto These Hills opened to a crowd in Cherokee, NC on July 1, 1950.  Since that time, the show has run at the Mountainside Theater from June through August each year.  And though the script and the information has changed some over the years, the power of this drama has not changed at all.  Focusing on the people that called the Smokies home, Kermit Hunter, the original author was hoping to capture the spirit of these noble people that refused to be forced out of their land and stayed, even though they were told to walk the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

untothesehills3The story starts with the people that lived in the Smokies before the European setters came.  It tells a story of a cultured, civilized people that embraced their new neighbors from across the ocean.  They helped the settlers that came to the area and though some of the leaders realized that the Europeans were not going to reciprocate the good feelings, they still helped the white man establish their towns. Over time, as the Cherokee lost land and were forced higher into the mountains, Andrew Jackson – President of the United States – decreed that they would be removed to a reservation in Oklahoma.  Some of the Cherokee decided that they would not leave.  They stayed, hidden in the mountains until a time when they could be embraced by a different attitude and government.  All of this history and the culture of the Cherokee is contained inside this wonderful outdoor drama.

Since 1950, Unto These Hills has been performed in the same theater – the Mountainside Theater above Cherokee.  It is located in the same place as the Oconaluftee Indian Village, in fact they share a parking lot.  This 2800 seat amphitheater is all outdoors but the temperate weather in the Smokies and the elevation make it pleasant outside for all of the performances.

Next time you are in Cherokee, NC, or just on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, call ahead and make reservations.  Take the whole family to Unto These Hills, let them learn some American history, let them get a better appreciation for the people that lived in the Smokies before Europeans settlers came to the area and of course, remember that you are seeing a show that has been running since the middle of the 20th century.

Unto These Hills
688 Drama Road
Cherokee, NC