We saved two of the most beautiful mountain destinations for last—Great Smoky Mountains and Hot Springs. Blanketed by century-old trees, the Great Smoky Mountains have remained relatively untouched by modern times, drawing visitors to its tranquil paths and rivers for the promise of spotting wildlife, birdwatching, and reconnecting with nature. Hot Springs is a storybook world of forests, fast-moving rivers, and natural hot pools nestled deep in the heart of Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains. We’ve compiled our local know-how into this Ultimate Guide to help you navigate these two fantastical destinations.
Your Ultimate Guide to the Mountains: The Great Smoky Mountains & Hot Springs | Part 3
YOUR GUIDE TO THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS FUN FACTS
- The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. It beats Yellowstone!
- The Clingmans Dome observation tower is the highest point in the National Park. From here, visitors can see up to 100 miles away (on a clear day) and can hike through a “coniferous rainforest” created by the cooler temperatures surrounding the dome.
- Hiking the Great Smoky Mountains means walking ancient land. These mountains are among the oldest in the world—formed an estimated 300 million years ago.
The Smoky Mountains were called “Shaconage” by the Cherokee, which means “place of the blue smoke”—named for the mist that seems to constantly swirl among the peaks and valleys of these mountains. In 1926 President Coolidge signed a bill establishing the park, which would include land donated from Tennessee and North Carolina, and 150,000 acres purchased from the people who lived on the land.
The Great Smoky Mountains is a destination that offers something for everyone—a thriving arts and crafts community, 850 miles of hiking trails, old-growth forests, rivers to raft and fish, one of the most popular amusement parks in the nation, and spectacular views. It is a place to reconnect with yourself and with those you love. For more on the Great Smoky Mountains, click here.
Discover Scenic Drives in the Great Smoky Mountains
- Newfound Gap Road: This scenic drive passes by four incredible scenic overlooks and features a forest landscape that changes as you move into higher elevations.
- Cades Cove: This 11-mile loop road is open to hikers and bicyclists that circles a valley teaming with black bears, white-tailed deer, turkeys, and other wildlife. The valley’s rich history dates back to 1818 and includes many restored churches, a gristmill, barns, and a visitor center.
Great Smoky Mountain Restaurants
- Tennessee Jed’s: This eatery is beloved for the craft sandwiches and the Frito pies. Never had a Frito pie? It’s like a marriage between Mexican-style nachos and Southern chili (It’s yummy!).
- Red Oak Bistro: The Red Oak promises European flavors in a comforting environment. Small shared plates, an extensive wine and bourbon list, and the hospitality of a husband and wife team make dining at the Red Oak Bistro an evening to remember.
- The Little House of Pancakes: It's nothing fancy, but it sure is delicious! Pancakes, eggs, French toast—and did we mention they serve homemade syrup? It’s the breakfast of your dreams.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN THE SMOKIES
Take in the Sights and Attractions
- Hike! Explore! Play!: Or relax in a mountain cabin and let the day slip past. That’s the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains—there are so many options. Hiking in Great Smoky National Park is probably one of the most popular activities in the area. Multiple waterfalls and historic buildings can be found within the park, and many vistas are accessible by car if mobility is a concern.
- Dollywood Resorts & Park: Dollywood is the second-most visited spot in the Smoky Mountains. Located in Pigeon Forge, this 150-acre theme park is beloved for its nature and country music theme, the ongoing promotion of local Appalachian craft making, and, of course, the musical legend herself—Dolly Parton. New to the park is Big Bear Mountain, a gigantic rollercoaster that lasts almost two minutes! At night, be sure to stay for a unique drone light display.
- Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community: If hiking and amusement park rides are NOT your scene, why not give the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community a look! Guests can hop on the free Yellow Line Trolley and comfortably explore shops and galleries along an eight-mile loop with works from more than 100 artists!
WHERE TO STAY IN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Natural Retreats offers a range of mountain accommodations, from a cozy cabin for two to luxurious custom homes with room for friends and family. Enjoy mountain views that stretch for miles, cabins with private hot tubs, and lodges with rocking chairs, firepits, and yards for the children to chase fireflies.
Enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains year-round, book now>>>
YOUR GUIDE TO HOT SPRINGS
HOT SPRINGS FUN FACTS
- In 1818, former President Thomas Jefferson “took to the waters” in Warm Springs for three weeks to help ease his rheumatism.
- The first spa structure in America was built in 1761 around Warm Springs. This historic structure was repaired and recently reopened to the public!
- Skiing and ice skating is a popular Winter activity. The Omni Homestead offers ski trails for all levels and an Olympic-size ice rink at the base of the slopes.
Hot Springs is nestled within the Allegheny Mountains and has a rich history as a place of rest and renewal. The restorative mineral springs have been attracting visitors to the area since the 1700s. Hot Springs and Warm Springs are pedestrian-friendly villages known for welcoming hospitality and charming historic architecture. The sights of Hot Springs feel torn from a fairytale!
Explore Scenic Drives in Hot Springs
- Humpback Bridge: The Humpback Bride was constructed in 1857 and is a must-see when visiting! This covered and arched bridge is now part of a five-acre park. Humpback Bridge can be reached from Interstate 64 by taking Exit 10 to Route 60 and traveling one-half mile east, or by taking Route 60 west from Covington.
- Falling Springs Falls is an 80-foot waterfall with a scenic overlook located off Route 220. Falling Springs Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Virginia!
Places to Eat in Hot Springs
- Les Cochons d’Or: This cozy bistro in the heart of Hot Springs features rich and savory flavors and seasonal fare. Perfect for any occasion!
- The Waterwheel Restaurant: Located at The Inn in Gristmill Square, you and your family can dine inside a historic gristmill and enjoy a menu created around a farm-to-table experience.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN HOT SPRINGS
Take in the Sights and Attractions
- Jackson River Scenic Trail: A free and fun activity for the family is exploring the new Jackson River Scenic Trail. An old railroad bed was converted into a trail that runs along the Jackson River. A wonderful place to bike, jog, or enjoy the mountain scenery!
- Garth Newel Music Center: This is a special place where you can enjoy live professional performances in an intimate setting as well as take part in educational programs surrounded by the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. The center hosts a variety of concerts and events throughout the year, so there is sure to be something to suit everyone's taste.
WHERE TO STAY IN HOT SPRINGS
Our Hot Springs vacation rentals, selected for their connection to the natural landscape and unique experiences, provide an escape to simpler times with the convenience of modern comforts. Stay in a contemporary farmhouse atop 400 acres with stables and fishing streams or a country cottage nestled on hiking trails and the Cowpasture River. Most homes include access to the Warm Springs Dairy Community Center.
Enjoy Hot Springs year-round, book now>>>
BOOK A MOUNTAIN STAY TODAY
A vacation in either the Great Smoky Mountains or Hot Springs offers a chance to leave everyday stresses behind. Feel the tension melt away as you sink into a natural hot spring, or lift your spirits by hiking ancient land in the Smokies.
To discover additional mountain destinations, please read Part 1 and Part 2 of Our Ultimate Guide to the Mountains.