Posted by Phil Rodgers in Smoky Mountains
We hope that your next trip to the Smokies includes a stop at Goats on the Roof in Pigeon Forge, TN. Located on Wears Valley Road, our family attraction has a little something for everyone, from our thrilling mountain coaster to our gem mining operation. And yes, we have live goats living on the roof of our gift shop and store, where we carry a wide array of souvenirs and handmade craft items.
But we also hope that any journey you make to our area includes a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spanning parts of both Tennessee and North Carolina, this American treasure offers more than 800 square miles of pristine mountain terrain, woodlands and waterways. Within its borders are hundreds of miles of hiking trails and fishable streams as well as campgrounds, historic sites, scenic motorways, picnic areas and more.
Your gateway to all this cool stuff (and by the way, there's no entrance fee to this national park) is the Sugarlands Visitor Center, located just off U.S. 441 on the northern border of the park, just south of Gatlinburg, TN. (On the North Carolina side of the park, they have the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.)
Sugarlands is a good place to stop and get your bearings and learn more about what the park has to offer before you make any final decision about what you want to see or do. To that end, there are lots of resources on hand to help you get the lay of the land. There are all kinds of maps of the park, including hiking maps, and in the gift shops, there are even more resources, like books, that are available to bring you up to speed on any park-related topic. One of the most valuable sources of information available to any visitor is the staff of rangers. They're available to answer your questions and give you some detailed insights that might help you clarify your goals for a park visit.
But that's not all that's available to those who make a stop at Sugarlands Visitor Center. There is an informative museum on site, featuring nature exhibits and a free 21-minute movie, all of which illustrate the rich history and the expansive biodiversity available within the national park. The center also has restroom facilities and lots of free parking for guests.
While there's a lot to be said for all the resources you'll find inside the visitor center, you should also know there's even more to do outside its walls. Guests can set out on any of three different hiking trails, all of which originate near the main facility:
Cataract Falls – Measuring less than a mile round trip, this easy hike ends at a 25-foot waterfall before sending you back to your starting point. The trail is well marked and shaded in summer. Other features include streams and bridges.
Fighting Creek Nature Trail – This 1.2-mile loop is suitable for all ages and features a gentle climb that follows Fighting Creek. Along the way, look for the Noah McCarter cabin and the John Ownby cabin.
Gatlinburg Trail – This is a scenic, paved, 3.8-mile round-trip walk and one of only two trails in the national park that allows dogs and bicycles. It's a good place to stretch and get some steps in before getting back into your vehicle.
To reach Sugarlands Visitor Center from Gatlinburg, head south on the downtown Parkway. After passing Ski Mountain Road on the south end of town, you'll enter the national park. Sugarlands is 1.7 miles ahead on the right.
Business hours through August are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In September and October, the visitor center closes at 6:30 p.m.