Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN-NC
Blast from the Past
OK, first the history stuff. While the kids are fresh, they'll appreciate the amazing number of old buildings maintained by the park. Spring through October, costumed guides demonstrate how mountain settlers lived. Here are some highlights:
- Cades Cove. Let yourselves be transported back to 1819, when pioneers first arrived in this Appalachian valley. Drive the 11-mile loop and watch for historic buildings, wildlife -- and other cars. This is the park's most popular attraction, so beware of bumper-to-bumper traffic in summer.
- Within Cades Cove, you'll see Cable Mill, one of the largest group of restored structures on the Tennessee side of the park. There's also Elijah Oliver Place (the Cove's claim to fame), a pristine log structure with a stream flowing through it (for food refrigeration, not aesthetics).
- And don't miss the Davis House, a remarkable log building made with chestnut wood; this is a rare find considering a chestnut blight nearly depleted the forests in the 1930s and '40s.
- Cataloochee Valley. Located on the North Carolina side of the Park, this area was the largest and most prosperous pioneer settlement. Surrounded by 6,000-foot mountains, it's also the most beautiful, with extraordinary views of surrounding mountains -- and a good place to go fishing.