The Great Smoky Mountains are a wonderful place to visit and enjoy relaxing days in lush forests, exploring popular towns like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, and hiking the day away in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, the real beauty of the region is found through exploring its best-kept secrets. We asked our staff at Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains what the locals do in the region, and we’re sharing those secrets with you to make your stay at Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains nothing short of magical. Add these locals’ favorites to your itinerary during your visit to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Locals’ Favorite Hikes
There are a plethora of hiking trails in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but many of them draw crowds during peak seasons. Here is a list of favorite hikes in the area that might be less frequented, but are in no way less beautiful.
Baskins Creek Trail – This relatively easy trail is a 3-mile round trip hike located just outside of Gatlinburg, TN, in the Great Smoky Mountains. Enjoy hiking through lush green forests until you reach a stunning two-tiered waterfall, which makes this trail one of “the most underrated waterfall hikes in the Smoky Mountains.”
Spruce Flats Falls Trail – This trail is 1.8-miles out-and-back near Townsend, TN, and features a beautiful waterfall and stunning mountain views. The trail is accessible year-round and offers great rewards for little effort.
Courthouse Rock (non-marked) – This non-marked trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is a best-kept-secret as it is lightly trafficked and offers stunning scenery. The trail is considered difficult and is hard to find at first glance. If you are able to locate it you are in for a treat. It is a 2.3-mile out-and-back trail that features crossing creeks, multiple caves, and plunging waterfalls. While this trail is not for the faint of heart, it is a local favorite for a reason.
Locals’ Favorite Activities
Hiking is a popular activity in the area and one that you should absolutely plan, but additionally there is so much else to see and do in the area. Check out these activities that come recommended by locals and are less frequented by tourists.
Townsend, TN – Visit the town of Townsend during your stay at Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains for a peaceful getaway. With fewer crowds and quaint vibes, it’s the perfect place to get a more local feel during your stay. Rent bikes and ride through the network of bike trails around town. Spend the afternoon tubing down the river with your pup and enjoy a bite to eat or a beverage at a local establishment.
Cades Cove Loop – Cades Cove Loop is one of the most frequented areas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park but also a favorite way for locals to enjoy it is on Wednesdays when the area is only open to bikes. Enjoy an 11-mile bike ride around Cades Cove Loop and enjoy the peacefulness that comes from fewer crowds and no car traffic.
Douglas Lake – This large lake in east Tennessee is not in the Smokies but it is the perfect place to escape the crowds on a summer day. Just 45 minutes from Under Canvas, Douglas Lake offers boat and kayak rentals and has a plethora of small beach areas for swimming. Grab a picnic lunch from Under Canvas before heading out and enjoy a day of relaxation and water fun at this locals’ favorite lake.
Scenic Drives and Day Trips
Avoid the crowds and explore the surrounding scenery with a drive or day trip to some of our staff’s favorite locations. These off-the-beaten-path drives are sure to give you a local’s look at just how magical the area is.
Foothills Parkways – Foothills Parkway is a scenic drive that weaves through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains between Tallahassee and Townsend. This scenic drive is a path less traveled and takes you through many of the area’s quaint towns with beautiful mountain views.
Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap – Check out this unique scenic drive on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re looking for a scenic drive that offers a bit of excitement, this is the road for you. Enjoy driving around 318 curves in 11-miles as you journey to the summit of Deals Gap.
Day Trips – Explored Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains’ surrounding towns and ready to see more? Take a day trip to one of the many popular towns in the area. Some locals’ favorite day trips easily accessible from Under Canvas include Knoxville, TN (1-hour drive), Cherokee, NC (1-hour 15-minute drive), Bryson City, NC (1-hour 30-minute drive) and Asheville, NC (1-hour 45-minute drive).
Locals’ Favorite Restaurants
Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains offers on-site dining with seasonal and locally sourced breakfast and dinner offerings. You can also grab a picnic lunch on-site to enjoy while out on the trails. If you’re looking for places to dine while out and about exploring the nearby towns check out our locals’ list of favorite restaurants.
Junction35 – Junction35 is a local distillery with American fare located in Pigeon Forge, TN. The restaurant is not on the main parkway so it tends to be a little less busy and the food is excellent.
Smokies Cuban Cafe – Also located in Pigeon Forge, TN, this local restaurant offers a quaint setting and authentic Cuban menu items.
Honey Bee Coffee – Get your morning buzz at Honey Bee Coffee in downtown Sevierville, TN, home to Dolly Parton. If you’re looking for a place to kick back and relax with a book in hand, look no further than this quaint coffee shop outside of Pigeon Forge.
The Abbey – Enjoy this old church converted restaurant and bar located in Townsend, TN. The restaurant offers tasty bites with a riverside setting, and they allow dogs.
There is so much to see and do around the Great Smoky Mountains and sometimes the best way to explore the destination is by doing what the locals do. Add these locals’ favorites to your itinerary during your stay at Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains.