We made Sevierville, Tennessee, our home base for our first visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s located less than 30 minutes from the north entrance to the park and is a perfect place to stay for easy access to restaurants and shopping.
Our main goal was to hike in the park and we started our day there with a visit to Sugarlands Visitor Center, followed by hikes on the Alum Cave Trail and the Little River Trail.
When we weren’t hiking, we dined at some fabulous restaurants, did some outlet shopping and relaxed at a beautiful spa. We also learned more about moonshine and its history while enjoying a few flavors of this previously illicit beverage.
Here’s our list of top things to do in Sevierville.
Hike the Smoky Mountains
With a location near the north entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains Park, Sevierville is the perfect place to stay if you’re planning on spending any time in our country’s most visited national park.
One of the reasons it is the most visited is there is no entrance fee. The reason for that dates back to when the 1930s when the land was privately owned and sold with the stipulation that no toll or fee every be levied on people who traveled the road.
We only had one day to go hiking so opted for two trails. First, we hit the Alum Cave Trail, about a 4.5-mile roundtrip hike. Although this trail can get really crowded, we were there on a weekday and mostly had it to ourselves.
The trail meanders near a creek then begins to ascend. The last part until you hit the caves is fairly steep but worth it for the view. You definitely want to pack your hiking boots for this trail.
Guests who want an even greater challenge can make a reservation at LeConte Lodge, which is another few, more strenuous miles and where guests can stay in rustic glory with no electricity and no running water. A stay here is popular and you need to make reservations far in advance. Dinner and breakfast are included in the rates and the Lodge is open from March to November.
We had some time in the afternoon so made our way to Little River Trail. There were no mountain views of this trail but we enjoyed walking by the creek and seeing the old cottages that were once summer homes for wealthy residents from Knoxville, Tennessee. They are being restored and you can wander through them.
There are plenty of other hikes in the Smoky Mountains, including these waterfall hikes and other hikes for all levels.
We recommend stopping at Sugarlands Visitor Center first to pick up a map and ask any questions you may have about the trails or the park. Park rangers are there to assist you. There are also restrooms and a bookstore.
Stay in a cabin, hotel or condo
You can nestle in a cabin in the woods, stay in a hotel room with a fireplace and massive tub, or stay at a waterpark hotel with two outdoor parks and Tennessee’s largest indoor park.
While I generally opt to stay in non-chain hotels, they sometimes meet our needs. With a great location and spacious bedroom, Comfort Inn Apple Valley was a good choice for us. Our bedroom had a balcony overlooking the pool, fireplace, although we didn’t need it in September, and a huge tub for soaking tired post-hiking bodies. There are indoor and outdoor pools along with complimentary breakfast.
Another option is the Lodge at Five Oaks, located across the street from the Tanger Outlets. This hotel has a water slide, fire pits and fitness center.
Located a bit farther from the main attractions are the cabins at Oak Haven Resort, which has over 100 cabins available to rent, ranging in size from one to seven bedrooms. The resort has a playground, pool, fitness room, game room, basketball court, one-acre catch-and-release lake for fishing, fire pits, picnic area and a two-mile nature trail.
Families will love Wilderness at the Smokies River Lodge Suites. With several room configurations to choose from, you can find one that suits your family. You’ll love the Lake Wilderness Outdoor Waterpark with slides, wave pool, treehouse springs – a children’s play zone, and VIP cabanas.
Visit a Relaxing Spa
The drive from the Comfort Inn to Oak Haven Resort was beautiful, a perfect prelude to a visit to the Oak Haven Spa, where I enjoyed an aptly named Almost Heaven one-hour massage in the quiet setting in the trees.
I loved driving through the resort, which at 100 acres, is much larger than it seems from the short drive to the spa. Many of the cabins are tucked back into the woods for ultimate privacy.
Shop at Outlets, Boutiques and the Worlds’ Largest Knife Store
I’ve been to a lot of outlet centers and couldn’t resist a visit to Tanger Outlets just a short distance from our hotel. Here you’ll find stores like Columbia, Beef Jerky Outlet, Byrd’s Famous Cookies, Kate Spade and Tory Burch.
Often outlet prices aren’t as good as they used to be. But you can still find some deals. I found three hiking shirts at Columbia Factory Outlet all marked way down.
Byrd’s Famous Cookies is a recent addition and if you don’t know these delicious little baked morsels do yourself a favor and stop by. Ben T. Byrd Sr. started making these cookies in Savannah in 1924 and now you can find locations of the cookie company throughout the South.
The best thing is you can sample several of the flavors to decide what to buy. Chances are good you won’t leave without at least a few bags of the tasty treats. My favorite are the salted caramel.
You’ll find a few boutiques in Sevierville and I stopped in one of the newest ones located downtown, Beyond 436 with cute clothes and accessories.
You have to make a stop at Smoky Mountain Knife Works, which bills itself as the world’s largest knife store. It’s a whooping 108,000 square feet over three floors and is packed with knifes, home goods, ammo, clothing and children’s items. And if you’re looking to add to your fossil collection, this is the place to go. The store gets more than 1.5 million visitors a year.
My friend Hope always buys her apple cider vinegar at the general store at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant and discount jeans at Duncan’s Clothing, a family-owned and operated business since 1912.
Hope also shared that she loves the Robert A. Tino Gallery where you can buy original painting, prints and note cards created by this local artist who paints the landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Taste Some Moonshine, Visit the Museum
Taste some flavored shines and learn why this backwoods beverage was created more than 200 years ago at the Tennessee Shine Company. We took the self-guided Moonshine Tour through a 5,000-square-foot museum where we saw a truck that was used to haul moonshine with a still in the back, a NASCAR race car and learned about the science of distilling moonshine.
Fun fact: If we didn’t have Prohibition, we might not have NASCAR. Bootleggers modified their cars to be faster to outrun the cops. When they weren’t transporting illegal booze, they would race against each other. Some fairgrounds operators started inviting them to race and sold tickets, the beginning of stock car racing.
Although Prohibition was repealed in 1933, stock car racing continued. In 1948 Bill France Sr. formed the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, aka NASCAR.
After the tour stop by one of the four tasting bars in the 11,000-square-foot retail space to try some of their dozens of flavors for yourself. These include butterscotch, cotton candy, pumpkin spice, cinnamon whiskey and my favorite, orange dreamsicle.
Tour Downtown Sevierville
The small downtown area is worth a stop just to see the Sevier County Courthouse, built in 1896. Sevierville was named for John Sevier, politician and soldier who served under George Washington the revolution. Tennessee’s first governor.
But the main attraction here is the statue of hometown hero Dolly Parton, a huge draw for visitors.
Dining in Sevierville
While downtown, be sure to dine at the elegant Seasons 101 in the new Historic Central Hotel. The American bistro-style menu includes items like rack of lamb, Spring Mountain chicken and seafood ravioli.
We couldn’t resist trying the fried artichoke hearts, a huge heaping portion served with parmesan alfredo sauce. For dinner we had the delicious brie cheese barramundi and grilled vegetable platter, a giant plate that came with flat bread and hummus. The food was quite good and service was excellent.
Another night we dined at The Chophouse, a wildly popular restaurant in the Tanger Outlets complex. I suggest reservations if you’re heading there. We didn’t have one and even though we were there on a Tuesday, we faced a 45-minute wait, so opted to sit at the bar and had a quite enjoyable meal of blue cheese chopped salad, filet mignon and grilled salmon.
If you’re in the mood for comfort food or a large breakfast to fuel a day of hiking, head to Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant or Applewood Farmhouse Grill where you’ll find all the southern favorites, and yes, macaroni and cheese is listed on the menu in the vegetable section.
More Attractions, More Adventure
If you’re looking for high-flying adventure you can take a helicopter tour, go ziplining day or night, or take an ATV Tour.
For more info, Visit Sevierville, https://visitsevierville.com
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– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief