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This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the United States' most-visited national park. Sprawled across a luxuriant expanse of 522,419 acres (211,416 hectares), the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is split down the middle by the State Line that demarcates the territories of North Carolina and Tennessee. The park is renowned the world over for its remarkably diverse flora and fauna, sheltered by a series of ridges drenched in the cool spray of cascading waterfalls. Dressed in a blanket of dense forests and wildflower-laden meadows stitched together by babbling streams and gushing rivers, spellbinding vistas lay around every corner amid the ancient Appalachian mountains. The scenery transitions with the seasons from the vivid green of summer and the riotous colors of spring to the warm cast of fall and the white shroud of winter. Amid this vibrant and varied landscape, close to 80 historic buildings preserve the southern Appalachian mountain culture, of which the pioneer homestead at Cades Cove is just one. With ample opportunity for activities like hiking, biking, fishing and more, the ethereal allure of the Great Smoky Mountains is impossible to ignore.
A three-mile round trip hike will take you to Grotto Falls, one of several beautiful falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail winds behind the 25-foot high falls. Because of the excessive moisture the falls provides the surrounding area, salamanders flock to the area. Visitors to the falls may be able to spot several different species of salamander all at once.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers a wide variety of train rides through stunning scenery. Whether you take a ride through the Nantahala Gorge or cruise along the Tuckasegee River, you are sure to be impressed by the beautiful scenery and immense power of the locomotive. Adult groups can also opt to go on a moonshine ride, where you will learn about the history of moonshine making in Appalachia and even get to sample some of the local goods.
Towering at a height of 407 feet (124 meters) above Gatlinburg, the Gatlinburg Space Needle is in a league of its own when it comes to offering dramatic views of the spectacular Great Smoky Mountains. For visitors to the needle, the journey is half the fun - glass elevators shoot up to the top, all the while showing off the panoramas of the surrounding areas. Visitors can also take in the views by night, when Gatlinburg is transformed into an inky-black, starry landscape.
Head to Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum for a strange, exciting, and slightly scary afternoon. The museum focuses on all things odd, which is why the establishment is referred to as the Odditorium. Shrunken heads, two-headed animals, and strange artifacts from around the world are just some of the curiosities on display in Ripley's exhibits.
Founded in 1948, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian preserves pieces of the tribe's history and exhibits the fine art that is unique to the tribe. Apart from the exhibitions, the museum is also involved in outreach programs that seek to renew an interest in tribal traditions including dance and basket weaving. Visitors can partake in these activities, explore exhibits, and purchase beautiful handmade crafts in the museum store.
The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is an institution devoted to the rich and vibrant cultures that have called the Great Smoky Mountain region home. Gaze upon artifacts created by Native American tribes of the area, learn about the Smokies' early European pioneers, and check out the traveling exhibits housed in the museum. Visitors can also explore several historical buildings located throughout the property, each of which is decorated as it would have been at the time it was built.
Lake Fontana is a massive reservoir that spreads across about 17 miles (27 kilometers) and forms part of the southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the northern border of part of the Nantahala National Forest. The lake is named after the local Montvale Lumber Company logging town. Visitors can enjoy hiking, boating, swimming, and picnicking at the lake, which also provides some of the only access points to remote areas of the national park.
The Tennessee Museum of Aviation houses some serious Warbirds, as planes that have seen action are called. The museum is located directly opposite the Pigeon Forge Airport, so airplane demonstrations are a frequent occurrence at this engaging establishment. Visitors can also spend time chatting with veterans who are willing to share their stories about flying these machines through war-filled skies.
Knoxville's center for all things arty invites you to "open your eyes" and "open your mind." Featuring an impressive collection of permanent and touring exhibitions, the Knoxville Museum of Art treats visitors to a visual feast of art through the ages. In particular, the museum emphasizes the unique art and artists of the Southern Appalachians.