If You Have a Half Day
You’ll find so much to see and do in the Smokies that no matter how long you stay, you’ll wish you’d stayed longer. This chapter gives various suggestions for how best to spend your time. Use these itineraries as a guide and feel free to alter them to suit your family’s energy level and interests. Do see the individual chapters on visitor centers, hikes, self-guiding nature trails, etc., for a fuller description of what’s involved with each option. Also feel free to ask the helpful staff at any of the three visitor centers for additional suggestions and information.
If you have a half day … in North Carolina
Historic Highlights: Start at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and then visit the adjacent Mountain Farm Museum, with its historic farm and log buildings. Walk the Oconaluftee River Trail (three miles roundtrip) from the farm museum into Cherokee and back, stopping to read the brief displays about Cherokee legends and history along the way.
Mountain Views: Start at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and then take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Heintooga Ridge Road at the sign for Balsam Mountain. On Heintooga Ridge Road (closed in winter), stop at the Balsam Mountain Campground (closed in winter) to take the Balsam Mountain Self-Guiding Nature Trail (1.5 miles roundtrip). Continue to the end of Heintooga Ridge Road to the Heintooga Picnic Area (closed in winter) to see the overlook and enjoy lunch.
Three Waterfalls: From downtown Bryson City, N.C., follow the signs toward Deep Creek Campground. Follow the park road past the picnic pavilion to the Deep Creek trailhead at road’s end. Hike the Three Waterfalls Loop (2.4 miles roundtrip), which highlights Juney Whank, Indian Creek, and Tom Branch falls. After the morning hike, have lunch at the Deep Creek Picnic Area.