Posted by Leif Palmer in Smoky Mountain Attractions
It's probably fair to say that the majority of people who visit the Great Smoky Mountains wing it when it comes to planning their trips. That's not to say that folks don't make lodging reservations or perhaps buy advance tickets for specific attractions for certain days and times. But when it comes to actually going out and doing things, it's common for most visitors to tour sights and attractions on their own, without any guidance.
However, we're starting to see more and more businesses in the Smokies area that cater to visitors interested in an enhanced travel experience - one that relies on the knowledge, expertise and access of local tour guides. So we thought we'd introduce you to just a few of the area vendors that specialize in a more supervisory approach to exploring the scenic mountains and surrounding communities of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains.
Anyone who has seen a pink Jeep scooting around in the national park is already familiar with Pink Adventure Tours, an organization that leads guided scenic tours in tourist destinations all over the country. Their Smoky Mountain Adventure Tours allow guests to see the Smokies from the back of a custom, open-air Pink Jeep Wrangler. The hosts are locally based and certified adventure tour guides whose job is to bring the history and magic of the mountains to life.
They currently offer six different tours, covering areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park such as Roaring Fork, Newfound Gap and Foothills Parkway as well as surrounding areas like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The Roaring Fork outing, for example, travels along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which begins in Gatlinburg then snakes its way into the national park before returning to town. Guests can see everything from downtown shops to beautiful mountain landscapes and historic structures and hiking trails. At the end of this tour is an exciting 4X4 off-road adventure.
This Pigeon Forge-based tour operator utilizes late-model Ford Transit vans to shuttle its guests all over the Smokies area. Each van can seat as many as 14 passengers and has all-year climate control and large windows for viewing the sights. Also, the guides use headset microphones to communicate with passengers, so even guests sitting in the very back don't miss out on any details. Among the tour options are the Sights of the Smokies Tour (an all-day excursion that covers a little bit of everything in the area, including two restaurants), the Trees of Many Colors Tour (which operates only in October and November and includes a sit-down lunch at a restaurant) and the Tour of Lights, a 2.5-hour tour of all the Winterfest lights in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
One thing that makes this tour operator unique is that the tours are led by knowledgeable and personable guides who are not only local but have deep roots in East Tennessee soil. Their narrated tours allow guests to sit back and enjoy the Smokies without having to worry about navigating their way around the area. This allows groups to not just see the mountains but learn about them and experience them in a unique way - through colorful stories.
Here's another outfit that relies on the workhorse Jeep vehicle to shuttle its tour guests around the Smokies. Their vehicles, however, utilize patented designs that are geared toward making each tour comfortable and easy. Overall, the tours are family- and group-friendly and cover not only Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg but a number of areas in and surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Foothills Parkway Tour, for example, serves up stunning views along that celebrated scenic route as you hang on tight for a rough-terrain ride under the majestic watch of stunning mountain peaks. There are also several stops along the way to learn about the history of the national park. On the Smoky Mountains Newfound Gap Tour, you'll explore the woodlands of the Smokies, learn some park history, stop for photo opps and also enjoy plenty of awesome views along the way.
This company operates a more conventional style of guided tour in the Smokies, thanks to their fleet of mini coaches and staff of step-on guides. They currently offer three main sightseeing tours, including an outing to the Cades Cove section of the national park. It's a virtual trip back in time and history as you view 19th-century homesteads, a working grist mill, intact churches and lots of hiking opportunities. It's also one of the best places to view wildlife, as the cove boasts some 5,000 acres of open meadows and makes for a great picnic area.
Other Rocky Top tour packages include a broader tour of the national park and the Rags to Riches tour, the latter of which takes you along the back roads of Sevier County to see many of the sights that were prominent in the formative years of Dolly Parton. You'll see her childhood school and church while hearing amusing stories about the hollers and traditions of the mountains and their people.
In addition to its sightseeing tours, Rocky Top Tours offers military and school charter services as well as shuttle services for Smoky Mountain groups in need of transportation to weddings, family events, local attractions, sporting events and even the airport in Knoxville.
For a truly off-road ride, you can take a UTV tour from this company, located in Cosby, TN, outside Gatlinburg. Their guided adventures make use of utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) and provide a unique off-road experience that lasts approximately two hours. Guides lead their ATV-riding guests on a rollicking natural-terrain trip that gets into the heart of the mountains and serves up some delicious scenery. They do require that guests be at least 25 years old in order to drive an ATV, and tours run as scheduled, rain or shine.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.
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