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A Smoky Mountain Winter

Cider, snowflakes and more in a national treasure



During Winterfest (which runs through Feb. 26 this year), Pigeon Forge Parwkway (U.S. 441) glitters with snowy lights. Photo courtesy Pigeon Forge CVB

 

Winter in the Smokies: the idea conjures up images of snow-covered cottages, smoke curling from chimneys – a veritable Christmas card scene. Colored lights sparkled; silver snowflakes glittered; Christmas carols floated on the chilly air … but Santa would have needed wheels rather than runners when I visited the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee last November.

 

Approximately 70 million people visited national parks last year – 10 million of those visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Covering more than 800 square miles of North Carolina and Tennessee, the park is known for stunning scenery and the characteristic blue haze that gave the mountains their name. Oh, and its biodiversity: with possibly as many as 100,000 kinds of living organisms, the park encompasses the largest collection of undisturbed old-growth trees east of the Mississippi, and animals abound, including more species of salamanders than any other place in the world.

The symbols of the park and its most iconic residents are the black bears. In the fall they participate in what is known as the “shuffle.” At this time, the bears feed almost non-stop, stocking up for hibernation, gaining from three to five pounds a day. (More like the “stuff-full!”)

With 150 trails in the park covering 800 miles (including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail) and 384 miles of mountain roads – there’s plenty of territory to travel.

The park has 10 campgrounds and more than 100 back-country sites, but the only lodging within its borders is LeConte Lodge – and that’s strictly for the sturdy, as it can only be reached by hiking at least five miles. There are no restaurants in the park either, although basic groceries are available. Not to worry: most visitors stay in nearby towns, and there are plenty of accommodations and eateries there.

Don’t count on snow for Christmas, but when it happens, photographers grab their cameras.


The Three Ss: Suppin’, Sleepin’ and Shoppin’ Enterprises catering to these fundamental needs stretch from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge to Sevierville, and it’s hard to tell where one town ends and the next begins. You’ll find high-end galleries and some gourmet restaurants, but the best choices in the area are home-cooked or home-created.

The level of crafts and folk arts you’ll find here is unparalleled. You’ll discover artists preserving traditional crafts – people such as Pastor Jimmy Morrow, a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher, who creates folk dolls, makes kudzu baskets, paints in primitive folk style and tells amazing stories in a dialect that has almost disappeared from the country. I met him in Cosby at Maria Holloway’s Country Home Quilts.

Maria’s shop is a rainbow of fabrics but the highlight is a bed piled high with quilts; most are machine-pieced but hand-quilted by a select group of women who meet Maria’s high standards and have nigh-infinite patience. Among the beauties on the bed were a Postage Stamp quilt with more than 8,000 one-inch pieces, and a stunning Cathedral Window quilt that took more than 2,000 hours to complete.

Black bears do live in the mountains, but they aren’t alone. Hundreds of trolls can be found high on Rocky Top Trail at Five Arts Studios, where the Arensbak family creates figures with roots in Danish folklore. Ranging in height from 5 inches to 5 feet, these friendly forest folk are made primarily from natural materials found in the mountains.

Not far from Five Arts is the Carver Orchards with its 40,000 apple trees. Through the season, the market there will have 126 varieties of apples for sale. Do visit the Carver Applehouse Restaurant for home cooking accompanied by apple fritters and apple cider.

Chicken and dumplings like you wish grandma could have made are a warm treat on a cold day at Carver’s Applehouse Restaurant.


Another popular spot is the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant in Sevierville. Like Carver’s, you’ll find apple-inclusive favorites but lots of other good things, as well. For baked specialties, stop at the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge. Try their biscuits and other delicious treats made from grains stone-ground in the 130-year-old mill next door. Prepare to stand in line at all three restaurants, a testimony to tastiness.

All sorts of accommodations are available – from the swanky Blackberry Farm (Walland) to very affordable motels. For bed and breakfast fans, the Buckhorn Inn (Gatlinburg) also offers gourmet dinners. For aerie elegance, check out Gracehill B&B (Townsend) – spectacular view. Also near Townsend, Richmont Inn B&B offers a great view, as well as an homage to Sequoyah and the Cherokees who once called this area home.

Traveling families will enjoy Wilderness at the Smokies Hotel and Waterpark Resort in Sevierville. Between the waterparks (indoors and outdoors) and the mega-arcade, it may be hard to get the kids out of the hotel.

Hologram ghosts haunt Scrooge in Dollywood’s musical adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”

 

There are, however, more attractions in the area than you can shake a stick at. Top of my list is Gatlinburg’s Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, rated in the world’s top five aquariums. This isn’t Colorado, but you’ll find skiing, snow tubing and ice-skating at Ober Gatlinburg. For grown-ups, there are wine tastings at Sugarland Cellars and moonshine tastings at Old Smoky Moonshine in Gatlinburg, with more at Old Smoky and Old Forge Distillery in Pigeon Forge.

Introduce yourself to Dolly Parton’s statue in Sevierville, then head for Pigeon Forge for her magnum opus, Dollywood. The big seasonal special, “Smoky Mountain Christmas,” runs through Jan. 3. Four million lights trim the buildings and trees, and a variety of shows feature holiday themes. Don’t miss the musical adaptation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with holographic sprits including Dolly as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her brand-new hotel, DreamMore Resort, is nearby – be sure to ask about special packages including theme park tickets.

For a cool Christmas drive-thru, visit Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland north of Sevierville. Hundreds of thousands of lights dance and twinkle to music, from pop songs and carols to the “Hallelujah Chorus.” In addition, there are a number of theaters in the region – much like you’d find in Branson.

So why not just go to Branson? There are many subtle, small distinctions, but the biggest difference is those gorgeous Smoky Mountains. I loved the area so much, I went back in February. No Christmas lights – but this time I found snow. And I found that – no matter what the season – this Smoky Mountain region is wonderful.


► Helpful links 

mypigeonforge.com

tnvacation.com

 

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April 2019

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

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National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

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Cost: Free

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Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
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Cost: General Admission: $10; Students & Seniors: $7

Where:
Oklahoma State University Department of Music
132 Seretean Ctr
Stillwater, OK  74078
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Sponsor: Oklahoma State University Department of Music
Telephone: 405.744.6133
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

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Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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Cost: $12.50

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National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
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Cost: Free

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Potbelly Sandwich Shop
8500 N Rockwell Ave
OKC, OK  73132
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Sponsor: Potbelly Sandwich Shop
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Cost: Free

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Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
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RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Delta Dental

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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Individual Artists of Oklahoma
706 W. Sheridan Ave.
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Sponsor: Individual Artists of Oklahoma
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Heritage Place
2829 S. MacArthur
Oklahoma City, OK  73128
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Branson Junior High
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Sponsor: A Sporting Chance
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RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
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Sponsor: Delta Dental

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Cost: Free

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Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
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Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Contact Name: Evan
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Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Andy Alligator's is celebrating teachers! On Saturday and Sunday, teachers with a valid ID will receive a FREE All-Day Pass and $5 off for each family member! An All-Day Pass includes...

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Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
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America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

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