How to maximize a 4 day vacation in the Smoky Mountains with your family on a $10 budget!

fire starting.jpeg

Have you ever showed up to your hotel or cabin and started getting overwhelmed with the options and price tags of all the attractions? We have a few tips for you.

First, focus on creating lasting memories by sharing in an experience rather than buying an attraction ticket. SMG recommends that you make a family adventure challenge. To create this, first you must visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Each family member will have $10 they will spend in the visitor center witch goes to funding the National Park as well as starts your adventure with something you can take home as a memory. Your challenge with the $10 is to purchase something that can be used during your day of exploring the GSMNP. Examples may be: wildflower identification book, maps, bandana, intro to hiking book, kids reading books etc. With you're newly purchased items, and a sense of adventure, hop back in your car and begin traversing up Newfound Gap Road in pursuit of Newfound Gap and the TN\NC State line.

Here is your challenge: Locate the following and get out of the car as often as possible.

  1. Locate a “quiet walkway” within 10 minutes of getting in your car and spend time in nature on the trail. Utilize any resources you may have purchased to identify unique and interesting things you come across.

  2. Take a family picture by the most beautiful stream you see. Did you know there are over 2000 miles of water ways in the GSMNP?

  3. Locate the Appalachian Trail that stretches from GA to Maine and step foot on the historical path.

  4. Position part of your family in TN and the rest in NC to create a classic family portrait.

  5. Lastly, reenact the presidential dedication of the GSMNP at the Rockefeller Memorial before heading down the mountain for lunch at you favorite picnic spot at the Chimneys picnic area

If you can’t get enough of the Smokies and you would like to further your experience with knowledge and expertise, please feel free to contact us for your next adventure.

Enjoy!!!!! SMG guided trips, tours and exemplary corporate services

lonely on the mountain

It was the 3rd week of backcountry trips in one month. As I was on the 3rd back to back trip in the backcountry that month, I found myself on top of Gregory’s bald above Cades Cove stargazing. The summer night was chilly enough for a light rain jacket to knock off the breeze. As our night was winding down on top of the mountain, I looked into the far distance at the valley below with bustling lights. You could imagine the energy of the people walking with families around town or driving to their homes to watch their favorite shows for the night. Directly below, you could see cars circling the Cades Cove loop as their automatic headlamps turned on due to the sun going down and darkness taking over.

At that point, I had a craving to be back with my family. I wanted to experience the comfort of having people around and the security of sitting inside my home with lights on. It was not a feeling I often have in the backcountry.

There is great solitude to be found in the wilderness during prolonged periods of time. These times seem to allow for opportunity of reflection and consideration of important aspects of life and community. There seems to be a sense of security and comfort amongst community of people that differs from the wilderness solitude. I concluded that both of these experiences, wilderness & city, are necessarily important to each other.

Go into the solitude of the wilderness to find times of reflection.

Enjoy the City and community of people.

Wild fires and

A wave of fires swept across the main entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and entered the city limits of Gatlinburg and Sevier County.  

It was a chain of events that created the "perfect storm".  No one could have predicted what was about to happen.  It was just a smoke filled day downtown Gatlinburg, similar to the past few weeks since wildfires were surrounding nearby forests.  Little did 14,000 people know that they were going to have to run for their lives to avoid the 90mph gusts of wind that were throwing flames miles away.  As guests franticly rushed around by vehicle and by foot, some never got the instructions and were left to perish in the fire.  The stories of heroism have not all been told yet, but you better believe that as thousands rushed out, hundreds rushed in with brave intentions to save the people, town and community we all love.  As the community is presently surrounding those who lost everything, we at SMG felt the need to assist as well.  As you know, we are a small business who's roots are in this community and these mountains.  We decided we wanted to help in a way that we could be best used.  Fortunately we have family partners that operate LaPrees Advertising and Design Services and we discussed how we can create awareness and help for the victims.  At the conclusion of this discussion, was born.  This site and effort will be here for the long haul.  Our intention is to raise money, create awareness and possibly allow for employment for those at their lowest times.  We will give all profits back to individuals that are homeless, clothe-less, desperate and in need of support.  We knew that we as individuals within SMG would have little impact, but with your help and our community, we could play a larger part in helping.  Please join us by donating directly to sources we have listed on and\or purchase a shirt to create awareness and provide funds.  We thank you for your help, love and prayers for the community.  #smokiesstrong

Winter Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is full of places to hike. With over 150 official trials covering 800+ miles, it's easy to get out and find new adventures every time you visit. Many people enjoy the summer and fall months, exploring the mountains lush foliage and mountain top views. But what happens once the leaves fall and temperatures drop?

Less people. New challenges. Incredible views.

Where To Hike
With so many trails, it's hard to say what the best places are to hike during the winter. Some people prefer the quiet backcountry of the low elevations that remains in more moderate temperatures throughout the year. Others prefer the frigid high elevations of the Appalachian Trail and the stillness of a snow covered landscape. Where you go is up to you! Check trail elevations and length before heading out on your next adventure and plan appropriately!

High Elevation
When hiking in higher elevations of the Smokies you will run into a few more challenges, especially during the winter. The higher you go the harder it is to breathe due to thinner air. Also, the air is drier and therefore, you will dry out more quickly. Take this into account as you plan your mileage and time for your trip and pack extra water! Temperatures also drop quickly as you head up the mountains. If you start at a lower elevation, be prepared for rapid temperature drops as you climb. Temperatures generally drop two degrees for every 500 feet you climb. Always dress in layers and adjust accordingly as you go.

Snow + Ice
Snow and ice add a beautiful yet dangerous side to the winter side of hiking in the Smokies. Small springs that you see throughout the summer turn into beautiful walls of ice. While they can be stunning, they have the potential to break and fall off. Always be careful around these and areas where icicles are hanging off of bluffs to stay safe. With snowy and icy trails come great beauty and pristine views but also some slippery slopes...literally. Be aware of steep hikes as well as trails that have drop-offs on the sides. It is best to avoid these trails unless you have proper footwear or crampons. Check out this article on proper gear selection for winter camping and hiking. Snow and ice are what make winter, winter! Enjoy it! Just don't "slip up" and forget to be careful!

The Quiet
If you know the Smokies, you probably know it's the most visited National Park in the country (here's why). Being the most visited, you have all sorts of problems such as noise, litter, traffic and very little parking. Not during the winter! Clear roads (not necessarily the snow) and hundreds of open parking areas equal great access and quiet adventures through the snowy mountains. Also, the snow has great sound absorbing properties which create a serene and unique environment to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Get out and experience it yourself!

Snow creates a clean white canvas for tiny paw prints (and big ones) to show up on and around the trails. Bring along a camera and take pictures of animal tracks to identify once you get home. Also, you might find yourself seeing more wildlife this time of year due to the thinning foliage/underbrush and the calmer atmosphere. Fun fact: Black bear don't go into a full hibernation in the park. This means they will still be active on your adventures! Keep your eyes open!

Ultimately, be safe. If you take proper safety measures and the right gear, you will have an amazing time. Want a guide to help along the way? We can do that too.

Hike often. Stay safe. Live adventurously.

Record Breaking

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees visitors well into the millions every year. Just four times in the past 80 years they have broken the 10,000,000 mark including 2014 with a record breaking attendance of over 10,099,000 which was an incredible 8% growth from 2013! Already this year they have broken a record again with September's park attendance being higher than it ever has before, with 1,081,773 squeezing down the parks narrow roads.

But what is causing this mass flow of visitors to come funneling into the windy backroads of Tennessee and North Carolina to see the GSMNP?

That's a great question and we have the answers!

  1. Fall: With colors popping up from the highest elevations of over 6,500' in mid to late September and well into early November at the lowest elevations plus the over 100 native tree species running up and down the peaks and valleys of the park, there is almost always colors to see during the autumn season.
  2. Bear: Black Bear are running all throughout the park and are one of the most sought after sights as people travel into the mountains. In the smokies alone there are approximately 2 black bear per square mile and over 520,000 acres that make up the park. You do the math! (Or we's about 1500)
  3. Location: Many national parks are quite secluded and far from many highly populated areas. This is not true for the Smokies! Situated between Tennessee and North Carolina along the east coast, there are plenty of cities within a days drive that can make the journey down to see the National Park in all it's glory.

These are just a few of the great reasons to visit the Smokies. Want more? Check out this article to see just how much there is to do and see!


Ten Feet Away

"As I walked around the large rhododendron, I looked up and heard the loudest scream I've ever heard."

At SMG, our guides head out daily to show off the amazing places and things the GSMNP has to offer. While we always head out onto trails that our guides know well, sometimes the trails have changed. This is something our guide, Jared, found out for himself in one of his scariest (and most exciting!) moments on trail to date.

It was a nice cool morning when we arrived at the trail head of our hidden waterfalls hike in the Greenbriar area of the park. We had a family of four including a young 6-year-old girl and a couple in their early 30's. We went through the normal pre-hike conversation talking about the dangers we could encounter on trail and what to do if we encountered such danger. Our guides always discuss what to look out for from poison ivy to bear and how we should respond to each encounter with these things. What we didn't know was that this conversation would end up being very important down trail.
We hopped on trail and took off. It seemed like everyone was really enjoying themselves. Everyone made it through our creek crossing just fine and the first few cascades were beautiful as usual. We made a little war paint and put it under our eyes (always a favorite for the little ones) and continued up the trail, ready for battle. There is one point, just before a side trail to another creek and waterfall, where a rhododendron has grown out of the inside corner of the trail. It completely blocks your view of the trail ahead so you have to step around it to continue on. As I walked around the large rhododendron, I looked up and heard the loudest scream I've ever heard.
We had just come upon a 250+ pound black bear standing in the middle of the trail not 10 feet in front of us. It seemed as if all at once the 6-year-old screamed and ran back into her parents arms, my heart completely stopped and the bear took off running down the trail in the opposite direction. At this point, we all stopped and evaluated the situation and our own condition. The bear had evidently stopped in the trail because a deer had recently died there and it was a free, protein-filled snack. After a brief refresher on "bear etiquette" (aka don't run) and making sure everyone felt comfortable continuing, we finished the hike and had a wonderful time. Everyone was a little nervous, but excited that they had such a close encounter and lived to tell about it!

On any of our trips that go out, we always make safety our first priority. It's not uncommon to see wildlife on trail and it can be very fun if you take the right precautions and respond appropriately. Bear are often-times more scared of us than we are of them and will respond much the way this bear did but we must always be cautious. Want to know more about how to handle a wild black bear while in the mountains? Check out this article from the National Park Service and keep on adventuring!