Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Tennessee Mountains
By Vernon and Cathy Summerlin
There are three visitors centers within the park, two on the Tennessee side of the mountains and one on the North Carolina side. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is 2 miles south of Gatlinburg on US 441; Oconaluftee Visitor Center is 2 miles north of Cherokee, North Carolina on US 441; and Cades Cove is at the end of Laurel Creek Road that turns off TN 73 at an intersection approximately 2 miles east of Townsend.
[Fig. 44(2), Fig. 45(1), Fig. 47(1)] Sugarlands takes its name from the abundance of sugar maple trees in this valley of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Sugarlands Visitor Center is the northern entrance to the GSMNP. A short film, guidebooks, camping permits, and an abundance of written material assist the rangers in orienting thousands of visitors daily to the GSMNP. In addition to an excellent bookstore, visitors will find restrooms and a self-guiding nature trail.
[Fig. 44(10), Fig. 45(2)] Adjacent to the John Cable Mill, the Cades Cove Visitor Center is about halfway around the 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. The visitor center is a modern construction and has exhibits, trail guides, and brochures. It is adjacent to the historic Cable Mill that has demonstrations and fresh-ground corn meal for sale.
[Fig. 44(13), Fig. 45(3)] Spring through October at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, GSMNP employees, in the garb of early pioneers, spin wool, weave cloth, make sorghum molasses, forge tools, and perform other daily chores of mountain people at the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic structures. Visitors will find exhibits, brochures, trail maps, a bookstore and gift shop, and restrooms. Backcountry camping registration is available.
Starting in late spring and continuing through October, there is a schedule of ranger-led programs, designed for families, adults, and juveniles, conducted in areas throughout the park. These include a broad variety of Activities: talks, demonstrations, daytime and nighttime walks, visits to historic and scenic sites, storytelling sessions, and wildlife viewing.
One of the highlights each week is the Junior Ranger Award Ceremony for young visitors who have completed their Junior Ranger booklet, a series of activities to acquaint youngsters with the Smokies.
Programs are held at the Cosby, Sugarlands, Elkmont, Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Smokemont, Oconaluftee, Balsam Mountain, and Deep Creek areas.