Travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Western North Carolina – Episode 345

categories: USA Travel

Hear about Travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Western North Carolina as the Amateur Traveler talks to Nathan from Wand’rly Magazine.


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park, in part because it is located in the Eastern Half of the country. Nathan also says it is the “closest you can get to an out-west experience” near the Eastern seaboard. It does not hurt that the National Park is free.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina located between Charlotte North Carolina and Nashville Tennessee on US 40. What the Smokies are all about is big wide views with “smoke” (clouds) just rolling in. If you come to the Smokies in September you can experience Summer, Fall and Winter weather all in the same drive up the Smokies. Nathan talks about hiking in the Smokies including the Appalachian Trail which crosses the park and the Mountains to the Sea Trail.

Nathan then talks about his current home town of Asheville North Carolina. “It is such a tiny city, but it is just packed with people from religious people to old school hippies”. Hear about Asheville restaurants and ships and the food cart scene.

right click here to download (mp3)
right click here to download (iTunes version with pictures)

Show Notes

Wand’rly Magazine
Great Smoky Mountains
Park Map
G reat Smoky Mountains Backpacking — Appalachian Trail
Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Asheville Sojourner
The Wedge Brewery
Pisgah Brewery
Mayfel’s Restaurant
Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company
Smoky Mountain Brewery
Biltmore Estate
The Grove Park Inn
Clingmans Dome
Hiking in the Smokys


Goats To Join Chicago O’Hare Maintainance Crew
Morgue Hotel? Haydn Pearce Plots To Turn Slabs Into Stays


Bjarne says:

“Thank’s for the last long podcast.
I am listening to the podcasts when driving, and sometimes I forget to take the right turn… 🙂

1 hour podcasts are no problems. I can always do a longer reroute.. “

Miranda writes:

Hi Chris!

My husband and I just returned from a 2 and a half week trip to France and your podcast on the Champagne region of France helped us tremendously! We were very eager to explore the champagne/wine region and after listening to your podcast, we were hooked! We visited the Drappier Champagnerie and loved it! The Drappier family were very hospitable and their champagne is delectable! Before the trip, we contacted Drappier about a tour, and they suggested we simply show up for a wine tasting. We arrived about 2pm for the tasting and were surprised to find that 1) it was free! and 2) a private tasting as we were the only ones there at the time. They told us there would be a tour at 4pm, so we had a little picnic in our car and lo’ and behold, about 40 people showed up for the tour at 4pm (there were just as shocked as we were!) So while we didn’t have all the information from the get-go, we were pleasantly surprised with the end result. The family (husband, wife, grandfather) ran the tours and gave us a touch of French hospitality. We have continued to exchange emails with them over where we can purchase their champagne in the US.

One thing that surprised me about the Champagne region as well as Burgundy (where we stayed and did a wine tour) is that it is NOT AT ALL like Napa or Sonoma! I thought we could drive around and just walk into a winery, but simply not the case. Since most of these wineries are family run, you either need a guide or need to make a reservation beforehand.

All in all, we LOVE listening to your podcasts as your 30 min episodes are the same length as my commute to work as well as the length it takes to walk my basset hound a mile.

Thanks for all that you do!

Miranda and Aaron
(+ Reggie the basset hound)
Houston, TX

PS – During our trip we also spent 3 days in Amsterdam, but noticed you have not done a podcast there. What’s the hold up? ; )

PPS – On a recent podcast you read a listener’s email regarding San Antonio and I can’t help but agree – definitely explore the surrounding areas of San Antonio, New Braunsfels (home of Schlitterbahn) as well as Austin and the hill country. (My husband is a native San Antonian.) So many great outdoorsy things to do, see, and of course, the food! From traditional German towns to Tex-Mex to bar-be-que, 30 minutes of talking can simply salivate your tongue.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

10 Responses to “Travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Western North Carolina – Episode 345”

Al Woodcock


I really enjoyed listening to this description of Asheville NC and the Smokies. Nathan brought back many memories of my life there in the 1940s and 50s. It is hard for visitors to believe today, but when I lived in Asheville, there were no, that is right, no restaurants worthy of the name and if you wanted an “adult beverage” you had to bring it with you to the few places that allowed such behavior. Traditional folk craft was the the only art form and downtown was a bit sleepy.

All that has changed since then, and in most cases for the better although the best of the past is still there including great folk music and crafts and more.

I do disagree that Grove Park Inn is more worth seeing than the Vanderbilt mansion which happens to be the most visited tourist attraction in the state. Biltmore House is expensive to visit, but there are few places in the US to rival it…and it’s history is fascinating. Mr Vanderbilt could stand on his veranda and know that everything he could see all the way to Pisgah Mountain was his. Now much is National Forest and preserved thanks to his generosity.

If you do go to Grove Park Inn, don’t miss the craft museum in the back and all that arts and crafts furniture and decorative art in the Inn itself.

For the literary tourist, the Tom Wolf house(restored after a tragic fire) is well worth the visit and 20 or so miles away is Carl Sanburg’s home, now a national monument.

If you are into architecture, you will find that Asheville is a gold mine of the Art Deco style buildings.

If you like jewelry, go to Jewels that Dance and ask to see Paula. Mention my name and ask her to tell you about the Castanea Building she is in. It has an interesting history…and her jewelry is great too.

One out-of-Asheville tip, don’t miss Sliding Rock near Brevard in the Pisgah National Forest. Just bring some padding to sit on!!!

Enjoy Asheville, I sure did.

Al Woodcock


Oops, Sandburg’s home is a National Historic Sight, not a National Monument. Still worth a visit.



I often visit North Carolina during winter.. I never thought mountains are more amazing during summer..

Alex Chaney


I wish Nathan would have elaborated more on the Cades Cove Loop. He says it is a “mile or so”. Actually the loop itself is closer to 11 miles plus there is a several mile drive from the Gatlinburg entrance to the park to get to the loop. Cades Cove is a great place to see wildlife (black bear, deer, etc) and get a taste of Appalachian life as it used to be when the area was settled. The ~11 mile loop is a one-way road that would likely take the better part of an hour to drive around if someone did not stop. Stopping a few times and taking in the sites can easily turn the trip into a half-day (well worth it in my opinion).




I am a huge fun of your podcast, but the recent episode about Asheville and environs was not up to your usual high standards. Where did you find this clueless kid? He obviously was not from the area, and was woefully ignorant of all that it has to offer. Admittedly, beer and hippies are abundant in Asheville, but there is so much more! Also, his descriptions of the geography and topography of the area was pathetic. This show was seriously misleading and misdirected. I’m sure it’s not always easy to find a competent guest, but surely you can do better than this guy.



I agree with Tbone. I’m from Atlanta and have been to Western NC many times. While Asheville is an interesting town, the wanna-be hippies are definitely not it’s highlights and the Biltmore Estate is by far the must see attraction in town. Not only is it a site to see historically and architecturally, it also has a very nice winery and tasting room. While Asheville is nice, the real attractions are the quaint towns like Boone, The Highlands and Cashiers and the surrounding countryside (including Lake Junaluska) which are the prettiest in the Southern Appalachians. They are great to go to any time of year – especially around Christmas when families make their traditional pilgrimage to the many Christmas tree farms in the area. Also, the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad and museum in Bryson City is worth a visit – my three sons always enjoy this side trip when we are in the area.

Jeffrey Lee


Chris I’ve listened to a few of your podcasts so far and have enjoyed them. The one on St. Augustine FL for example — the woman gave a pretty good review of things to do and see in the city. But I have to echo the comments of Alex, Tbone, and DavidVanV — that hippie Nathan was a poor choice to tell folks about the Great Smoky Mountains. Maybe if the podcast was titled Asheville NC I could swallow his narrow view of the city and what there is to do there. Let’s face it, you could devote a half a dozen podcasts to the area around the Great Smoky Mountains and still not do it justice. Maybe Nathan is just not adept at verbally communicating. I can’t image anyone who has never been to the area (like yourself), listening to Nathan’s possibly chemically tainted ramblings — saying to themselves “You know, we’ve just got to go visit that place”. That is unless they were looking for places to laze around watching old movies, drink beer and go street dancing. I dare say any of the people who commented here, or thousands of others, could give a much better summary of things to do and see in the Great Smoky Mountains area than poor Nathan.



sorry that one did not work out



Although… the way you phrased your feedback “possibly chemically tainted rambling” bothered me



Roslyn wrote:

I’m fairly new listener to your Amateur Traveler, and am loving the variety within the episodes! It’s feeding the wanderlust bug that’s slowly been taking over my daydreams.

I just listened to the Great Smoky Mountains episode (Episode 345–a REAL archive!) and it took me back to my internship in 2013 as a park ranger intern in the national park! I found myself nodding in full-hearted agreement of some of the things to see in the Smokies, and do remember seeing the name-sake “Smoke” rising off the tops of the mountains. It truly is a surreal experience!

Clingmans Dome is definitely THE place to watch the sunrise and sunset if you time it right! (The trick is getting up there when there aren’t clouds–the lowlands can be clear and Clingmans Dome can be socked in. But be sure to have a sweatshirt or jacket regardless–it can get COLD up there depending on what time of year you get there)

Something I wanted add for your listeners if they were interested in what else there is to see in the park besides Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome itself, which were mentioned in the podcast. Traveling eastward from those sites, right before entering the town of Cherokee is the Oconaluftee (pronounced Oh-CON-ahl-UHFF-tee) Visitor Center, which includes a Mountain Farm Museum.

Before the park was established, the land was privately owned as homesteads, so a number of families had barns, spring houses, cabins, and other wooden structures to accommodate survival in the Smokies before the logging industry took advantage of the virgin timber in the area. In the process of creating the park to let the ecosystem recover from over-harvesting of the trees, residents were forced out and these buildings were destroyed.

Because the “eminent domain” card was played and people were still very bitter when US-441 was constructed and opened, Tennessee “transferred ownership…to the federal government, it stipulated that ‘no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed’ to travel the road.” (Source: And since US-441 bisects the park, admission to the park is free. Camping and backpacking permits are still charged, but that’s different.

Somewhere within the process of structure removal, someone realized the historical significance these buildings would have for future generations, and a few of them buildings were rescued and gathered together in one spot. Cades Cove is kind of the same in keeping some of the historical cabins, but not in the consolidated fashion as is what is at the Mountain Farm Museum. In the summer, a vegetable garden and sorghum field is manually run–as long as the resident elk don’t trample and eat it all!

Another area of interest is the Cataloochee (pronounced the same way it’s spelled) Valley. It’s about 2.5 hours from Cherokee, because you have to drive out, around, and back into the park to get there. There are some historical buildings here as well, but a big draw for many is the elk.

Elk were once a native species in the Appalachians, and were reintroduced in the Cataloochee Valley in 2005. The population has grown since then (and expanded to Cherokee!), and the fall is the heart of the rut season. By then, the bulls have huge racks of antlers, and begin to call to the cows. One word of caution to those hoping to visit: the elk are still wild animals, and especially during the rut, can be especially dangerous. Rangers encourage a 50 yard minimum distance from the animals, and feeding/petting is subject to fines. Keeping a distance keeps the elk safe, too! The less habituated they are to people, the less of a chance of a visitor getting hurt and the elk being relocated or removed entirely.

The Great Smoky Mountains are deeply enriched with natural and cultural history…thank you and your podcast for taking me back to those memories!



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