The Sugarlands Visitor Center Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

sugarlands-visitor-center-smoky-mountains-heysmokies… feeling great at SUGARLANDS VISITOR CENTER!

The Sugarlands Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains! Entrance to the center is free and it is open to the public every day except Christmas day. The Visitor Center has plenty of parking for cars, RVs, and motor coaches. Public restrooms and vending machines are available to the left of the center’s main entrance. Here you will find everything you need to experience the park at your own pace.

Also nestled in the beautiful Sugarlands valley is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Headquarters. The area was named for the abundance of Sugar Maples found here.

Getting Therescenic-fall-drive-smoky-mountains-heysmokies

From Gatlinburg – 2 miles on Highway 441 South (Newfound Gap Road).
From Townsend – 27 miles east on Little River Road.
From Cherokee – 29 miles on Highway 441 North (Newfound Gap Road).

The Visitor Center offers:

  • Relief Map – a giant, raised, relief map which reveals all of the park trails and roads in great detail. This map provides a sense of the dramatic changes in terrain a park visitor can experience by foot or car.
  • Information Desk – staffed by park rangers and volunteers who can answer any questions you may have about your visit.
  • Gift Shop – selling souvenirs of all types, including a great selection of books about flora and fauna, Smoky Mountain history, wildlife, pioneer stories, mountain legends, etc. The shop provides quality topographic maps of the area, basic hiking gear, patches, paintings, traditional mountain food hard goods, and much more.
  • Theater – twice every hour is a screening of the introductory Great Smoky Mountain National Park film which provides an excellent overview of all the park has to offer. This film is a family favorite and provides inspiration to all who feel a bond with this remarkable land.
  • Museum –  here you will find many fine examples of the types of animal and plant life you may encounter while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. See how you measure up to some of the park’s largest and smallest inhabitants like the black bear and the mighty hellbender!



John Ownby Cabin on Fighting Creek Nature Trail

Fighting Creek Nature Trail

Fighting Creek Nature Trail is located behind the Visitor Center along Fighting Creek. This 1.3 mile long walk has a numbered brochure which describes the view along the way. It is a great trek any time of year but be aware it has rolling, often muddy terrain so dress appropriately.

After a visit to Sugarlands Visitor Center you will be ready for your Great Smoky Mountains adventure. Remember there are no places to refuel within the park so be prepared. Complete services are available in Gatlinburg, Cherokee, and Townsend. Average speed limit in the park is 35 miles per hour so allow extra drive time as you explore.

41st Christmas Past Celebration

Meet Saint Nick at the Festival of Christmas Past in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Meet Saint Nick at the Festival of Christmas Past in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Photo credit: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sugarlands Visitors Center will host the Great Smoky Mountains 41st annual Festival of Christmas Past celebration. The event is scheduled for Saturday, December 9th from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Sugarlands Visitor Center a half mile south of the Gatlinburg national park entrance. This event is cosponsored by the Great Smoky Mountains Associationand is free to the public.

The festival will include old-time mountain music, traditional shape note singing, mountain craft demonstrations, and a living history walk. Visitors can also experience these traditions through hands-on activities such as make-and-take craft stations. Hot apple cider will also be served throughout the day.

Around Christmas time, people gathered in churches, homes, and schools where they celebrated the holiday through music, storytelling, and crafts,” said North District Resource Education Supervisor Stephanie Sutton. “The Festival of Christmas Past allows us to pause and remember some of these traditions.

Make sure and add all the fun scheduled to your calendar so you don’t miss a single minute!

9:30 Shape Note Singing
11:00 Old-time mountain music with Lost Mill
11:00 Memories Walk
12:00 Old-time mountain music with Boogertown Gap
1:00 Smoky Mountain Historical Society
2:00 Appalachian Christmas Music and Storytelling – NPS Staff

Sugarlands Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Sugarlands Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains!

The popular Christmas Memories Walk will be held at 11:00 a.m. Costumed interpreters will lead a short walk from the visitor center and talk about life in the mountains during the holidays. Through this living history program, visitors will experience the spirit of the season in the mountains during the early days.

The Sugarlands Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains! Entrance to the center is free and it is open to the public every day except Christmas day. The Visitor Center has plenty of parking for cars, RVs, and motor coaches. Public restrooms and vending machines are available to the left of the center’s main entrance. Here you will find everything you need to experience the park at your own pace.




Smoky Mountain Ironweed

Giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is one of the most striking and beautiful wildflowers in the region!

Smoky Mountain Ironweed is a beautiful flowering plant commonly found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If a hike takes you through a sunny meadow in the Smokies during the late summer or autumn, you are likely to see a tall graceful wildflower with a head of deep purple flowers and bright green spear-shaped leaves growing along the meadow’s wet margins, often accompanied by goldenrod. This will be ironweed. You might also see it growing along roadsides and in pastures in Cades Cove, largely unnoticed until it begins to bloom in late July, with flowers continuing into late October. Orange and brown skipper butterflies are also likely to be flitting about the plant’s flowers, feeding on its nectar, which they greatly favor. But as you approach ironweed and look more closely, you’ll find that its beauty disguises its truly tough nature.

First, ironweed is tall. The most common variety in the Smokies, giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), grows up to 9 feet in height, though 7 feet is more normal. Next, it has a coarse, stiff, rather thick stem, reddish in color, that easily supports the plant’s great height and gives it its name. At its base, the plant forms a clump of stems that hold tenaciously to the soil mostly by way of a long tap root, making it difficult for farmers to eradicate the plant from their pastures, where its toxicity poses a threat to livestock. (Native Americans, however, used the dried tap root in a bitter drink to combat fevers and purify the blood.) The plant propagates itself over an extensive area through the thousands of seeds it produces each autumn. A single plant can produce up to 19,000 seeds.

While farmers view ironweed as a pest, gardeners favor it as a background plant for butterfly and native plant gardens, especially when partnered with sunflowers, milkweed, or hollyhocks. It is relatively easy to grow in East Tennessee, requiring a sunny spot, some compost to amend the clay soil, regular watering until established, and mulch to prevent drying out. Gardeners may wish to consider New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) as their ornamental of choice instead of giant ironweed since it is a more prolific bloomer.

Ironweed is easy to find this time of year no matter what part of the Smokies you visit. Keep your eyes peeled for it’s showy blooms in Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Cataloochee, Greenbrier, Cosby, Smokemont, and Tremont. is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.


Sources: GardenKnowhow,

Ironweed, and Ohio State.

Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities!

Happy Fathers Day Smoky Mountain Style! Photo credit Chedzcakes.

 Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities! Ten ways to celebrate Father’s Day in The Great Smoky Mountains Sunday, June 18, 2017. The Great Smoky Mountains offer a myriad of ways to celebrate Dad’s special day. Whether your Dad prefers, hiking, biking, fishing, great food or a cold brewski, the forests, towns and valleys located around the park have lots to offer.

1: Begin with breakfast by enjoying a stack of golden pancakes at the Log Cabin Pancake House up the hill on Airport Road after turning at red light # 8 in Gatlinburg ( readily identified by the covered wagon on the roof.) The restaurant opens at 7 a.m. and features a full breakfast. Parking is available in a lot just behind the building which is handicapped accessible. Not up for a large meal? Mosey on down the cobblestone alley in The Village (located at traffic light #6) downtown Gatlinburg and enter the Donut Friar’s, which offers an amazing variety of delicious donuts and pastries. The Friar also features great coffee, including espressos and cappuccinos. Cake donuts are available beginning at 5 a.m. and you can park on the street until 9 a.m. After 9, the staff recommends turning at traffic light #6 to access one of the city parking lots.

2: Pack a basket with delectable food and head to one of the many beautiful picnic facilities in the great Smoky Mountain National Park (My Dad’s personal favorite was the Chimney’s located a few miles south of Gatlinburg on Newfound Gap Road.) Most are located near flowing rivers, and feature tables and grills to make preparing that special treat for Dad an easy task. Don’t want to cook? Many local restaurants and sandwich shops like Old Dad’s General Store on the strip in Gatlinburg offer take-outs with all the fixings. All you need is a cooler, a bag of ice and a big jug of iced tea. Don’t forget to take folding chairs (all the better to sit in while dipping your toes in that cold mountain stream) and a couple of blankets for an afternoon nap.

3: Angling for the best present? A gift certificate from Smoky Mountain Angler provides beginning and advanced fly-fishing

Fathers Day Catch of the Day!

lessons. You can also book a professional guide which will allow Dad to test his fishing skills at some of the more remote areas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If Dad wants to test his luck solo, plan a trip to the Oconaluftee River, one of the best stocked trout streams in North Carolina, located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, N.C.. Required tribal permits cost $10 per day and are available online or at the welcome center or fly-fishing shop. Anglers may keep up to 10 fish per day UNLESS you are fly-fishing on a 2.2 mile stretch on Big Cove Road which is catch and release only.

4: Has Dad’s outdoor gear had it? Check out some of the innovative new gear at GSM Outfitters. Camping has come a long way since the days of the clunky folding camp stove. Space-age technology has introduced lightweight and efficient ways to enjoy the outdoors. Most gear (tents, stoves, etc.) are compact enough to make backpacking a pleasure. Hiking boots are waterproof and the addition of Gore-Tex and other materials makes for warmer toes on winter hikes. Clothing has also undergone a transformation. T-shirts and shorts are designed to wick away moisture and will quickly dry after a dip (unexpected or otherwise) in a mountain stream.

5: Hike your way to big fun on Father’s Day in the park with a

There are over 800 miles of hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

leisurely stroll down one of the many nature paths like Fighting Creek trail at Sugarlands Visitors Center or something a little more strenuous. Your intrepid dad will enjoy a hike two miles up to Alum Cave Bluffs. This hike has it all with amazing views, a climb through arch rock, rushing streams, and a diverse forest. If you have the energy you can continue on to the summit of Mount LeConte for the best view in the Smokies!

6: Plan an overnight camping trip to one of the dozens of  campgrounds located in the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether Dad prefers “glamping” in a luxiourous motor home, or less glamorous pop-ups and tents, or opts to really rough it in the backcountry, Park campgrounds offer an opportunity to reconnect with nature. Some of the more popular sites include Elkmont, Smokemont and Cosby. It is not too late to catch a late night firefly show or watch for shooting stars in the dark summer skies as you are lulled to sleep by the soothing (and sometimes a bit startling) sounds of Mother Nature.

7: Maybe dad is not the sharpest knife in the drawer but at Smoky Mountain Knife Works on highway 66 in Sevierville he does not have to be. The knife works offers the worlds finest selection of blades you can imagine. Don’t forget to check out the kitchen gadgets in the basement. You won’t be disappointed!

8: Looking for an adult beverage option for Dad? Check out the Smoky Mountain Brewery and restaurant located on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge ( the brewery also has sites in Knoxville and Gatlinburg) and enjoy one of the six locally crafted beers on tap. The facility is open from 11 a.m.-midnight and features live local music nearly every night. Or, cheer Dad at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery which specializes in dozens of flavors and proofs of corn liquor in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Live music in an outdoor setting is featured regularly. Check out the HeySmokies events calendar to find the dates and times!

9: Dining options abound in and around the Smokies. The iconic Smoky Mountain Trout House is a long-time favorite and a great place to chow down on delicious mountain Rainbow Trout. Another visitor favorite is the Cherokee Grill and Steakhouse. The Boursin Filet is to die for! For a more down-home meal, check out the Bush Beans Café located about 15 miles east of Sevierville, just across Highway 411 from the massive Bush Bean manufacturing plant. We enjoyed the fried catfish, fried okra and a heaping bowl of greens. While there check out the country store that offers a variety of Bush products and the museum that provides a history of the Bush family and the manufacturing process. The cafe is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; the store from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and the museum from 10 a.m -4 p.m.

10: If all else fails and you need one more idea for a Smoky Mountain Fathers Day gift just give ol’ Dad a great big HeySmokies bear hug. They are free, feel great, and never get old. It may be the best gift ever invented!

Let Dad know you love him! Photo credit Mabelhood.




Great Smoky Mountains National Park Announces Synchronous Firefly Viewing Dates

Synchronous fireflies in Elkmont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo credit -Radim Schreiber

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Announces Synchronous Firefly Viewing Dates. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced the dates for firefly viewing in Elkmont. Shuttle service to the viewing area will be provided on Tuesday, May 30 through Tuesday, June 6. All visitors wishing to view the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont must have a parking pass distributed through the lottery system at

Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Since 2006, access to the Elkmont area has been limited to shuttle service beginning at Sugarlands Visitor Center during the eight days of predicted peak activity in order to reduce traffic congestion and provide a safe viewing experience for visitors that minimizes disturbance to these unique fireflies during the critical two-week mating period.

The lottery will be open for applications from Friday, April 28 at 12:00 noon until Monday, May 1 at 8:00 p.m. Results of the lottery will be available on Wednesday, May 10. A total of 1,800 vehicle passes will be available for the event which includes: 1768 regular-parking passes (225 per day) which admit one passenger vehicle up to 19’ in length with a maximum of six occupants, and 32 large-vehicle parking passes (four per day) which admit one large vehicle (RV, mini-bus, etc.) from 19’ to 30’ in length, with a maximum of 24 occupants. Lottery applicants must apply for either a regular-parking pass or large-vehicle parking pass and then may choose two possible dates to attend the event over the eight-day viewing period.

The lottery system uses a randomized computer drawing to select applications. There is no fee to enter the lottery this year. If selected, the lottery winner will be charged a $2.75 reservation fee and awarded a parking pass. The parking pass permits visitors to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and allows occupants to access the shuttle service to Elkmont.

Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season. All lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail on May 10 that they were “successful” and awarded a parking pass or “unsuccessful” and not able to secure a parking pass.

The number of passes issued each day is based primarily on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity and the ability to accommodate a large number of viewers on site. Arrival times will be assigned in order to relieve traffic congestion in the parking lot and also for boarding the shuttles, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg. The shuttle buses will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7:00 p.m. The cost will be $1.00 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle. Cash will be the only form of payment accepted.

The shuttle service is the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors are not allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.

Visitors may visit the website and search for “Firefly Event” for more information and to enter the lottery. Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials encourage the use of the online process. The $2.75 reservation fee covers the cost of awarding the passes.

For more information about the synchronous fireflies, please visit the park website at