Smoky Mountain Winterfest

Smoky Mountain Winterfest is fun for the entire family!

Smoky Mountain Winterfest is fun for the entire family!

Smoky Mountain Winterfest begins November 22, 2019 and runs through February 15, 2020. This celebration of light gives our mountain communities in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg new life during the cold winter months.

There will be amazing holiday lights on display, trolley tours, parades, and Christmas shows this winter in the Smokies. The lights are easy to find along Highway 66 and the Parkway. Many area landmarks get in on the fun and light up their properties too! The Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge magically changes into a winter wonderland becoming the epitome of grace and splendor! Everyone’s favorite historical spot, The Old Mill, gets in the spirit with a colorful covered bridge made with thousands of twinkling lights. The Space Needle, in Gatlinburg, will lift your spirits in more ways than one. Its festive lighting system can be seen from all over town and the summit of Mount LeConte!

There will be many special events for the entire family to enjoy during this time including the Gatlinburg Chili Cook Off and Smoky Mountain Tunes And Tales. Even Old Saint Nick himself can get a little inspiration with all of this going on. Who knows? He may make a special appearance at the Gatlinburg Fantasy of Lights Parade in Gatlinburg on December 6th to get a few ideas for the North Pole.

Make plans to bring your entire family to the mountains this winter and experience the wonder of Smoky Mountain Winterfest for yourself. You will be glad you did!

Smoky Mountain Southern Mac And Cheese Recipe

Smoky Mountain Southern Mac and cheese is the perfect dish for your comfort food cravings!

Smoky Mountain Southern Mac and cheese is the perfect dish for your comfort food cravings!

Smoky Mountain Southern Mac And Cheese Recipe is the perfect side dish for any meal and sometimes it is a great meal all by itself. All you need is a pot and a stove to make this treat. This recipe is perfect for the holidays or any time you are in the mood for some Southern comfort food.

Each time we make this recipe we are reminded of the first time we cooked it up. It was a cold, January day in the Smoky Mountains. Snow blanketed the hills and a wet chill had seeped into our bones during a long hike. Icicles hung low from the roof when we returned home and a fierce wind shook the house. We were in the mood for something that not only tasted great but would also lift our spirits. While raiding the pantry we discovered all the ingredients needed to make this simple, savory dish. We rolled up our sleeves, grabbed a cheese grater and the rest is history. The first taste brought a smile to our face and a warm, full feeling to our bellies. Needless to say there were no leftovers!


2 1/2 Cups of pasta (elbows or shells)

12 ounce can of evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups of whole (sweet) milk

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of shredded cheese (we love a combination of extra sharp cheddar and aged Swiss)


Combine the pasta, evaporated milk, milk, and salt together in a large pot. Bring ingredients to a boil until the milk is almost completely absorbed by the pasta. It should take about twelve minutes to absorb the milk. After the bulk of the liquid has been absorbed add the butter and shredded cheese. Stir until the butter and cheese have completely melted. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. We also like a dash of cayenne pepper to take it to a  another level!

Bonus HeySmokies culinary tip: Adding a dash of fresh ground nutmeg will have your friends begging you for the secret ingredient.

We can’t take all the credit for this scrumptious dish but we always will take another heaping helping. Big thanks to Ms. Haymaker and busy bee who always bring love to the kitchen!


Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Event 2020

Firefly Events in the Smokies

Smoky Mountain synchronous fireflies should not be missed!

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Event 2020. It’s never to early to start making plans to see the Synchronous Fireflies (and the Blue Ghost Fireflies) that will light up the night sky in late May and early June 2020 in the Great Smoky Mountains. Firefly viewing in the Smokies has become such a popular event that there are now several venues available to enjoy the spectacular shows.

The Synchronous Firefly (Photinus carolinus) and the Blue Ghost Firefly (Phausis reticulata) are two species that are found only in the Southern Appalachian Mountains which include the Great Smokies. And during the short mating season in late May and early June, both firefly species put on quite a show to behold! The male Synchronous Firefliesflash their little green-yellow bioluminescent lanterns in unison for about 6-8 blinks and then they go dark for a few seconds creating a sublime wave of light throughout the forest. The male Blue Ghost Fireflies don’t flash their blue-white lanterns, instead they glow continuously just a few inches above the ground. The ethereal experience of either nighttime show should be on everyone’s bucket list!  National Park scientists mostly use air and soil temperatures to predict the timing of each year’s mating season.

Synchronous Fireflies with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
One of the most popular places to view the Synchronous Fireflies is in Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This event has become so popular that a free lottery system was instituted for parking passes for the eight-day shuttle period to Elkmont. During this time of peak viewing, Elkmont is closed at nighttime with the exception of shuttle users and campers in Elkmont Campground. Dates for the 2020 Lottery and Elkmont Shuttle will be announced sometime in April 2020. HeySmokies will keep you updated, so be sure to check back with us. We’ll provide you all the details of what you need to know to register for the lottery. For more information in the meantime, visit

Synchronous Fireflies with Discover Life in America in Gatlinburg, TN

For a few nights during peak firefly viewing time, Discover Life in America hosts a fundraising event featuring nightly presentations and field walks at the Norton Creek Sanctuary near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tickets for the event are $100 each and the event is geared toward persons ages 10 and older. For reservations for this exclusive event, call Discover Life in America at 865-430-4757 or email

Blue Ghost Fireflies in DuPont State Recreational Forest near Asheville, NC
DuPont State Forest is located in Cedar Mountain, NC about 30 miles outside of Asheville. Due to the popularity of this location in recent years, some of the trails in the High Falls parking area will be closed during peak viewing season. Because the female Blue Ghosts stay on the ground, many have been killed by visitors wandering off of the designated trails. For more information, visit DuPont State Forest.

Fireflies on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway are a great place to view starry nights as well as the fireflies in June! Usually the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville offers a family-friendly firefly viewing event. For more information, visit Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.

Grandfather Mountain

It’s glow time as the discovery of Synchronous fireflies light up Grandfather Mountain. grandfather mountain is in Linville, North Carolina.

Grandfather Mountain’s staff and experts expressed glowing enthusiasm for the recent discovery of Photinus carolinus, the only species of firefly in North America whose individuals can synchronize their lighting display (or flash in unison).

It was a serendipitous discovery on Grandfather Mountain. Dr. Claude Sorenson, an entomologist from North Carolina State University, was hosting a workshop on the mountain and spending the night in the park’s guest cottage near the Woods Walk when he decided to find out what type fireflies might call this high altitude home. When he saw a few fireflies about 9:30 p.m. Sorenson knew these were no ordinary ones. “As it got dark, the numbers steadily went up and between 10 and 10:30 p.m., there were several hundred all around the guest cottage and Woods Walk, flashing synchronously,” Sorenson was quoted as saying. He confirmed his findings with East Tennessee naturalist Lyn Faust, an expert on the subject who has written a field guide on fireflies. Sorenson referred to Faust as “one of the best resources for anyone who is interested in learning more about these critters.”

Synchronous behavior is rare in fireflies. According to Sorenson, there are only a handful of this particular species around the world that do this, and for a long time, the amazing spectacle of large numbers synchronizing has been associated with a few geographical areas that range from New York to Georgia.

Sorenson’s recent discovery was at 4,200 feet compared to the fireflies in Elkmont, GSMNP at 2,200 feet.  Grandfather’s elevation range begins at 3,000 feet and peaks at nearly 6,000 feet. At the top, where temperatures are colder, the fireflies flashed in slower cadence, reported Amy Renfranz, Grandfather Mountains’ director of education, speaking of survey observations near the park’s Mile High Swinging Bridge. During one survey, Franz noted more than 1,000 fireflies from one overlook.

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Fireflies

Smoky Mountain synchronous fireflies are amazing!

As a general rule, fireflies, at most locations, are active for about two to three weeks. Due to the great elevation span of Grandfather, the display could last longer, Franz said. The show could start at the bottom of the mountain in early June and continue well into July at increased elevations, providing a bonus for the scientific community as well as spectators.

Jesse Pope, president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, a non-profit organization that owns and operates the park, was excited about the news and said the discovery goes hand-in-hand with Grandfather Mountain’s mission to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather.  “That’s something that makes Grandfather Mountain so special, that a visitor could do the discovering,” Pope was quoted as saying.

The park staff is already preparing for next year’s light show, brought to you compliments of Mother Nature.

For more information on the fireflies or other interesting events on Grandfather Mountain, call 800-468-7325, or visit

Both firefly species are common in other areas of Southern Appalachia and just perhaps during the month of June, you stay outside until around 10:00 p.m. when it’s good and dark and you sit quietly, you may be surprised at the light show in your very own backyard!

HeySmokies loves fireflies! Photo credit - bizyb

HeySmokies loves fireflies! Photo credit – bizyb


Biltmore Downton Abbey Exhibition Special Event

The Downton Abbey exhibit at Biltmore Estate will have you putting on the ritz!

The Downton Abbey exhibit at Biltmore Estate will have you putting on the ritz!


Biltmore Downton Abbey Exhibition Special Event will be featured through April 7, 2020. Costumes, sets and more are part of the new Downton Abbey exhibit at Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village and Amherst at Deer Park.

This unique exhibition features costumes and set re-creations and also offers never-before-seen multimedia elements which allow guests an opportunity to step inside the fascinating world of the television phenomenon and current film. The show displays more than 50 costumes worn by Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie Smith. Set replicas include Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, the servants quarters, the family’s grand dining room (sure to inspire more elegant table manners in us all) and much more.

Showcased in two locations, the exhibit transports guests on a resplendent journey through the imposing Downton Abbey and provides a close-up glimpse of the glittering world of the Crowley’s; as well as the less than entitled lives of those who served below stairs. There are parallels between the social events at Downton Abbey and those hosted by the Vanderbilt family, which built Biltmore in 1895; and visitors to this magnificent American castle will be amazed at the opulent lifestyle enjoyed (both in fact and fiction) at the two spectacular houses.


A look back


A veritable English feast, Downton Abbey introduced fans to some remarkable characters (possibly the favorite is the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith) whose acerbic remarks put many a sycophant in their place.

Love, death, tears and some naughty sexual encounters featured heavily into the 52-week series that spanned the years from 1912-1925 (though the actors seemed not to age during that supposedly 13 years.) Romance played a large role in this epic and perhaps the most enduring was the trouble-fraught love between Anna, Lady’s Maid, and John Bates, Valet.

Lord and Lady Grantham served as the hub of Downton Abbey. Daughter, Mary Crawley had several interesting paramours that included an encounter with a hot young Turk that ended with his death in an embarrassing boudoir scene. She then married Matthew Crawley, (an American distant cousin who, thanks to a male only inheritance clause, was set to inherit Downton Abbey.) Mary produced a male heir just before Matthew’s untimely death in a car crash. She later married a dashing race car driver (a macabre choice given her first husband’s death.) Matthew’s mother, Isobel, Crawley who brought both the modern world and a touch of commonsense to the staid Dowager Countess, was relatable to many modern women.  Daughter Edith had her share of amorous misfortunes. Abandoned at the altar, and again by a married lover, Edith gave birth to a love child, named Marigold, before ending up with a Marquis named Bertie. Mr. Carson, the Butler; Mrs. Hughes the Scottish Housekeeper (and eventual wife of the rigid Carson); Thomas Barrow, Under Butler (whose conniving schemes had fans hissing); and Mrs. Patmore the rosy-cheeked Cook, all proved memorable characters.

So take heart, even though the last guest has been safely ushered into a vintage motorcar by the impressive and unflappable Carson; the last cup of tea poured; and the last arching of the Dowager Countess’ eyebrow has ended, you can still immerse yourself for a short time in the glamour of Downton Abbey – all in the magnificent setting that is Biltmore.

Downton Abbey, the Exhibition is included with daytime tickets and Candlelight Christmas Evening tickets. Biltmore annual pass holder must purchase a $20 exhibition ticket. Buy tickets on Biltmore’s website at least 7 days in advance and save $10. Be advised many weekend days and holidays will sell-out, so plan accordingly.

The Biltmore Estate Downton Abbey exhibit is amazing! - Photo credit - Downton Abbey

The Biltmore Estate Downton Abbey exhibit is amazing! – Photo credit – Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Exhibition hours


November 1-January 5 Candlelight Christmas Evenings

Amherst: opens at 9 AM; last entry at 9 PM

Biltmore Legacy: opens at 9am; last entry at 9 PM

Days with no Candlelight Christmas evening (November 19, 28, December 24 and January 5)

Amherst: opens at 9 AM; last entry at 5 PM

Biltmore Legacy: opens at 9 AM; last entry at 7 PM

Christmas Day

Amherst: opens at 9 AM; last entry at 2:30 PM

Biltmore Legacy: opens at 9 AM; last entry 5:30 PM

January 6-April 7, 2020

Amherst: opens at 9 AM; last entry at 5 PM

Biltmore Legacy: opens at 10 AM; last entry at 6 PM

Biltmore estate is located in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, a short drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Smoky Mountain Elk Rut

Elk in Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Elk in Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Smoky Mountain Elk Rut is heating up in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.The fall mating season begins each year around mid-September and is known as the rut. And it’s during this time that male elk, or bulls, are energized and ready for action. They make bugle calls to attract the females, or cows, and to challenge other males.

Elk are the largest animals in GSM National Park. Yes, they are larger than black bears! Bulls can weigh between 600 to 700 pounds and up to 10 feet long. Cows weigh around 500 pounds.

One of the best places to see elk in the Smokies are on the North Carolina side of the National Park in the Cataloochee Valley.  The elk regularly cross the mountains out of Cataloochee and are often seen in Big Creek, and in the fields near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center just outside of Cherokee.

Smoky Mountain Elk Rut is is heating up. Photo credit - Lori's Outdoor Photography

Smoky Mountain Elk Rut is is heating up. Photo credit – Lori’s Outdoor Photography

The best time of day to see the elk is usually at sunrise or the last hour before sunset. During the fall rut, visitors are not allowed to walk in the fields even when the elk aren’t present. The fields are the gathering place for the bulls and their harems of cows to breed, so the males are quite agressive and can mistake you or your vehicle as a threat. They will charge and it can get ugly. Be aware and be sure to keep a distance of at least 50 yards at all times for your safety and theirs. Stay on the roadside and be sure to bring binoculars or a spotting scope and use your telephoto lens on your camera.

Elk once flourished in the Smokies and the rest of the southern Appalachian Mountains but were hunted to extinction by the mid-1800’s in Tennessee. The reintroduction of the majestic animals began in 2001 with 25 elk imported from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the Kentucky/Tennessee line.  In 2002, another 27 elk were brought into Cataloochee Valley. Reports say there may be up to 200 elk in park currently. A success story indeed!

Elk are vegetarians and love the grasses found in the bottom land of the valleys. With winter coming on, elk grow a second coat of fur with long hairs on top to repel snow and water to stay dry. They have a plush underfur to stay warm. For more information on elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visit GSMNP.