For as long as I can remember, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smoky Mountains have been my family's default locations for a quick and affordable getaway. Growing up, my perception of this area was in constant evolution ; from "Woot! Go-carts, bumper-boats, and miniature golf!" to "OMG, mom and dad... this place is sooooo lame!" to "This place really needs more bars"... and so on.
A few years ago, however, my general apathy towards Appalachia was drastically altered by stumbling onto a part of the park we had never visited, or for that matter, had even heard of: Cataloochee Valley.
Although visiting this magical kitsch-free sliver of land with its herds of wild elk and surprisingly low human traffic is not recommended for timid motorists or the easily carsick, if you're planning a trip to the Smokies to enjoy the natural element, you seriously need to consider adding Cataloochee to your agenda.
Below are some shots I've taken over my last couple of trips, including some of my son enjoying, then quickly NOT enjoying, the mountain stream that runs the length of the valley :)
*Oh, and in case you were wondering, this post has not been paid for by anyone or any entities related to Cataloochee Valley, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the states of Tennessee or North Carolina etc-- but it probably could have been had I thought about it sooner :)