It was time for another family reunion and this year we met in Sevierville, Tennessee – birthplace of Dolly Parton. It was a great area to be in with lots to see and do. Besides the resort, I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg’s Ripley’s Aquarium.
Since this is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service I was excited to be able to see “America’s best loved” national park. The only one that doesn’t charge admission, Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw over 10 million visitors last year, more than twice any other national park. The idea for a national park in the Great Smokies was developed in 1923, but it was an uphill battle with business and cultural opposition and financial difficulties to overcome. Finally in 1940, the park was dedicated with land in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Since I didn’t have much time, I decided the thing I most wanted to do was hike. I picked the Grotto Falls trail because it was a good length (2.9 miles round trip) and it promised the only waterfall you can walk behind.
To reach the trailhead, I had to drive on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which was breath-taking. The description of the trail said it went through old growth forest. I could well believe the forest was primordial – the trees were so tall, the silence soothing. The off and on light rain made the foliage dewy and verdant. There were several families there when I got to the falls, having fun splashing in the pool beneath the falls and passing back and forth behind them.
Gatlinburg is a resort town with loads of shops and attractions, one of which is the Ripley’s Aquarium. I love aquariums and this one didn’t disappoint. The building seems small in area for an aquarium but there are several levels.
One of the highlights is the shark tunnel where you’re surrounded by tanks and the inhabitants swim over and around you. They also had several hands-on stations where you could touch a jellyfish, a horseshoe crab and a manta ray. My little cousins had a blast there. One of my favorites was watching the penguins being fed.
All photos by the author