2024 National Park Free Entrance Days: Top 10 States to Visit

NPS has announced its free entrance days for 2024 so here are the states with the highest number of national parks and the highest concentration of national park sites

The National Park Service (NPS) sites which include national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, national historic sites, and other protected areas are incredible public spaces to enjoy and learn about nature. Some national park sites charge entrance fees but NPS has announced six fee-free entrance days in 2024:

  • January 15: Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr
  • April 20: First day of National Park Week
  • June 19: Juneteenth National Independence Day
  • August 4: Great American Outdoors Act anniversary
  • September 28: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

A great way to take full advantage of these free entrance days is to visit multiple national park sites in one day. While that may be difficult or even impossible in many areas there are several states with a high concentration of national park sites.

10 best states for national park sites

The following states are great places to travel to visit national parks at any time of the year whether or not you make it for the free entrance days.

1. Alaska

The Last Frontier has eight national parks and a total of 23 NPS sites including national monuments and other federally preserved areas. While Alaska is the largest state, three of the national parks are fairly close together—you can visit Kenai Fjords, Katmai, and Lake Clark National Parks within one day.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. California

The Golden State has nine national parks, the most of any state. The most popular national park in California is Yosemite but even the park with the smallest number of annual visitors, Pinnacles, is incredible and worth a visit. With a total of 28 national park sites, there is no shortage of beautiful locations to visit.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Utah

The Beehive State has five national parks (The Big Five) and they are much closer together than those found in Alaska and California—in fact, it takes about seven hours to drive from Zion to Canyonlands and stop at the three other national parks in between. However, it’s worth it to slow down and spend more time at each park so consider sticking to one park each day.

Here are some articles to help:

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Arizona

Arizona and Colorado, the next state on the list, both have four national parks. However, Arizona has a higher total of NPS sites at 22 making it a great place to take a national parks road trip. Grand Canyon National Park is the best known in Arizona but Saguaro National Park and the lesser known Petrified Forest National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area also offers incredible vistas and outdoor opportunities.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Colorado

With four national parks and a total of 13 NPS sites, Colorado is another great option for national park enthusiasts. Mesa Verde National Park is remarkable because apart from its national park status it is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it preserves the rich cultural history of many indigenous tribes.

Here are some articles to help:

6. Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands have two national parks and a total of eight national park sites which is especially impressive when you remember that’s within an area of 10,392 square miles per the United States Census Bureau. One of the parks, Haleakalā, is located on the island of Maui which was recently devastated by fires so make sure to avoid the areas closed to tourism.

Mount St. Helens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Washington

The crown of the Pacific Northwest is home to three national parks and a total of 15 NPS sites. Mount Rainier is perhaps the best known of the three but North Cascades and Olympic both protect a huge array of diverse wildlife. Washington is also home to a former plutonium factory that makes up one-third of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Read more:

8. Florida

This state is home to three national parks including Dry Tortugas which can only be reached via plane, ferry, or boat. The other two, Biscayne and Everglades are within about an hour’s distance of each other meaning you can visit both in one day.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Virginia

Although Virginia only has one national park, it is home to a total of 22 NPS sites. Given its area of 42,775 square miles that means there is a fairly high concentration of NPS sites within the state making it an excellent area to explore for national park lovers.

Here’s an article to help you do just that: The Ultimate Guide to Shenandoah National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. New Mexico

Set in the Southwest, New Mexico boasts many breathtaking landscapes that are often overlooked by visitors. Besides all its desolate yet dramatic desert scenery, the state is home to the rearing Rocky Mountains, the roaring Rio Grande, and plenty of colorful canyons, cliffs, and caves. New Mexico has two national parks (Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands), three national historical parks (Chaco Culture, Pecos, Manhattan Project), one national heritage area (Northern Rio Grande)m, and 11 national monuments including four administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

That’s why I wrote these seven articles:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus: Tennessee

Tennessee is home to part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which welcomes the most annual visitors of any national park site in the United States. It also has a total of 13 NPS sites meaning there are a plethora of exploration opportunities.

By the way, I have a series of posts on the Great Smokies:

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Cherohala Skyway Festival: Celebrating 27 Years of the Mile High Legend

The seventh iteration of the Cherohala Skyway Festival is coming up this weekend.

The Cherohala Skyway Festival is the perfect excuse to get outdoors and experience fall colors all along the Cherohala Skyway, a National Scenic Byway and one of the most beautiful drives in the Appalachian mountain regions.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway was opened and dedicated in 1996. The road has been designated a National Scenic Byway. The road cost over 100 million dollars to construct.

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name Cherohala comes from the names of the two National Forests: Chero from the Cherokee and hala from the Nantahala.

The Cherohala Skyway is located in southeast Tennessee and southwest North Carolina. The Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is 42 miles long. The Skyway is a wide, paved 2-lane road maintained by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway Festival

The 7th Annual Cherohala Skyway Festival in Tellico Plains is hosted by the Charles Hall Museum and Heritage Center on Saturday, October 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Located in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, the Cherohala Skyway Festival is an opportunity to get outdoors for a day of family fun.

There will be booth after booth of juried arts and crafts, lots of living history, and plenty of incredible food and treats.

Test your axe throwing skills at the On The Road Axe Throw trailer, paint a pumpkin, and have your face painted. You’ll find lots of free festival fun including horse-drawn wagon rides, a petting zoo, kids train rides, tractor-pulled hay rides, a huge inflatable Kids Zone, a sawdust dig for cash and treasures, and Mecca Camp’s Resort’s Game Zone.

Live Bluegrass and mountain music will fill the air all day long at the Josh Graves Memorial Music Festival.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food for everyone

First Baptist will offer a free pancake breakfast from 8:30-10 a.m.

A & A Meat will be grilling thick slices of bologna on grilled Texas toast with grilled onions or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Cristal’s Kitchen will cook pinto beans over an open fire and serve with cornbread and relish. 

Slim’s Burger Joint offers burger and cheeseburger baskets with all the southern fixings including French Fries and Mozzarella sticks.

There will be food trucks on site including smoked BBQ and so many other favorite foods.

For dessert, try funnel cakes, kettle corn, popcorn, gourmet caramel apples, cotton candy, sno cones, and a wide variety of baked goods.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Living history

All ages can step back in time in the Living History areas. There will be demonstrations and games showing the life of the early settlers and Cherokee in the early 1800s. Learn about the favorite games of the Cherokee, beading, and corn husk doll making. Interact with 18th-century camps and taste dishes cooked over an open fire. A Long Hunters camp will have all the camping equipment used by the early frontiersmen as they crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the American frontier.

Watch how a Native American flute is made and listen to live Native American flute music. Learn more about the Cherokee in the area and their removal through forced treaties and later forced removal through the Hall Museum’s displays in building 1 and the Tennessee Trail of Tears booth. 

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directions

The festival will be held at the Charles Hall Museum complex (229 Cherohala Skyway) and The Charles Hall Field (122 Bank Street) behind the museum complex.           

From I-75, take the exit and travel east on New Highway 68 through Madisonville to Tellico Plains and the junction with Route 165. Turn right onto Highway 165 (Cherohala Skyway) and proceed to one of three parking areas: 

Turn immediately to the left onto Bank Street before Volunteer Federal Bank. Enter the field on the right at the marked entrance beside the Fire Truck across from Hardees and before Tellicafe. A parking attendant will direct you. Shuttles are available but it is just a few steps to the festival. 

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue to the Hall Museum. A parking attendant will direct you to either park in the Farmer’s Market area after the Tellico Plains Library and before the Cherohala Skyway Visitor’s Center or at the parking areas at the Hall Museum entrance. There will be easy access parking in this area and an area to drop off handicapped individuals before you park.

DO NOT PARK in Volunteer Federal Bank’s parking lot until after 1 p.m. Easy parking is available in designated lots for $5/vehicle. BRING CASH! Admission to the festival is FREE as well as most activities.

Worth Pondering…

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.

—Emily Brontë, Fall, Leaves, Fall

Eight Reasons to Explore the Smokies

Here you’ll find spectacular scenery as awe-inspiring mountain landscapes give way to cascading waterfalls, wildlife, and countless outdoor activities

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in the Appalachian Mountain chain, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. The park offers visitors spectacular views, recreation, and natural wonders in each season.

Adjoined by three national forests, the 800-square-mile park is the ancestral homeland of the Cherokee. They called the area Shaconage or land of blue smoke for its natural bluish haze—which is caused by organic compounds given off by the mountains’ abundant vegetation.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds UNESCO World Heritage status for its natural beauty and world importance. It’s also among the country’s most visited national parks, in part because it is easily accessible from major interstates and highways. In fact, half the population of the United States lives within a day’s drive from the park.

While getting to the Smokies is easy, here are eight other reasons to add this park to your must-see list:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Immense biodiversity

Great Smoky Mountains is the most biologically diverse national park in the United States—no other park matches its number and variety of animals, plants, fungi, and other organisms. That’s because this land became a refuge for species displaced during the last ice age.

Its valleys and peaks range in elevation from about 875 feet to more than 6,600, creating safe habitats throughout the park for plants and animals we might consider common only to northern or southern regions of North America.

Abundant rainfall and high summertime humidity create a temperate climate in which species thrive—including 100 species of native trees, over 1,500 flowering plants, more than 200 types of birds, and over 9,000 species of insects.

About 80 types of reptiles and amphibians live here. The park is known as the Salamander Capital of the World for its 30 identified species—from the 2-inch lungless salamander to foot-long hellbender.

The nonprofit Discover Life in America, an official park partner, is conducting a massive effort to catalog every species living in the Great Smoky Mountains. Since 1998, the group has tallied more than 21,000 species including more than 1,000 that are new to science. Scientists believe there may be as many as 80,000-100,000 living species overall. Citizen science plays an important role in the project, giving the public opportunities to participate in research.

Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Stunning scenery

Geologists believe the Smokies were once as tall as the Rocky Mountains but wind, water, and time have worn them down to the sloping peaks and broad valleys we see today. About two inches of rock erode every thousand years. Forests of hardwoods and evergreens cover these mountains with different tree species growing at different elevations.

At Clingmans Dome, the park’s highest point at 6,643 feet, visitors can take in this stunning scenery from an observation deck. The 360-degree view extends over 100 miles on a clear day but sometimes can be limited to around 20 miles.

Mountain views can also be seen throughout the park whether visitors tour by car or on foot. With 150 official trails in the park, hikers can find vistas at many points along their way. An 11-mile, one-way loop road circles Cades Cove and is open for bicycle and foot traffic only each Wednesday from May through September. A drive over Newfound Gap Road compares to a trip from Georgia to Maine in terms of the varying forest ecosystems to see. Auto tours also can be taken along Foothills Parkway and through Cataloochee Valley.

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bears! And plenty of other wildlife

About 1,900 black bears live in the Great Smoky Mountains, one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where the bears can live in wild, natural surroundings. These Great Smoky icons along with deer, turkeys, groundhogs, and other wildlife can often be seen in the open fields in Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley during the morning and evening.

Among the spruce and fir forests on the park’s high-elevation ridges, you might spot the endangered Northern flying Squirrel, saw-whet owl, red crossbill, Blackburnian warbler, and other creatures.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In all, about 65 species of mammals and 50 native species of fish reside in the park. Before the park’s establishment in 1934, a number of native animals—such as bison, elk, mountain lion, gray and red wolves, river otter, Peregrine falcon, and several species of fish—were eradicated by hunters and trappers, among other reasons. Today, the National Park Service works to preserve native species in a condition similar to what existed before the presence of modern humans.

Some species have been reintroduced such as elk in 2001 after a 200-year absence as well as river otter and peregrine falcon.

To reduce the likelihood of vehicles colliding with wildlife on Interstate 40 in North Carolina, a series of wildlife-safe passages have been constructed. These overpasses and underpasses help animals move safely between the park and national forests as they search for mates, food, and habitat.

Replica of Cherokee Village, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. The ancestral home of the Cherokee

The Cherokee Nation once inhabited what now makes up the southeastern United States. Members lived in a matriarchal society of small communities. Among their hunting grounds were the mountains and valleys now part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In the 1700s, settlers encroached on Cherokee territory spreading disease, prompting conflict, and pressuring the Tribe to relinquish their land. Some Cherokee chose to migrate westward before President Andrew Jackson began their forced removal.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the edge of what’s now the national park, the U.S. government placed the Cherokee in stockades and confiscated their homes and possessions. In 1838, nearly 14,000 Native Americans were forced to move to Oklahoma and Arkansas—a deadly, six-month walk that became known as the Trail of Tears. More than 4,000 Cherokee died en route from cold, hunger, and disease.

A small group, the Oconaluftee Cherokees were allowed to stay. Others hid deep in the mountains to avoid relocation. Together, they formed the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians which has about 15,000 members today. Many of them live in a 57,000-acre reservation known as the Qualla Boundary which borders the park. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Oconaluftee Indian Village tell the Cherokee story and are located just outside the park in Cherokee, North Carolina.

The Tribe is currently seeking to rename the park’s Clingmans Dome to Kuwohi which translates to the Mulberry Place.

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Remains of settler villages

For a century before the establishment of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, European settlers lived on land that had been the home of the Cherokee. Visitors can explore remnants of settler villages in Cades Cove on the western end of the park and Cataloochee Valley on the eastern end.

In Cades Cove, families used the rich and fertile land to grow corn. They built log homes, barns, churches, and schools. As many as 685 people lived here in 1850. Neighbors assisted one another and turned seasonal chores into community events: corn husking, molasses making, and gathering of chestnuts. The National Park Service has restored several cabins and barns so Cades Cove looks as it did in the early settler days.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Cataloochee Valley, visitors can get a glimpse into mountain life at the turn of the 20th century. About 1,200 people lived here in 1910 and based their economy on farming, commercial apple growing, and an early tourism industry. Historical buildings can be seen from the main road or by hiking a couple of miles: a school, churches, a barn, and a few homes.

This year, the park completed a renovation of the Walker sisters’ two-story cabin. The women refused to leave their farm when the park was created so the government granted them a lifetime lease. The cabin dates to the 1800s and the sisters lived there until 1964.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The ghost town of Elkmont

In the early 1900s, Elkmont was a logging and railroad town of more than 1,500 people. It was built by the Little River Lumber Company and Railroad which owned almost 80,000 acres of what is now the national park. In addition to laborers, the railroad and town attracted wealthy vacationers and social clubs. Elkmont Campground now occupies part of this area.

The ghost town moniker developed in the 1990s after numerous resort cabins from Elkmont’s heyday were abandoned. When the government established the park residents were given the choice of selling their homes at full value or selling to the Park Service at a reduced price in return for a lifetime lease. Many chose leases, most of which expired in 1992. The Park Service was left with dozens of empty buildings it could not maintain.

The Park Service demolished some buildings preserved others and opened them to the public. Among them is the 3,000-square-foot Appalachian Clubhouse which can be rented for events.

Something else worthwhile to see at Elkmont: fireflies. Elkmont is one of the best places in the world to view these lightning bugs each June.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Lodging at 6,400 feet

No roads lead to LeConte Lodge at the base of Mount LeConte so this backcountry accommodation requires a hike. Reservations must be made well in advance.

Mount LeConte is Great Smoky Mountains’ third-highest peak at 6,593 feet. Five trails—ranging in length from 5 to 9 miles—will get you to LeConte Lodge which is under Park Service jurisdiction. If you take the Trillium Gap Trail you might see the lodge’s pack llamas carrying the latest delivery of provisions.

LeConte Lodge sits at nearly 6,400 feet and is considered the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. It operates generally from mid-March through mid-November and is the only in-park lodging. Other lodging can be found in the park’s gateway communities.

The lodge predates the park. LeConte Lodge began as a tent camp in 1926 for visiting dignitaries from the nation’s capital when plans began to create Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Sugarlands Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Free entrance

Unlike many national parks, Great Smoky Mountains has no entrance fee. However, a parking tag is required for each vehicle—with prices set at $5 for a day, $15 for a week, and $40 for the whole year. Parking tags are not required for motorists passing through the area or who park for fewer than 15 minutes.

The Park Service added this modest charge in March 2023 because the park has been operating on an inadequate budget for years while experiencing an increasing number of visitors.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking tags can be purchased online or in person at locations near the park’s three main entrances: Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.

I hope this article piqued your curiosity and motivated you to pack up the RV and roll on over to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One final remark: Unless you stay for a month, do not try to do it all. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is HUGE covering 522,427 acres. In visiting, I can say that once is not nearly enough.

Wait. What?! I’ve posted other articles on the Smokies:

Worth Pondering…

Each year thousands of backpackers 
Climb the Great Smoky Mountains… 
Nature’s Peace flows into them
as Sunshine flows into Trees;
the Winds blow their freshness into them…
and their Cares drop off like Autumn Leaves.

—Adapted from John Muir

Chattanooga: A Little City That’s Big on Outdoor Adventure

Chattanooga is a premier outdoor destination

Located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains along the beautiful Tennessee River, Chattanooga is one of America’s most spectacular cities. The so-called “Scenic City” offers stunning natural landscapes including Ruby Falls, the largest underground waterfall in the US, and Rock City, a mountaintop vista dotted with massive, ancient rock formations and over 400 native plant species.

The city was a major railway hub throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, hence the Chattanooga Choo-Choo which was originally a reference to the Cincinnati Southern Railroad’s passenger service from Cincinnati to Chattanooga and later the title of a 1941 Glen Miller tune. The walkable downtown is a maze of historic stone and brick buildings featuring gourmet kitchens, craft breweries, and distilleries. It’s easy to love the ‘Noog!

Chattanooga and the Tennessee River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga is one of the country’s premier outdoor destinations starting with the hiking trails that are just a stone’s throw away from downtown. If you want an urban hike that leads you to unique city views and doesn’t require a walking pole, check out Stringers Ridge, 92-acre park located 2 miles from downtown Chattanooga. Okay fine…you can still bring a walking stick if you really want to. The highlight for hikers is the view from the observation deck.

This particularly postcard worthy ridge-top view can be reached by accessing the Cherokee Trail (a double-track path that used to be an old road traversing the ridge). It’s a great spot to snap a photo, hang out for a while with a book in hand, or catch a sunrise or sunset. Though Sunset Rock at Lookout Mountain might offer a higher vantage point, the view from Stringers easily offers a better view of the actual downtown district and provides an “outside-looking-in” kind of experience where you can see cars driving over the bridges but barely hear their motors’ roar.

Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hike from Lookout Mountain’s historic Cravens House to Sunset Rock is another option when seeking a Chattanooga hiking experience. One of the best things about Cravens House is that it serves as a gateway to a number of Lookout’s greatest trails. From it, hikers and trail runners can string together a route that suits whatever mood they’re feeling on a given day—whether it’s a 4-mile loop with a major climb up the burly Gum Springs Trail, a less strenuous 4.5-mile loop that works its way up to Point Park before zig-zagging down the front of the mountain or even a 10-mile loop that links together seven of Lookout Mountain’s trails to create one of the crown jewel trail running experiences in the city.

>> Related article: The Chattanooga Choo-Choo, More Than a Hotel

The most straightforward route you can choose is the 1.5-mile (3-mile round trip) hike to Sunset Rock offering the best seat in the house to…yep, you guessed it—the sunset.

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding wooded lanes, dazzling panoramas, and a labyrinth of diverse trails make Signal Mountain a nature lover’s heaven. Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga, Signal Mountain offers unlimited outdoor adventures and views that stretch on for miles. While even a drive around the densely forested mountain town is a more-than-satisfying way to spend an afternoon, taking a stroll (long or short) on some of Signal’s beautiful trails is the best way to experience its wide variety of spectacular natural offerings.

If you’re looking for a trail with views that make you stop and ponder the meaning of life, you need to hike the 5.1-mile out and back trail at Signal Point. You can even stop for a swim in Rainbow Lake but don’t expect a lake filled with rainbows. The lake features a dam built in 1916 that creates a short but powerful waterfall and a swinging bridge that spans the creek. You can terminate your hike here or opt to take a two-mile tour around the lake.

Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Descend 260 feet by elevator into Lookout Mountain and hike the cavern trail on a guided tour to Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest cave waterfall open to the public in the United States. Visitors can also opt for an after-hours tour guided by the glow of hand-held lanterns. Outside the cavern, visitors are invited to soar through the treetops on 700 feet of zipline at Ruby Falls’ High Point ZIP Adventure.

Set off on a self-guided tour through Rock City Gardens for a bird’s eye view from high atop Lookout Mountain. Climb the wall at Lover’s Leap where you can “See Seven States.” Kids will enjoy a visit to Fairyland Caverns, natural caves that have been transformed into blacklight dioramas of classic fairy tales. 

Chattanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga has long been famous as a transportation hub―this is the city, after all, made famous when Glenn Miller and His Orchestra wrote The Chattanooga Choo Choo about the city’s train station for the 1941 movie musical Sun Valley Serenade

But even though the Choo Choo is now a hotel and hasn’t hosted a locomotive in decades, Chattanooga is still an easy-to-access travel destination thanks to its expanding airport and its location at the crossroads of several state and federal highways. 

Chattanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indeed, Chattanooga was the headquarters of one of the early auto clubs dedicated to building one of the country’s first Interstates―the historic Dixie Highway which ran from Chicago to Miami. It’s still easy to get around by car but the free electric shuttles that connect Chattanooga’s busiest tourist districts as well as a slowly expanding bus network makes public transit a snap.

Chattanooga is right on the Georgia border, two hours from Atlanta as well as Nashville, Knoxville, and Birmingham―and it’s at the intersection of Interstates 75, 24, and 59 as well as US Route 27, and State Routes 153 and 319 (known locally as DuPont Parkway).

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sitting astride the Tennessee River and wedged within the hilltops of the Cumberland Plateau, Chattanooga is one of the South’s prettiest cities. And thanks to its ultra-fast public internet, the so-called Gig City has become a tech hub supporting a bustling community of startups, software companies, and venture capital firms. Combine that with the down-to-earth charisma of the region’s top rock climbing, cycling, and hiking activities and you have one of the most interesting destinations in the South.

>> Related article: Death Knell of the Confederacy: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

You don’t have to break the bank, either, to get a little taste of everything Chattanooga has on deck. From public sculpture gardens to city parks, from historic sites to quirky craft markets, there’s a lot you can do in the Scenic City for free.

Sugar’s Ribs BBQ, Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in a curve of the wide and winding Tennessee River, Chattanooga lies between the misty Appalachian Mountains and the lushly forested Cumberland Plateau. With such a stunning natural location, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this small city has become a major hot spot for outdoor and adventure-minded visitors.

Worth Pondering…

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Hi there Tex, what you say
Step aside partner, it’s my day
Bend an ear and listen to my version
Of a really solid Tennessee excursion

Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga choo choo? (yes yes)
Track twenty-nine
Boy, you can gimme a shine
Can you afford To board a Chattanooga choo choo
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga there you are

—Songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, first recorded 1941 by Glenn Miller

The Ultimate Guide to Cades Cove

Here’s everything you need to know about Cades Cove

Cades Cove is the most visited place in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with millions of visitors annually. But what is it specifically about this place that attracts so many people?

One of the most tranquil and pastoral locations in America is Cades Cove. There is nothing like the stunning views of pastureland, majestic trees, rolling hills, sunsets, and roving animals. The 11-mile loop surrounds this lovely valley with several spots where you can see wildlife and take in the surrounding landscape. To help you get in touch with nature, Cades Cove has a vast network of hiking trails. Continue reading to find out more about Cades Cove.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where is Cades Cove?

Cades Cove is located just south of Gatlinburg. To get to the Loop Road, follow the Parkway through downtown Gatlinburg and enter the national park. You will pass the Sugarlands Visitor Center on the right and then you will make a right turn onto Little River Road. Stay on Little River Road for about 25 miles and you will reach the end where you will find the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About Cades Cove

Cades Cove is the most popular tourist destination in the Great Smoky Mountains receiving more than two million people annually. The soft sandstone that previously filled the Cove was eroded over millions of years creating the valley. The result of erosion was a vast, fertile valley perfect for farming and flanked by stunning Smoky Mountains.

Cade’s Cove boasts the greatest diversity of historic structures in the national park due to the early 1800s settlement of European settlers. You can visit historic buildings along the Loop Road including restored churches, former gristmills, and pioneer log homes. Its rich past has left a lasting impression that may still be felt today. A visit to Cades Cove offers the chance to travel back in time and become engrossed in the culture and history of early Appalachia.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are Cades Cove hours?

The Loop Road is open from sunrise to sunset all year with the weather permitting.

 Cades Cove is open to cyclists and pedestrians on Wednesdays from May to September. No vehicle traffic is permitted on Wednesdays from 8 am to 10 am so people can enjoy the loop by bike or foot.

Related article: Cades Cove: An Open Air Museum

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best time to visit Cades Cove

You want to know the best times to visit given how popular this region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is. Let’s categorize this based on the time of day, week, and season.

Best time of day to visit

Early morning and late afternoon are the ideal times to visit Cades Cove during the day. During certain periods traffic slows down reducing congestion. Also, it is the best time of the day for wildlife viewing.

Best days of the week to visit

Avoid weekends since you will find the place crowded. Wednesdays and Saturdays are ideal days if you want to go biking.

Cable Mill Historic Area, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best seasons to visit

Cades Cove is idyllic all year round. You can always expect to see stunning scenery when you visit. Each season from snow-covered trees in the winter to wildflowers in the spring adds unique beauty to the region.

April to November is Cades Cove’s peak season. People are booking holidays in Cades Cove during the summer break from school when wildflowers and wildlife emerge from slumber in the spring. Due to the vibrant leaves, fall is perhaps the most popular year for tourists visiting Cades Cove. But if you want to avoid traffic the winter slowdown begins in December and continues through March.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife viewing at Cades Cove

Millions of photographers visit Cades Cove each year attracted by the picturesque surroundings and an abundance of wildlife. While driving around the loop you may spot black bears, white-tailed deer, turkeys, squirrels, red foxes, groundhogs, salamanders, birds, bugs, and more.

Visitors are often more enthusiastic about bears since for many it’s their first time seeing a black bear in the wild. They typically are active in the morning, evening, and night. While in Cades Cove you can frequently see black bear mothers with young cubs. But visitors should be careful to maintain a proper distance and avoid feeding them.

Related article: Cades Cove: A Pioneer Paradise

Keep reading to learn more about these creatures.

John Oliver Place, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black bear

Although black bears can be active any time of day, they are more active during early morning and late evening. In the Smoky Mountains bears seem to prefer 6 to 10 am and 3 to 7 pm as these times are cooler and more peaceful during the spring and summer. Black bears have a dense population in the park with about 1,500 living in the area. Being omnivores their diet is primarily plants, berries, nuts, and fish.

Elk

Elk can grow up to 700 pounds making them one of the largest creatures in the national park. They are most active early in the morning and evening.

White-tailed deer

Similar to elk, deer are usually active early in the morning or late in the evening. They are known for grazing in open fields which makes them easier to spot compared to in the woods. Fawns are usually born sometime in June.

Wild Turkey

Since wild turkeys travel in flocks, if you spot one, you’ll most likely spot an entire group. They spend most of their time searching the ground for nuts, berries, and insects. You’ll likely not see them in the evenings as they roost in the trees.

Salamanders

There are more than 30 species of salamanders in the national park which is the most of any place in the world. There are several lungless salamanders in the area. They enjoy dark, moist areas, and many of them live in water.

Cades Cove Methodist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other animals in the Smokies

There are hundreds of animal species that live in the area. You’ll find fish, turtles, and snakes in and around the water. Small mammals include raccoons, groundhogs, and squirrels. There are hundreds of bird species including owls, eagles, wrens, and finches. Plus, you’ll find all kinds of bugs.

Wildlife Safety

It is important to remember a few safety tips while viewing wildlife. The key element to keeping park guests and wildlife safe is to keep a safe distance. Always use caution when wildlife is in sight because they are wild animals.

John Oliver Cabin, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do in Cades Cove

It might take several days if you plan to enjoy everything Cades Cove has to offer. However, all you need for a pleasant and rewarding trip is one action-packed day. Plan to arrive early in the morning and depart in the late afternoon to get the most out of your visit. Bring a bag of lunch, snacks, and drinks. Choose your favorite activities from the list below to create the ideal fun day.

Drive Through Barn, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the must-see things in Cades Cove?

As you drive along the 11-mile loop you will find a variety of historic buildings, scenic views, and sights you’ll want to see. The first stop along the Loop requires you to hike a short distance to the John Oliver Cabin. Then you will come to the three churches with cemeteries which are popular places to stop and stretch your legs. Other major stops include the grist mill, the cantilever barn, and Carter Shields cabin.

Related article: National Park Fees: Great Smoky Mountains Introduces Parking Fees

Gregg-Cable House, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What can I do in Cades Cove?

While driving the loop road is one of the best reasons for visiting Cades Cove it isn’t the only thing you can do. As enter the Loop there is a picnic area with over 80 sites. A creek runs through the area and you can enjoy a lunch or snack before exploring the beautiful valley.

The wide open spaces beckon you to take to the wind and run. Horseback rides in the Cove are fantastic whether you’re an experienced rider or a novice. From places like Cades Cove Riding Stables and Davy Crockett Riding Stables, guides lead horseback excursions.

Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove Riding Stables is near the start of the Cove Loop. To learn more about the nature and wildlife of the Smokies you can go on several guided horseback trail rides. They also provide seasonal hayrides and carriage rides. Children love the fully narrated hay rides which are among the most entertaining activities in Cades Cove.

Several hiking trails start along the Cades Cove Loop. A difficult trail near the beginning of the road is Rich Mountain Loop which is 8.5 miles roundtrip. Spring is a great time to explore this trail because of the wildflowers along the path. A more moderate trail that’s about halfway around the Loop is Abrams Falls, a 5-mile roundtrip hike with a waterfall at the end. If you want to hike a trail that’s short and sweet, stop at the Cades Cove Nature Trail.

Cantilever Barn, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving or bicycling the Cades Cove Loop Road

The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is accessible every day from sunrise to sunset although from early May to late September, Wednesday and Saturday mornings are closed to motorized vehicles until 10 am. These days the route is only open to bicycle and foot traffic up to 10:00 a.m. The good news is that tourists can ride or walk on the road at this time without worrying about sharing it with cars.

To complete the entire loop on a bicycle on these weekdays it is best to start early. Use pullouts when stopping to see wildlife and take in the landscape because traffic is frequently high during the busiest travel season and on weekends all year long. To drive or bike to the loop will take at least two to four hours depending on the number of stops and the flow of traffic.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Driving the Cades Cove Loop Road alone will provide you with scenic views of the most popular destination of the national park: Cades Cove!

Millrace and Mill, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Cades Cove Nature Trail

Visitors can enjoy a stroll through some of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most breathtaking terrain on the Cades Cove Nature Trail. About 7 miles into Loop Road and one mile past the visitor center is where you’ll find the trail. Given that it is only a few miles long and is considered easy, hikers of all ages should be able to complete this hike. The stroll should take visitors an hour or so assuming a fairly moderate pace. The trail and potential sights you might view while hiking is described in brochures that are available at the visitor center.

The Nature Trail generally provides an excellent opportunity to view Cades Cove’s native plant life and there is a good possibility that you may also spot some of the cove’s wildlife. During their hikes along the path, visitors observed everything from raccoons to black bears. The nature walk is rarely busy so it won’t negatively impact your experience.

Cades Cove Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover the history of Cades Cove

The Smoky Mountains have a compelling narrative to share. You can explore various historical places including several old cabins, churches, and structures. The Cades Cove Visitor Center is a great resource for learning about Cades Cove’s history.

At the start of the loop, there are materials you may access to learn more about the structures you’ll see in the cove. Following is the list of historical buildings in Cades Cove to explore while driving the Loop Road:

  • Dan Lawson Place
  • John Oliver Cabin
  • Primitive Baptist Church
  • Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church
  • Elijah Oliver Place
  • Tipton Place
  • John Cable Grist Mill
  • Carter Shields Cabin
  • Becky Cable House

Though the list may seem a bit longer these are some historical places one should make some time to visit. Make sure to have your camera ready to capture these incredible historic buildings.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking trails

One of the things that attract visitors to Cades Cove is the number of adventurous hiking trails.

One of the most popular is Abram Falls. It descends to the enormous Abrams Creek Gore through areas of mountain laurel and pine forest. The walk will lead you to the impressive Abrams Falls waterfall which has a significant water flow. There is a beach area where you may unwind at the bottom of the fall.

Take Cades Cove Loop Road to get to this trail. You’ll come across an Abrams Falls sign while driving. Drive until you notice a parking lot as you approach this sign. It is a challenging trail. Hike it if you are up for an adventure.

Another favorite is the Crib Gap Trail. The route is ideal for first-timers to hiking.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gregory’s Bald is another trail that leads to a mountain covered in wildflowers. You may take in the picturesque vistas of Cades Cove and the mountains that surround it while climbing this mountain. Additionally, if you visit this location in June you will delight in the picturesque views of the wildflowers that grow on this mountain.

The thunderhead hiking trail and Rocky Top which lead to two mountain peaks and offer stunning views of the Smoky Mountains are another favorite Cades Cove hiking trail. This trek is challenging, though, so you should only go it if you have previous hiking expertise.

Millrace and Mill, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Cades Cove

Cades Cove Campground (elevation: 1,713 feet) is open year-round and combines the feel of primitive camping with the modern convenience of flush toilets and drinking water. Both Loop B and C are open from mid-April through the Thanksgiving weekend. During the off-season (December-mid April) only sites C1-12 and C26-61 are open to camping by reservation only. Once B Loop closes for the season generators are allowed in Loop C with restricted hours UNTIL Loop B reopens for camping. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in length.

Are There Hidden Gems?

Cades Cove is the most popular area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it’s not hard to see why. From gorgeous views to an abundance of wildlife and fascinating historic structures, Cades Cove has it all. There are a ton of cool stops along the scenic loop drive such as the cantilever barn, John Oliver cabin, and Cable grist mill. These stops are right along the road but there are some hidden gems in Cades Cove too.

The Pearl Harbor Tree serves as a reminder of what happened in 1941 and to honor those who died. It was planted on the day of the attack by a man named Golman Myers to mark the mournful moment. He found a small sapling tree the size of a limb and planted it in his family’s front yard. Myers passed in 1945 but his son Bernard returned to Cades Cove in the mid-1970s and chained a metal tag to the tree that reads, “Golman Myers transplanted this tree Dec. 7, 1941.”

To get to the tree, use the parking area about 3.6 miles along the Cades Cove Loop Road. Then, walk west for 0.1 miles until you see a small clearing on the north side of the road. Where the tree line on the western edge of the field meets the road is the hill you climb to get to the tree. You’ll recognize it because of the metal tag and the many American flags visitors have placed on the tree!

Related article: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Gourley’s Pond is another hidden gem in Cades Cove. It’s often overlooked by visitors but after significant rainfall, it’s a great sight to see. This pond takes some exploring to get to because it can’t be seen from the loop. To get to Gourley’s Pond, park your car at the LeQuire Cemetery parking area past the south end of Sparks Lane. From there, walk along the loop road for about 200 feet until you see a path on your right. Follow the trail for about 100 feet, then head southwest until you see the pond.

Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove is home to 14 cemeteries although only 11 of them have been found. If you love learning about Cades Cove’s history and the people who called Cades Cove home then you should take the time to explore one of the cemeteries on your visit. The Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery has the graves of familiar names like John and Lucretia Oliver, the first white settlers of Cades Cove, and William Howell Oliver, the church’s pastor for almost 60 years. While you’re there step inside the Primitive Baptist Church itself and explore.

Millrace, Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a less crowded way to exit Cades Cove, use Rich Mountain Road. It’s a 7-mile journey that winds through the forest and provides an excellent opportunity to see bears and other wildlife. Rich Mountain Road offers a quiet drive and it takes you to Townsend. Along Rich Mountain Road there’s an overlook that provides one of the best views of the Primitive Baptist Church and the valley below. Rich Mountain Road is typically only open from April through mid-November.

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away once in awhile and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

—John Muir

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway: An Unforgettable Drive

Some call it the “best kept secret.” I call it The Cherohala Skyway!

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokees and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. Popular stops along and near the Skyway include Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Santeetlah Lake, and many Cherokee sites. This byway in particular is known for its fall colors.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cherohala Skyway was completed in the fall of 1996 after planning and construction for some thirty-four years. It was North Carolina’s most expensive scenic highway carrying a price tag of $100,000,000. It winds up and over 5,400-foot mountains for 18 miles in North Carolina and descends another 23 miles into the deeply forested backcountry of Tennessee.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala. The Cherohala Skyway is located in southeast Tennessee and southwest North Carolina. The Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is about 40+ miles long.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cherohala Skyway is a wide, paved 2-laned road maintained by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to 5,390 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks. Along the way, you can expect minimum cell phone coverage and limited toilet facilities. There are picnic sites, trailheads for hiking, and a wide variety of traffic types ranging from motorhomes to bicycles. Some grades are as steep as 9 percent along the skyway. The trip across the skyway takes about two hours. It is approximately 25 miles long in Tennessee and 19 miles long in North Carolina. Food and fuel stations are available in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, and Robbinsville, North Carolina.

Related article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for your Next Road Trip

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skyway is becoming well known in motorcycling and sports car circles for its long, sweeping corners, scenic views, and cool summer breezes.

Take your time and stop along the way to enjoy. Temperatures can drop as much as 20 degrees during the first 11 miles of your drive starting on the North Carolina side since the Skyway climbs from 2,660 feet elevation to 5,390 feet. The Skyway follows NC Highway 143 (easier to find on maps) and TN 165 to Tellico Plains, Tennessee.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get to the Cherohala Skyway stop in at the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center located on Highway 165 in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, or the Graham County Visitor Center in Robbinsville, North Carolina to pick up brochures and maps or talk to the friendly people about your time on the Skyway. They can help you plan your trip, find good restaurants, locate a waterfall to enjoy, reserve a campsite, or any other special need you may have. The Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center is open Monday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit

Summer

Summer is a wonderful season for enjoying the Cherohala Skyway. The mile-high drive is spectacular. The long days and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets are unforgettable. You can escape the hot summer days at higher elevations where it’s usually cooler. Temperatures in the summer are very unpredictable. Hot days and mild nights are normal. Thunderstorms are common and can build quickly and without warning. Daytime temperatures can reach the 90s with nighttime temperatures dropping into the 60s.

Related article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Fall Road Trip

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall

Fall is a beautiful time of year on the Cherohala Skyway. Cool-weather arrives and the changing leaves are spectacular. Viewing the fall foliage is a favorite pastime in the eastern United States. The leaves begin changing color as early as late September in the higher elevations and continue through mid-November in lower elevations.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dogwoods, poplars, and sourwoods are some of the first to transform. The red oaks, hickories, and white oaks change later and often hold their leaves until late fall. Temperatures are generally moderate throughout the season. Highs range from the 70s during the day to the 40s at night. Normally, fall is also a time of low precipitation along the Cherohala Skyway. The pleasant temperatures and low rainfall make it a perfect time for hiking, cycling, camping, and other outdoor activities enjoyed on the Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter

Winter is a beautiful time along the Skyway. The leaves have fallen and the views from the overlooks are spectacular. Traffic is at a minimum and it seems as if you have the mountains all to yourself. Ice and snow can be expected throughout the winter months along the Cherohala Skyway. The roadway is generally treated for such hazards keeping it passable for most of the year. CAUTION is the key word for traveling on the Skyway during winter.

A popular activity in winter along the Cherohala Skyway is checking the freshly fallen snow for animal tracks. Deer, turkeys, raccoons, foxes, and other animals (even black bears) native to these mountains cross the Skyway and leave their tracks in the snow.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temperatures at or below freezing are common and should be prepared for especially at higher elevations. If you hike in the winter take special precautions: 

  • Dress in layers. The cold mornings can lead to warmer afternoons. 
  • Let someone know where you are going to hike. Take a friend. 
  • Take plenty of water. Don’t drink from streams or rivers. 
  • Take a snack, such as energy bars or candy. 
  • Please bring out all garbage that you take in.
Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring

Spring along the Cherohala Skyway is the “awakening of the forest after a long winter’s nap”. Wildflowers spring from the ground throughout these months. The annual rites begin early as red maple blooms in red and serviceberry in white. Around mid-spring, the dogwoods and redbuds join the flowering show. Temperatures are usually moderate during this season.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Typical spring weather is windy and warm. Daytime temperatures often climb into the 70s but can cool quickly at night. Spring is a great time to get outdoors. Hiking, camping, fishing, and cycling are all activities to enjoy along the Cherohala Skyway. If you like photographing nature, spring wildflowers and native wildlife are in abundance. Black bears are very active in the spring of the year and should be left alone.

Related article: America’s Fall Foliage: Leafing through America

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: North Carolina, Tennessee

Length: 41 miles

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Fall Colors

Peak colors typically occur during the last two weeks in October but that is dependent upon fall temperatures and in particular, the first frost date. The color change begins at higher elevations where you see the earliest changes in late September and continue into mid-November at the lower elevations.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sourwood and Dogwood trees are the first to turn red early in the season. Next is the Tulip Poplars which turn yellow but then quickly turn brown. Peak leaf season brings in the red, orange, and yellow of the Maples and the bright yellow of the Birches. Oaks and Sweetgums finish up the season with purple, orange, and red.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall wildflowers on the Cherohala Skyway provide a beautiful display of colors starting in September up to the first frost in early October.

Take a jacket because temperatures can be 10 degrees colder at 5,000 feet. Remember that sightseeing will bring more traffic and it’s moving slower.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your road to fall

October 1-10: 5,000+ feet elevation (Best leaf peeping spots on the Cherohala Skyway: Big Junction, Santeetlah, Hooper Bald, Huckleberry, and Spirit Ridge)

October 10-20: 4,000-5,000+ feet elevation (Best leaf peeping spots on the Cherohala Skyway: West Rattlesnake Rock, East Rattlesnake Rock, Unicoi Crest, Stratton Ridge, Mud Gap, Whigg Cove, Haw Knob, and Wright Cove)

October 18-26: 3,000-4,000+ feet elevation (Best leaf peeping spots on the Cherohala Skyway: Lake View, Brushy Ridge, Obadiah, Shute Cove, and Hooper Cove)

October 24-31: 2,000-3,000+ feet elevation (Best leaf peeping spots on the Cherohala Skyway: Bald River Falls, Oosterneck Creek, Indian Boundary, Turkey Creek, and Santeetlah Gap)

(Courtesy: Monroe (Tennessee) County Tourism)

Read Next: Leafy Scenes: 12 of the Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage

Worth Pondering…

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.

—Emily Brontë, Fall, Leaves, Fall

Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg

From Clingmans Dome to pioneer history

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is known as the Gateway to the Smokies for a reason. This tiny East Tennessee mountain resort with a population of just 3,754 is nestled against the western edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smoky Mountains are a wild expanse of rounded ridges, often shrouded by the mists that give the national park its name.

Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Smokies are part of the vast Appalachian chain among the oldest mountains on the planet. Formed more than 200 million years ago these ancient peaks were once much higher but have been worn down by the eons of time. You can contemplate that remote past while huffing your way up to the top of a 6,000-foot peak overlooking the seemingly endless expanse of undulating ridges that stretch off into the distance. There are mesmerizing viewpoints all across the park as well as one mountaintop lodge that can only be reached by foot.

Along US-321 from Gatlinburg to Townsend © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland. Rich blooms of springtime wildflowers come in all colors and sizes while flame azaleas light up the high-elevation meadows in summer. Autumn brings its own fiery rewards with quilted hues of orange, burgundy, and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes. In winter, snow-covered fields and ice-fringed cascades transform the Smokies into a serene, cold-weather retreat.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This mesmerizing backdrop is also a World Heritage Site harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

Related: Springtime in the Smokies

As well as Gatlinburg, other Tennessee towns offering easy access to the national park include Cosby, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because the park is so big—spanning two states, Tennessee and North Carolina—it can be hard to know where to start exploring. This is also the most-visited national park in the United States with more than 14.16 million visitors in 2021 so it can take a little planning to get away from the crowds. Fortunately, Gatlinburg makes it easy for first-timers to get outdoors both inside the national park and at smaller but no less lovely parks inside the city limits.

Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly space to get outside or the best ways to get into the national park, we’ve got you covered. Here are my top picks of Gatlinburg’s green spaces. 

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

If you’re looking for an easily accessible way to see the Smokies, this 5.5-mile looping driving trail should be your go-to. As you slowly make your way down a winding paved road, you’ll pass gorgeous forest scenery and plenty of spots where you can pull over for woodland hikes or soak up the vistas from scenic overlooks.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trail is named for Roaring Fork, a fast-moving mountain stream, and its tributaries create several surging cascades along the route including Grotto Falls reached via an easy 2.6-mile round-trip hike and Rainbow Falls at the end of a more challenging 5.4-mile tramp. Near the end of the loop, the Place of a Thousand Drips spills dramatically through the forest but it only performs during wet weather.

Related: Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s history here too. Built in the 1920s by an eccentric lawyer seeking a healthier life in the wilderness, Ely’s Mill is no longer a working mill but stopping here gives a sense of what agricultural life was like in these mountains in the past. Today, there’s a shop with locally-made crafts some rather charming wood cabins where you can spend the night and demonstrations of blacksmithing and other traditional skills.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, turn left at Traffic Light 8 in Gatlinburg and follow the signs to the national park. En route, you’ll pass the worn, wooden facade of Noah ‘Bud’ Ogle Place, a historic 19th-century homestead offering another evocative glance into the region’s past.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove

The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is one of the park’s most popular driving routes starting about 30 miles southwest of Gatlinburg. Between town and Cades Cove you’ll pass Metcalf Bottoms one of the Smokies’ biggest and best picnic areas with a swimming area set on a pretty stretch of the Little River. The scenery along the Loop Road is stunning and there are numerous historic stops including restored churches and pioneer cabins and the old Cable Grist Mill built in 1867 but it can get very busy all along the route. If possible, avoid weekends especially during fall.

Related: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Land of the Blue Smoke

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historically, Cherokee and other Native American peoples used Cades Cove as a way to traverse the Smokies on foot (the valley was named for Cherokee leader, Chief Kade). Modern park visitors like to drive through this meadow-like section of the park scanning the verges for wildlife. Cades Cove is famous for black bear activity; you’re likely to see them as well as wild turkeys, rabbits, river otters, elk, and woodchucks.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s best known as a driving loop, every Wednesday and Saturday morning from May to September, the route is closed to cars so you can walk or cycle (rental bikes are available). The Visitors Center near the midpoint of the driving loop is a solid source of information for deeper explorations.

Sugarlands Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More visitors centers can be found in downtown Gatlinburg (520 Parkway) and in Sugarlands (2 miles south of Gatlinburg), Oconaluftee (2 miles from Cherokee, North Carolina), Sevierville (3099 Winfield Dunn Pkwy), and Townsend (7906 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy).

Clingmans Dome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clingmans Dome

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offering remarkable 360-degree views over a rippling sea of forested hills from the top of its curving, concrete observation tower. You’ll need to walk up a steep, paved half-mile-long footpath to get here (wheelchairs are not recommended because of the slope) but once you get to the top, you’ll have conquered the third-highest peak in the eastern United States.

Clingmans Dome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The views are spectacular, particularly in fall when the changing foliage repaints the landscape in a palette of reds, browns, and golds.

Related: Now Is the Best Time to Visit the Smokies

To get here, drive about 23 miles south from Gatlinburg along the Parkway; Clingmans Dome is at the end of a 7-mile spur road.

Worth Pondering…

Each year thousands of backpackers 
Climb the Great Smoky Mountains… 
Nature’s Peace flows into them
as Sunshine flows into Trees;
the Winds blow their freshness into them…
and their cares drop off like Autumn Leaves.

—Adapted from John Muir

Chattanooga: So Much More than the Choo Choo

Glenn Miller gave Chattanooga some extra attention when he performed the big-band swing tune “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941 about its rich railroad history

Nestled in the southeast corner of Tennessee, Chattanooga might not leap to mind as a likely place to visit. A strategic river and railway crossroads during the Civil War and site of brutal military battles, as a result, the town boomed and then busted over the course of the 20th century.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From 1909 to 1970, all trains to points south passed through Chattanooga’s famous terminal which was designed by a 24-year-old architectural student from New York. The terminal’s first plans were modified at the behest of the president of the Southern Railway System to emulate the National Park Bank of New York.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although well-known in the railroad industry, the Chattanooga Choo Choo didn’t become a household name until the Glenn Miller Orchestra created a song of the same name which was featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade.

Related: The Chattanooga Choo-Choo, More Than a Hotel

Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Terminal Station stands as part of the world-famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel located in the heart of Chattanooga. The 24-acre complex boasts two hotel buildings, on-site dining, retail shops, tranquil rose gardens, and much more.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the wake of an ugly EPA report, in 1969 Walter Cronkite declared it the “dirtiest city in America.” But visionary revitalization, coupled with abundant natural beauty, a burgeoning cultural scene, and rich history, now put Chattanooga near the top of the list as a slightly off-the-beaten-track destination.

Chattanooga and the Tennessee River© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With world-class rock climbing, hiking, cycling, and water-sports opportunities, it’s one of the South’s best cities for outdoor recreation. It’s gorgeous, too: just check out those views from the Bluff View Art District. It’s also forward-looking with free electric buses, miles of well-used waterfront trails, and pedestrian bridges crossing the Tennessee River. All this makes it hard to credit its reputation in the 1960s as America’s dirtiest city.

Related: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just ten minutes from downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, rising along the upper rim of the city, Lookout Mountain is rich in both Civil War history and natural wonders. The miles-long mountain is home to three world-famous attractions: the Incline Railway, the steepest passenger railway in the world; Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the country, and Rock City, a mountaintop ‘city’ of massive, ancient rock formations with a birds-eye, “See the Seven States” panorama.

Incline Railway

Hike miles upon miles of trails where you’ll encounter waterfalls, caves, and blooming wildflowers; cross the famous Swing-A-Long bridge that spans nearly 200 feet; learn more about Civil War history at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park; or catch a sunset from 1,652 feet above sea level at Lovers Leap. With countless activities on the menu of fun atop this iconic mountain, it’s easy to see why Lookout Mountain is one of Chattanooga’s top-rated tourist attractions. 

Chickamagua and Chatanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though it first appeared on a map in 1795, Lookout Mountain’s name likely comes from the Creek term for “rock rising to a point,” and research suggests the mountain was inhabited by Native Americans for centuries. The mountain was the scene of the 18th-century “Last Battle of the Cherokees,” a battle between American frontiersmen and the Chickamauga Cherokee, a Cherokee band that had long resisted increasing American encroachment into their territory. 

Chickamagua and Chatanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On November 24, 1863, the pivotal Civil War Battle of Lookout Mountain was fought on the slopes which are often covered with dense fog in the wee hours of the morning. The so-called “Battle Above the Clouds” was won by Union forces, enabling them to lift the Confederate siege of Chattanooga. By the 1920s, local entrepreneurs turned the scenic, storied mountain into a tourist destination. 

Related: Death Knell of the Confederacy: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete your visit to Lookout Mountain by climbing the ridge at a 72.7 percent grade along “America’s Most Amazing Mile” aboard the Incline Railway. The one-mile-long single-track railway opened in November 1895 and is both a National Historic Site and Mechanical Engineering Landmark. Explore Point Park, part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park located steps from the railway station at the mountaintop, site of the 1863 Battle Above the Clouds. The Battles for Chattanooga Museum features a multimedia, 3-D projection map presentation.

Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Incline Railway provides an easy and spectacular commute up and down Lookout Mountain, which looms over Chattanooga with views of the Tennessee River winding through the city below, and the verdant hills and valleys of the Appalachians stretching to the horizon.

Related: Fun Outdoor Getaways You Can Easily Hit from 25 Cities

Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in a curve of the wide and winding Tennessee River, Chattanooga lies between the misty Appalachian Mountains and the lushly forested Cumberland Plateau. With such a stunning natural location, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this small city has become a major hot spot for outdoor- and adventure-minded visitors.

Worth Pondering…

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Hi there Tex, what you say
Step aside partner, it’s my day
Bend an ear and listen to my version
Of a really solid Tennessee excursion

Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga choo choo? (yes yes)
Track twenty-nine
Boy, you can gimme a shine
Can you afford To board a Chattanooga choo choo
I’ve got my fare And just a trifle to spare

You leave the Pennsylvania Station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Then to have your ham an’ eggs in Carolina

When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga there you are

—Songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, first recorded in 1941 by Glenn Miller

Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

One visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is never enough even when it stretches over a week or two

Some of the wildest terrain the Southern Appalachian region can claim and some of the wildest to be found in the eastern United States can be found in the Smoky Mountains. At their heart is the national park which sprawls across 815 square miles, a swath of land just a little over half the size of Rhode Island.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountain National Park has one of the world’s best-preserved deciduous forests, the oldest mountains in the United States, and more annual visitors than any other national park in the country.

The 33-mile long Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) bisects the park, stretching from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina with incredible views. Clingmans Dome is just past the “gap,” commonly referred to as “pass” in other parts of the country.

Related: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Land of the Blue Smoke

Driving Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With an estimated 900 miles of trails, Great Smoky is a hiker’s haven, one that could occupy you year-round. You could focus on the 70-some miles of the Appalachian Trail that runs along the roof of the park or break Great Smoky into regions and hike them one at a time.

Although there are many national parks that are larger, the Great Smoky Mountains have the greatest diversity of plants anywhere in North America. The Smoky Mountains contain more than 300 rare species of plants with as many as 125 on the protected plant lists of either North Carolina or Tennessee.

Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great Smoky Mountains have an explosion of wildflowers in spring and summer. More than 1,500 flowering plants can be found in the region, including delicate spring beauties, several types of trillium, trout lilies, wild geranium, and orchids; visit from mid-April to mid-May for the best blooms. The park’s showy flame azaleas and rhododendrons also burst to life starting in April in the low elevations and into June up high.

Related: Springtime in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Smokies are famous for their colorful trees in fall. Drive or hike to the higher elevations for sweeping views over the park’s 100-plus tree species painting the hills in bright oranges, yellows, and reds. Peak leaf season is impossible to predict since it is dependent on rain, temperature, and other factors. Generally, you can target the second half of October for higher-elevation colors, and late October through the first week of November for lower elevations.

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before it became a national park, this landscape was home to many settlers who farmed and milled in its hidden valleys. Today, more than 90 historic buildings remain in the park. In Cades Cove, you’ll find the greatest variety of churches, mills, barns, and cabins dating back to the early 1800s. An 11-mile one-way loop road takes you through a lush valley surrounded by mountains. For a quieter ride, head to the Roaring Forks motor nature trail with views of rushing streams, old log cabins, another mill, and forested wilderness.

Mountain Farm Museum, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Oconaluftee to tour the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of structures from the late 1800s, or nearby Mingus Mill. Other beautiful drives include the 18-mile Little River Road from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to Townsend and the Blue Ridge Parkway (outside of the park).

Related: Now Is the Best Time to Visit the Smokies

While Cades Cove with its rich collection of homesteading cabins, corn cribs, smokehouses, and churches is arguably the most popular area of the park, much the same history can be discovered without the crowds in Cataloochee (Big and Little Cataloochee). A little over a century ago this was one of the region’s most thriving communities with 1,200 residents in 1910. Today, though, it draws no crowds to its historic buildings, rolling orchards, meadows or forests, which do, however, attract elk, wild turkeys, and black bears. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled near the park’s eastern border, you must negotiate a winding 11-mile gravel road found near Dellwood, North Carolina, to reach Cataloochee. This road will carry you back into a 19th- and early-20th century landscape rimmed by 6,000-foot mountains and some of the park’s best examples of historic frame buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Still standing is the Palmer House, a vintage “dog trot” construction featuring two separate log cabins (that later were planked over) tied together by a covered porch popular with dogs on long, hot summer days. These days the house doubles as a museum of the valley and offers a video that provides an interesting oral history provided by descendants of the valley’s settlers.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you can see, Great Smoky holds more wonders and adventures than one visit can embrace.

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo, More Than a Hotel

All Aboard! Opened in 1909 as Terminal Station, the train depot welcomed thousands of travelers during the golden age of railroads

Chattanooga sits on the banks of the Tennessee River in the Appalachian Mountains, bordering Georgia. The city boasts impressive museums, fun things to do, a vibrant downtown area, and lively shopping and arts districts. Major attractions include the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Zoo, Lookout Mountain, Incline Railway, the antique carousel at Coolidge Park, and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

Chattanooga and the Tennessee River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After hearing this building’s name and seeing its architecture, I wondered whether we were visiting a train station or a hotel. Well, it’s both. This building was originally a hotel before the Southern Railway acquired it in 1905. Four years later, it opened as Terminal Station and eventually became a major hub transporting more than 50 passenger trains a day. From the time it opened to its closure in 1970, all trains traveling south passed through Chattanooga. Although well-known in the railroad industry, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo didn’t become a household name until the Glenn Miller Orchestra created a song of the same name which was featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Terminal Station was saved from the wrecking ball by a group of local businessmen who were inspired by the song and wanted to spare the building from demolition. They invested $4 million before its new grand opening on April 11, 1973, and the beautiful Terminal Station once again opened its doors to welcome visitors to Chattanooga.

Chatanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is among the Historic Hotels of America. Some of the original station tracks still run through the property and sleeper cars have been restored and converted into hotel accommodations. Fascinated by the history of the hotel, I marveled at the antique train and ornate hotel lobby and then perused the surrounding entertainment complex which features two full-service restaurants and numerous bars, two music venues, a comedy club, a distillery plus various retail outlets, and the Glenn Miller Gardens.

Glen Miller Gardens, Chatanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The two-acre Glenn Miller Gardens sits on where the 14 tracks and 7 platforms served millions of train passengers for over 60 years. This beautiful setting is named after the world-famous musician who recorded the Chattanooga Choo-Choo song. Stop and smell the roses while you stroll through gardens. Sit and relax in a rocking chair. Play a game of Jenga (block-balancing game), life-sized checkers, corn hole, bocce ball, and more. The Glenn Miller Gardens is an oasis among the bustle of the city.

Dome of Terminal Station, Chatanooga Choo-Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The attraction is located in downtown Chattanooga and the free electric shuttle stops right outside of the hotel. It’s free to explore the hotel even if you’re not a guest but you’ll need some cash if you plan to do some shopping or dining at the complex.

Following a look-a-round at Chattanooga Choo Choo, we drove up Lookout Mountain making brief stops at Incline Railway, Rock City, and Ruby Falls. Since a heavy smoke and haze hung over the city during our visit several years ago, we decided against exploring these attractions further.

Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opened in 1895, the Incline Railway transports passengers up the steepest part of the mountain that at its extreme reaches an incline of 72.7 percent, making it one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. The original coal-burning steam engines were replaced by two 100-horsepower motors in 1911 but other than that the railway hasn’t changed much in its more than 120 years of operation.

Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Lookout Mountain we stopped at Sugar’s Ribs for take-out. The Carolina style of barbecue is highlighted by a menu full of slow-roasted meats and wood-fired sides. But the restaurant also serves tacos and potato nacho plates, salads, and “mini” versions of your favorite main dishes.

Sugar’s Ribs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This spot on Missionary Ridge serves up great mountaintop views (on clear days) and tasty smoked spareribs moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The prices are completely fair for the quality and quantity of food you receive. A half-slab of spare ribs was $15.95 with a side.

Also took home tasty pulled pork. We paired the delicious meat with Texas pintos, turnip greens, miniature cornbread, and a trio of sauces. All the sauces are “Carolina-style” with a vinegar base.

Sugar’s Ribs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I especially enjoyed the “Hot Lips” sauce with jalapeño, habanero, onion, and garlic. This sauce was not unlike the salsa verde you might find at a Mexican restaurant, but honestly, I didn’t find it hot enough to require a formal request to use it. My favorite of the sauces was the spicy, vinegary “Great Sauce.” Whatever sauce you require, Sugar’s has something you’ll enjoy.

Worth Pondering…

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Hi there Tex, what you say
Step aside partner, it’s my day
Bend an ear and listen to my version
Of a really solid Tennessee excursion

Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga choo choo? (yes yes)
Track twenty-nine
Boy, you can gimme a shine
Can you afford To board a Chattanooga choo choo
I’ve got my fare And just a trifle to spare

You leave the Pennsylvania Station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Then to have your ham an’ eggs in Carolina

When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga there you are

—Songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, first recorded 1941 by Glenn Miller