As the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is the place to be for tourists of all kinds. Only about 3,500 people actually live here, but it seems like much more thanks to the thriving arts scene, nighttime entertainment, and constant merry-go-round of visitors looking to explore this lush and beautiful part of the country.
The park itself is unimaginably diverse, dense, and difficult to describe in simple terms. The citizens who once fought to protect them saw the inherent beauty and value of these 800 square miles of untamed land, and today over 9 million people show their agreement by visiting. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has received a number of lofty designations, including International Biosphere Reserve, World Heritage Area, and State National Heritage Area.
Park rangers, visitor centers, and a number of roadside exhibits help to educate sightseers, but true awe comes during those moments of silence that occasionally fall during a hike, picnic, or nature stroll. This preserved area is 95% forested and contains trees up to 20 feet in circumference. Rare plants can be spotted everywhere you look, and there are over 60 species of mammals and 200 different types of birds. This is the only place in the world that you’ll find Jordan’s Red Cheeked Salamanders, and you’ll see them as part of the most diverse salamander population in the world.
After you’ve had your fill of the more secluded parts of the Great Smokies, be sure to spend a little time in Gatlinburg. This town tries to buck the image of sleepy mountain settlement by offering diversions of all kinds and playing host to festivals and celebrations throughout the year. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies contains marine creatures of all shapes and size in its 1.4 million gallon operation, and the Guinness World of Records Museum will surely show you a few surprises...read more »
In Memphis, there really is plenty to do for both the adults and the children so that both groups will be happy. Whether the family is into rides and parks or prefers to take their fun outdoors for things like hiking, biking and other activities, there is sure to be plenty for everyone to do.
Riding on the River Walk along the mighty Mississippi River is an unforgettable experience. It’s a rare pleasure to follow this major river upstream that you and your kids will cherish for the rest of your lives.
History buffs will absolutely fall in love with the sheer possibilities that a trip to Memphis offers its visitors. The Memphis Belle, the infamous bomber made so by the Hollywood movie of the same name, is on display for all to see when they visit this historic and vibrant city...read more »
Visiting Graceland is an experience unlike any other (surreal, I remember calling it), and thousands of people make the pilgrimage there every year. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands who still haven't been, but would love to. There are literally no words I could write that would do this house justice - if you've ever, even for a split second, entertained the idea of visiting, DO IT. Feel the magic of Elvis for yourself. I promise you won't be disappointed.
After Graceland, the next place on my checklist was - naturally - Sam Phillips' Sun Studio on Union Avenue. This is the place where Elvis made all his early recordings, and the exact microphone he used is still in the studio; you are allowed to touch it and even have your photo taken with it, an opportunity most people take advantage of (except me, who had used up 2 whole rolls of film at Graceland and had no more left).
There is a free shuttle service which runs every day from Graceland (and the Heartbreak Hotel, which is right next door) to Sun Studio and on to Downtown Memphis, where I found the world famous Beale Street. To be honest it's impossible to miss, with its 3 blocks of more than 30 nightclubs, restaurants, shops and museums, including the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum (situated by the Fed-Ex Forum, which was hosting a wrestling championship while I was there). The Rock n Soul Museum provides a 2 hour tour back in time to the birth of rock & roll and soul music, and costs just 9 dollars per adult ticket... read more »