One of the richest natural attraction regions in the U.S. is the Smoky Mountains. However, you can’t unearth the treasures of the Great Smoky Mountains without actually getting out there. And there’s no better way to do just that than by taking a Jeep tour from Pigeon Forge.
Why is a Jeep tour such a good idea?
You’ll discover the real beauty of the area, which doesn’t consist only of breathtaking vistas. The Smokies have plenty of history to explore, and the region is teeming with interesting wildlife. All this will become much more apparent once you find yourself on a specialized, semi-open four-wheeler.
This article will go over everything you may find on your Jeep journey through one of America’s most valued national parks.
The History of the Region
The Smoky Mountains have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Long before European settlers came to the continent, the Smokies were home to Paleo Indians. By the late 18th century, when Europeans reached the mountains, the land was settled by the Cherokee.
As happened with many native peoples during the Manifest Destiny era, the Cherokee were largely removed by force from their ancestral grounds. Some managed to remain in the area, becoming the ancestors of the modern Cherokee population, settling on the outskirts of the national park.
While the early settlers had a hard time adapting to the environment, it didn’t take too long before the region developed. A completely rural lifestyle marked the first settlements. The newcomers relied on hunting, farming, and livestock pasturing, making the local economy mostly self-sufficient.
The early 20th century saw the economic landscape change with the development of the lumber industry in the area. As the face of townships in the Smokies changed, the ancient forests rapidly disappeared at the hands of loggers. By the time the Smoky Mountains area was declared a national park in 1934, only about a fifth of the original forest was left standing.
The establishment of the national park necessitated another migration, although not quite as forceful as the first one. Over 1,200 people who owned land in the area were relocated, leaving plenty of structures behind. Today, these historical buildings, along with many others, are preserved and available for viewing.
Natural (and Man-Made) Landmarks
The Jeep tour will likely take you close to some of the Smokies’ most renowned landmarks. Here’s what you’ll hopefully be able to see.
1. Cades Cove
Take the Newfound Gap, the lowest – and the single paved – passage through the mountains, and you’ll inevitably encounter Cades Cove. This is one of the most remarkable areas in the park and for good reason. Cades Cove has a surprising, calm beauty, as a gentle lowland amid the looming mountains.
Due to its rich soil, a result of particularly favorable tectonic shifts and erosion, the area attracted populations from its earliest history. The settlers, in particular, found refuge from the otherwise harsh environment in this very place. Today, you can still see plenty of historical buildings in Cades Cove.
2. The Alum Cave Bluffs
Despite its name, the Alum Cave Bluffs isn’t an actual cave. Instead, this landmark is a massive rock face consisting of a set of alcoves. The site is quite famous – if you’ve looked at the Smoky Mountains photos online, you’ve probably come across several pictures of the Alum Cave Bluffs.
Historically, this area was a massive mining center. In fact, its name comes from a particular mineral – alum. The mineral was used in medicine and also found application in fabric dyeing. The bluffs were also a mining area in the Civil War era when they produced an important gunpowder ingredient.
3. Thunderhead Mountain
Head along the Foothills Parkway, and you’re guaranteed to be awe-struck. While the parkway stretches from the Smoky Mountains to the Little Tennessee River, the most rewarding vistas will be from Look Rock. This is an observation tower situated 2,650 feet above sea level.
From Look Rock, you can see Thunderhead Mountain, one of the giant peaks dominating the area. Other peaks and locations, like Mount Le Conte, Gregory Bald, Cumberland Plateau, and the Unicoi Mountains, are likewise visible from here.
4. The Roaring Fork
Roaring Fork is the name of a fascinating mountain stream as well as the motor trail passing through the region. If you decide to pass the stream, make sure to do so after heavy rainfall – the meaning behind the name will become immediately apparent.
Apart from the stream, the motor trail has five and a half miles to explore. The road is built for slower rides, allowing you to absorb the beauty. You’ll have the chance to see the remnants of the ancient forest, more rapid streams, and historic buildings like log cabins from the previous century.
Soak in the Beauty of the Smokies
If you opt for the Jeep tour around the Smoky Mountains, you’ll be delighted at the landscapes, historical and natural landmarks, and wildlife sightings along the way. At the end of the journey, one thing will be certain: you’ll likely feel overwhelmed by the area’s beauty and left wanting more.