Year after year, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited of all the U.S. national parks. Since the park's opening in 1933, the town of Gatlinburg, which is located at the northern entrance to the park, has grown into a highly popular tourist destination. Regular visitors to the area know about the many attractions along the main drive through Gatlinburg, including all the shops and restaurants, the Gatlinburg Space Needle, and Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium. When you dig a little deeper though there are a lot of truly unique places and activities in the Gatlinburg area, just waiting for you to explore and enjoy! Cades Cove Surrounded on all sides by the rolling peaks of the Smoky Mountains sits Cades Cove, a six-square-mile flat area that was once home to a thriving community of farmers and settlers. Visitors to Cades Cove will see farms, churches, and cemeteries originally built in the early 1800s. A working gristmill, several log houses, and many other faithfully restored structures can be found there. If you visit closer to sunrise or sunset, you also have a good chance of seeing wildlife, including deer, turkeys, and even black bears. Located in the national park, Cades Cove can be toured by car on an 11-mile loop and there are several places where you can pull off for a short hike. A Visitor Center halfway through the tour includes a bookstore and gift shop. The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts CommunityLocated just three miles from downtown Gatlinburg on U.S. 321, the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community encompasses an eight-mile loop that features more than 100 artists and craftsmen, as well as unique galleries and quaint eateries. The items you'll find along this loop represent a wide variety of skills and tastes, with many of the locations producing unique works that reflect the region's Appalachian heritage. For example, there are several artisans who produce handmade mountain dulcimers, a stringed musical instrument that can be traced back to the Scottish and Irish pioneers who settled in the area in the early 1800s. Elkmont At one time, the area known as Elkmont had been home to Native Americans who lived there for thousands of years prior to settlers moving in at the beginning of the 19th century. For many years, it was a farming community before large-scale logging operations began in the early 20th century. This gave rise to a thriving economy that brought a railroad line. Eventually, tourists started arriving to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and stayed at The Appalachian Club resort, a structure that still stands today. Elkmont is located approximately six miles from Gatlinburg and is part of the national park. Mining for Gems Throughout the Smoky Mountain region near Gatlinburg, mining for gems is a fun and popular tourist activity, especially for kids. You'll see a lot of these rustic side-of-the-road attractions as you drive around. Typically, you purchase a bucket filled with dirt and sand mixed in with a variety of rough gems. You are then taken to a weathered wooden trough with running water rushing through it. Using a sifting box, you scoop the dirt into the box and sift out the dirt and sand, revealing a variety of gems such as quartz, jade, amethyst, turquoise, and more. And occasionally, someone finds a gem that could even be called precious, or at least semi-precious. What's truly precious, though, is the joy in your kids' faces as they collect their bounty! Horseback Riding There is no better way to witness the beauty of the Smoky Mountains than from the back of a horse as it meanders at a relaxing pace down a dirt trail. There are dozens of horseback riding stables located within an hour's drive from downtown Gatlinburg. That includes several that follow trails into the national park near waterfalls, and often with a view of wildlife. Most tours are accompanied by a professional guide with safety precautions in place. The Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum Proving that, if you look hard enough, there is a museum for just about everything, the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum got its start when Rolf and Andrea Ludden decided they needed to purchase a pepper mill and set out on a quest to find the right one. This was more than three decades ago and, before long, the quest became a hobby and eventually the hobby became a museum. Located in Gatlinburg at Winery Square, visitors to the museum can see more than 20,000 pairs of shakers, some dating back to ancient times! Baskins Creek Falls While not the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park – that honor goes to the 80-foot-tall Rainbow Falls – the Baskins Creek Falls are certainly one of the most beautiful. It's a two-tiered waterfall that drops 40 feet in two stages over a rocky structure, and there are several places where you can safely see the falls up close. Also, the trail is relatively easy to hike and adds up to a three-mile round trip with a 953-foot elevation gain. The Gatlinburg area of the Smoky Mountains is home to many interesting, unique experiences, so it's a great destination if you want to be adventurous and bold! And Gatlinburg Town Square by Exploria Resorts, is the perfect resort retreat when you want to start making mountain memories for a lifetime. Start exploring and book your next mountain adventure today here!