Tag Archives: Great Smoky Mountain National Park

National Park

Great Experiences for Special Needs Part 1: National Park Attractions

One question we see visitors, interested parties and even some locals is where they can find special needs accessibility for themselves or their child, parent, grandparent, etc. Certainly the idea of spending a family reunion in the Smokies or getting out in the fresh air to enjoy the wonderful nature and events we have for Spring and Summer is universally appealing, but for those with special needs, they face challenges many of us who do not have special needs take for granted. We do not normally have to take into consideration whether a tourism area with extreme elevation differences is going to be a barrier or not.

Fortunately, technology advancement for special needs visitors of all ages has made leaps and bounds in the last decade alone and continues to do so. In this article, as of Spring 2022, we have the following recommendations to make for how our visitors can enjoy the many attractions, restaurants, events and more that Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the rest of Sevier County offer!

National Park Attractions

* Cades Cove *
Cades Cove is an 11-mile driveable loop near Townsend, TN, that does not require visitors to get out of their car or vehicle to enjoy the sights and atmosphere. Cades Cove is easily accessed via Little River Road or Wears Valley Road to Townsend. Cades Cove will provide opportunity to see a variety of past scenes from settlers in the Cove to wildlife that you can keep an eye out for such as turkeys, raccoons, white tailed deer, bears and even coyotes. Some establishments are accessible by wheelchair, but not all as a measure of preservation to the buildings. There are several pull-off locations, one with a visitors center that will be friendly to special needs.

See more on Cades Cove at https://wearsvalleyvisitorscenter.com/cades-cove-wears-valley/.


* Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail *
Roaring Fork is a 5.5-mile driveable loop that does not require visitors to get out of their car or vehicle to enjoy the sights and atmosphere. It is a one way loop that takes you through the Twin Creeks and Roaring Fork areas of the park. You will find pull-off locations and end the vehicle trail at Ely’s Mill, which is one of the most beautiful areas of Gatlinburg.

See more on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail at https://gatlinburgrecovers.com/2019/07/08/gorgeous-roaring-fork-in-the-smokies/.


* Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail *
A walking nature trail near the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg that is completely paved and accessible for people with wheelchairs, mobility scooters or similar special needs. It is a 0.5-mile trail that goes deep into the woods and features safely accessible terrain to get close to the water.

See more on Sugarlands at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm.

* Little River Trail *
Little River Trail is a 6-mile walking trail near Elkmont that can be accessed with wheelchairs and crutches, however it is not paved like Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is and may not be a fit for all special needs visitors. The first mile of the trail is reported to be smooth enough for powered wheelchairs up to the first mile or mile and a half. Little River Trail is deep into the woods and has trail space next to water like Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail.

See more on Little River Trail at https://hikinginthesmokys.com/little-river-trail/.

* Clingman’s Dome *
Famously considered one of the steeper and more potentially difficult trails in the Smokies, Clingman’s Dome is nonetheless fully paved and some special needs visitors have reported being able to do the 0.5-mile trail and reach the Observation Tower. Curb Free With Cory Lee reports that he was able to reach the Observation Tower in his powered wheelchair. Visitors with a manual wheelchair or crutches may also be able to reach the Observation Tower with assistance. Discretion is advised. Special needs parking is also available and views across the Smokies are immediate just from the parking lot alone.

See more on Clingman’s Dome at https://themountainsarecallingyou.com/2022/03/26/get-to-know-clingmans-dome/.

* Mountain Farm Museum *
Mountain Farm Museum is at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center on the other side of Newfound Gap near Cherokee, NC, and both the farm museum and visitor’s center are accessible for special needs visitors. The path to the Mountain Farm Museum is hard-packed gravel and may require assistance under certain conditions (such as weather), but the historic house on the property has an access ramp. The visitor’s center is fully accessible.

See more on Mountain Farm Museum at https://www.greatsmokies.com/mtn-farm-museum/.

* Gatlinburg City Parks *
While not being (totally) within the boundaries of the official national park, the multiple city parks we have in Gatlinburg are all deeply surrounded by the same thick forestry and access to water streams and bodies that our hiking trails have. Gatlinburg has three parks: Mynatt, Miles, and Herbert Holt, each of which offer pavilions, stream access, bathroom facilities with special needs accessibility, and often wildlife can be spotted in the parks as well. City parks are also typically open during times when the National Park might not be (for weather or similar reasons) and may be considered a safer alternative for enjoying Smoky Mountain nature when other attractions may not be available.

See more on Gatlinburg City Parks at https://smokymountainwelcomeguide.com/free-area-parks/.

There are many other attractions and items of interest in our area that offer special needs accessibility, but these are the main ones we felt a decent list should start with.

More information can be found on these links:
– The Smoky Mountains For Special Needs Visitors Part 2
Scooters And Wheelchair Rentals And Sales
Cory Lee’s “A Wheelchair Accessible Great Smoky Mountains National Park Travel Guide”.
Best Wheelchair Friendly In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park


“Who has special needs accessibility in  our special needs [group member] be comfortable enjoying the Smoky Mountains? We are happy to report that the Great Smoky Mountains and the area around in its communities and attractions are indeed friendly to those with special needs. In our article we hope to provide you with helpful information for your special person to enjoy the Smoky Mountains.

Find Scooter and other Rentals Here!

Metcalf Bottoms is a picnic area in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park that is also located along Little River Road or accessible via Wears Valley Road. Metcalf Bottoms is a spacious area with a picnic pavilion that can be reserved through recreation.gov. We love Metcalf Bottoms as an accessible area in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Herbert Holt Park in Gatlinburg, Mynatt Park in Gatlinburg and Metcalf Bottoms in the Wears Valley area of the National Park all have fishing opportunities for everyone.  Kids can fish free!  Learn more about the Free Parks in the area here.

Attractions and Dining

There are several areas in the Smokies we would recommend for those who use a scooter or wheelchair as they offer special spacious areas and accommodations.  The Island in Pigeon Forge would be a favorite.   Offering drop off and parking locations specifically for those who are chair bound, The Island is a pleasant experience.  Enjoy a meal, do some shopping, sit and watch the fountains (and the people!)

The Mountain Mile in Pigeon Forge is a spacious, multi experience area where they have set up space and activities for people of all kinds to enjoy.  Some of today’s hottest names in retail are at the Mountain Mile.  Enjoy a meal at Junction 35 or pick up some spirits to take to your cabin.  Enjoy a spacious area for walking, riding, enjoying the beautiful area they have created.  You will find The Mountain Mile at the corner of Teaster Lane and East Wears Valley Road in Pigeon Forge.

Walden’s Landing is a great choice for a good experience!  Spacious parking with accommodating restaurants make this area a good choice if you have a chair bound member in your group.   Shopping, attractions and restaurants will be fun and accommodating to all!  Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud is a family favorite!

We know the Wonderworks, The Titanic, and the Alcatraz museum are also great stops.  All of the larger attractions will have accommodations for those with scooters or wheelchairs where possible.

The Fun Time Trolley System is Handicap and Wheelchair friendly.  Learn about their paratransit pass if you live within 3/4th of a mile of the route.  You can locate Scooter Sales and Rentals on the parkway in Pigeon Forge at 3536 Parkway.  https://www.pigeonforge.com/trolley/
What about Sensory Friendly?
Those on the Autism Spectrum may find they need a sensory friendly area to enjoy the Smoky Mountains.  Several of the attractions in the area provide a sensory friendly area for those who are especially sensitive to over stimulation.  Dollywood is very friendly to special needs, just ask!  Wonderworks hosts 10 Sensory Friendly days each year and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies hosts a Sensory Friendly Night at the Aquarium for those who are interested.  Don’t be afraid to ask!  We want you to have a fantastic vacation as our guest.

New Species Of Bee Discovered In The National Park

As the title indicates, the Smokies are all “a’buzz” with a new bee species that has just been discovered in our park!

From WBIR’s news segment on it:

“It sure doesn’t have a catchy name, but the Epeolus inornatus is a big catch for Dr. Will Kuhn; the Director of Science and Research at Discover Life in America.

“It’s always really fun to find a new record and to take up our numbers of new records and new species for the park,” Kuhn said.” – WBIR

See the full article at https://www.wbir.com/article/news/local/scientists-discover-new-bee-species-in-great-smoky-mountains-national-park/51-fb5e5a6c-9c3a-44fa-8dd2-3b1cc4834d16.

Upcoming Events in Townsend at GM Heritage Center

See what’s going on at the Great Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Townsend throughout this month and next:

Now – August 16th
* Reba Rhyne and Robin Greenlee
Book signing, coasters and cutting boards.

August 24 – August 29
* Maxine Falls
Art and jewelry.

August 28, 2020
* Elizabeth Rose and Sam Venable
Tall Tales of Tennessee: An Evening of Storytelling

September 1, 2020
* Jeff Ross
“Informal and informative social coffee-talk on a variety of subjects of interest to those living in the area.”

September 04 – September 06
* Ken Justice
Woodcrafts by Ken Justice

September 07 – September 12
* Bonnie Mueller & Doug Bartlett
Abstract acrylic paintings, gourds, polymer clay jewelry and needle felting, wooden flags.

See these events and more information on the GSM Heritage Center at https://www.gsmheritagecenter.org/.



Where are the Most Popular Places in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park?

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is filled with wonderful locations your family can access to experience the Smokies. There are endless websites of information about many of the wonderful places to visit in the Smoky Mountains. We have selected these locations due to their proximity to Chalet Village and our area. When you stay with Chalet Village you will have close proximity to these most popular areas of the Smokies.

Chimney Tops
The chimneys top a sheer rise of almost 2,000 feet and were known to the Cherokee as “Dukiskwal-guni” (forked antlers). From the overlook on Newfound Gap Road, passersby can see the 30-foot deep “flue” in the right-hand peak which gives the outcropping its name. The Chimneys Picnic Area, located in a ravine on the mountain’s side, is an excellent place to stop for a leisurely lunch.

Mount LeConte
Mt. LeConte is the Park’s third highest peak at 6,593 feet. Despite runner-up ranking, LeConte serves as the focal point of the Park. The summit offers unforgettable views from two different overlooks, Myrtle Point and Cliff Top. Hikers can choose from five different trails to the top, ranging from 11 to 16 miles roundtrip.

Newfound Gap
In 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the Park from this majestic site. The road, completed in 1932, straddles Tennessee and North Carolina here. Originally, Indian Gap, a point two miles west, was thought to be the lowest gap in the mountains, but Newfound Gap was discovered to be lower in elevation, thus the name.

Charlie’s Bunion
This 1,000-foot sheer drop-off can be found four miles east along the Appalachian Trail. The cliff is named after a bunion that prevented Charlie Conner, an Oconaluftee settler, from traveling through the Gap in 1928. Fellow travelers claimed the bare mountain resembled their friend’s bunion.

Clingman’s Dome
Clingman’s Dome is the Smokies’ highest peak and the third highest point east of the Mississippi. Named for a colorful Civil War general, Clingman’s Dome rears its head 6,642 feet. The observation tower , located 7 miles off Newfound Gap Road, looks out on an ever-changing view. Occasionally the peak is above cloud level, creating a surrealistic scene of mountaintops floating in an ocean of white.

Andrews Bald
A picture-perfect picnic spot, Andrews Bald offers glorious views of the towering mountain ranges of North Carolina and Georgia. It’s a 3.6 mile roundtrip hike from the Forney Ridge parking area at Clingmans Dome and is the most accessible bald in the Park.

This area was first a pioneer settlement called Bradleytown. During the 1920s logging boom, Smokemont became a busy village, sawmill and railroad terminal to haul lumber down from the forest. Today, it is a popular Park campground with a self-guiding nature trail through the reborn forest.

Select your vacation cabin at https://www.chaletvillage.com.