Explore the Secret Falls of the Smokies by Car
In the Spring, the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina promise plenty of porch-sitting and cooling breezes from the cascades.
How to go
Lodging: LeConte Lodge, Sevierville, Tenn., $79 per person
Food: Public House, 1110 Market St., Chattanooga, Tenn., fried-chicken salad from $9.50
Activities: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, free entry
Smoky Mountain School of Woodcarving, 7321 Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, Tenn.
Sevierville, Tenn., to Balsam, N.C.
With nearly 85 inches of annual rain, the upper Smokies qualify both as a temperate rain forest and one hell of a spot for showers. And Mingo Falls stands above them all. The 120-foot cascade, just a whisper off the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, is one of the tallest in the area. I slowly wound south down U.S. 441, stopping half a dozen times to take snapshots of overlooks, rippling creeks, and two napping elk. Twenty-one miles into North Carolina, Mingo sits on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Luckily, there's no strenuous hike involved for this one. Inhaling the brisk, ion-rich oxygen helped me forget that my legs were still throbbing from LeConte.
About an hour south of Mingo Falls, past gemstone sellers and dream-catcher stands, I came upon the chill little town of Sylva, North Carolina. Sylva embodies that new breed of Southern town, in league with places like Black Mountain and Brevard, North Carolina. Its Main Street is lined with coffee shops and a fly-fishing outfitter.
I rode a quick stretch to a 103-year-old inn, just short of Asheville, in the town of Balsam. If LeConte is the Smokies' old settler-style hangout, then the Balsam Mountain Inn is its Governor's mansion. Built as a summer getaway, the 50-room house has a two-story porch long enough to bowl down and rooms laid with heart-pine floorboards. It has, blissfully, little else—no phones, no TVs—and gives new meaning to the idea of a restful stay. Wood-carving block in my hand, a train calling in the distance, and nothing but foggy Blue Ridge views for miles—the Mountain Inn was exactly what I wanted after two days of waterfall trekking. Civilization could wait.
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