Taking our van to see Dolly Parton and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bumper-to-Bumper Traffic Spoils Our Enjoyment of the Park

After our Crossville, Tennessee Buc-ee’s experience, (See last week’s blog) we were ready to trek deeper into Tennessee.

We still had a couple more travel days before our deadline to be in northeastern Florida for Kim’s EXIT Realty annual convention.

Kim had mapped out our travel route to give us a drive-through opportunity to experience the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. By the end of the day, we would be spending the night at a KOA campground in Asheville, North Carolina.

Fall colors in the South seemed to peak a little later than around our Minnesota homebase. That meant we would experience some great late October fall colors on this leg of our road trip.

Those fall colors would also cause some minor travel headaches for us as well. But more on that in a minute.

As many of you know, Tennessee is the home of all thing’s country, including the legendary singer Dolly Parton and current country music superstar Kenny Chesney, and many other country singers.

Interstate 40 would first take us right through the middle of Chesney’s hometown of Knoxville and a spell of congested city driving.

Plus, being a home game Saturday for the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team, our timing driving through the center of the campus area turned out to be good. The game was still in the fourth quarter as we passed by Neyland Stadium and the college campus. No post-game traffic jams for us this day.

Our next stop would be Dolly Parton’s hometown of Sevierville, TN. It’s on the way to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so we had to stop and look around.

Sevierville is the eighth-oldest city in Tennessee and is a small but bustling town with lots of national chain stores, restaurants, and traffic lights to stop at.

We were on the hunt for the statue of Dolly. We found the bronze homage to Sevierville’s hometown hero located on a quiet side street in front of the Sevier County Courthouse.

This tall, stately brick courthouse, with its clock tower and arched porticos, is still the center of county government and a delight to view.

The bronze statue of Dolly Parton is likely one of the main tourists draws to the small town. We found a parking spot in front of the courthouse and easily maneuvered our Ford Transit campervan right in.

Both of us were snapping pictures and taking video when we saw a young couple, also visiting the Dolly statue. The guy told us he was a musician, and that they were both country music fans.

Kim offered to snap a picture with their Polaroid-type instant camera. The couple repaid the favor by snapping a picture of us with Dolly and giving us the small instant print to take along on our journey. Super sweet!

The southern city limits of Sevierville seamlessly blend into the mega-tourist town of Pigeon Forge, TN. We opted to take Veterans Boulevard so we could drive past the Dollywood theme park.

We stopped for fuel at a gas station right across from the multistory Dollywood’s Dream More Resort and Spa. Then leaving the gas station we followed a logo-wrapped Dollywood shuttle bus right past the entrance to the 150-acre park.

Sorry Dolly. We would have to pass on the $89 one-day per person admission ticket until some other time.

By taking the road past Dollywood and not staying on the 441 Parkway we later found out we missed all the big tourist attractions.

Not that we had time to stop, but we could have gone to the NASCAR Smoky Mountains SpeedPark, the Titanic Museum, the Hollywood Wax Museum, the Top Jump Trampoline and Extreme Arena and the Camp Margaritaville RV Resort. Dang!

It was fun to see the Pigeon Forge area. We drove into Gatlinburg then turned onto the two-lane Newfound Gap Road (Highway 441) that took us into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is no fee to enter the park.

That’s when the traffic nightmare began.

We supposed the massive number of vehicles on the narrow road was because of the beautiful fall colors in the park. Or maybe it was because everyone was trying to get back to their hotels and motels in Pigeon Forge before dark.

The northbound lane heading back towards Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge was, for all intents and purposes, at a dead stop. Several times drivers struggled to move out of the way to let emergency vehicles, lights and sirens blaring, to get through.  

We felt happy that at least our southbound route was moving, even if at a snail’s pace.

The never-ending stream of bumper-to-bumper traffic in both directions made us not make any stops at the scenic pulls out along the road. We feared we would never get back into the line of traffic if we did veer off.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot was stuffed to maximum capacity with no hope of ever getting in anyway.

The slower pace on the very windy road did allow us to see some of the vistas from the windshield of the van. But we had to pass up places such as Chimney Tops Overlook, The Appalachian Trail at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

We would have loved to have taken the road to the world famous Clingman’s Dome overlook, or drive part of the Blue Ridge Parkway south end.

Leaving the national park, Newfound Gap Road dropped us into the town of Cherokee, N.C., home of the large Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. The town of Cherokee is on the reservation home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Oconaluftee Indian Village, help to showcase and preserve the Cherokee history and lifestyle. The Native American tribal culture is quite evident in the local shops and businesses as well. The town was bustling with activity!

The remainder of the 40-mile drive east from Cherokee to the Asheville West KOA Holiday campground was, thankfully, traffic jam-free.

This region of Tennessee and North Carolina is breathtakingly gorgeous. We definitely want to come back (during the off season) for some camping and more in depth exploring.

NEXT TIME: After a two-week break for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, we’ll resume playback of our epic journey to Florida.

We love you and appreciate your interest in our simple little van travel journeys.

Thanks for subscribing to the blog. It means so much to us. Be sure to subscribe to our JK and Kim in the Camper YouTube channel and watch the companion videos to our blogs: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcimpqqW-OlaK4zW2T8LF-g

In the meantime, have a very Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! We’ll talk again in 2023!

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