Thursday, January 12, 2017

Take a Tour of Glacier National Park on an Historic Red Bus

Modern day visitors to Glacier National Park can step back in time by taking a tour of the park on one of the historic Red Buses. These historic open-air buses have been taking visitors through the park since 1936, and are widely considered to be the oldest fleet of touring vehicles anywhere. While the historic Going-to-the-Sun Road travels across precipitous cliffs and hair-pin turns, the Red Buses allow visitors to soak in Glacier's magnificent scenery - instead of worrying about having to keep their cars on the road.

In this short video below, Finley-Holiday Films gives you an idea of what it's like to cruise through the park in one of these wonderful old vehicles:

In addition to cruising the Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the best ways to see Glacier National Park is to take a hike along one of the many hiking trails that meander throughout the park. Prospective visitors may also want to note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings and other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg Launches #GatlinburgStrong Campaign

I'm happy to report that one of our long-time advertisers, Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg, is open and ready to welcome you. Although they did experience the loss of some of their cabins during the recent wildfire, they are very happy to report that they're open for business and still have many cabin available for rent in the Gatlinburg area.

Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg has also recently launched the #GatlinburgStrong Campaign, in which they will be offering 15% off on reservations during 2017. You can find additional information on this special offer by clicking here.

While there was a lot of destruction and damage from the fires, many businesses – restaurants, shops, and attractions – did not sustain any damage at all. In fact, downtown Gatlinburg was virtually untouched - and is currently open to the public.

Hikers should also note that the vast majority of the national park was untouched, and the vast majority of the more than 800 miles of trails in the park are currently open, including the Alum Cave Trail, which has recently reopened after the completion of a two-year rehabilitation project.

The winter "off-season" offers a great opportunity for fans of the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as hikers in general, to support the Gatlinburg region. Spend a day, the weekend, or an entire week; either way, your vacation dollars will help the entire community. I know that Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg would love and appreciate your support!


Friday, December 30, 2016

Missing Aircraft Found in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Officials announced the completion of the recovery efforts for the victims associated with the Cessna 182 that went down in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Monday, December 26th. At approximately 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday the park’s technical rescue team along with a Tennessee Army National Guard helicopter extricated the three victims from the wreckage.

The plane was in route to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport from Florida on Monday when it went missing over the park at approximately 4:01 pm. The three occupants of the plane, David Starling, 41, Kim Smith, 42, and Hunter Starling, 8, were from Bradford County, FL. 

Ground teams searched the steep and heavily wooded area on foot Tuesday, but were unable to access some areas due to rough terrain. A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard located the missing single engine airplane within Great Smoky Mountains National Park at approximately 4:43 pm on Tuesday, December 27th. The plane was found in steep terrain on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics on board were hoisted down to the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors.

The National Park Service worked closely with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in this search effort. The National Transportation Safety Board will take the lead in the investigation of the plane crash.


NC National Forests Cautions Visitors on Additional Hazards This Winter

The U.S. Forest Service encourages visitors to the National Forests of North Carolina to use caution when recreating this winter because of additional hazards in the woods.

Natural settings have inherent risks and winter weather can increase the danger. Falling trees and branches are an ever-present hazard; the addition of snow and ice makes tree failure more likely. Visitors should be especially cautious when entering areas burned by recent wildfires because fires may have killed or weakened trees. Fire and the freeze-thaw cycle can loosen rocks which can roll onto roads and trails. Motorists and hikers should also be aware of the potential for icy conditions on shaded areas of roads and trails.

Know before you go. Many places in the forest do not have cell phone service. Plan and prepare accordingly. Check with the National Weather Service before your trip so you know what weather to expect but be prepared for changing conditions. Contact your local Ranger District office to get the latest information about current trail conditions and seasonal closures.

Your safety is your responsibility. Take these preventative measures to help keep yourself safe: Avoid traveling alone. If you must travel alone, share your plans. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

* Know your limits and choose activities that are appropriate for your physical condition.

* Use appropriate tires and footwear and adjust your speed or pace where there is snow or ice.

* Carry emergency kits containing water, food, blankets, and matches.

* Dress in layers which can be adjusted to the conditions and bring extra clothing in case you get wet.

You can click here for more outdoor safety tips.

If the wildfire recovery in the Southern Appalachians is anything like what I saw in Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of years ago, we may see quite an abundance of wildflowers next spring. While hiking to Granite Falls in 2014 we passed through a zone that was burned by the Big Meadows Fire during the prior year. We were expecting to see total desolation, but in fact we were treated to some relatively unique photographic opportunities. There were literally thousands and thousands of wildflowers sprouting along the forest floor, which marked the beginning of the natural renewal process.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Winter Adventure in the Smokies

Even though Old Man Winter is already tightening his icy grip on the mountains, it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Winter is an excellent time to visit the Smokies, especially for those seeking solitude. Although the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees more visitors year-round than any other park, winter is by far the slowest tourist season.

While it might be rather frosty at Newfound Gap, temperatures in the lower elevations of the park are usually quite balmy during the winter months. Roughly half the days have high temperatures of 50 degrees or more – some even reach into the 70s. On average, you can expect a snowfall of one inch or more just 1 to 5 times a year. This means that on most days you’ll still find plenty of opportunities for some great hiking on trails such as Abrams Falls, Little River, or Porters Creek - just to name a couple.

For the more ambitious who wish to venture into the higher elevations, you should expect snow and ice, especially on trails in the upper reaches of the park. You may even want to consider taking a pair of strap-on crampons (made for hiking boots) along with you. Even packed snow has a tendency to turn to ice overnight, and if you’re on a trail with steep drop-offs, such as Alum Cave, you’ll appreciate the extra traction they’ll give you.

If your preference is for sports that rely on snow you can usually count on plenty of it at the highest elevations. Although Gatlinburg averages only about seven inches of snow throughout the winter, Clingmans Dome, on the other hand, normally receives a whopping 85 inches. Up to two feet can fall during one winter storm!

One of the best places to be in the park when there’s snow on the ground is at Newfound Gap. The seven-mile road to Clingmans Dome, closed to traffic from December through March, provides excellent opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Appalachian Trail - spanning the crest of the Smokies and crossing over Newfound Gap - also provides for some great snowshoeing opportunities when conditions are right.

Sledding is another popular activity on or near Newfound Gap, especially for children and those who are still kids at heart themselves.

Adrenaline junkies looking for the speed and thrills of downhill skiing or snowboarding can get their fix at nearby Ober Gatlinburg or the Cataloochee Ski Area. Cataloochee offers 14 different runs, while Ober Gatlinburg has eight, including one that’s almost a mile in length. Both resorts also offer snow tubing opportunities as well.

Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains is truly magical. After a blanket of fresh snow the landscape turns into a scenic wonderland, especially in the spruce-fir forests of the upper elevations of the park. For those that have only visited during the warmer months, winter is an excellent time to experience the Smokies in a whole new way.

If you're considering a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains this winter, please remember a visit during this time period - the "off-season" - will go a long way in helping to support the victims of the recent wildfires. Spend a day or week, either way, your vacation dollars will help the entire community. I know our advertisers from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge would love your support!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Smokies Lifts Campfire Ban Today

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have lifted the fire ban effective today, December 23rd. Campfires and open grills have been banned in the backcountry since November 1 and throughout the park and frontcountry areas since November 15. Beginning Friday, visitors can have campfires in designated backcountry campsite firerings and resume use of grills and campfires at established frontcountry campsites and picnic areas. Recent rains, along with the containment of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire, led park officials to consider lifting the fire ban. The fire was considered 100% contained as of Sunday, December 18th.

“With the fire containment and recent wet, moist conditions, we are relieved that our winter campers can once again have warming fires which can be critical when camping in single digits,” said Chief Ranger Steve Kloster. “We remind hikers and campers to dress in layers and to be prepared for changing weather at all elevations.”

The park has received between 7 to 10 inches of rain since November 28 which has helped relieve dry conditions across the park. Overall, rainfall is down approximately 16 inches (31%) for the year at Park Headquarters near Gatlinburg, making it one of the driest years in park history. Park Headquarters received record low precipitation in 2007 with only 34 inches reported for the entire year which was well below the normal average of 55 inches per year for this location. To date, the park has received approximately 39 inches of rain this year at Park Headquarters.

Park trail crews continue to clear and assess trails throughout the burned area. The following areas reopened on Wednesday: Cherokee Orchard Road, Twin Creeks Trail, Noah Bud Ogle Nature Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Baskins Creek Trail, Grapeyard Ridge Trail, and Old Sugarlands Trail. Hikers are reminded to stay on established trails and to be cautious of overhead limbs and trail hazards throughout the area including loose rocks, falling trees, flooding, and debris flows. Hikers should be alert and avoid hiking through the areas during high winds.

The following trails remain closed: Chimney Tops Trail, Road Prong Trail, Sugarlands Mountain Trail, Bull Head Trail, Rough Creek Trail, Cove Mountain Trail, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, and Sugarlands Riding Stables concession trails. For updated information on backcountry closures, please visit the park website at or call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297.

Maps and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data related to the Chimney Tops 2 and Cobbly Nob Fires are published by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and are available for download by following the links at


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Winter Specials at Heartland Rentals

As Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains continue to recover from last month's devastating wildfires, it's important to note that the vast majority of the park was untouched by the fires, and all of downtown Gatlinburg is open and ready for you to visit. In order to encourage visitors to return to the area and help the region recover, I wanted to highlight some of the specials that Heartland Rentals, one of our long-time advertisers, is offering during this winter season. This is a great opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful national parks in the country - while helping the local economy recover with your vacation dollars! Here's a look at how you can save this winter:

January 2–January 31: Stay 3 nights, get one night free*

Make your Smoky Mountain Memories! Stay 3 that includes a Tuesday in January, receive one of the nights FREE ! Management reserves all rights. Cannot be combined with any other special or discount. All nights must be consecutive. Subject to terms and availability. Call now for best availability! On new reservations EXCLUDES Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, and Weekends. Must book between March 1, 2016 and December 29, 2016

January 2–February 4: Stay 4 nights, get one night free*

January Special - pay for 3 nights and the 4th night is FREE. Valid on remaining cabins and chalets and for new reservations. Free night is least expensive rate. Management reserves all rights. Cannot be combined with any other special or discount.All nights must be consecutive. Subject to terms and availability. Call now for best availability! Must book between March 1, 2016 and December 29, 2016

January 3–March 10: Stay 7 nights, get two nights free*

Chase away the winter blues with a rejuvenating week in the mountains! We make it affordable ~ you make it fun! Stay 7 nights, but you only pay for 5! Must book between March 1, 2016 and December 29, 2016

February 15–March 10: Stay 4 nights, get one night free*

Heartland Cabin Rentals is sharing the love this February and First of March! Book 4 or more nights and you will receive one of the nights free. Special must be mentioned at time reservation is made to be honored. Free night is least expensive rate. *Holiday periods are excluded from this special*. Management reserves all rights. Cannot be combined with any other special or discount. All nights must be consecutive. Subject to terms and availability. Call now for best availability! Must book between March 1, 2016 and December 29, 2016

February 24–March 31: Stay 6 nights, get one night free*

Stay 6 nights or more and receive one of the nights FREE Month of March! This Valid on remaining cabins and chalets and for new reservations only. Special must be mentioned or online special at time reservation is made to be honored. Free night is least expensive rate.*ALL HOLIDAY PERIODS and Easter Week are excluded from this special. * Management reserves all rights. Cannot be combined with any other special or discount.All nights must be consecutive. Subject to terms and availability. Must book between October 14, 2016 and December 29, 2016

For more information, please visit the Heartland Rentals website.