Cades Cove

See the Beauty of the Smoky Mountains at Wilderness Wildlife Week

According to the National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the entire United States with 10 million annual visitors. Annual visitation in the Smokies more than doubles attendance statistics at the Grand Canyon National Park that currently holds the number two spot.

But the numbers of folks here to enjoy the Smokies during winter are greatly reduced from the gazillions that arrive during late spring, summer and fall so a pair of events scheduled for late January and early February 2014 present outstanding opportunities for nature, history and outdoor devotees to benefit from this half-million acre national treasure.

The 24th annual Wilderness Wildlife Week begins at the LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge on Saturday, January 25, 2014 with eight days of free seminars, hikes and hands-on workshops that explore pretty much every outdoors-related topic you can imagine.

Wilderness Wildlife-Week Pigeon Forge

Fifty-five hikes of varying distances and difficulties are offered during Wilderness Wildlife Week. (Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism)

There are numerous hikes offered throughout the week. Check the schedule to make sure you sign up at the right time. Sunday hikes include a popular eight-mile hike with Tennessee State Park’s Naturalist, Randy Hedgepath, to Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park.

But that’s just the beginning.

In addition to family-friendly presentations about wildlife, birders have an option for a full day of birding at Cades Cove; anglers are offered a Fly Fishing Fest with topics that include aquatics and old Smoky Mountain fly patterns to indicators for better nymph fishing; artists can sit in on a three-hour how-to-paint the Smokies workshop, carve a bear pin or improve their photography.

Cades Cove

Photography and birding trips to Cades Cove, the most popular spot in the most popular national park in the United States, will be featured during Wilderness Wildlife Week. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

The human history of the Great Smoky Mountains is the focus of sessions about Cherokee history and stories as well as presentations about logging, railroads and residents of the area.

And there is a lot of music making. There are sing-alongs, an a cappella singing school that uses traditionally assigned shapes to identify notes on the musical scale and opportunities to learn how to play traditional mountain dulcimer, claw hammer banjo, beginning guitar, spoons, washboard and washtub bass.

Wilderness Wildlife Week

Wilderness Wildlife Week has 320 indoor programs scheduled on a variety of topics including natural history, waterfalls, wildflowers, black bear cubs, whitetail deer, bluebirds, butterflies, mountain lions, hummingbirds, bats, owls, eagles, fish, habitat, species reintroduction, management and rehabilitation. (Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism)

The Winter Heritage Festival

On the western border of the park, the 2014 Winter Heritage Festival celebrates the history, natural beauty and cultural traditions of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with emphasis on a laid-back, in-depth view of Townsend and Cades Cove on February 7-8, 2014, at various locations in and around Townsend.

Presentations at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center include events with former residents and descendants of Cades Cove families and topics ranging from divided loyalties in East Tennessee during the Civil War to dowsing, hunting traditions in the Great Smoky Mountains and wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

On February 7, hike the original back road to the Walker Sisters House. To reserve your spot confirm by phone at (865) 448-1183 evenings after 6 p.m. EST.

Walker Sisters House

Guided hikes scheduled during the Winter Heritage Festival in Townsend include trips to the log homestead of the five legendary Walker sisters who had a lifetime lease from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and maintained their traditional lifestyle until the last surviving sister passed away in 1964. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

Friday also features a photography workshop presented by the Townsend Artisan Guild workshop for photographers of all skill levels with cameras and manuals in hand from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A $25 donation is requested. Please RSVP to Susan Cooper at or (865) 448-0859.

On February 8, join a short walk to the Elijah and Polly Oliver home in Cades Cove. GSMNP park rangers will lead the hike and discuss how the park’s historic preservation team maintains and repairs over 100 historic structures throughout the park. Email or call (865) 448-4104 to RSVP.

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Hi there! I’m Vernon Summerlin. Like many, I came to Nashville to break into the music industry. After years of striving, I...Read on

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