East Tennessee is the perfect place to view wildlife and nature. It's home to caverns, forests, mountains, rivers and lakes, including the largest underground lake in the U.S. Birders and other nature-lovers will appreciate the diversity of eastern Tennessee wildlife, birds and wildflowers found within the Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37778 Ph: 865-436-1200 www.nps.gov/grsm), 800 square mile park is an International Biosphere Reserve and contains over 10,000 discovered species, with another 90,000 likely yet to be documented.
Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern U.S., but by the mid-1800s they were extirpated from the region by over-hunting and habitat loss, but reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001. Today, you can see elk in Campbell County. The best time to view elk are usually early morning and late evenings and are best viewed at a distance using binoculars. If you approach an animal so closely that it stops feeding, changes directions of travel, or otherwise alters its behavior, you are too close. Weighing an average of 600 to 700 pounds (cows weight an average of 500 pounds), adults are seven to 10 feet long from nose to tail and stand 4.5 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder and have antlers as wide as five feet.
Tour the 11-mile loop, which is open to auto, bicycle and foot traffic at Cades Cove (7144 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Townsend, TN 37882 Ph: 865-448-0205 www.cadescove.net). See the white-tailed deer, best seen in the early morning. Summer months provide a great opportunity to see a black bear because they feed on berries. If you see a black bear, give it plenty of room and definitely don't try to feed them. The Cove has many other forms of wildlife like wild turkeys, wild hogs, coyotes, fox, river otters as well as bobcats. The Smokies support a large number of bobcats and most people don't even know they are around. They are a very elusive animal and do most of their roaming at night.
Don't be surprised if you spot a black bear at Bearly Rustic Cabin Rentals (7651 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Townsend, TN 37882 Ph: 865-448-6036/1-888-448-6036 www.bearlyrustic.com). The "locals" will greet you at their vacation cabins rentals, which are situated on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Cades Cove. "Bear"ly Rustic Cabin Rentals offers guests beautiful and unique vacation cabin rentals in the Smokies. With a focus on rest and relaxation, our cabins are the perfect place to escape the everyday hustle and bustle you leave behind. From intimate streamside settings, to wooded retreats the cabins are just what you are looking for in a vacation cabin rental.
Dinosaurs are still alive in Pigeon Forge.
Sixty life-size dinosaurs and 20 reptiles at Dinosaur Walk Museum (106 Showplace Blvd., Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 Ph: 865-428-4003 www.dinowalk.com). Come face-to-face with a Tyrannosaurus Rex! Count the spikes on a Stegosaurus tail. Stand next to one of the most common predators, the Allosaurus. Learn to spell "Parasaurolophus," the largest duck-billed dinosaur. At the Dinosaur Walk Museum , our dinosaurs aren't fossils or bones. They are life-size sculptures. You and your family can see one of the world's largest collections of prehistoric animals, ranging from the two-story-high Tyrannosaurus Rex to a tiny 12-inch tall Microraptor.
Just down the Parkway from Dinosaur Walk, take the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride (2806 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 Ph: 865-908-7599 http://mypigeonforge.com/Attractions_ShowRecord.asp?business_id=1167& ).
A massive indoor special effects thrill ride, boats travel on a long winding river through a dinosaur infested jungle, with caves, dynamic waterfalls and erupting geysers. Riders come face to face with numerous prehistoric creatures, some friendly and some not.
For some amazing feats by trained animals, check out some of the great theater acts.
Fun barnyard animals, clean family comedians, magicians, jugglers, fire-eaters and a full country band await you at the Comedy Barn Theater Comedy Barn (2775 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 Ph:865-428-5222/1-800-295-2844 www.comedybarn.com). The award winning family comedy variety show is an enjoyable evening of family fun. You'll laugh until you can't laugh anymore.
Don't miss Noah's Ark Animal Park (2046 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 Ph: 865-428-7469 www.miracletheater.com). Located at the Miracle Theater. You don't have to be a kid to enjoy the live animal rides on camels and ponies. Be sure to pet Miracle the lamb, one of the animal stars. And, stay to see the stunning, epic, musical celebration of the life of Christ consisting of an enormous cast of actors, singers, dancers, technicians and live animals. You will be awed by the magnificence performance at The Miracle Theater (2046 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 Ph: 865-428-7469/1-800-768-1170 www.miracletheater.com). Bring your entire family and witness a musical spectacular like no other. The Miracle is a stunning musical recreation of the life of Christ told in epic proportion. From centurian soldiers on horseback to majestic kings on camels, the huge scope of this production is amazing. The curtains will rise on the dawning of creation, as the fingerprint of Christ is illustrated throughout the Old Testament. See angels flying overhead proclaiming His birth. Feel the wind and the rain as Jesus calms the sea. Witness the glory of His spectacular ascension. You'll be inspired and renewed as you witness the glory of The Miracle!
Thirty-two magnificent horses and a cast of top-notch riders thrill you with daring feats of trick riding at Dixie Stampede (3849 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37868 Ph: 1-800-356-1676 www.dixiestampede.com). Be amazed at the hilarious ostrich races and world-famous racing pigs. A fun-filled, action-packed Dinner and Show extravaganza for everyone! It's the perfect place for families, friends and groups to gather for spectacular special effects and amazing stunts by the most talented performers in the area. It's the only place that brings together stunning performers, amazing horse feats, fantastic stunt riders, magic and audience participation with a delicious four-course dinner extravaganza for one amazing price! Plus, you won't want to miss the exciting Opening Act in the Carriage Room one hour before the main show. Its all part of Dixie Stampede adventure!
Lions, tigers and magic - oh my! Stunning illusions, exotic animals, mind-boggling special effects starring award-winning illusionist. Enjoy two hours of nonstop illusions and a masterful performance by Terry Evanswood, international star of magic and winner of the Merlin award, magic's equivalent of the Oscar, at Magic Beyond Belief (2135 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 Ph: 865-428-5600 www.pigeonforgemagic.com). Then after the show, visit the Magic Shop which is filled with items and novelties for beginners and the advanced!
For a guaranteed wildlife viewing, there are several attractions in East Tennessee that will satisfy the whole family.
See more than 800 animals at the 52-acre Knoxville Zoological Garden (3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive, Knoxville, TN 37914 Ph: 865-637-5331 www.knoxville-zoo.org) which exhibits exotic and native species. Enjoy Kids Cove, a children's play area, camel rides and more. Discover a world of wonder at Knoxville Zoo. Grasslands Africa! brings the animals of Africa to one location. Enjoy elephants, giraffe, zebra, kudu, gazelles, waterbuck and several birds.
Circle G Ranch (861 Thorn Grove Pike, Strawberry Plains, TN 37871 Ph: 865-932-0070 www.ridecamels.com) offers a unique adventure just minutes from Knoxville, Pigeon Forge, and the great Smokey Mountains. With over 62 acres, 23 camels, as well as many exotic animals, they are USDA licensed and insured, Circle G Ranch keep things professional, safe, and fun. Entertaining the public and educating them about these gentle giants is their goal. The animals are friendly, healthy, well groomed exotic farm animals, well treated, and very much loved. It's a hayride you'll never forget.
You do more than just look at the deer, you walk among them and pet and feed over 100 hand-tamed deer at Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo (478 Happy Hollow Lane, Sevierville, TN 37876 Ph: 865-428-3337 www.deerfarmzoo.com). A truly rare opportunity to get close to these delicate, graceful creatures. See zebra, reindeer, prairie dogs, guanaco, miniature horses, pygmy goats, sheep, miniature Sicilian donkeys, exotic cattle, Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pigs, peacocks, wallabies and Rocky Mountain Elk at this 140-acre natural habitat.
Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies (88 River Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 Ph: 865-430-8808 www.ripleysaquariumofthesmokies.com) is literally teaming with life - 10,000 exotic sea creatures comprise more than 350 individual species. There are more fish in this aquarium than there are people living in the entire town of Gatlinburg. Although Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is hundreds of miles from the ocean, the scenic beauty and the abundance of water all around make the town of Gatlinburg a "natural" location for a world-class aquarium, America's most fun aquarium.
Discover some of earth's most beautiful creatures in Rainforest Adventure (Governor's Crossing, 109 NASCAR Drive, Sevierville, TN 37862 Ph: 865-428-4091 www.rfadventures.com). With 120 species in their habitats, hourly shows by expert handlers, educational live exhibits, exotic birds and tropical flowers this is a great adventure for all ages.
Three Bears Gift Shop (2861 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 Ph: 865-453-2775 www.pigeon-forge-attractions.com) exists because the Smoky Mountains has an apparently inexhaustible supply of bears. The roly-poly Yogis and Boo-boos pop up everywhere in the Smokies, thanks to years of environmental protection and a burgeoning human population. When they pop up in places they aren't wanted -- say, in the dumpster of a fast food restaurant -- they could wind up in a pit.