You'll find a different definition of "Southern Gothic" in the Smokies. A place of mist-shrouded ridgelines and truly primeval chunks of eastern old-growth forest, this parkwhich straddles the southern TennesseeNorth Carolina state lineis less than a day's drive away for a third of the U.S. population. And its more than 800 miles of hiking trails and 730 miles of fishable creeks draw the most visitors of any park.
EXPERT ADVICE: "Explore the Eagle Creek arm of Fontana Lake, on the south side of the park," says Johnny Molloy, a writer who has logged more than 600 nights in Great Smoky's backcountry while researching two guidebooks to the park. "It's remote, and you can hike to the Shuckstack fire tower, one of only four fire towers left in the Smokies." From the Fontana Village Marina (call ahead to arrange canoe rental or a boat shuttle), paddle or ride five miles across the lake and up the Eagle Creek arm to the Lost Cove campsite. From there, hike almost three miles up the Lost Cove Trail to the Appalachian Trail and head south half a mile until you hit the fire tower and its expansive views of the lake and 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome.
CRASH PAD: Check out the LeConte Lodge, which has a cluster of seven rustic cabins atop 6,593-foot Mount LeConte. The best part: Appalachian comfort food, including biscuits and grits. $93 per person, including breakfast and dinner; leconte-lodge.com