The Best Entrée We Ever Had
Main Drag: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
2009 Visitors: 9,491,437
As soon as warm weather arrives, the Smokies get smothered with people, so I recommend trading the area's waffle buffets and trampled campgrounds for the hidden glories of Tennessee's lush Cumberland Plateau. South Cumberland is a classic setting for hikers and backpackers, abounding with evocatively named places (Fiery Gizzard Trail, Buggy Top Cave) that are every bit as picturesque as they sound. Of the multiple wilderness areas that constitute the park, 17,551-acre Savage Gulf is my pick. Draining the western edge of the plateau, it's a natural water playground where streams cascade down to numerous waterfalls, forming big, irresistible pools. Rock formations lie throughout the forest like ruined palaces, and the Stone Door, a sheer 100-foot crack in the escarpment, just begs to be scaled. BEST CAMPSITE: Near the plateau's edge, nine miles in from the ranger station, is the old Hobbs Cabin, with a campground out front and a spring out back. No permits necessary. BEST LODGE: The Monteagle Inn, five miles away (doubles, $160; monteagleinn.com).