As with most rural pockets of America, a car (or, more dramatically, a motorbike) is by far the best way of getting around. You can hire one from Hertz (www.hertz.com), which has a branch at the airport.
The Smokies are easier to get to than you might think. Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport ¬- 20 minutes' drive from the mountains- plays host to regular direct flights from Chicago, New York, Denver, Dallas, Washington and other state hubs.
The railways running through the mountains exist for novelty and nostalgia rather than getting around.
USA: +1; Tennessee: 865.
Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier's follow up to Cold Mountain chronicles a young man's journey from the Cherokee reservation on the edge of the mountains to Washington at the turn of the 19th century. Also inspired by the region's Native American heritage, Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell is a Civil War Saga that tells of the forced relocation of the area's inhabitant when the Smoky Mountains National park was created. Neil Gaiman's blackly comic fantasy American Gods reaches its dramatic climax at Rock City, on Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain.
Do go / Don't Go
The Smoky Mountains is a fantastic year-round destination - balmy outdoorsy summers are perfect for outdoor activity, but rugging up warm for bracing hiking/fishing/riding/snowball fighting, and returning for a hot toddy in front of an open fire make this a fabulous mid-winter spot. If you're ideal trip involves at least some laying-by-the-pool-soaking-up-the-rays, anytime from late April to early October will be perfect for you.
Tennessee is a bastion of good ol'-fashioned Southern cuisine, meaning that you're never far shy of a fried chicken joint in the larger towns. If food doesn't come fried, it's barbecued - a much slower, smokier process than it is in the UK - pulled pork, a popular shredded meat dish served with a sweet tomato sauce - is prepared this way. Around Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains, you'll find plenty of farms producing local artisan cheeses, hams, jams, and breads. The terrain and climate means mushrooms, especially morels, and ramps (a leek relative) grow in abundance, and chicory, which also thrives, is the traditional coffee substitute in these parts.
It's seriously rural round these parts, so flagging down a cab ain't an option. The husband and wife team behind Smoky Mountain Taxi (+1 865 659 0151) cover the area around Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg.It's seriously rural round these parts, so flagging down a cab ain't an option. The husband and wife team behind Smoky Mountain Taxi (+1 865 659 0151) cover the area around Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg.
As in the rest of the States, 15-20 per cent is standard - less means there was something wrong.
You don't go to the Smokies to laze around doing nothing, so make sure you bring lots of energy for the wealth of adventurous activities on offer. Binoculars will come in handy for bear-spotting, and a stash of trail mix (nuts, seeds, fruit and chocolate) is an essential accompaniment on mountain hikes.
Music is Tennessee's main claim to fame - the King himself first gyrated two hours away in Memphis, and the cradle of country music, Nashville is a similar distance away. Bluegrass plays everywhere in the region around the mountains, with regular folksy festivals and concerts from locally acclaimed artists such as the mandolin-toting Punch Brothers are regular events.
Your chances of finding New York-style fashion boutiques are slimmer than slim, but if your after local mountain crafts and Cherokee knickknacks, you've struck gold. At the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community (http://greatsmokyartsandcraftscommunity.com/), three miles down the road from Gatlingburg, you'll find the largest collection of independent artisans in the States, preserving the Smokies' traditional mountain crafts such as carving, pottery, quilting, broom-making, weaving and candle-making.
You can barely move for mind-blowing panoramas in the Smokies. Clingman's Dome, Tennessee's tallest peak, has an observation tower from where you can scan 100-mile views across two states. The scenery on the hike up to Mount Le Conte is consistently glorious, but if the word 'hike' is a turn-off, the 20-foot Abrams Falls is low on exertion, high on aesthetics. If you're set on the Appalachian Trail, one of the most popular sections runs from Newfound Gap to Charlie's Bunion, passing through a spruce forest with spectacular vistas.
The valley of Cades Cove is one of the Smokies' most visited attractions, home to a pristine collection of log cabins and barns built by the cove's 18th-century settlers. As well as providing an insight into historic Appalachian life (the Cove's inhabitants were relocated removed when the National Park was formed), the area's worth an eyeball for the abundant wildlife (black bears, deer, etc) and the incredible mountain landscape.
April Gatlinburg's Ribfest & Wings brings dozens of the Southeast's barbecue vendors, hundreds of the Southeast's barbecue eaters and a bluegrass-soundtracked street party atmosphere to the city streets. April-May The mountaintop Ober Gatlinburg (www.obergatlinburg.com) resort holds a sunrise service every Easter Sunday, offering free tram rides up the mountainside from 5.45am. May Gatlinburg's Fine Arts Festival on the third weekend of the month combines food, music and art from all over the US. June MountainFest (www.gatlinburgmountainfest.com) comes to Gatlinburg, celebrating Appalachian heritage through food, bluegrass, and crafts displays. September Cades Cove celebrates Old Timer's Day, a nostalgic informal get-together where the area's former residents swap stories, play mountain music and make molasses.