By Linda Carter, as printed in The Wakulla News
At the misnamed Dry Falls, the ground quakes and rumbles as the water cascades 65 foot to crash on rocks below. Mist swirl from the falls base forming rainbows in the sunlight. Power vibrates through you. Close up, the melody is hypnotic, rock concert loud, and it draws you in. Discover the many falls scattered through out the area; a little research will usually reveal one near wherever you are staying.
Float down gurgling creeks in an inner tube, spinning through rapids, dropping off small rock ledges, and gently navigating the calm stretches. Most famous for family fun is tubing at Deep Creek National Park. Almost every small town with a creek rents tubes for a few dollars, including Cherokee, N.C.
For real adventure challenge the rapids with a guide leading the way. Rafting is available on North Carolina’s Nantahala River, with class II and a few class III rapids, is ideal for family fun. More experienced rafters will thrill to the Tennessee’s Ocoee Rivers class III and class IV rapids, for an excitement packed trip. Higher numbers deliver more exciting thrills.
Historic downtowns, each with an old courthouse, and mom and pop stores, invite exploration. In North Carolina’s Bryson City families can pile on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Chug and puff on one of three vintage steam locomotives through the scenic Nantahala River gorge, and watch as the rafters paddle downstream. The pricing varies seasonally, and ranges from luxury dinner accommodations to regular passenger rates.
Quaint Helen, Georgia resembles a German alpine village. Stroll through town, browsing at the many shops. Tube the creek through downtown, or hike nearby at Amicalola Falls State Park, featuring the Southeast’s tallest cascading falls.
In Cherokee, North Carolina watch the Indian dances at the local stores, or see the performance at “Unto These Hills. ” Visit the local museums, or try your luck in the area’s only casino, Harrah’s’ Cherokee Casino and Hotel.
Explore the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. On leaving Cherokee, start at the mountain farm museum, and discover how people lived generations ago. Next stop Mingus Mill, and the history of how grain was processed before the days of electricity. As you wind further into the park keep a lookout for bears, which sometimes cross the road. Finally arrive at Clingmans Dome, and trudge up the steps to the observation tower. On a clear day the view can reach 100 miles. Officially in Tennessee, the park sprawls across the Tennessee border into North Carolina. Want more? Continue across the park to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and discover Dollywood, waterparks, and take in a show at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede.
In the evening, as you unwind from your busy day, marvel as the long-range sunset views, revealing glorious colors dancing across the mountains. No wonder families have been coming here for generations.