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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Blount County bursts forth

Photo by Paul Mill

Where is Blount County, Tenn.?

Blount County, anchored by Alcoa, Maryville and Townsend, is in eastern Tennessee, on the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. Downtown Knoxville, Tenn., is 16 miles north; Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tenn., on the other side of the mountains, are a 20- to 25-minute drive. Blount County is about two hours from Chattanooga, Tenn., and three hours from Nashville, Tenn., and Lexington, Ky.

How do we get there?
Two major interstates, I-75 and I-40, intersect 15 miles north in Knoxville. Several major highways, including U.S. highways 129, 411 and 421 and state routes I-140, 33 and 95, serve the area. State Highway 73 leads to Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tell me about some sites worth seeing.
In the spring and summer, many of the 1,500 varieties of flowering plants put on a show at Cades Cove, an 1,800-acre slice of foothills wilderness inhabited by black bears, deer and wild turkeys.

Cades Cove serves as an open-air museum. Cades Cove Heritage Tours leads 3.5-hour guided tours of the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop. On hayrides, park rangers explain the Cove’s history and tell its stories.

• Absorb 7,000 years of history in the 17,000-square-foot Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. In addition to galleries about Native American and pioneer life, there are 11 historic buildings, a 100-seat auditorium and a 500-seat covered amphitheater that looks out on the Smokies.

Tell me about some of the main meeting sites.
Available in the county are more than 2,000 guest rooms, most in smaller hotels and inns.
• Among the area’s larger hotels is the 236-room Hilton Knoxville Airport Hotel, linked by covered walkway to the McGhee Tyson (Knoxville) Airport in Alcoa. The hotel has 11,616 square feet of meeting space in up to 15 rooms.

• Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend is simultaneously rustic and refined. Its 29 rooms are a mixture of one- and two-bedroom cabins; a meeting room can accommodate up to 125 people. Reservations are recommended for its popular restaurant, where trout, butternut squash and other local foods take gourmet turns.

• A rotunda conference room for small meetings and views of the Smoky Mountains are selling points for the 49-room Highland Manor Inn in Townsend.

• A focus on food at RT Lodge isn’t so surprising when you learn that the 60-room inn is owned by the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain, which is headquartered in Maryville. Its furnishings have the style and casual polish of Ralph Lauren; among its team-building programs are a “Top Chef”-style challenge and a Food and Wine Olympics.

• National Geographic Traveler chose the 14-room Richmont Inn as one of the top 25 authentic hotels in the United States. The inn’s chalet is suited to small business and social gatherings.