The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, covering some 520,000 acres, is the most visited national park in the country. With a rich history and spectacular views, the park offers much to visitors – but the Smoky Mountain fun doesn’t stop when you leave the park.
Wine lovers should be sure to check out the Rocky Top Wine Trail which spans 12 miles across three Tennessee towns to the west of the park. This completely free and self-guided wine trail includes tastings at five highly acclaimed wineries – Sugarland Cellars, Mill Bridge Winery, Mountain Valley Vineyards, Apple Barn Winery and Hillside Winery – all of which call the Smokies home.
Those interested in completing the wine trail can pick up a “passport” at any of the five locations (or print one online) and have it stamped at each stop. After the third stamp, participants receive a free souvenir wine glass, and after completion of the entire wine trail, they receive a second gift.
While all five wineries are close enough to easily visit in one day, for the ultimate experience, it’s recommended that you spread your tastings out over a couple of days and leave time to discover the local culture and restaurants surrounding each stop.
Sugarland Cellars’ Martha Jane Rosé — Photo courtesy of Staci Sagliano, Rocky Top Wine Trail
Closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Sugarland Cellars, just about a football field away from the park’s entrance. The name, Sugarland, comes from the park’s Sugarlands Valley, formerly home to a handful of Appalachian communities. These early settlers named the valley for the sugar maple trees that grew there.
Guests at Sugarland Cellars are offered a unique tasting experience that centers around keeping “the forgotten stories of the Smokies alive.” In addition to tastings, free tours of the winemaking facility are offered Thursday through Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Afterwards, if you want to walk off some of the wine, explore the Gatlinburg Trail, an easy 3.8-mile-round-trip scenic path that starts just about 300 feet away at the entrance to the national park.
If you’re not feeling up to walking and would prefer to grab something to eat, head across the street to The Peddler Steakhouse or The Park Grill. Both are more than happy to allow you to bring your own bottle of wine from Sugarland Cellars with no corkage fee.
Mill Bridge Winery
Try a Mill Bridge cider on tap — Photo courtesy of Chelsea Koerten, Rocky Top Wine Trail
Anyone looking for a historically and culturally significant experience will enjoy exploring Pigeon Forge’s Old Mill District. Nearly 200 years old, the Old Mill is one of the oldest continuously operated grist mills in the country. Worth checking out are the Old Mill Creamery, serving up old-fashioned hand-churned ice cream, The Old Mill Restaurant, Pigeon River Pottery and, of course, Mill Bridge Winery.
Mill Bridge offers a variety of sweet, fruity wines and hard ciders, but if you’re looking to try something dry, there’s also their thematically named white and red wines, Millstone and Grindstone. After you’re done sampling, grab a glass or bottle of your favorite and take it out to the shady patio and enjoy it alongside the Little Pigeon River.
Mountain Valley Vineyards
You’ll love the knowledgeable staff at Mountain Valley — Photo courtesy of Staci Sagliano, Rocky Top Wine Trail
Another three miles down the road, close to the Pigeon Forge–Sevierville border, is Mountain Valley Vineyards, one of the area’s oldest and largest wineries. Mountain Valley focuses on producing French- and German-style wines while still priding themselves on their sweet fruit wines, especially the muscadine wine, which they say is the test of a “true Southern winery.”
In addition to wine tastings, complimentary guided tours of the wine-making facility are offered. After your time at Mountain Valley, you’ll want to head to Sevierville’s Apple Barn and Cider Mill for more wine tastings, as well as for great food.
Apple Barn Winery
Get your apple on at the Apple Barn — Photo courtesy of Staci Sagliano, Rocky Top Wine Trail–
Located just another mile up the road from Mountain Valley is a fixture of the Sevierville community, the Apple Barn. Originally an old cattle barn built in 1910, the barn was converted into a general store in the 1980s and today provides visitors with the opportunity to purchase apple cider, apples, applewood smoked hams, apple butter and other souvenirs.
Additionally, visitors to the farm can enjoy a delicious meal in the Apple Barn Farmhouse Restaurant or at the Applewood Grill. If you’re looking for something lighter, you can grab an apple cider doughnut in the Cider Bar or stop in to the Creamery ice cream parlor.
In the Apple Barn Winery, visitors can observe the wine production and bottling process through large glass windows, browse the hundreds of medals and ribbons the wines have received, and sample the unique selection of apple-based wines.
Enjoy a glass of wine with a friend at Hillside — Photo courtesy of Chelsea Koerten, Rocky Top Wine Trail
Just up the road from the Apple Barn is another of the state’s largest wineries. This one, Hillside Winery, crushes over 865,000 pounds of Tennessee grapes each year for use in their wines. Hillside Winery continues to set themselves apart, not just by producing award-winning bottles of wine, but also through their work mentoring and supporting smaller wineries and grape farmers throughout the state.
The staff is not just friendly and passionate but excited to share their knowledge with visitors. After touring the facility and sampling the wines, visitors can enjoy a bottle on the patio. Facility tours are family-friendly and are available Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 pm.
When you’re all done at Hillside, head back down the hill to Five Oaks Farm Kitchen where you can celebrate completing the Rocky Top Wine Trail with a fantastic meal. Five Oaks Farm originally covered about 128 acres and was owned by Dr. John Ogle and his wife, Blanche.
The two were known all across the county for their hospitality, and it is in their honor that Five Oaks opened on the property with the mission of serving up large helpings of both Southern hospitality and authentic Southern-style comfort food.