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The Smoky Mountains were the summer vacation destination of my youth. Photos and boyhood memories inspire me as I plan a return to Franklin North Carolina.

Mountain Memories: A Return to Franklin, North Carolina 1

This post is sponsored by Visit North Carolina and Discover Franklin, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Franklin North Carolina Mountain Memories

Franklin, North Carolina, wasn’t really my second home, but it often felt like it.

As the most frequent destination on childhood family vacations, this gateway to the Smoky Mountains opened my eyes to a whole new world, far removed from my Central Florida home, and it played a key role in defining my future, not just in travel, but in life.

Falling in love with the mountains of Western North Carolina at such a young age is what ultimately led me to buy Pinebox, a mountain cabin of my own, in 2003.

While planning our upcoming road trip to Franklin, memories of those summer days flooded my mind. So I unpacked my grandfather’s photo albums to revisit those impressionable times once again.

UPDATE: Be sure to read the follow-up post to this article, Franklin, North Carolina: A Smoky Mountain Adventure.

The Franklin of My Youth

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Clarence, Eva, Lovic, Myra, Lenora

In the early 1960s, my grandfather, Clarence Blount, and four of his siblings discovered Franklin, North Carolina. They fell in love with a mountainside property in the hollow at the end of Mack Branch Road, purchased adjoining plots, and began construction on five handmade cabins.

Grandaddy was newly retired and my Grandmother Kitty had recently passed away, so Franklin marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life.

It wasn’t long before the cabins on Blount Mountain and Porter Ridge became the perfect location for reunions of our extended families. When summer rolled around, the Florida aunts, uncles, and cousins loaded up their cars and headed for the hills.

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There was nothing better than spending summer days in the company of cousins. We explored every inch of our grandparents’ property, hiking over the mountain to pick wild blackberries and raspberries, “hoboing” on Uncle Lovic’s big swing, and carving our own walking sticks.

The grandads always planted huge gardens in the spring, and when late summer rolled around, the cabin porches were loaded with hampers of corn, buckets of potatoes and cucumbers, baskets of peas, and an endless supply of tomatoes.

Let the record show that nothing beats a mountain ‘mater sandwich!

On days when our mothers drove to the laundromat in downtown Franklin, we would run over to Ruby City and admire all the cut and polished stones through the glass cases. After all, Franklin was, and remains, the Gem Capital of the World.

In the evenings, we would sit down to fresh vegetable suppers or roast weenies over an open fire. Then we would play noisy games of Yahtzee and a version of Pit called “Spoons” late into the night.

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Franklin was the perfect hub for our many outings and day trips. And memories of those activities were captured through the lens of Grandaddy’s Brownie box camera.

Back then, there was a natural waterslide in Franklin along Walnut Creek Road, not as big as some of the sliding rocks elsewhere in the state, but just as fun. And one year when the Western North Carolina Wagon Train came through town, several cousins and I got to ride in the parade.

Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the majestic Cullasaja Falls were a short drive along Hwy. 64 outside of Franklin, and Cliffside Lake was the perfect place for a swim.

Cherokee was a standard destination every summer because it was just a 30-mile drive from Franklin. Other destinations, like Tweetsie Railroad, were several hours away.

Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was also a memorable outing.

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In those days, it was common to spot black bears at roadside locations. It was also a common practice for tourists to feed the bears and view them up close.

We will just chalk that behavior up to ignorance!

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I think it would be safe to say that Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was everyone’s favorite place for outdoor fun. Back then we would carry our own inner tubes, often lashed with plywood seats, to float down the creek rapids.

I have returned to Deep Creek many times over the years, and I can say with certainty that tubing is one outdoor activity that is just as fun today as it was when we were kids.

Times have changed, and rubber tubes have been replaced with plastic blow-up floatables. Generations have come and gone, but the time spent with family and friends on the creek is the “stuff memories are made of.”

When the tubing was done, relaxing streamside in a hammock with a good book was not a bad way to spend an afternoon, especially when my eyelids closed and I drifted into a peaceful sleep beneath the trees.

The Nantahala Gorge was always a beautiful drive, and in the early 1980s we gathered the courage to go whitewater rafting for the first time. As first-timers, we had butterflies in our stomachs, especially when they told us about the whirlpool that would suck you under, and how you had to crawl along the river bottom to get out. My cousin Marvin was tossed out of the raft, but we were able to pull him back in before he got pulled under.

There were family outings to Gold City (Franklin’s own retro roadside attraction), Clingman’s Dome, Grandfather Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and many more destinations.

A Return to Franklin, North Carolina

Situated within the Nantahala National Forest, Franklin was a great outdoor destination back in the day, and it has continued to build on that success, having been named the Top Small Adventure Town by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine two years in a row (2015 and 2016).

Next week, Jerry and I will be driving up to Franklin to spend a couple of days exploring the outdoors. We plan to visit the downtown area and then branch into the outlying areas. I am excited at the prospect of rediscovering Franklin, to see how it has changed over the years and also how it has stayed the same.

Outdoor adventures such as gem mining, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, motorcycling, scenic drives, canoeing, tubing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and boating all begin in Franklin.

UPDATE: Be sure to read the follow-up post to this article, Franklin, North Carolina: A Smoky Mountain Adventure.

For our visit this time, we will be using a bulleted itinerary, and take in as many activities and sites as time allows.

Day Activities in Town

Evening Activities in Town

Scenic Drives

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  • Rufus Morgan Falls
  • Bust Yer Butt Falls
  • Ranger Falls
  • Mooney Falls
  • Big Laurel Falls
  • Glen Falls
  • Secret Falls
  • Picklesimer Rock House Falls

Hiking Trails

  • Pickens Nose Trail
  • Standing Indian
  • Bartram Trail to Wayah Bald
  • Nantahala Fire Tower
  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy Town
  • Whiteside Mountain

We are super-excited about our upcoming return to Franklin, North Carolina. Check back in a couple of weeks for a full photo-intensive report loaded with insider tips to help you plan your own outdoor adventure road trip through the gateway to the Smoky Mountains!

UPDATE: Be sure to read the follow-up post to this article, Franklin, North Carolina: A Smoky Mountain Adventure.

Click here to find Franklin lodging options on TripAdvisor!

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The Smoky Mountains were the summer vacation destination of my youth. Photos and boyhood memories inspire me as I plan a return to Franklin, North Carolina.

Helpful Links

Franklin, North Carolina: A Smoky Mountain Adventure

Visit North Carolina

Discover Franklin

Nantahala National Forest

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Howard Blount is founder and editor of the travel web site Backroad Planet. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with the likes of Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. Recently retired from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher, Howard enjoys spending his time on anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, restored classic movies on Blu-ray, HDTV, autumn, sandhill cranes, hot springs, Florida springs, rain and other gloomy weather, log cabins, cracker shacks, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, museums, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, scenic and historical sites, castles, cathedrals, the Civil War, cold sheets, National and State Park Passports, quotes, the Rambos, Dionne Warwick, Steely Dan, Doobies, Diet Pepsi, Fish City Grill, anything Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists. And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.