Looking for a quick, inexpensive getaway? Wilderness Wildlife Week from January 12 to 19 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, features 304 walks, talks, excursions, workshops and concerts relating to America’s most visited national park — Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All programs are FREE, lodging is dirt cheap this time of year and it’s an opportunity to meet real experts and perhaps burn off a few holiday calories.
Most Wilderness Wildlife Week programs are indoors, but outdoorsy-types will find 44 hikes and excursions on the calendar. These range from a photo trek in Cades Cove to a four-mile walk through the Elkmont historic district to a strenuous 11-mile hike to Mount Cammerer.
Of the 260 programs, 142 are new for 2013, and the lineup is different every day. Among them: “Wonderful Waterfalls of Tennessee,” “Being Bear Smart,” “Searching for Panthers in the Smokies,” “Wild Hog Management in Great Smoky Mountains National Park” and “Advanced Possomology” (songs and stories about possums presented by folklorist Doug Elliott). Thirty-two of the programs focus on the heritage of the Great Smoky Mountains. Other programs are designed especially for children and nature photographers.
More than 200 experts – nature photographers, biologists, raptor rehabilitators, social historians, musicians and just plain folks who grew up in the Smokies – donate their time to lead Wilderness Wildlife Week programs. “The week is extremely flexible. You can come just for one program, for one day or for the whole week,” says Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, which organizes the event. “We have 304 ways to connect you to our beautiful part of the country.”