Handmade arts and crafts are some of the best preservers of local history. Art influences the way we see and appreciate the culture around us. And artisans have an innate ability to not only encapsulate a piece of history in a single work of art, but they somehow capture the feeling and presence of the local culture. Their work allows us to understand how it may have felt to exist in a particular place and time.

And nowhere is that more evident than in the Great Smoky Mountains. This region is overflowing with talented artisans and craftspeople who, through the work of their hands, tell the stories of Appalachia.

No trip to the Smoky Mountains would be complete without exploring the amazing handmade arts and crafts created by local artists – and you may even decide to bring a piece of the Smokies home with you. Read on to discover two incredible and inspirational arts and craft trails that you won’t want to miss.

Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Trail

Smoky Mountain Craft Trails

On the Tennessee side of the Smokies, you’ll find one of the largest communities of independent artisans in the United States – the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. With so many gifted and brilliant artists, you’ll be amazed by the diversity of handmade crafts on offer. Discover everything from pottery and ceramics to musical instruments to quilts to wood carvings and so much more.

The majority of the artists congregate in their shops and studios along the Great Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts Community trail, a scenic 8-mile loop drive on the outskirts of Gatlinburg, TN. This historic trail began around 1937 when the local Appalachian craftsmen displayed their creative works in their homes. Visitors began dropping by to admire their wares, and more artists joined the loop, opening up their galleries and workshops and creating one huge artist community.

Today’s artists continue to pay homage to the heritage of past Smoky Mountain generations and are happy to invite you in where you can be inspired by their creativity as you watch art being created right before your eyes. Don’t be shy – ask the artists questions about their creations and the history of their crafts. It’s an interactive experience and a visual feast!

With over 120 shops to explore, you’ll discover a wide variety of high-quality, one-of-a-kind treasures for decorating your home or giving as a gift. Check out everything from fine art and photography to candles and pottery to quilts, leather goods, and even handmade brooms.

While there’s plenty of parking, if you’d rather not drive, you can take the Gatlinburg Trolley  for a fun, relaxing ride where the only thing you have to worry about is how you’re going to carry home all your souvenirs!

Blue Ridge Craft Trails

Smoky Mountain Craft Trails

Over on the North Carolina side of the Smokies are the Blue Ridge Mountains. This enchanting area has been a haven for artists and craftspeople for centuries. The natural beauty of this region is the perfect inspiration for artists and has become an epicenter for the arts and crafts community. From the River Arts District in Asheville to Penland School of Craft in Spruce Pine to the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, which highlights the works of over 800 local artists, these hills are alive with creativity and talent.

And now the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (No Follow Link) has developed an incredible way for visitors and locals alike to connect with these representations of Appalachian history and culture. Through a network of craft trails that you can filter by interest and region, (No Follow Link) you can explore over 200 craft sites, including galleries, shops, studios, and art events. Curated itineraries will also give you options for local food, wineries, breweries, music venues, outdoor activities, and stunning scenic mountain views.

All of the handmade items you’ll see on these craft trails – like ceramics, weaving, quilting, beadwork, glass blowing, and so much more – are created by local Western North Carolina artists. Stop by their shops to purchase something for your home. And if you’re feeling inspired, a lot of the artists offer workshops and classes. In the Appalachian tradition of passing their craft on to the next generation, these artists are thrilled to share their knowledge and passion for creating art. Join in the tradition and make your own piece of Smoky Mountain history! 

To learn more about the craft trails in the Smoky Mountains, check out this episode of the Gateway to the Smokies Podcast with host, Joseph Franklyn McElroy.