The Bearly Essentials at Buckberry Creek
Thomas Hardy would approve of the Lodge at Buckberry Creek as it is far above Gatlinburg, Tenn.’s madding crowd.
Amidst the area’s plethora of national chains, hellish motels and spritely adorned cabins at the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Lodge offers an uncharacteristic, unspoiled side to Gatlinburg that mirrors what mountain getaways should be.
The Bucolic Route
When I left my office on a hot, late July afternoon with temperatures hovering in the mid-90s, I opted to take I-985 and highways 23 and 441 to Gatlinburg. The route took less than 150 minutes through Clayton, Ga., Franklin, Sylva and Cherokee, N.C., and then through a substantial portion of the Great Smoky Mountains. The shaded roadway ran adjacent the gorgeous Oconaluftee River, past Newfound Gap, the turn-off to Clingmans Dome (where my thermometer read just 76 degrees) and the entrance to Cades Cove. I had to make just two turns to get to the Lodge.
Minutes from the downtown tourist tribulations, the Lodge provides seclusion, unsurpassed views of 6,593-foot Mount Leconte and the concierge skills of a center-city hotel rather than those within rock-skipping distance of a revered state park. While attraction-seeking folks scurry to and fro in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Lodge guests may engage in a chance meeting with a black bear, an ethereal hike to Mount LeConte (the highest peak completely within the borders of The Volunteer State), a quick half-mile climb to the spectacular vistas from Clingmans Dome or a thrilling walk, bicycle or car ride at Cades Cove to observe diverse wildlife from forest trails or Abrams Falls.
Owners Buddy McLean and Jeanie Johnson, who also impeccably handled the interior design for the Lodge, have created a venue marked by rustic elegance. A blend of Bavarian, Adirondack and Scottish styles create a menagerie of comfort in all spaces, from the commodious suites to the communal areas. The need to unwind and unplug makes Buckberry Creek an enviable venue for couples, families, corporate retreaters and destination wedding parties.
A fire in the fall of 2013 destroyed one of the lodges, but corporate guests are the beneficiaries of the result. Built in its place, a newly constructed conference center offers gracious views of Mount LeConte with comfortable seating and ample room to break into smaller groups. The doors on both sides of the venue swing open to provide a perfect mountainside meeting atmosphere in late spring and early autumn. Onsite catering is available.
Speaking of food, the restaurant features a daily continental breakfast and is one of the few fine-dining destinations in the Smokies. Guests and locals alike enjoy amazing views from the wraparound deck as well as the highlights from an innovative menu that features fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. Executive Chef Ian Krystik, Sous Chef Connor Johnson, manager Andrey Antonenko and the servers do an excellent job from start to finish. Should further pampering of a refined palate be on the list of things to do, the wine and small-batch whiskey lists are inspiring.
Full, Foliage Agendas
While nearby outdoor opportunities are plentiful, guests may simply revel in the amenities offered by the Lodge, which includes the Orvis Fly Fishing School, hiking trails, in-room massage treatments or gathering at the stunning, shaded pavilion alongside Buckberry Creek. Accessible by a swift downhill hike or via staff-driven Swiss Army transporters, the pavilion is complete with a large stone fireplace, a nearby fire pit, hammock, picnic tables and the ability to install a large- screen television for football games in the fall. None, however, can really compare to the creekside repartee generated once guests get a glimpse of the natty outhouses with crystal chandeliers.
Since opening in 2003, Buckberry Lodge has always captivated kids and this year’s fall lineup upholds that tradition with activities such as scavenger hunts, pumpkin carvings, story telling and more. Those who enjoy fine cuisine will enjoy the Lodge’s Annual Wild Game Weekend, held each November, which includes dinner, live music, fine craft artisans and a special whiskey and wine tasting. The 12 Days of Buckberry, Dec. 19 through 30, captivates both children and adults, while the New Year’s Eve celebration also promises to be a big hit with guests.
Every so often, you find a certain place that resonates with you — one that affects you not only during your stay but also long after you leave. For me, the Lodge is such a place. Maybe it was because of the people I met and spent time with. Maybe it was because of the place itself. Maybe because it provided exactly what I needed at the time I visited. Perhaps it was an unlikely and unexpected combination of all of those elements? I’ll let you know when I return from my next visit.
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