Songs from the Hearth

Doug & Kathy Peters

Join singer/songwriter and Southern Appalachian Naturalist Doug Peters and his hiking partner and wife, Kathy, for an unforgettable experience at The Swag. Since 1986 Doug has delighted guests at The Swag with his original songs about life, love, and adventure. His unique lyrics capture the history, beauty, and special character of The Swag and the Smoky Mountains in ways that will both tickle your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings.

Walk and Talk

Donald & Trish Davis

Renowned storyteller Donald Davis hails from Western North Carolina. Featured at festivals throughout the U.S. and the world, Davis is also known as a prolific author, producer of books and CDs, and as a guest host for NPR’s Good Evening. He will take hikes and tell stories about the uniqueness of the place and the people who have lived in these mountains. Folks love their Dutch Oven cooking during the hors d’oeuvres time in the Dogtrot. Donald has been a part of The Swag family since 2006.

Explore and Enjoy

Joel & Kathy Zachry

Swag Experts since 2013, Joel and Kathy Zachry share their vast knowledge and experiences of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on intriguing hikes and through enlightening evening presentations about the region’s history and natural diversity. Having completed backpacking the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail and leading small group trips to remote regions of Alaska for over 25 years, they are accomplished naturalists, photographers, and writers. As authors of Bears We’ve Met – Short Stories of Close Encounters, they share their insight of the bruin and the plethora of life that coexist within its habitat. With over 40 years as instructors for the award-winning park and University of Tennessee Smoky Mountain Field School they bring entertainment and awareness to every hike and evening gathering.

Walks in the Woods

Esther Blakely

Esther has a thing about birds, wildlife, and wildflowers…and her enthusiasm is contagious! Her “Walks in the Woods” will have you laughing, crying, and thinking. Esther is a master naturalist, elk expert, and certified interpretative presenter for the National Park. Most of the year, you can find her leading hikes and eco-tours in Cataloochee Valley, representing her business, Cataloochee Valley Tours.

Hiking Far & Wide

Chris Ford

Chris has a passion for distance hiking and backpacking, having hiked over 16,000 miles since 2015. After retiring from the US Air Force and spending several years in the defense industry, he took a sabbatical to thru hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. The experience changed his life in several ways. As they say, the rest is history. He turned down his career and turned up his trail miles…a lot, typically hiking 2,000+ miles a year. In 2019, Chris thru hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail followed by the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail in 2022, wrapping up his “Triple Crown.” When he’s not on a long trail, he’s usually hiking in his back yard, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where he’s hiked 6,000+ miles. Join Chris in the evenings to hear his trail tales and each morning for a hike or more long trail stories. 

History & The Outdoors

Florie Takaki

Florie Takaki worked with the National Park Service for over 30 years, retiring in December of 2020.  During her tenure with the park service, she spent time in Valley Forge National Historical Park, Independence Historical Park, Natchez Trace and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Her love of history and the outdoors made the National Park Service a natural choice of careers.  She says the best part of her work had been providing visitors the opportunity to connect with the parks in ways they may not have been able to without a ranger to help in their curiosity.  Join Florie for day hikes and evening presentations.

Nature & Trail Tales

Matt Dobson

Matt has lived and travelled all over the world, but has made his way back home to southern Appalachia. Having studied Horticulture and Landscape Design at the University of Tennessee he has a passion for the natural world, especially relating to plant life. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2016 changed the course of his life and career. He went on to complete the Triple Crown by thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. Matt is now a professional backcountry guide and has hiked almost all of the trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest. With over 600 nights in the wilderness and 15,000 miles on his legs, he is as at home in the forest than away from it. He loves sharing stories of his trail experiences and of his continuing educational voyage through our natural world. Join Matt as he shares stories, history, culture and lore of Southern Appalachia and the National Park.

Cooking School

Executive Sous Chef Josh Vilain

Join our Executive Sous Chef Josh Vilain and our Pastry Chef Phyllis Miller for one of our three cooking schools this season. Each cooking school will feature four sessions, split amongst two days. The featured dishes will change according to the season. It is recommended that you arrive no later than Sunday and depart on Wednesday, after our gourmet picnic atop Gooseberry Knob. If you would like to attend our cooking school, please let us know when you book your reservation as class size is limited to 6 adults per session.