Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I am finally getting to the post about our day spent on Tuesday, May 21st, the day before our appointment at NEDC.  We didn't really have a plan other than that we would drive out to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that day.  We slept in, had breakfast at the hotel and didn't get on the road until 10 am.  That was a good plan we think, since we avoided traffic on the freeways.

The first thing we did was we stopped by the Visitor's and Information Center in Sevierville.  We told the volunteer there that we only had the day to drive around and she pretty much planned the day for us, where to go, what to see, how much time to expect to drive, and even another way back to Knoxville on the other side of the park, avoiding most of the traffic on the way home.

We drove through Pigeon Forge, which to me was a huge tourist trap!  The road through town was a 4-lane highway (each direction), but you could only go 35 mph.  The main strip was full of restaurants, hotel, amusement parks, theaters, water parks, and anything that you can think of to separate you from your hard earned money.  Thank goodness we were only there for the Smokies!  I suppose if you have kids, it would/could be a cool place to go to.

Pigeon Forge main strip.  Can you spot the "Titanic"?
A closer look at the "Titanic"
Watch out for King Kong on the Empire State Building!
After leaving town, the roads started to get a lot more windy.  Sometimes it felt like we were going in loops and brought back memories of me getting motion sickness from driving on a road called "The Gap" during my childhood.  Fortunately, this time I was the one driving, so motion sickness was not an issue.  Our first stop was Newfound Gap, which straddles the state lines between North Carolina and Tennessee.  There is also the Rockefeller Memorial there that honors a $5 million donation that was used to acquire the land that brought about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The memorial offers some great scenery and is great for taking photos.  If you are into hiking, you will also see part of the famous Appalachian Trail which covers over 2,200 miles and 13 states.

State line between North Carolina and Tennessee
The Appalachian Trail
Next, we drove to Clingmans Dome which is the highest point of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the state of Tennessee.  If you are willing to climb the steep half-mile paved walk up to the top, you will be rewarded with the beautiful view from a cool observation deck.  There are no stairs up here, just a paved walkway that goes all the way to the top. We had a little picnic enjoying the view before heading up to the observation deck.  The walk was only a half-mile long, but it was pretty steep and quite a haul for the not-so-fit me!  We (meaning I) had to stop a few times before we reached the top.  Half a mile seems like forever when you are going uphill!  The view at the top was so worth it!  If you look around you may notice that a lot of the fir trees are dead.  This is caused by the woolly adelgid (insect).  Kinda sad, and it doesn't sound like it will get any better.

View of our picnic lunch at Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome sign
Almost there!  Taking a break walking up to the top!
View on the way to the top
We made it to the top of the observation deck!
View from the top of the Smokies! (notice the dead trees) 
Our last stop was to a valley with an 11-mile loop surrounded by mountains called Cades Cove.  This place is rich in history.  European settlers first arrived here in the early 1800's and there are still historic buildings scattered along the loop, including churches, log homes, barns and a mill.  It is also supposed to be a great place to view wildlife, though the only things we managed to see were a few deer, a turkey and a butterfly cocoon (not sure if the last one counts as wildlife!).

The flume directing water from the creek to the mill
The mill
A barn at the mill
Overall we were super lucky with the weather.  We had gorgeous weather almost the entire time we were in the park.  The only times we got rain, and sometimes really heavy, was when we hopped into our car to go from one place to the other.  There were times when the rain made the drive on the windy roads pretty tricky.  The speed limit at the park is mostly 30 or 35 mph, but sometimes we had to go much slower than that due to the rain.  We finally left Cades Cove and the park at around 5 pm.  By that time, everyone was also leaving Cades Cove at the same time.  We encountered a thunderstorm with lightning and thunder, slowing everyone down.  We had a "Smoky Mountains rush hour" going about 10 miles an hour for quite a while until we got out of Cades Cove.
"Rush hour" in the rain in Cades Cove. 
We drove in heavy rains and limited vision for part of the drive back to Knoxville, but it was still a pleasant drive.  Overall, we had a great time at the park.  I think the Smokies would be a great place to visit especially in the fall with its fall colors.  We may consider visiting again when we go back in September.  The only thing I am not too excited about is the long windy roads.


  1. I had to stop a lot going up to Clingman's dome. The elevation is killer! It's not just that you're going uphill, but the air is so thin.

    We had a couple of days to hike and drive around before our actual transfer. We also went to the mill... that was so cool!

  2. Looks lovely! I must visit someday...