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After a few days in the Carolinas, we finally made it to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The first night we just drove through from the Blueridge Parkway to Gatlinburg. At first, I wasn’t super excited about it, but that changed the next day when we went in to finally do some hiking. One of the trails I really wanted to do but didn’t get to this time was the Alum Cave Trail. Must mean I have to go back!
I really wanted to go to Cades Cove, like, really wanted to, because I read a book about it last year. Our plan was two nights in Gatlinburg, then one night in Cherokee on the other side of the park. We figured since we’re staying in Gatlinburg, we should go down Cades Cove first since it’s on that side of the park. It was a lovely, albeit long, drive from the visitors center to the loop. It felt like an hour and was probably close to it.
Once we got there, we realized traffic was at a standstill. We didn’t want to sit in the car for eight more hours on the loop, so we got out and asked a ranger why it was stopped. We could thank two bear jams for that and were told to walk to see them instead, so walk we did. It wasn’t the ideal hike in Cades Cove, but we wouldn’t have been able to see the bears otherwise. There was a ranger waving traffic on and a couple people watching the bears. There were three, a sow and two cubs, up in a tree and we stopped to watch and take pictures.
We were probably there for a half hour and slowly more people found places to park and soon there was a sizeable crowd watching the bears in the tree and wandering around on the ground. It was kind of hard to see them or to get good pictures because they were right behind a bunch of bushes. Or I would think I got a good picture and there’s a branch right across it’s face or the bush is in focus with a black blob behind it. Someday I’ll get a good picture of a bear. Eventually, the bears went over the hill and we started the trek back to the car.
On our way out of Cades Cove, we made a couple stops for pictures. Once on a trail and another next to a river. We never ended up driving the loop, but that’s alright. Everything else we saw was pretty awesome. After making it out to the main road again, we found a quiet walkway and wandered along that taking even more pictures of the creek or river we were next to. It was a nice little area and we only saw a couple other people. It was much less busy than the official trails and there are quite a few all over the park.
We stayed there for a little bit, but it was getting cooler and we were getting hungry, so we headed back to Gatlinburg for the night. We promised ourselves an earlier morning to see more of the park and then we got up and left at like, 11, so that didn’t happen. It actually didn’t happen once on the trip, but we still made the best of it. The first stop the next day was Clingman’s Dome and it was so busy.
The observation tower is closed for repairs so we couldn’t climb up that. And by the time we got there, I wasn’t all that excited about the views. They definitely aren’t bad views, by any means, but it was one of those really sunny days where everything just kind of looks hazy and it was just hard to see the leaf colors and I just wasn’t feeling it.
Soooo back down the mountain we went and we drove back and forth on the main road like, three times looking for one of the 20 quiet walkways we saw the day before and there wasn’t one to be found. We pulled into one of the picnic areas and what do you know, there was a quiet walkway! I should probably explain these a bit. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 900 miles of hiking trails and they also have quiet walkways scattered around. They are little trails that you can just meander around for a bit along creeks and through the woods. I actually really liked them.
We spent some time on the picnic area walkway and I had a good time taking a lot of pictures of moss and ferns. Can never have too many pictures of moss and ferns, that’s for sure. We came to the end of the trail and made our way back to the car before heading back to the Oconaluftee visitors center and checking out the little farm museum behind it.
We got there and it felt like we were back in Yellowstone at the bison jam, but this time everyone was pulled over for elk in the field next to the visitors center. We saw plenty in Wyoming so we continued to the farm. We wandered between buildings and admired the roosters running around. We spent a little more time hanging out by the river again before being chased out by the cold again. Watched the elk from the farm and decided to call it a day. It wasn’t the most eventful two days and we didn’t hike any of the official trails, but it was still a fun trip and I loved taking pictures there. I wouldn’t say it’s in my top five, but maybe after more visits and seeing more of the park.
Tips for visiting:
- Really, go early.
- Bring bear spray if you plan on doing a lot of hiking.
- Also, consider bug spray. We didn’t come across many mosquitos, if any, but I could see them being an issue when it’s warmer.
- There is a lot of hiking here, 900 miles, so do a little research for an idea on where to start.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop into one of the visitor’s centers, there are at least four, and ask what they would recommend.
- Dress in layers. It can be cool in the morning and evening, but pretty warm during the day, so wear things you can take off and put on.
- If you go in the fall, go during the week. It’s a lot busier on the weekends.
Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Do you want to go?