Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited National Park in the country with over 9 million visitors a year. It’s not hard to see why – this vast park has incredible diversity in it’s flora, fauna, weather, and activities to suit all ages, interests, and fitness. And bonus – it’s FREE to get into this park. I think that is actually a mistake on their part, but what do I know. The only negative to this park for me is that it is not dog friendly (but with the huge bear population, it makes sense) – see Luca’s blog on his thoughts. 

After we were done at Mammoth Cave on Sunday, we drove to Knoxville, Tennessee and stayed the night. The next morning, we worked out at the West Knoxville YMCA. I don’t remember if I did a plug for The Y yet – but it’s the best gym membership around. Starting in January, membership became nationwide making it truly the best deal. If you travel at all, have kids, want to swim, or just want a variety of programs – nothing beats the Y. It’s also income based pricing so it’s affordable for all. Go join now!

Anyway, after a good workout, and an even better shower (it mayyyy have been a week since my last one), we got to the Smokies! We stopped at the visitor center, got my junior ranger booklet (it’s $2.50 – most other places it’s free – but they gotta make them dollars somehow!), and since it was later in the afternoon, we just took the scenic 31 mile road through the whole park to the North Carolina side of the park. That drive takes about 1.5 hours. After that, we went to Boojum Brewing in Waynesville. Obviously, it had been a real tough day and we deserved it. We had a couple great beers, and then realized… our IDs were back at the Knoxville Y. Son of a…. better to figure it out only a couple hours away, right? So we drove back there that night. I know I just plugged how great the Y is, so ignore this part. It was mostly our fault. Not driving through the park, and around Gatlinburg made it much quicker.

The next morning – back at the Smokies, we headed towards Cades Cove. This is an 11 mile loop that has a lot of historic buildings and oodles of animal sightings! You can also rent bikes and bike around, but Mike said no since he had biked this already on the American Trail Race and didn’t want to relive that – but I think it would be nice for most people!

We lucked out almost immediately and came across a momma black bear and 2 cubs, not more than 30 feet from the road. They are so stinking cute – from a distance. Mike and I weren’t very interested in the historic buildings but if thats your thing then there are lots of places for you to wander.

We decided to hike the Abrams Falls Trail on this loop instead. This hike was wonderful – it’s pretty shady, and the falls are beautiful. It would be a great hike to bring a picnic lunch.  At Mammoth Cave, their difficulty levels were way off for trails/tours. At the Smokies, I would say they describe the level correctly – just not the amount of time needed. Mike and I were able to do this hike, and the next day’s, in a much shorter time than was estimated. Abrams Falls was said to take 3-4 hours, and we only took 2.  I’m not humble bragging, I promise – just pointing it out to help future planning for your Smokies visit!

It was a beautiful and clear day so we decided to watch the sunset at Clingmans Dome; the highest point in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a very steep half mile hike to the viewing tower. However, it was well worth it. Definitely put a couple extra layers on!

We went to the Great Smoky Brewery (it was okay beer – nothing to write home about) that night in Pigeon Forge. They have another location in Gatlinburg too. I was not impressed with either city personally – it’s touristy and gaudy. You know the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Bedford Falls is shown what it would be like as Pottersville? That’s what both of these towns seemed like to me.  Definitely consider staying in another town, or just doing it right by camping in the park!

The next day, after Washin Wednesday (I love alliteration and this is the only way to remember what day of the week it is) we hiked up to Mt LeConte! We prepared for it to be an all day hike as it said 3-4 hours each way for the 10 mile roundtrip hike. Along the way, it has Arch Rock at 1.4 miles which is a neat natural tunnel that was caused by freeze and thaw cycles, and then the Alum Cave Bluff at 2.3 miles in. This is a beautiful viewing area if you don’t want to climb all the way to the top. However, if you keep hiking up, you won’t regret it! If we did not have Luca with us on this trip, I would have wanted to stay at the cabins that are on top at LeConte Lodge. It’s the most stunning views, with meals provided, all day hot cocoa, and the cabins have the best rocking chairs. It’s a tough climb, but it only took us 2.5 hours to go up, and 2 to get down – and that’s with me leading, not Mike.   

That night we went to Waynesville again for dinner with an old high school friend of Mikes! Tara, and her husband Michael, have the most beautiful house that is like a log cabin. Thank you for the wonderful evening Hogan family, with delicious pizza and sparkling conversation – Mike and I were definitely getting to the point of needing others in our conversations 🙂

I still had to complete my junior ranger badge program! I had finished the booklet activities, but I also had to do a scavenger hunt in the museum, and pick up one bag of litter. Mike and I both picked up one grocery bag of litter along the road in 5 minutes. Litter always makes me mad, but in a National f$*king Park?! Infuriating. And judging by how many beer cans there were, a big percentage of these litterers are also drinking and driving. These people are the worst. 

Speaking of litter, Ranger Will – who awarded my junior ranger badge! – informed us that last year, 1700 lbs of trash and litter were left at backcountry camping spots – that the rangers had to pick up. SEVENTEEN HUNDRED POUNDS. That is ridiculous. Okay, end rant. 

After I got my junior ranger badge, we drove through the Smokies to the North Carolina side again and went to Deep Creek which is on the southeast side of the park. This is a pretty chill camping area with some easier hikes. If you’re looking for a less crowded and not as active getaway, I’d recommend this area! 

Next up – North Carolina to see some family, state parks, and more breweries!



One thought on “Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  1. Loved reading this! We were there recently for spring break and it’s crazy how different it looks now. …it snowed while we were there, so much of the park was closed. But we also made it to Cades Cove and Abraham’s falls, lots of fun!

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