It had been many years since we had spent any time in the Smoky Mountains. We have driven past many, many times in our travels but this was the first time in ages that we took time to explore
the beautiful mountains and surrounding area. We were a bit shocked by the development in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge area. When Dolly Parton said she wanted to improve the employment in her home town she wasn’t kidding. Unfortunately, now the main drag through town feels more like a never ending amusement park, an area that is designed to separate the tourist from their wallets. The good news is that the mountains are as stunning as ever!
We can truly understand why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is the most visited national park in the US. Within easy driving distance from most of the east coast this park has everything a nature lover could want – hiking, biking, water sports, wildlife – in the most picturesque setting. Our first day in the area we stopped at the GSMNP visitor center and had an informative chat with one of the staff and picked out the hikes we wanted to tackle while we were in the area.
First up was a fantastic hike along the Middle Prong of the Little River. Though the weather was a bit cooler in mountains we got up early to beat the heat and the crowds. Being the most visited park also means the trail head parking can fill up very quickly. As it turns out we picked one of the less used trails and had a fabulous solitary hike up the river.
After a picnic by the Little River we headed over to Clingmans Dome. This is the highest point in the park with an elevated tower to look out over the mountains. It is quite a climb up to the tower then up the ramp to the top really gets the heart going, especially in the high altitude. The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) skirts the Dome trail and we were able to take a connecting trail to it and hike a portion of the A.T. back to the parking area. We can now say we hiked the A.T. – well OK, it was only a 1/2 mile, but it was the highest portion of it!
Then serendipity struck again! Unfortunately, Jon’s new crown came off again but fortunately Joanna loves to chat with people! We were able to get a quick appointment at a local dentist and while we were waiting Joanna struck up a conversation with another patient awaiting his turn in the chair. Turns out he was the owner of Rafting in the Smokies and before you knew it he handed her two FREE passes for a white water rafting trip down the Big Pigeon River!
Cherokee, NC had also been a place we explored years ago and it was a lot of fun to return and see how things had changed in over 30 years. We walked the village streets, toured an art gallery, took the tour of the Oconaluftee Indian Village, and stayed to see Unto These Hills , a musical and dance dramatization of the events leading up to the Trail of Tears. All in all a wonderful trip down memory lane as well as both an educational and emotional experience.
Joanna even joined in on one of the traditional dances!
We drove two hours over to Asheville to see our dear friend Ruth and her beau, Jeff. We had a fantastic lunch at the Stoney Knob and then spent the afternoon chatting, catching up on all the family news. Ruth cooked us a delicious dinner then we headed back to Sevierville. Definitely a too short but lovely visit! We also spent an afternoon and evening wandering Gatlinburg where we took the chondola chairs up the Anakeesta Mountain to the FireFly Village. As we were going up we saw a bear cub right below our chair! We walked the beautiful garden trail then took the Tree Canopy Walk. After dinner at a local eatery we continued walking around town, entered the weird dimension at the Ripley’s Believe it or not, and came upon a stage set up at the Ole Smoky with Firewater Junction playing some awesome bluegrass music.
All the hiking we had done at Stone Mountain and the hiking and walking around Gatlinburg and Sevierville was just training for the last hike we took in the Smokies. At the end of the Ramsey Cascades trail is a 100 ft waterfall but in order to see it you have to hike 4 1/8 miles (for a total of 8 1/4 round trip) scrambling over rocks, fording streams, and climbing up an elevation gain of 2408 ft. Thats like walking up the Empire State building TWICE! It was a strenuous journey taking 8 hrs. but well worth the view of the waterfall while we had a picnic lunch.
It took a day or two to recover but once we were back on our feet we started our journey south back to Florida. Next stop Myrtle Beach, SC.