AO Review: Great Smoky Mountain National Park

AO Review: Great Smoky Mountain National Park

17 years ago, my wife and I honeymooned in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We were able to do some hiking in the Smokies during that trip, at which time my wife said she’d love to bring our children (yet unborn) someday to see the beauty that unfolded before us. Fast forward to June of 2022, we finally fulfilled that goal as my wife had suggested years ago. Let’s take a stroll through our experiences at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

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GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK REVIEW

Needless to say, my wife and I had a great time at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park on our first go, but we made sure to see more of the park than we had previously. One thing that stuck out to us right away on this trip was the amount of people visiting the park was a bit daunting, but encouraging at the same time. In our own rural area, we’re not quite used to seeing other people use hiking trails much, which is nice, but brings a lack of faith in society at the same time. Part of the reason for the mass migration to the Smoky Mountains was that it was the month of June, and people were eager to get their vacations on with their families, as well as people eager to explore after years of varying covid restrictions.

There are all types of landscapes and scenery to take in at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but we soon discovered that most of the traffic seemed to focused on waterfalls and the highest peak in the park. This was also a bit of a double edged sword, in that everyone on the trails was nice and polite, but it made for a less tranquil experience. However, once we moved on to the less notable places and trails, vehicle and foot traffic diminished and we felt a bit less rushed and took our time smelling flowers, taking pictures, swinging on vines, and catching butterflies.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: FUN FOR ALL AGES

We entered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park via the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area entrance, which has a great visitor center where you can stock up on maps for $1 or $2 each, visit the museum that gives you a glimpse of fauna and flora to look for on your hikes, or grab a Junior Ranger booklet, that when completed can be redeemed for a Junior Ranger Badge. We took our youngest five kids that range from five to fifteen and each one had a blast, the youngest three of which worked on their books and earned their Junior Ranger Badges, just before the visitor center closed on our last day, soaking wet as they recited the pledge.

Speaking of being soaking wet, another attraction that was a welcome sight on a 90 plus degree day, was “The Sinks.” The Sinks are a result of using dynamite to clear a log jam in the river in the late 1800’s, which created a deep hole and altered the river’s course. As a result, it made for a great jumping in spot from about 15 to 20 feet up. Two of my kids surprised me when they decided they wanted to do the jump, which left my wife as the only one from our clan that didn’t, but she was perfectly happy to watch the rest of us. There are warnings about drownings there, so do be cautious if you decide to jump or swim. There are also many streams and rivers to get your feet wet throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park if you don’t make it to The Sinks.

The author’s daughter surprised everyone by taking the leap.

Wildlife was fun to spot, from butterflies, beetles, and millipedes, to box turtles and birds. Our oldest two saw one bear from a distance, and then later in the week we saw a bear as we were driving.

Even if you don’t want to hike or camp in the Smokies, the drives are spectacular and fun, with lots of pulloffs to take in the views.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: ALL THE WAY UP

One of our ventures into the park was going to the tallest peak, Clingmans Dome on the North Carolina side of the park. Clingmans Dome features an observation tower that gives visitors a wonderful 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains, as long as it’s not enveloped in the clouds that helped name the Great Smoky Mountains. While we were on the tower, there was a few minutes here and there that weren’t obsured by cloud cover, although I liked being in the cloud too! Coming from mostly flat country, I almost didn’t look at the weather prior to leaving, but fortunately I remembered and found that we would be about 20 degrees cooler than what our cabin would experience that day, so we brought our jackets for the day.

 

The Appalachian Trail happens to interesect just below the observation tower of Clingmans Dome, and we decided to do a quick jaunt on it. This section of the trail straddles the state lines of Tennessee and North Carolina, which was a fun geographical aspect, aside from walking along a part of the Appalachian Trail. It was here that I saw our first bear sign of the trip.

Within our couple mile stroll on the Appalachian Trail, there were some very dense pockets of forest that looked like something out of a storybook, which was reinforced by the occasional patches of clouds that enveloped us. When there were openings in the trees, it was fun to look to our right and see Tennessee, and then North Carolina to our left.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you enjoy hiking, mountains, great views, and refreshing mountain rivers, I highly recommend visiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We didn’t do any camping on this trip, but the park affords many campgrounds for hike-in, tent, RV, and equestrian camping, which you can find HERE for your desired style. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge feel touristy, but there’s also plenty of things to do if you want to switch up some activities or use them as your base like we did for this trip.

Have you been hoping to make it to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, or have you already been? If so, what was your favorite place, view or find?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 Directions: Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the borders of the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. The three main entrances to the park are in Gatlinburg, TN; Townsend, TN; and Cherokee, NC. Hours: 24 hours a day, open on most major holidays Entrance Fees: Free Visitor Center: Open 9A-5P, 7 days a week Weather: Check NPS.gov before and during your visit

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