Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021 - 36

E

very year since 1944, the Great
Smoky Mountains have been
the number-one destination in
the entire National Park system.
Within a day's drive for half the
country's population, the park
welcomed over 12 million visitors,
who came in spite of (or because of) the
challenges of the year that was 2020. They
came to see, hike, camp, fish, swim, photograph, drive amongst and explore some
of the oldest mountains on the planet.
Along with its rich human history, a trip to
our most environmentally diverse park is
simultaneously interesting and awe-inspiring-a balm for the mind and spirit.
Everyone experiences the park in their
own way. Yet we all leave with something
in common-a desire to return.

THE CLASSICS

Cades Cove. Circumnavigate this large and
stunning valley via a one-way, 11-mile
paved loop road that offers a wide variety of mountain views, woodlands, trail
accesses and history. Pioneer homes,
churches, barns and a working grist mill
at the halfway point are all worthy stops.
To cross the valley, turn onto Sparks and
Hyatt Lanes (narrow, two-way, gravel),
and watch for white-tailed deer, fox, turkeys and black bear. For an immersion
experience, join a horseback ride; or to
avoid the vehicles, visit
during pedestrian-andbicycle-only-Wednesdays. The Loop Road
closes daily at sunset.
The popularity of " The
Cove "
draws
large
crowds. But, there's no
better place to be 'stuck
in traffic!'
Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Make this your first stop
in the park to watch a
short film, visit the natural history museum,
pick up maps and literature at the bookstore, get a backcountry
permit and ask a ranger any questions
about your visit. Stretch your legs on the
relatively flat 1.4-mile Fighting Creek Nature Trail loop to see a sample of wooded
forests, wildflowers and creeks found
throughout the park-the perfect family hike. For a flat, paved surface and a

36

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

surprise appearance of the Little Pigeon
River, walk the Sugarlands Valley Nature
Trail (mobility- and stroller-friendly).
This visitor center has reliably nice and
accessible facilities, drink and snack machines, plenty of parking and it's open
year-round (except Christmas Day).
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Travel a
short distance from town to this winding
mountain (one-way) road along the swift
streamside with old-growth forests. Near
the entrance, tour the Ogle farmstead and
grab a map of roadway highlights. With
multiple places to stop, enjoy a picnic
or hike to the 80-foot high tallest singledrop waterfall in the park-Rainbow Falls.
Or enjoy the easier hike on Trillium Gap
Trail (where you might see llamas!) to
Grotto Falls, and stand behind the cascading water. For a third waterfall, the Place of a Thousand
Drips is unique in its intricacy with rivulets gently spilling from rocks and a small
cave above. Easily accessed
from the Parkway (U.S. 441)
at traffic light #8 in downtown Gatlinburg.
Newfound Gap. Journey along
the 33-mile (U.S. 441) route
which peaks at this lowest
passable point through the

ABOVE: The Cable Grist Mill along the
Cades Cove Loop Road dates to 1870.
ABOVE RIGHT: Charlies Bunion is an
Appalachian Trail destination day hike of
about 8 miles out and back.
RIGHT: At 80 feet, Rainbow Falls is the
tallest single-drop falls in the park.

mountains-5,046 feet in elevation! In
1940, Franklin Roosevelt officially dedicated the park at this very location. The
air is 10°+ or more cooler and snowfalls
approach six feet per year. Forest ecosystems along the ascent are representative
of the entire eastern continent from cove
hardwood to evergreen spruce-fir. The
Appalachian Trail crosses here, where you
can stand in Tennessee and North Carolina at the same time. For unmatched panoramas, put on the hiking boots, pack a
lunch and take the moderate 4-mile trail
to Charlies Bunion-a stone outcropped,
treeless summit of 6,222 feet. Once back
on the road, watch for " quiet walkways "
signs found along the way to escape the
crowds.


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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021

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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021 - BRPG1
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