26 Feb
Posted in: travel
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Take a Trip: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This year is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. There are over 400 entities run by the NPS. I’ll share tips from different National Park Service sites we’ve visited throughout 2016.

Across the United States there are over 400 National Park Service entities. That’s a lot of places deemed worthy to be protected for historical reasons or the natural beauty of an area. I let go of any dream of visiting all of the entities a few years ago, but do keep hold of my aspirations to visit all sites designated as national parks in the U.S. We plan driving routes for vacations around the location of national parks. Our epic driving road trip last June from Wyoming to Florida and back allowed us to visit several NPS sites and parks.

View of Great Smoky Mountains

On our trek back to Wyoming in June, we spent a day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park located in Tennessee and North Carolina. It was rainy throughout the day which hampered some of our game plan for our visit, but did give a us a good understanding of why it’s referred to as “smoky.” The early drive into the park was full of fog of varying thickness. The emerald green rolling mountains with valleys of fog was breathtaking and much different from our vistas in the west.

foggy, tree-lined road

The park is the busiest of all national parks. We’re not strangers to busy parks. The west is littered with national parks that draw huge crowds in the likes of Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon and Zion. The crowds were tolerable and not nearly as aggravating as other parks we’ve visited. I assume the weather played a part. Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the nearest town which sits outside one of the park entrances, was ridiculous. It reminded me of Estes Park, Colorado outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Parking in Gatlinburg was an issue and just being able to drive without people darting into the street was difficult. I had no desire to spend time in town.

foggy morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The south is different in many ways from the west. We missed big mountains and rocks during our vacation. The tallest mountain in Florida is Expedition Everest in Disney World. I was looking forward to spending time in the Great Smoky Mountains hiking. The views didn’t disappoint. We saw some wildlife, including a black bear busily eating berries. We were treated to a rainbow that photos don’t do justice. The green of the landscape is something we don’t see in Wyoming. The color was rich and stretched for miles at various overlooks.

raindbow view in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We hiked to several waterfalls during our visit. I love waterfalls, but cannot stand a crowd at them. The waterfalls were crowded and several people were making poor choices about the best way to treat a national park. I become annoyed with people when we are visiting beautiful, protected locations. The government does an admirable job trying to protect (and make accessible) these treasures so we can enjoy them for decades to come. The larger, crowded national parks are a test in patience and restraint for me.

family hiding behind waterfall Great Smoky Mountains

Grotto Falls is less than three miles round trip. Our kids are thrilled by any waterfall they can walk behind, so Grotto was a hit. The only issue was the queue line that formed with other hikers to get behind the waterfall. I cannot fathom a sunny day at Great Smoky Mountains with larger crowds than we encountered.

Great Smoky Mountains view

Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations for visitors. This hike is also less than three miles to the 80-foot waterfall. Despite, plenty of warnings to stay off the rocks surrounding the falls, people were climbing everywhere. We didn’t stay long. It was impressive to view, and the hike through the plentiful vegetation was lovely.

Appalachian Trail sign in Great Smoky Mountains

A highlight for me during our trip was hiking a bit on the Appalachian Trail which stretches to Maine. A friend and I wistfully talk of when we’ll steal six-months of our time and hike the length of the trail. It’s a crazy, far-fetched notion, but felt more tangible when I stood by the sign looking down the trail. Maybe some day.

family hiking Great Smoky Mountains

I enjoyed the rolling green mountains during our visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but still prefer the rocky peaks and higher elevations of the west.


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