Tuesday night we settled into our hotel right next to Dolly’s Dixie Stampede and try to adjust to the Vegas-like touristy area we found ourselves in. (I think I could have prepared Luke a little better for what this would be like).
We decided to start our adventure by exploring the Great Smokey Mountains. We drove through Gatlinburg and into the national park. As we got out of town and into the park the temperature dropped with the dense forest. We took a few minutes at the sugar land information center to orient ourselves with the park and get maps.
Then we took a windy road all the way across the park to the observation site. The road up was beautiful even though windy as we climbed in elevation and began to discover why it’s really called “The smokey mountains” covered in fog.
We got out of our cars in the very cold and foggy weather and climbed the path to the observation tower. From the observation tower we could see . . .nothing-some pine trees and fog. If it was a clear day then we would have seen into several states and most of the park.
No matter what it was worth it to be at the highest point of the park and say we had been “on the top of old smokey”. As we drove back down we stopped at several view points to take in the mountain sides and beautiful wild flowers.
We rerouted past the sugar land center and drove to Grotto falls. Again, a windy road uphill this time with limited and difficult parking. This hike was just as much if not more fun on the way as it was at the final destination. The hike took us through a dense old rhododendron forest and required working around several streams and rocks in the clay mud. The air was dense, musty and humid but cool. It was so densely green yet the ground was still sticky with mud.
When we got to the falls we could see several people swimming in the pool beneath it and others enjoying walking behind the falls into the cave enjoying the change to cool off. We dipped our feet in to clean off the mud the preceded back down the trail only to get covered in more mud.
After making our way down the windy path we decided to drive out to Cades Cove before sunset. Everything we read said to tour this part of the park at dawn or dusk when animals are most apt to be out. The drive to Cades Cove is long but again beautiful as you loop across and around waterfalls and rivers.
We reached the cove right around dusk and drove the loop slowly taking in the wildflowers, tall grass, and sunset over the hills. Codes cove is also well known for many old settlers buildings which can be toured everything from mills, to farms, to churches, and schools.
Many of these are right along the main road side and we could see from our car. We had hoped to see some elk, and if we were lucky a black bear but only encountered wild turkey, a coyote or two, and some deer.