Shawn and I made a super quick trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park on March 31 – April 1 2018. I had never been before which is surprising because we live only 5.5 hours away (turns out its more like 7 because of construction traffic) and Shawn hadn’t been since he was little kid.
A lot of people I talked to before going on our mini trip questioned the idea of driving so far for such a short amount of time, but it was totally worth it! I’m happy to do any amount of driving if it means I get to explore the outdoors. Obviously with a National Park of its size, we did not get to see and do everything we would like at Great Smoky Mountains, but it gave us a good taste and laid the groundwork for future trips.
Because weather in March can be unpredictable and because we would be arriving so late Friday night – couldn’t leave till after we both got off work – we opted out of camping. From what I have heard about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge I knew both were crowded and touristy. With our short time frame, I didn’t feel like dealing with either. So we decided to stay in Townsend. I liked that it had its own entrance to the park and was near Cades Cove – one of the areas we wanted to visit this trip. We staid at the Talley Ho Inn located not even five minutes from the Townsend park entrance. The inn is super cute with a Route 66 vibe, huge clean rooms, and very friendly staff. I’m glad that we staid in Townsend. It’s a very laid back, country town. There’s a decent amount of food options from Subway and Pizza Hut to local options like Black Bear Cafe, which we ate at Saturday night. The Shell gas station even doubles as a local grocery.
We started our adventure off Saturday by driving the Cades Cove Loop Road. I love that the road is one way and has a bunch of pull offs on either side so you can stop and look at the wildlife and the historic buildings. Read more about our adventure at Cades Cove here.
Our next stop was Clingmans Dome, but we took our time and enjoyed driving Laurel Creek Road, Little River Road, and Newfound Gap Road. It’s so tempting to stop at every pullout and enjoy the view, but with so much to look at and our short time frame, we had to be picky about what we did. As we drove along Little River Road, we came across Laurel Falls Trail-head. It was about 11 AM and the parking lot was overflowing with cars for about a mile in either direction. Sunday we drove past the same trail-head at 9 AM and there were open parking spots in the actual designated parking area – reinforcing the fact that the early bird catches the worm or in this case a real parking spot.
As we passed Newfound Gap, the trip also marked my first time to North Carolina!
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee, and on the Appalachian Trail. This year the road opened a day early and we were able to go to the top on Saturday. To read more about our adventure at Clingmans Dome click here.
The Appalachian Trail runs up Clingmans Dome and connects with the Observation Trail. Shawn wanted to be able to say he had stood on the AT so we spent a few minutes on it. It was amazing how silent it became the second you stepped off the paved Observation trail path. I had seen a thru hiker taking a break near the Observation Tower; I cannot imagine what it must’ve been like to go from such serenity to every one of your senses being bombarded by a hundred obnoxious tourists.
While at Clingmans Dome we hiked to Andrews Bald. It is a rocky 3.6 mile trail through the woods to an open grassy area (Andrews Bald) that offers great views and plenty of room to find your own spot away from other people to sit and relax. To read more about our adventure at Andrews Bald click here.
It was about 5 PM by the time we made it back to Townsend. We were both starving and exhausted. We enjoyed our dinner at the Black Bear Cafe and watched the sun set.
Sunday morning we drove through the park from the Townsend entrance to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to soak up the beauty one last time this trip and to pick up a few more postcards and a GSMNP sticker for Addie. So ended our first trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
My bucket list still includes:
- Abrams Falls Trail
- Husky Gap Trail
- Laurel Falls
- Grotto Falls
- Gatlinburg Trail
- Alum Cave Trail
- Rainbow Falls Trail
- Chimney Tops Trail
- Porters Creek Trail
- Newfound Gap pull off
- drive Newfound Gap road to Oconaluftee Visitor Center
- drive Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail