GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
As one of our nation’s most visited parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has much to tempt the Road Adventurer: wildlife, history and incredible vistas are all yours to discover. Saddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the park offers more than 100 waterfalls, 90 historic structures and miles of hiking trails for adventure-filled days. GSMNP also sports an estimated 1,500 black bears – be sure to look up in trees – as well as the most species of salamanders – take a closer look around the base of waterfalls. As you climb to points more than 6,000 feet above sea level you will see the wispy, smoke-like fog that gives the Smokies their name.
The preserved, mountain surrounded community of Cades Cove gives you an in depth look of life in the 1800s, including churches, schools, homes, barns and businesses. For the grand finale, Cable Mill is the only working grist mill in the U.S. – be sure to pick up a bag of newly ground flour. Take 2-3 hours to leisurely complete the 11-mile, one-way loop. Stop along the way or wear your hiking boots to explore one of several side trails. Cades Cove Nature Trail is short and known for blooming dogwoods in the spring. Follow the Abram Falls Trail (5 miles round trip/moderately easy) to a 20-foot waterfall — its power is unmatched. Try either Cade Cove or Abrams Creek campgrounds; both will offer scenic driving loops like the Parson Branch Road or Rich Mountain Road during summer months. Or, head down the Little River Road and pull in at Elkmont Campground for well deserved rest.
A visit to the GSMNP is not complete without a drive “over the top.” Newfound Gap, at 5,046 feet, is the lowest drivable pass through the Smokies and offers a myriad of ecosystems from the lowlands to higher altitudes. Along the way take a side trip to Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, it is the highest point inside the park and offers an outstanding, 360-degree, 100-mile view on a clear day. Bring along a lunch from your Road Adventures camper and enjoy a grassy-meadow picnic with a 3.5 mile, roundtrip hike to Andrews Bald. If you prefer to drive to sights, try a cruise along the renowned Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina by heading over Newfound Gap to Big Cove Road, then Balsam Mountain Road and down to the Parkway. With stunning views, make use of the pull-outs to stretch your legs and take photos. After a full day of admiring the Smokies, you are sure to sleep well in your comfortable Road Adventures camper. With dozens of great campgrounds in communities surrounding the park, you’ll be able to choose the one that best meets your camping needs.
WATERFALLS: TOUR & HIKE
The Great Smoky Mountains offer the best wet vistas around. Water and gravity have been married for centuries to create long cascading falls, steep falls and short, ferocious falls. The 5.5-mile, one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail packs a punch, especially after a heavy rain – you will know why it’s called roaring fork. Be sure to stop at the Ogle Farmstead just before the loop to see an authentic mountain farm, then continue on to the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. This 5.4-mile, roundtrip hike is strenuous but well worth the effort. On sunny days the mist over the 80-foot falls projects stunning prisms – thus the name. If you are daring, continue on another 4 miles to the summit of Mount Le Conte. Or, continue along the Roaring Fork Trail to the Trillium Gap Trail. This 2.6-mile roundtrip that traverses old-growth hemlock forests can be difficult – but you are rewarded with a chance to walk behind the 25-foot high Grotto Falls. Be sure to stay hydrated and keep your energy up with the right hiking food.
Are you ready for an adventure?