Tennessee Vacation: Newfound Gap Road

Day two in the Smokies was the Newfound Gap Road.  This 33 mile drive goes through the park from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. The views along this road are amazing. The whole drive is mountain views and there are lots of scenic overlooks to pull over and get photos. The day was cloudy and hazy, so our views weren’t as far as what they might have been, but they were still spectacular.

At approximately 14 miles into the drive, you get to the Newfound Gap and the scenic overlooks in that area. The Rockefeller Memorial is here as well as the Tennesssee-North Carolina State Line. It is also here where the Appalachian Trail crossed our way and we hiked on the famous trail for a bit. Shortly after leaving here, we turned off on the road to Clingman’s Dome. This is the highest point in Tennessee, and on a clear day we are told you can see 7 states. As you can see, our view was a bit more limited from the top of the observation tower.

At the North Carolina end of the road is the Mountain Farm museum. This outdoor museum contains several pioneer buildings that have been moved here to preserve them and allow visitors to experience them. We were told that as sunset approaches, there area is taken over by elk, but we were too early for that and only saw one or two.

Tennessee Vacation: Cades Cove

Our first day of sightseeing in the Smoky Mountains was spent doing the Cades Cove loop. The drive to Cades Cove had it’s own beautiful scenery. We stopped and hiked to Laurel Falls. This was a fairly easy, 2.3 mile (round-trip) hike. The incline is fairly consistent, with no real steep ups or downs. The 80 foot waterfall is beautiful. This is a very popular hike, so it is busy and the parking lot is typically full.

After hiking to the falls, it was on to Cades Cove. The Cades Cove road is an 11 mile, one-way loop. At times, the road is quite narrow. There are plenty of places to pull off the road and enjoy the scenery, but it is still possible to get behind somebody going slower than you are. It’s a very popular drive and gets very busy. We were fortunate the day we went and it wasn’t obnoxiously busy.

Besides beautiful mountain scenery, there are several buildings remaining from early settlers of the area. Old houses, barns and churches dot the area. One of our favorites was the Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church. It wasn’t anything more special to look at than the other buildings along the way, but when we arrived, there was an actual service going on. We got to join in the singing (a capella) of favorite old hymns and hear a short sermon. What we thought was going to be a quick photo stop turned into a 45 minute treat.

On our way back “home” after leaving Cades Cove, we saw one more waterfall. This one, Meigs Falls, was right off the road and no hiking was necessary to see it. We would have missed this one if there hadn’t been other people stopped at it.

Greenbrier Campground

Our four nights in Gatlinburg were spent at the Greenbrier Campground. It was right outside the Smoky Mountain National Park and only a short drive to Gatlinburg. This campground was amazing. It has it’s own private swimming hole in the Little Pigeon River. Our tent site had electric and water and wasn’t too close to our neighbors. This campground had the best bathrooms I have seen in a campground. Seriously, they were as nice as a hotel and were kept clean. I saw people cleaning them several times a day. There is also a large yard area set up for all kinds of fun and games–basketball, volleyball, pool table and ping pong (you could check equipment out in the office). All this plus a large pavilion with a fire pit and a shelter with several gas grills. I will be back at this campground the next time we go to the Smokies.

Tennessee Vacation, Days 4 and 5

On our second day in Nashville, we drove a bit south to go to the Stones River National Battlefield. This memorial to the Civil War was very interesting. It’s not one of the well-known battles, but it was one of the bloodiest. We did the cemetery tour. A park ranger walked with us to the cemetery and told us about the battle and also about national cemeteries in general. After an hour in the cemetery, we did the self-guided car tour and stopped a several key areas of the battle.

After the battlefield, we went back into Nashville. Our plan was to go the the agriculture museum, but that was closed. So, we went instead to Centennial Park. The main attraction there is a full sized replica of the Parthenon. We walked around the park for a while and then drove around Vanderbilt University.

We spent one last night at Poole Knobs Campground before heading East toward the Smoky Mountains. On our way out of the Nashville Area, we made a quick stop at the dam that creates Percy Priest Lake. There were so many ducks in the area and all were fairly tame and let me get close enough to get photos.

Our last stop before the Smoky Mountains was at Cummins Falls State Park where we did a quick hike to the falls. The hike to the overlook was fairly easy. If, like most of the people there on that hot day, had decided to hike all the way down to the river, it would have been a considerably harder hike.

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Tennessee Vacation, Day 3: Nashville

After a relaxing night at Poole Knobs Campground, we went to do some sightseeing in Nashville. Our first stop was Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. The different gardens were beautiful. There was a lot of color and a lot of different trees and fountains and streams.

The mansion was gorgeous (and air-conditioned which was a welcome relief on this very hot day). The second floor of the mansion is decorated as it was when the Cheek family lived there. I loved the  elaborate and elegant staircases.

The third floor of the mansion has an art museum. The exhibit when we were there was called Cracking Art. It really wasn’t our kind of art. Throughout the museum, and around the gardens, were a bunch of plastic animals. In our opinion, the bright plastic animals detracted from the beauty of the gardens.

After leaving Cheekwood, we went to downtown Nashville and walked around for a while, catching a few of the highlights–the At&T building (aka Batman Building), Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, the Capitol, the farmers market and more.

Poole Knobs Campground

Our nights in the Nashville area were spent at Poole Knobs Campground, on Percy Priest Lake, in LaVergne, TN. Another campsite right on the lake. We had our own private beach area (not sandy beach, but small stones, but a beach anyway). The campsite was huge. We could have fit several more tents on the site. We set up our tent so that we had a view of the lake from the door of the tent. We were in a spot that let us have both sunrise and sunset views. The bathrooms were again clean, but were far enough away that we had to drive to them. A minor inconvenience for such a beautiful site.

The only wildlife issue we had at this campground was on the last night we were there. The picnic table was only a few feet from where we were sitting. We must have forgotten to clean up the watermelon rinds because we had a raccoon on the table helping himself to a piece of melon. He ran off and we later saw him crossing the road to a neighboring campsite.

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Tennessee Vacation, days 1 and 2: Heading to Nashville

We spent the first day driving. We made it to Kentucky, Moutardier Campground, to be exact. Our first official vacation activity was going to Mammoth Cave National Park, which was about a 30 mile drive from the campground. While waiting for our cave tour, we did a little hiking around the park, and we had some amazing views of Kentucky.

We did the Frozen Niagara Tour, which is one of the shorter tours available. We weren’t disappointed, however. The cave is beautiful. There were so many stalactites and stalagmites and interesting formations. Our tour guide was hilarious. Or, that could just be me because I have the same dumb sense of humor.

From the cave, we drove to Nashville. We spent a little time driving around, looking at the city. We had thought about going to check out the Opryland Hotel, but didn’t feel like paying $28 to park. We went to Long Hunter State Park, to walk around their arboretum, but due to the heat, didn’t see the whole thing. We did see this deer, however, before heading to our campground.img_1801