Tennessee Vacation: Roaring Forks Motor Trail and Gatlinburg

Our last day in the Smoky Mountains we did a variety of things. First, we went on the Roaring Forks Motor Trail. This is a fairly narrow, winding one-way drive through a different part of the park than we’d been to before. It was totally different scenery than the other 2 days. Instead of mountains, we spent a lot of the time along streams and driving through trees.

There were some original settler’s houses along this drive, as well. One was painted 3 different colors because the original settlers wanted to use every color of paint available from the Sears Roebuck catalog. It’s maybe a good thing only 3 colors were available at the time. Another small cabin had been home to a family of 9. It’s hard to imagine that many people in a house as small as these were. There were rhododendrons in bloom along the route, as well as other wild flowers.  The last stop on this road was one of the things I had been looking forward to, a waterfall called Place of 1000 drips. It’s not a huge waterfall, but it is beautiful with lots of small water trickles falling down the rocks.

Next, we went into Gatlinburg and did some moonshine tasting at Ole Smoky Moonshine. We tried 13 different varieties and ended up buying a jar of Blackberry Moonshine. We then spent a little time walking along the main road in Gatlinburg, just seeing what there was to see.

We drove back into the Smoky Mountains for a picnic lunch and checked out a few scenic overlooks since it wasn’t as cloudy as the day before.

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.