The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With over 10 million visitors in 2015, the Great Smoky National Park along Tennessee and North Carolina is the most visited national park in the United State. Hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic overlooks all combine to make this a splendid place to spend a vacation.
We spent three days at the park, and even though we hiked a lot of trails, and saw a lot of natural sites, we did not scratch the surface of what this spectacular place has to offer.
One the of the most spectacular views offered in the park is located just three miles west of the Sugarland Visitor Center on Little River Road. We arrived here early before the low lying clouds had dissipated and the sun was still low in the sky. The clouds were breaking up which gave the sun rays an opportunity to beam through.
Waterfalls are a big attraction in the park. With an annual rainfall of 70 inches a year, there are plenty of falls to see. Some waterfalls can be driven to while other falls may require several miles of hiking to access.
Located on the nature trail at the Sugarland Visitor Center, Cataract Falls is easy to access and well worth the short enjoyable hike.
When I got to the top, I felt elated because I was able to make this climb. For a reward, I got to see this fantastic view of the surrounding mountain ranges.
When you ascend the 1/2 mile steep trail to the top of Clingmans Dome (elevation 6,643 feet), you are at the top of the world. At the top of the 45-foot observation tower, there is nothing to obstruct your view, except maybe a few clouds. On a clear day it is reported that you can see for 100 miles.
The tower was completed in 1959 and its modern design deviates greatly from the rustic architecture utilized throughout the rest of the park.
During the 1930s, our country was at the depths of a Great Depression. Skilled craftsmen were left idle by the lack of work. Through a program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), many of these skilled craftsmen were hired to work on public works projects. The Great Smoky Mountains have many examples of projects completed by the CCC such as this tunnel along Laurel Creek Road, just west of Townsend Tennessee.
The most popular attraction in the Smoky Mountain National Park is an area called Cade's Cove. It includes an 11-mile auto loop that takes you back in time to when this area was first settled by Americans. Along this loop, you will see churches, mills, log cabins, and barns from the 19th century. John Oliver settled here in 1818 and built this log cabin which still stands today. It is just one of the many sites you can see along this fascinating and beautiful journey back to a simpler life.
Twice a week, the road is closed off to automobiles to allow bike riders the exclusive opportunity to take in the sites along the loop. Whether you rent a bike or bring your own, this is an excellent way to travel through the Cade's Cove loop.
*Original post updated for number of park visitors in 2015 post fact check and as pointed out by a reader.
Larry Braun is an award winning photographic artist from Southeast Missouri. Growing up in a small community gave him an appreciation for the simplicities of life. Finding spiritual comfort in spending his leisure time hiking and biking rural regions of many beautiful parks and trails in the US. He enjoys capturing the beauty of nature and sharing it with others. Check him out on his website and on Instagram!