Sunday, July 5, 2020
Today was hiking day. We did 3 different hikes today for a total of 8.31 miles. We also drove the Newfound Gap Road that took us all the way across the GSMNP from the Tennessee entrance to the North Carolina entrance.
We started our day early by arriving at Clingmans Dome around 9am. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest point east of the Mississippi. It is located in almost the very center of the park, right off the Newfound Gap Road. It is a short, 1/2 mile walk up to the observation tower.They say that on a clear day you can see as far as 100 miles from the top of the tower. Unfortunately, this morning was not a clear morning. However, it was still beautiful. The views we saw this morning showed us why these mountains are called the Smokies. Looking to the east and the west we saw mountains covered in fog but to our north we could see towns scattered throughout the hills. While we were on this hike we did a spur of the Appalachian Trail. So, we can now all say we’ve hiked on the Appalachian Trail!
The Clingmans Dome hike was a good warm up for the rest of the day. We left this area and headed out to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center which is at the North Carolina entrance to the park. Our intention here was to just see the visitor center, get our stamp for our National Parks Passport Book and maybe find a shady picnic area for lunch. However, when we arrived we found that there was a replica of a mountain farm set up on the site. We of course had to check that out and while looking at it we found a trail that went along a river, aptly named “River Trail”. We decided to go ahead and check that out since we were already there. Three miles later we finally made it back to the truck with some very sweaty, very hungry kids.
The visitor center was very busy and our parking spot not at all shaded so we jumped in the truck and went to find us a shady place for lunch. We found it at Mingus Mill just up the road. It is a mill that the park service still operates on site and allows guests to watch the operations. Unfortunately it is not operating right now (stupid Coronavirus, common theme here) but we at least got to see it. We ate our lunch there and apparently we chose a good place because an elk chose to have her lunch there as well. We watched an elk graze just a few yards away from us.
We were re-charged and ready for more adventure after lunch. This time we wanted a hike with a good payoff at the end so we looked for a waterfall hike. We drove back across the park to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail which is where we found the trailhead to Grotto Falls. To start with, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is amazing. It is a one way loop with very narrow, windy roads. It feels like you are in a fairyland the whole time you are driving through it. Even if you have no intentions of hiking one of the trails along its route, it is worth the drive around it. Now, the hike to Grotto Falls was our favorite of the day. It ended up being a 3.6 mile hike by the time we also did the hike from our truck to the trailhead. It was pretty much uphill the whole way but the waterfall at the end was worth it. It was not only beautiful but you could also walk underneath it. The air was cool and you could feel the spray of the water as you got close. The kids all said it was the best hike of the day and it was worth the uphill battle. We even got the bonus of seeing the llama train coming down the trail. Apparently they use llamas to re-stock some kind of lodge at the top of Mt. Laconte and we were lucky enough to see them as they came down.
We ended our day eating at Ole Red in Gatlinburg. We are all Blake Shelton fans. Of course we have to be since Johnny gets asked at least once a week if he knows he looks like Blake Shelton. Seriously, not exaggerating, it happens all the time. So, it only made sense for us to make sure to eat at his restaurant at least once. It was just what we needed to end the day, fun music and good food.
We were all more than ready to get back to the camper and get some rest. We have to get rested up, tomorrow is Dollywood!