One of Eitan’s bucket list items is to visit the top National Parks in the U.S; there are 63 National Parks in the US, and while visiting all of them might take some time, we are OK with visiting the most famous ones first.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park usually lands in the top 10 best National Parks to visit and it happens to be the most visited National Park as well with over 11 million people a year!
We started our 1.5 hour drive toward the national park. The drive is absolutely beautiful and we even drove through a small part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles (755 km) through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties, linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is sometimes called the most beautiful drive in the U.S.
There are several stops along the way for viewpoints. Most of them look almost identical so we just stopped at a couple of them. From researching, seems that the amazing viewpoints were further north on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The road is very very windy, so unfortunately Ariela puked her breakfast while we were driving. We luckily had a change for Ariela’s clothes (thanks to Sarah) so after changing her and with a car that smells like baby food vomit, we continued our journey to our first stop, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
The center had a small exhibit explaining the sights of the natural park. There was also a great explanation of the treatment of the native Americans and life in the 1800’s.
Ariela was very interested in all the displays
The previous night we realized we had lost Ariela’s Minnie Mouse, so in order to avoid a disaster during night time, we found a nice stuffed black bear to help her go to sleep.
Behind the visitor’s centers, there was a Mountain Farm Museum, The Mountain Farm Museum includes farm buildings, most dating around 1900, that were moved from their original locations throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to create an open-air museum. Visitors can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago.
Along with the Biosphere reserve, the Great Smokies have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The U.S. National Park Service preserves and maintains 78 structures within the national park that were once part of the numerous small Appalachian communities scattered throughout the range’s river valleys and coves.
Our next stop was the Mingus Mill. Built in 1886, this historic grist mill uses a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power all of the machinery in the building.
Mingus Mill was funded by Dr. John Mingus, and designed and built by Sion Thomas Early, an apprentice Millwright, and native of Virginia. Early built the mill in 3 months, at a total cost of $600.00. In 1968, the National Park Service fully restored Mingus Mill.
Ariela loved playing with the water below the mill. It was burning hot outside, so it was a nice rest to cool off and recover from the puking episode.
We continued our drive to the Clingmans Dome. At a not-very-impressive 6,643 feet high, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. In other words, this side of the world is very very very flat.
When we arrived there you could not see any of the nice views due to the clouds.
The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top. Ariela hiked about halfway up! People couldn’t believe it and kept praising her!
The name “Smoky” comes from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance. This fog is caused by the vegetation emitting volatile organic compounds, chemicals that have a high vapor pressure and easily form vapors at normal temperature and pressure.
On clear days views expand over a 100 miles. But unfortunately, we were there on a cloudy day so we could not see much.
We jumped in the car and made our way to Bryson City, which is next to 3 waterfalls we wanted to see (and by “we”, its actually Eitan who wanted to see them). There is a 1.5 mile loop around the waterfalls, but unfortunately, I got a missed call from Sarah’s mom which made Sarah very uneasy considering her Dad had just gotten out of surgery. We had to hurry and go back to where there was a cellphone network to make sure her family was ok (they were OK).
On the way back Eitan swam in the river for a few minutes. Eitan’s favorite things are waterfalls (as you might know from reading this blog) and he HAS to swim on every single one he visits as it recharges his life energy. The water was freezing cold.
After the waterfalls, we found basically the only place open for dinner in Bryson City. We ordered some food and a refreshing beer before heading back to Ashville to end our awesome day.
Ariela devoured those beans!
After several complaints from family (looking at you, Dan) that we did not really reflect our honest opinions of this National Park, I decided to make this edit. I think Sarah and I suffer from the traveler’s curse, which is that the more we travel is harder and harder to “wow” us with the new sights. Things like the Taj Mahal, Sedona, The Himalayas, and Machu Picchu have really impacted us, especially during the first few minutes after you first see the sight that you drop the big “WOOOOW!!”
The Smokey Mountains unfortunately did not have that effect on us, we believe it is due to not having a major landmark that defines the park. All simply look the same, and in our case, we have seen many green mountains. The park is vast in size but lacks height, and to be fair, we did not spend enough time in it camping, exploring, or doing all the other activities that this park offers.
In summary, very pretty, but might not be worth your time just for one day. Go here for 3-4 days to camp and explore all the sights these mountains offer.
Bonus pic of the day: The Smoky Mountains are full of bears, so there are many signs to not get closer to them to photograph because it is a federal offense. I am pretty sure I will not get closer to a black bear because I don’t want to be eaten alive, not because I will be fined a couple bucks.
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Lovin it Eitan. Keep them coming.