Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great Smoky Mountains, Part 3: Second Day in the Great Smokies

Continued from Part 2.

So, we got up bright and early to get the most out of our day. Our first stop was to grab breakfast at a friendly little restaurant called the Carriage House. Food was as expected and provided us with our morning energy.

On the way to the Chimney Tops trail, our first destination inside the park, we stopped numerous times to take cool pictures. Here are a few of them. The beautiful scenery and the fall colors were really something to admire.

Chimney Tops trail is classified as strenuous despite being only 4 miles out-and-back. The first mile is actually pretty easy, but the second mile that takes you to the Chimney Tops is fairly steep. Overall, the hike wasn't so bad with around 1350 feet of elevation gain. When we finally made it to the Chimney Tops, I can't say I climbed to the top. I think very few actually do, as it looks incredibly dangerous.

Okay, with that out of the way, the next stop was to check out the highest point in the Great Smokies, Clingmans Dome, while the skies were clear. We had checked the weather report and learned that there was a high likelihood of showers the next day.

It's not much of a hike, in fact I would say it was more of a fairly steep walk on a paved trail. As you near the end, there is a curved structure that you walk up that takes you to the observation deck (that's me on the structure below). When you finally make it, you are rewarded by a really nice 360-degree view of everything.

On our way down, we learned that there was an alternate path to and from the top that allows you to traverse part of the famous Appalachian Trail.

Not far from Clingmans Dome is the Newfound Gap, a mountain pass near the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home of the Rockefeller Memorial where the park was first dedicated. This pass sits atop the Tennessee-North Carolina Border and also provided a few decent views. None of the pictures of the landscape came out well, but I did manage to capture one really cool shot of some branches on a tree in that area.

After this, we pretty much called it a day and headed to Gatlinburg, Tennessee where we were going to spend the next two nights. Much to our surprise, that town is comical. Picture a really corny carnival and now put it at the border of the incredibly scenic Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The town was littered with many restaurants, souvenir shops, Western dress-up photography joints, and family fun establishments.

Here's my one and only picture of Gatlinburg's main street... I just liked the name Ole Smoky Moonshine.

Following dinner (and after we recovered from the shock that was Gatlinburg), we headed to our hotel, Bent Creek Golf Village, which was fortunately a fair distance from the madness. The hotel was wonderful. The room was basically a small one-bedroom apartment. I would definitely recommend staying there if you don't mind a 15 minute drive to and from downtown Gatlinburg.

And, that's all for now.

Continue to Part 4.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Great Smoky Mountains, Part 2: Our First Offical Day in the Great Smokies

Continued from Part 1.

So, we make it to Townsend after driving for several hours. We stop off at the Visitors Center and buy a few hiking trail guides and maps of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While there, I flipped through their guestbook, and I see that no one else has signed in from the West Coast. Even though it is the most visited National Park, I have yet to really meet any Californians that have been there (except those that have spent some time out East).

Anyway, we decide that our introduction to the park would be a recommended driving tour of Cades Cove. Since it was both recommended and accessible to virtually anyone with a vehicle, it was quite popular. There was a ton of traffic as we drove the loop, which took us to various historical structures as well as meadows and landscape.

Here's a Primitive Baptist Church built in the late 1800's.

And, here is the John Oliver Cabin built in the early 1800's.

It seems that bats have taken up residence at this old cabin...

Here's a photo taken from the car during the drive.

At some point during this driving tour, we started getting the itch to do something a bit more active. So, we decided to hike to Abrams Falls, which is one of the trails that Cades Cove offers. It was a 5 mile round trip hike to the falls, and it gave us our first real glimpse of the fall colors.

One silly thing that happened was that we somehow lost an hour when we arrived at the trailhead. We couldn't figure it out, and we assumed that Daylight Savings must have occurred (only much later on in the trip did we learn that Tennessee actually spans two time zones) -- keep that in mind if you ever do make it out there.

In any case, this trail was not too difficult (rated Moderate), and it served as a perfect introduction. It was really nice to get out of the car and hike around. The fall colors were really cool, and I'm sure that none of these pictures really do them much justice.

Here's a shot taken while on the trail.

And, Abrams Falls...

After this hike, we called it a day, and made our way back to Townsend. It's a sleepy gateway town, and there's really not much going on. We went to a restaurant called Smoky Junction, and had some trout. Nothing too special, but it certainly was not bad.

Shortly after dinner, we went to bed as we were planning on waking up early to do some more exploring.

Continue to Part 3.