When I think about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the “smoke” or fog that rolls in is always a pretty sight. We have been to the mountains before, and every time is special.
We were able to stay in a condo on top of a mountain on the top floor. This view afforded us a scenic look at the surrounding mountains as well as being up high when the bears came out to forage for food; we were well away from the ground. We were able to enjoy the evening and morning view from our porch.
We did hike trails and met up with our daughter and son-in-law with their dog. Dogs are not allowed, for the most part, in Smoky Mountain National Park, and so we went hiking with them in the Cherokee National Forest. Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the busiest parks and by contrast, the National Forest appeared deserted. We had not previously spent time in the National Forest; we enjoyed the differences in locations.
In fairness, the Forest Service does not provide many services, cell phone reception is spotty and the trails are not as well marked as in the National Park. The area of the Cherokee National Forest is about 650,000 acres (the National Park is 522,000 acres). It is huge! We only explored a small portion of the forest. We have a child who lives in Rhode Island, it is 776,900 acres.
If you are looking to get away, go primitive camping or hiking and get away from civilization, the National Forest has a lot to offer. I think most retirees are in for the National Park and the “younger” adventurers are in for a real treat in the Forest.
We enjoyed our brief exploration of the Paint Creek area, with the pretty scenery and the creek that runs through it.
Hiking in the National Park:
We think the popular trek up to see Rainbow Falls is well worth the effort. In contrast to the National Forest, we saw evidence of a lot of travelers along the pathway.
This was the best hike we took. A well-marked trail, easy parking (we were early in the day) and beautiful scenery along the way. While we were hiking, our kids in Colorado were telling us they were on top of one of the 14,000-foot mountains. We made it to an elevation of 3,970. This is a pretty good elevation in the land east of the Mississippi.
Laurel Falls Trail
We noticed the mountain laurel in bloom near Memorial Day as we climbed this trail. This is a very accessible trail, and we saw several strollers being pushed up and down the mostly paved path. The asphalt could use some repair; however, it made it easy for everyone who could to climb up to see the falls. The falls were pretty and the hike was a good workout.
Other Fun: We were staying above Gatlinburg and did stroll into town to see the sights and purchase milkshakes at The Crazy Mason Milkshake Bar. A fun treat after a warm day hiking. We find that stopping for an ice cream cone or a milkshake is part of the fun and reward for hiking all day.
In addition to the bears near our condo, we had 3 other bear sightings. Bears are not as scarce as I had thought. I guess all of the people in the area lead to easy pickings for the bears.
No biking in the mountains. I am not a mountain biker and these would be hard places to start. We did see mountain bikers in the National Forest.