great smoky mountains vacation

Great Smoky Mountains Vacation – My Trip Experiences

Over the summer, this past July 2016, I had the chance to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s part of the Appalachian Mountain Chain — located in Tennessee and North Carolina. I originally planned to go backpacking near the Fontana Lake and Bryson City area. But, I decided at the last minute to change my plan. I didn’t go backpacking — instead, I stayed at a hotel in Cherokee, NC.

I did the tourist thing and visited the key features of the Great Smoky Mountains — Clingmans Dome, Cades Cove, the scenic drive on Newfound Gap Road, and stopping at the overlooks. Anyways, I’ll start at the beginning of my Great Smoky Mountains Vacation…


The Long Drive

I started my journey, down to the Smokies, from the Detroit area. I left in the late afternoon and arrived to my destination at 2 AM. It was a long drive and a pleasant one too. I only stopped 3 times for gas and breaks. Since it was a long drive, I needed music to keep me happy.

Luckily, I had Spotify and played my road trip playlist — artists like Lord Huron, Mumford & Sons, Passion Pit, etc. I traveled through 5 states: Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. I finally arrived in Bryson City, NC. My destination was only a few miles away from there. After the 10 hour drive, I was tired…


Day One

So, after the long drive, I didn’t stayed at a hotel the first night. I stopped at a trailhead on the Lakeview Drive — or as the locals call it, “the road to nowhere.” I got out of my car, it was pitch dark, and so quite. All I could hear, were birds and a nearby stream. I tried to sleep in my car for a couple of hours — but that wasn’t going to happen.

great smoky mountains vacation

The morning arrived and it was off to a foggy start. I drove down to a overlook on Lakeview Drive. After that, I drove 20 miles to Cherokee, NC — stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. I needed a map and a couple of guides. It was a nice sunny day at the base.

Clingmans Dome

After that, I continued up on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) — climbing over 3,000 feet to the highest point of the road. Still sunny with clouds here and there. I diverted onto Clingmans Dome Road to the Clingmans Dome. It’s elevation is 6,644 feet. The town, Cherokee, where I started the ascent, is 1,991 feet. That’s about an 4,600 feet difference!

clingmans dome

Once I got to Clingmans Dome, there were a considerable amount of people in the mid morning. It was very cloudy and misty. I couldn’t see the surrounding mountains. The visibility was low. It was a exhausting half mile walk up to the dome itself. I walked up the circular path. I couldn’t see too much. But, as the mist rolled away on and off, I could see sunshine and the valley below. Eventually, I could see more of the landscape. But it was cloudy most of the time.

Clingmans Dome Viewing Tower Deck:

Clingmans Dome Eastern

Cloudy Morning View from the Tower:

Clingmans Dome Morning Fog

Mist and Clouds Clearing:

Clingmans Dome Clearing

The Mountain Landscape is Now Visible:

Clingmans Dome View

Newfound Gap Overlook

After about some time. I got back into my car, and headed down the road and turned left onto Newfound Gap Road. I stopped at the Newfound Gap overlook. Here, it was sunny and beautiful. I could see the stretch of the road heading down the mountain. It was a breathtaking experience.

Newfound Gap Overlook

Back Down the Mountain

After that, I headed back down the mountain, stopped at some overlooks, headed back to Cherokee, and had lunch. Then, I explored more of the visitor center and a grist mill. I headed back to town and checked in at my hotel. I was so tired and I needed rest. I went to get dinner later on… Finally, after that, I was relaxing in my hotel room and the rest of the evening was pretty much dull. This concludes day 1…


Day 2

After the much needed rest, day 2 was off to a great start. I ate some breakfast and planned to drive up on Newfound Gap Road again. I stopped at a overlook, on my way to the top. I reached the top, at the Newfound Gap overlook, where I stopped the day prior. But, I continued down the mountain and headed towards Gatlinburg, TN. I reached the bottom of the mountains and took a break at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. I headed west on Fighting Creek Gap Road, towards Cades Cove.

sunny great smoky mountains

Cades Cove

Finally, I reached Cades Cove — a valley surrounded by the Smoky mountains. It was a peaceful drive in the open countryside. I stopped at John Oliver Place — a old log cabin and a nice piece of history. I continued on the one way road, that eventually looped back to the start of Cades Cove. Cades Cove was an interesting experience — the open fields and some trees, surrounded by the mountains, the rolling hills, etc. It was different from the rest of the National Park.

Cades Cove

Foothills, Fontana Dam

Eventually, I headed on the main roads toward the Foothills Parkway. I drove the length of that stretch and saw some amazing views. There were a few overlooks of the valley to the west. Then, the parkway ended and I headed east towards Fontana Dam. Fontana Dam was a cool sight — Fontana Lake on one side; Little Tennessee River, way below, on the other side. For some reason, I didn’t take a picture, oh man. Moving on, I arrived back into Cherokee, NC…

Foothills Parkway


The Evening – Day Two

After resting for a few hours — after driving for much of the morning and afternoon. I decided to see Clingmans Dome again, this time at sunset. Let me tell you, it was breathtaking and a perfect night. I could see way in the distance — all the mountains, lakes, valleys, etc. I took some amazing pictures.

Sunset Great Smoky Mountains

Once it got darker, I could see in the distance, the lights from Gatlinburg and Cherokee. Eventually darkness fell and I headed down the mountain in darkness. It was an interesting experience. That was my day 2 adventure. I wished I had another day to see more of the Smokies — maybe I will in the future.

Clingmans Dome Night


Day Three

This was my final day — a day of traveling back home. Instead of taking I-40, I went up on Newfound Gap Road to avoid I-40, to save time and miles. It was another scenic morning up and down the mountain. Anyways, 10 hours later, I arrived home. What a great trip! Here’s one of my top favorite pictures from my Great Smoky Mountains Trip:

Clingmans Dome Sunset


Summary

I was so grateful to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was one of my best experience in recent years. I saw amazing mountains and sights. I especially enjoyed the sunset on top of Clingmans Dome. It was a perfect evening with no clouds in sight. I took some amazing pictures too. Eventually I’ll go back to the Smokies and do some actual backpacking — the more adventurous way. But until then, start your own trip adventure and embrace the outdoors!

READ MY STORY

Learn more on how I started out in backpacking and hiking


What Are Your Thoughts on the Great Smoky Mountains?
Have you been to the Smokies? If so, I would love to hear your story. If you have any other questions or comments about my visit to the National Park, please leave them in the comments below. I will be more than happy to respond.

Mike

I enjoy backpacking in the backcountry and experiencing the outdoors — even more so in complete solitude. I write reviews for backpacking gear and blog about my hiking adventures, as often as I can. If you want me to write a review for any particular backpacking gear, let me know in the comments below. Start your own backpacking adventure and embrace the outdoors! Quick Note: I make a commission off some of the products I promote on this website, when you click my affiliate links. If you think about it, you're helping me to get outdoors. Read my Affiliate Disclosure page to get the details.

4 comments

  • Ah. a great photo diary and I love the pics and the content was awesome too. I love the way it is all documented as well as giving your own personal insights into what you are seeing, makes me almost feel as if I were traveling there right beside you! Great post.

  • It looks like you had a really great trip, I liked how you kept a diary of your trip and put in all those great photos, this really looks like a great place to visit. I had the feeling as well that I was on the trip with you and enjoying the ride. There is nothing better than to get out into the great outdoors and enjoy the scenery and getting photos of it; this is one of my favourite things to do, good post.

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