Monday, January 3, 2011

Camping at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Smoky mountains..the first place that comes to mind when we hear about fall colors. We went to Smokies to check out its elegant fall colors in late October 2009 for the first time. As with any camping trip, it included a lot of planning, study the park and trail maps, book the campsite well in advance, know the place and activities, buy necessary equipment for example bear spray, mosquito repellants, portable heater etc.
Day 1: After a 9hour drive, we reached Elkmont campground late in the evening. This campground was our best option because it is almost midway in the park and provides an easy drive to either sides. It had no showers and one surely wouldn’t miss it (I hated to touch the ice cold water in that chilling nights). We set up the tent pretty fast, freshen up, lit the campfire and had dinner. Before sleeping, we had to pack all the food items back in the car and dispose the trash in the special dumpsters to avoid bear attacks.
Day 2: Excited for a real hike, we packed lunch and headed out for the day. When hiking down from laurel falls, we spotted our first bear, so close roaming just around the trail. Then we drove on the scenic Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans dome tower, taking pictures at lookouts. We stopped for lunch at Chimney tops picnic area and there again was a bear high up on the tree. The Clingmans dome trail was very steep and tiring but the tower, being in the center of the park, offered great views.
 Day 3: Alum cave Bluffs trail, this was the most strenuous of hikes till date for me. Evening we drove in the 11 mile one-way Cades Cove loop road which featured churches, mills and houses as remnants of Cherokee Indians (Native American Tribe) in 1800s and acres of grasslands in the beautiful valley. It was easy to locate deers and other wild life and biking and horse riding seemed popular.
Day 4: Explored south-east part of the park and hiked to Indian creek falls. On the way back to campground, we went to Cherokee. Very different from its counterpart Gatlinburg, it was very quiet, still stuck in 1950s with delightful museums, galleries and souvenir shops.
Day 5: Few stops at Gatlinburg and drove back home. This post would be incomplete without mentioning a special guest, our companion for the 9 hr drive back to A2. A SNAKE!!! Definitely interesting topic for the next post J

Smokies is very family friendly which is evident in all ages of people and huge crowds it draws every year. Few things we didn’t like: There would be miles of traffic whenever someone spot a bear, the trails are usually packed and the scenery is at times mediocre and not worth the drive and effort. Overall, it was good but exhausting and we had to plan for a second visit to explore the rest of the park.
And there we were, back to Smokies on a 6-day trip in May 2010. No doubt, it is very famous for its remarkable fall colors, but it’s beauty is no less in Summer. We stayed at the same Elkmont campground. This time we had lot of time, so spent our evenings reading novel (I got it from the campground office for free) sitting at campfire savoring chips and pop. We hiked to Rainbow falls, Abrams falls trail in the Cades Cove loop, Gabes Mountain trail to Hen Wallow falls, explored quiet walkways(unpaved trails into the forest) and the campground (we noticed there is a open air auditorium). This trip was very relaxing as opposed to the last one and white water rafting and the illuminant forest with thousands of fire flies at night were few highlights.


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