Day 257 – 5/15/21 Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We had a nice day visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I think we all slept great last night, it was a bit colder overnight, and we went to bed quite late.  I woke up around 8am, which is “late” and it felt great, especially with not having any back pain which usually happens when I lay in bed too long.  I made my coffee and started working on writing, and soon Bella woke up.  Carol woke up a little after that, and Bia was the last one, waking up around 9.  Bella did a bit more school work, but still has some more to do. 

I was done writing right before Bia woke up, and right when she did I got a text message from the campground saying today was pancake breakfast day by the pool, for $5 per person.  The girls wanted to go get pancakes so I took them there while Carol made lunch for us to take with us to the park.  I filled up my cup of coffee and the girls changed and brushed their hairs and we left.  The pancake event was right by the pool deck, and we got there right around 9, so it was not full, maybe 15 people were there.  I paid $5 per girl as I didn’t want to eat, and they could have as many pancakes as they wanted, it was all you can eat.  Pretty cheap actually for $5, and included drinks.  They each stacked like 5 pancakes, put some syrup on their stacks and we sat by a table with some sun shining, to keep us warm. 

It was still a bit cold in the shade.   Bia found $5 on the table by the syrup and brought it to the table with us, but before we left I told her she should leave it with the people from the campground, in case it was from some kid that really needed it and had lost it.  Bia went there and returned the money without even questioning it, made me proud.  Bella ate her entire stack, and Bia left two.  I tried hers and it was ok, I thought the sides that touched the griddle were chewy, so I didn’t care for it much.  Bella’s were whiter and she said they were soft.  On our way out, Bella grabbed a cup of orange juice and brought it back with her, she spilled a bit a few times.  When we got back, we started getting things ready to leave.  I got all the hiking shoes in the truck, got 2 smaller camping chairs there, and got the bags with towels.  Carol had finished lunch, so I got the pan in the trunk as well, and put stuff around it so it would not roll or slide all over.  The girls finished getting ready while Carol got Maggie’s stuff ready to go as she was bringing Maggie along.  We left around 10:30.

Our plan was to drive to the Ocanalufte visitor center, which is way on the other side of the park, in the North Carolina side, near the town of Cherokee, NC.  The plan was to make a few stops on the way, and then stop more on the way back.  We were told to avoid driving through Gatlinburg as it is very crowded, so as we drove towards the park, when we saw the bypass road, we took it.  Carol wanted to stop at the visitor center, so we did, and she got a map and some recommendations.  It did not sound like they have many trails that are easy for kids, and are pretty awesome as well.  They have a few small nature trails, but there’s nothing too magnificent about them.  We kept driving into the park, and going higher and higher into the mountains.  At the peak, we were at around 6,000 ft.  We drove through the area of Chimney Tops, which has awesome views of the mountains, and the chimney looking formations running up to the mountain top.  We did not take any trails there as they were ranked difficult and were also quite long. 

We drove through Newfound Gap road and decided made a stop at the Newfound Gap pullout and took some pictures there, and used the restrooms.  It was cool to see the signs showing the Appalachian Trail was right there, and the extension of the entire trail.  It is huge, with over 2,500 miles, with only 70 or so of those in the Smoky Mountains.

We decided to go to Clingmans Dome and have lunch there, then walk up to the observation tower.  The drives through the park are great, very beautiful green mountain tops, very pretty views everywhere.  We saw lots of motorcycles just driving around.  This park is definitely a great route for nice drives.  Once we got to the Clingmans Dome area, we found parking somewhat easy and right by the side of the cliff, so we had an awesome view from the truck, and had lunch right there with that awesome view of the mountains. 

As we parked, I opened the trunk, and got the chairs out and the pan with food closer to the edge.  Bia wanted to stay in the truck, and Bella came out and sat with us.  Carol put the food on the plates and sat by the truck, on the trunk tail gate, and I sat by Bella on the other chair.  The views there were pretty awesome.  It was a great lunch, the food was great and the views were great.  Lots of people commented on us eating with that view. 

Oh, and right by us, there was a bird trying to get inside someone’s side mirror, hahahahaha… it was crazy, that bird kept hitting that mirror, trying to fly into it for way over 30 minutes.  It left, and came back minutes later and kept trying to do the same thing.  Kind of funny and bizarre at the same time. 

When we were all done with lunch, we started our short, yet very steep walk to the dome.  The walk up is only half a mile, but did I say it is steep?  Holly smokes!  Bella was by me and asked to take a break twice because her legs were tired.  Lots of people had to take breaks on the way up, and a few did not make it.  It definitely got heart rates way up for such a short walk. hahahaha.  When you get to the top of the mountain, there is a circular path that you walk up to the dome, and there you have 360 degree views of all the mountains around, with no trees blocking your view.  It is very nice up there, the views are amazing.  You can see pretty far, if you’re lucky and have a nice day, which we did.  We could see Pigeon Forge fairly clearly from there.  We took some pictures and decided to keep moving, it was a bit busy and people kept arriving and going.  On the way down, Bia needed to rest her legs a bit, I guess braking, as we went downhill, was a workout for her legs.  I made a pit stop before we got to the truck, then we continued driving from there, towards the Ocanalufte vistor center.

Again, it was a nice drive all around for sure.  Once we made it to the visitor center, we stopped to decided what else we’d see.  There were a few cool things on that side, but they were quite far still, like another hour, and then 2.5 hours to go back.  Way too much.  We decided to just go back the way we came, and check out a few stops. 

As we drove back, I entered the first campground there was, so we could check it out.  The area is very nice, lots of trees and a real good feel of being in the middle of the forrest.  The river runs right by the campground, so some sites had that awesome river running sound.  We stopped for a few pictures of the river and continued on.  Through all this driving, we did a lot of crossing borders between Tennessee and North Carolina.  As we made our way back, and were on the Tennessee side again, we made one more stop at a nature trail.  It was a short half mile trail, that had the West Prongue Little Pigeon River crossing right by it.  It was good to get out of the truck, stretch our legs and see some more nature.  Bia was with me on this trail, and was chatty the whole time.  I love doing these walks and talking to the girls, listening to their crazy and funny stories, and their excitement. 

As we left the trail we decided our next and last stop would be the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  To get to the Roaring Fork we would need to go through Gatlinburg as the trail starts and ends downtown Gatlinburg.

Driving through Gatlinburg was interesting.  It is a smaller town, but completely full and really touristic.  It felt like Wisconsin Dells, but more packed in and without the water parks.  It took us a good 10-15 minutes to drive through enough of the town to get to the motor trail, but once we turned out of the main downtown road, there was no traffic.  It’s like people don’t know that motor trail exists.  We followed the road and the GPS, and soon entered a forrest area, and the road turned to a narrow one way loop road.  That trail was super nice, it is narrow and the forrest is packed in right next to you.  You drive up and down the mountain, next to the river, and with a few hikes to some waterfalls, some longer than others.  We found one we wanted to take but the girls did not want to do it, so we agreed we’d go back during the week and do the trail, which allows you to walk right behind the waterfall.  Each time the road went over the water, we crossed a narrow wooden bridge, which was pretty cool.  The early settlers in that spot had this all as a corn field, and there were some buildings from back then still there.  A corn mill was still there too.  It’s crazy that now this is all forest and tall trees.  We enjoyed this drive a lot, and will definitely go back to do one or more of the trails.

The drive back through Gatlinburg was fine, we actually didn’t hit traffic downtown, but instead between there and Pigeon Forge.  As we were stopped in traffic at one point, some guys in pick up trucks were having some fun, and one of them had a train horn in the truck and he used it. Hahahahaha holly shit it was loud and scared a lot of people.  I told Carol I want one of those. hahahahahahah.  As we got closer to the campground and got out of traffic, I stopped to fill up the truck again.  With this craziness of people storing fuel, I want to make sure we are full each day.  I also got 2 special beers for Carol and I, and a bundle of firewood for later.

When we got back, the girls wanted to go to the pool, so we went.  I changed before going just in case I felt like going in the water.  The girls played in the pool while Carol and I talked and enjoyed our beers.  Bella wanted me to join them, so I did a little later.  The water was actually nice and warm.  The pool is pretty cool, they have a lazy river area, and then a regular area.  The lazy river is actually like a river, with current and all, so if you have a float you can just float around the area.  I went around the area a few times with the girls, they wanted to hang onto me, pile up, then swim against the current, etc.  It was fun.

Carol left before us to get something started for dinner.  We stayed a little longer and played around, then left.  It was actually cold to leave, the water was nice and warm but the temperature outside was not so warm, and there was a bit of a breeze.  I got everyone’s towels laid out and the girls ran out to their towels. hahahahaha.  When we got back, they went to shower and I got the grill cleaned up for some grilled pizzas that Carol was working on.  I love those grilled pizzas.  We all had dinner outside, then the girls put things away inside and were watching movies.  Carol and I stayed outside and I got the fire going.  We stayed out until the bundle was out, which was a few hours.  We had a good time just relaxing, hanging out and chatting.  When the fire was out, we called it a day, went inside and showered and went to bed around 11.

We had a great day at Smoky Mountains National Park.

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