My wife and I moved to Tennessee almost three years ago. I have always wanted to see The Great Smoky Mountain National Park but just recently had the chance. Along with two friends from The Cookeville Camera Club, we finally made the trip this past early May. What a magnificent experience. The weather was perfect. It’s amazing to think that entrance to the Park is free. For someone who has
never been, there is no excuse not to visit. It is an experience one will never forget.
Entering the park from Gatlinburg, within minutes we saw our first large black bear and 2 cubs about 20 yards from the car. It was incredible to see these beautiful and powerful creatures. Little did I know that these would not be last animals we would see during our visit. Over the three days we visited the park, we saw more bear, elk, deer, wild turkey, and birds of all kinds. And of course that doesn’t include the numerous types of flowers and plants within the park. Spring is a beautiful time of year to visit. The photographic opportunities in the park are boundless. From the meandering boulder filled streams, that seem to follow you everywhere, to the foliage filled forests, the fantastic mountain vistas, the awe inspiring waterfalls, and the well-kept old churches and log cabins from the 1930’s interspersed within the park, there is just so much to see and do. Many people come to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to discover how their forebears lived.
Just driving through the park, there is much to see without having to get out of the car. But for the more adventurous, and to fully appreciate the park, you must hike some of the trails. You’ll see some amazing waterfalls within no more than a couple miles of fun filled hikes. Most trails are very well kept with just an occasional amount of exciting trail danger. Even a young child can handle it. The forest is always at least five degrees cooler. Bring some water and a snack and you’re good to go. The park has a few areas to buy food and souvenirs too. Don’t miss Grotto Falls, Spruce Flat Falls, and Mingo Falls to name a few. Arriving at the waterfalls, sit and relax and enjoy the cool spray from the waterfalls and don’t forget to take some pictures.
Be sure to see the Cades Cove loop in the western end of the park with many old churches and amazing views of beautiful grass filled fields and the Smokies in the background. A must see is the still working old time grist mill, which offers bags of ground corn or flour. Also worth seeing is Newfound Gap, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and Clingman’s Dome near sunset for the highest and best views of the surrounding breathtaking mountains in the park. You can see for miles and miles into the valleys below.
Spending 3 days there was hardly enough time, as the park is so large and diverse. With so much more to see and do, you will want to return again and again. I think the fall would be a beautiful time to return to the most visited National Park in the United States. Enjoy the park and discover the heritage of natural and cultural diversity it preserves for all time. Be assured my first visit to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park will not be my last.