Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Since I was a little girl, the ocean always inspired a sense of awe in me. I could stand beside the ocean, my toes buried in the sand as waves rolled in across my ankles, and think The same God who created this huge ocean created me,too. Wow! I always felt a closeness to God when at the beach, a true thankfulness for the beauty He created for us to enjoy. But, it wasn't until recent years that I developed that same sense of awe for the mountains. 

View from Clingman's Dome

My husband and I spent our Honeymoon in Gatlinburg, Tennessee eleven years ago, and were immediately hooked by the draw of the Smoky Mountains. We've vacationed there a few times since then, and it never ceases to excite and compel us to keep coming back. I get that same sense of awe there that I did as a little girl beside the ocean. I feel like an explorer. I am an explorer finding a new trail, an unknown waterfall, a forgotten stream. I look around at the vast expanse of sky, the ridgelines on the horizon and I feel small. I feel awe. I feel the amazement of seeing God's vast handiwork and knowing that I'm a piece of His handiwork as well. 

Last week was Spring Break for my kiddos, so we made the eight hour trek up to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg. We packed a lot in while we were there, including Dollywood, Dixie Stampede dinner show, eating at our absolute favorite restaurant for breakfast, The Apple Barn. We visited The Island in Pigeon Forge, perused the Arts and Crafts District in Gatlinburg, and made a couple of runs to The Donut Friar in downtown Gatlinburg. (If you've never tried The Donut Friar, you have to next time you visit. It's in The Village area of downtown Gatlinburg. Grab a couple of donuts or a dozen, and then walk around the corner and buy some amazing coffee from Coffee & Company. You won't be disappointed.)

But, I was most excited about spending an entire day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Usually, we spend a good bit of time at Cade's Cove, but this time, we bypassed that and went to other areas of the park we'd never explored before. 

And just a couple pieces of advice. 
*Use the restroom before you enter the park. There are few places that have rest areas once you start into the park. 
*Pack a picnic lunch. Really taking your time in the park doesn't lend for a quick trip, especially if you're going up and over the mountain into North Carolina. 
*Take the time to stop at pull off areas and take it all in. Don't have too much of an agenda. Be willing to explore and discover areas that look interesting to you. 

Chimney Tops

Chimney Tops has a picnic area and a hiking trail to the top. The way the clouds look here really look like the mountain is smoking like a chimney. 

Newfound Gap

On the North Carolina/Tennessee border, this is a must see area. There is a restroom here as well. The views are gorgeous and it has some wonderful history. The Appalachian Trail continues here as well.

Clingman's Dome

Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the park. I wish all of my photos did this place justice. It's breathtaking! You can see for miles and miles and are at eye level with the clouds! My kids were terrified that they would fall of the side of the mountain. They didn't even want to get out of the car because it's so high up. Just a word of advice here. Pack warm clothes! It was around twenty-five to thirty degrees cooler up here (and pretty cool at Newfound Gap too). It was also very, very windy making it feel much colder. It was downright frigid. Keep that in mind when you come here, especially when walking up the very top. (And by the way, there are restrooms here.)

Mingus Mill

We just happened to see Mingus Mill and whipped in to see what it was all about. There were restrooms here, but they were closed when we were there. Anyway, you walk back on this trail and come upon an old mill. It was so cool to see how they redirected the water from the river into a trough to feed the mill. It's worth the stop!

Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is right outside of Cherokee, North Carolina. In addition to restrooms and information, there is the Mountain Farm Museum and a trail that runs by the water and around the museum or you can take it into Cherokee. This is also an elk viewing area. (We didn't see any elk this trip but we saw lots and lots of turkey.)This is definitely worth the stop. 

Other Areas

We did go on into Cherokee, North Carolina. It's an Indian reservation and was interesting but some the attractions weren't open yet. We tried to stop all along at areas we found intriguing and just explored and took pictures. This is my favorite part! And I need to mention that there are lots of hiking trail all throughout the park, but we didn't have time to tackle any of those this trip, but they're on the list for our next trip. 

Have you ever been to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? What are your favorite places to visit? I'd love to hear so I can put it on my list for next time! 

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