28 Jun A day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains
You may recall that I purchased an annual National parks pass in anticipation of my visit to Utah last year. Since I was visiting Gatlinburg again to spend time with family, I figured that we might as well check out the Great Smokies while we were there.
Due to an agreement between the state of Tennessee and the Federal government, the Great Smoky Mountains does not have an entry fee, so no annual pass was needed. However, as we drove past the entrance, it reminded me of our time at Zion National Park, where you traverse a long winding road that has various points of interest on the side of the road along the way.
There are scenic stops where visitors can take advantage of the park’s idyllic beauty and for photo ops, but most wait until they arrive at either of the four visitors centers. Four visitor centers are located within the national park at Cades Cove, Oconaluftee, Sugarlands and Clingmans Dome. The first Visitor’s center that we came upon was Sugarlands from the Gatlinburg side. It is not far from the entrance, but parking is definitely scarce since this is the most visited National Park in the country, so keep that in mind when you visit.
As usual, the rangers were very friendly and happy to answer any and all of your questions about the park. However, you can get a head start by checking out their basic info page here. After purchasing a few souvenirs, we loaded up in our caravan and made our way up the mountains.
Oh, I want to remind you, dear reader, if you are 62 years old and over, you may purchase a Lifetime Pass to any of the 400 National Parks for a measly $10.00 US. This covers four people traveling to any of the parks in a car!! Best Deal Ever!
I have to say, that if you are easily rattled, you would do well to drive with caution up these long and winding roads. They are literally corkscrews but thankfully, there weren’t any reckless drivers as we made our way up the mountain.
Next, we found ourselves at the park’s 50th-anniversary monument where we discovered the exact spot where the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines intersected. Of course, everyone wanted to take a photo of themselves literally standing in two different states.
Finally, we made our way to the summit of the mountain, Clingman’s Dome (elevation 6,643). It is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. You will find amazing vistas, another souvenir shop and restrooms there. I attempted to make the trek but chickened out when it began to rain because I didn’t want to sacrifice my camera, but I did make it half-way up!
The park is home to several waterfalls that can only be accessed via short hikes and we noticed that there were many hikers there at the Dome. If you want to experience the heart of the Smoky Mountains, I would highly recommend a hike of some sort. The National Park service offers great ideas about suggested hikes here.
For more information:
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Visitor Information Recorded Message