I made my second trip to the Smoky mountains this year after several months of planning. A wellness day off from my company NetApp March 3rd offered the perfect opportunity for the 4 and a half hour drive to it. The Smoky mountains:
- Offer several viewpoints and hikes with stunning views ✓
- Various camping and lodging choices ✓
- Are a few hours drive away from the Triangle ✓
- Proximity to the cheerful downtown of Gatlinburg ✓
The Great smoky mountains national park spans over North Carolina and Tennessee. My favorites were
- Hike to Alum cave trail via Mt. LeConte and cliff tops
- Clingman’s dome observation tower
- Hike to Chimney tops
- Newfound gap
The first time, we assembled at one location, loaded up camping gear and went about our days like so:
Home -> Newfound gap -> Clingmans dome -> Inn
Inn -> Chimney tops -> Adventure Distillery -> Inn
Inn -> Rainbow falls -> Knoxville -> Campground
Campground -> Home
The second time around, Mt. LeConte was our main attraction. The days looked like so:
Home -> Hotel close to trailhead
Hotel close to trailhead -> Mt LeConte -> Campground
Campground -> Home
Starting this year (2023) March 1st, parking tags are required to park at the Smoky mountains. Weather alerts are at smokies road info twitter. I got the AllTrails+ app this time for the Alum cave trail via Mt. LeConte we planned to do. As it was 11 miles long, I wanted to make sure we stayed on track. We ended up hiking 13.16 miles including Myrtle point.
The first night, we stayed at a cottage. The second night, at a campground. My thinking was that it was important for us to be well rested before our long hike. The next night, even if we are not 100% rested, all we have to do, is drive back the next morning. This worked out pretty well for us as it rained the first night and we didn’t have to camp in the rain (I’m not a fan :)). There was also a high wind warning the first night. Highway 441 was closed which led to our trailhead. As a backup, we considered another trail that led to Mt. LeConte or spending the day in Gatlinburg downtown. We were fortunate to see it open the next morning albeit a bit late for a long hike. The sky cleared up well enough greeting us with a high of ~50°F weather on the trail. Cotton pants, a thick hoodie and athletic socks worked out comfortably for me.
The view from the cliff tops is my personal #1 favorite spot at the Smoky mountains. If I had to pick just one thing to do at the Smokies, this would be it.
On our way to it, we noticed Mt. LeConte lodge and a shelter as well. The lodge was closed for the season but the public restrooms were open. This was a pleasant surprise to me as the ones on the trailhead were closed. The shelter needs reservation FYI.
I don’t usually do, but we packed hiking poles this time. For my stamina, it was a must have for this one. It also helped to go easier on the knees on the way down. Toward the end, we ran out of daylight, headlamp battery, flashlight battery and almost out of phone charge. This allowed us to see some beautiful classic reflections of the moonlight on the water. Good thing, we were out of the tunnels by then. Ours was the last car parked at the trailhead.
Chimney tops is another hike I recommend. I quite frankly found it harder to do the last rocky stretch than Mt. LeClonte. Mt. Leconte was just lengthy.
From my 3 years exploring the outdoors around the Triangle, watching the weather a week an advance, booking for 3 days and planning around the weather close to a day before has given me a fair opportunity to see all of the attractions in all their glory. Partly cloudy weather or rain does not deter me because I expect it to clear up at least for a bit over the day at least in some directions. The view right above is of Clingman’s dome, which I witnessed, in a borrowed poncho. Worth it? You tell me 🙂 That having said, I am always extremely fortunate to experience all the scenery I have. Even with our best planning, it’s not promised