The Mammoth Cave trip had been such a success we were excited about what the Smoky Mountain National Park had to offer. The drive went up through Pigeon Forge, TN and what I saw there concerned me. The main strip going through Pigeon Forge is lined with tourist traps. It reminded me of Branson or a attempt to be like Vegas. Traffic was very heavy and I couldn't believe people would drive from all over for a vacation to deal with more people. Gatlinburg had some of the same problems but it wasn't as bad as Pigeon Forge. What Gatlinburg has going for it is the proximity to the SMNP. The park is within walking distance and it's a great place if you have someone who hates the outdoors in your party and just wants to shop.
My daughter had been hounding me for years to do a horseback riding trip. I had wanted to try it in Yellowstone but the prices were outrageous. The prices at the Sugarlands Riding Stables are reasonable and the people there did a great job with my family. Especially the kids.
The ride we did was a few miles but you felt like you were actually riding in the country and one section followed a creek as it gained elevation.
The scenery was breathtaking and I couldn't think of a better way to start our trip. My daughter was on cloud nine.
The family experience was well worth the price. At the time we did this a family of 4 could do a hour and a half ride for around $200 that's including tip.
The next day we decided to try a hike at Grotto Falls. What attracts people to this water fall is you can walk behind it. I had heard so much about the wildlife in the Smokies and the drive to the falls gave us our first taste. Right in the middle of the road was a turkey doing a mating dance around a female.
We kept our distance and just watched but other tourists weren't as respectful. Driving right up to the birds as they did their business.
We had to park a little further than we intended because of the upper parking lot being closed. This actually helped us enjoy the hike more. I was worried the 2mile hike to the falls might be too much for the kids but I think they were distracted having their friends along.
The kids got a kick out of this log they could climb through.
The big highlight for me was running into this guy on the trail who was hiking with his alpacas.
Eventually we could start to make out the falls from the trail.
When you first see the falls it's hard to believe you can walk behind it.
As you get closer you can see it is fairly large and there's plenty of room to fit behind it.
We took our time exploring the park for the rest of the day. There's a nice rest area right off the Pigeon Forge river where I was able to fish a little.
This area was great for wading and with the weather being so warm the kids took advantage of playing in the water.
The water was very clear, cold and refreshing from the 80+ temperatures we were experiencing. When we had our fill of playing in the river we made our way to Cades Cove.
There are old buildings you can visit in Cades Cove but the majority of it is seen by car. There's a road that circles around the area and has a speed limit of less that 25 if I remember correctly. The views are terrific and it's not uncommon to see bears and turkeys.
We were lucky enough to see both.
There's some interesting history in this area and it's worth stopping at the old settlements and reading about them. When you drive around SMNP you'll notice right away an abundance of waterfalls and wildlife.
It reminded me of a condensed version of Yellowstone.
The fishing pressure wasn't that bad at least when we visited. There are so many places to fish I had water to myself quite often.
Many of the streams are filled with small trout similar to this rainbow trout.
The following next few days were spent hiking and exploring the area. Rainbow Falls is a popular tourist attraction.
The hike there is fairly easy and paved most of the way.
The falls are beautiful and well worth the hike.
Similar to Yellowstone if you see a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road that usually signaled there was wildlife not far. What's great is you can slowly pass the onlookers and ask what they're looking at then decide if it's worth stopping. This one day there was a mother and cub and we decided to join the gawkers.
The bear was about 100yds from where we were standing and I had never seen a bear in the wild until this vacation. I was a little concerned we were too close and I was ready make my way back to the car if the bear came any closer. It didn't seem to mind our presence and as we watched it we kept over hearing people talk about a cub. Sure enough up a small bear cub scampered up a tree not far from the mother.
It was neat to witness such a thing and it wasn't long until the cub climbed down and met back up with the mother. We later learned after watching awhile there were two cubs and I was lucky enough to snap this shot.
Where ever we stopped there seemed to be waterfalls and wildlife I guess that's kind of what the Smokies are all about.
The best part was experiencing all this as a family.
Having another family along was huge to help with lulls. When the kids felt tired the other kids would help drag them forward. It really helped with the kids moods and overall moral.
The last day we checked out Clingmans Dome. The hike to the dome was kind of brutal. It's a paved trail but it's up a ridiculously steep grade. I'm not in great shape but I 'm not super out of shape either and I had stop to rest because my calves were killing me.
The drive up to the dome dropped the temperature over 10 degrees. We went from hot and sweaty to thinking we needed a sweatshirt. There was a brisk wind which made it feel even colder.
The path up the dome was a marvel in itself.
The curve of the path as it raised in elevation was pretty neat.
The view back looking over the valley.
You can see both sides of the Smokies from the top of the dome. It was a great view but I'm sure on a clear day it's spectacular.
If you haven't visited the Smoky Mountain National Park before I'd say it's a must visit. The crowds may seem bad going through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge but once you're in the park it's easy to get away. There's plenty of places to fish, hike and see wildlife. It's not hard to find your own spot where you can relax and admire the scenery.