Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, May 21 – 22, 2023

When we left Asheville, we had already been traveling for two months and were ready to go home. Even so, we could not justify driving from Asheville to Detroit without stopping at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It was a last-minute plan to go there, so we settled on a private campground in Pigeon Forge. We normally prefer camping in a more rustic setting, but we were only stopping for 2 nights and planned to fit in a couple of hikes, sightseeing and time in Gatlinburg. This was one example of our camping as an alternative to a hotel vs. truly camping. Mill Creek Campground costs about 4 or 5 times what we usually spend on a campsite, but they had an easy pull-thru site available. It was also just a short drive from a free shuttle into Gatlinburg.  It has a pool and small rental cabins. Though it was only 5 minutes away from the very busy, high-traffic area of Pigeon Forge, the hilly landscape blocked the traffic noise.

Dave visited Gatlinburg and the Smokies countless times, as a kid, mostly camping. His parents, Gary and Shirley, countinued to go there,  frequently, after their kids were grown. They climbed Mount LeConte a couple of times.  It is the third highest peak in the park, at 6,593 feet. It’s a 5 mile hike to LeConte Lodge.  We have enjoyed their stories about the lodge and many hikes in the park. The lodge was built in 1926 and offers meals, as well as lodging (we are adding this to our list of cool things we might do soon).

It was my second visit to the park. Dave and I previously spent a week there in October, 2015, a year before the 2016 wildfires.  We stayed in a beautiful,  condo in town and explored most of the park, hiking every day. At that time, the fall colors were at their peak and it was extremely crowded with tour buses everywhere. We managed to avoid some of the crowds by heading out early and hiking longer trails.

This time, we did one hike that I had not done before – Clingmans Dome.  At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We arrived at the trail head fairly early, and were still lucky to find an empty parking spot. It is paved and only about 1/2 mile, but very steep. There were a lot of people of all fitness levels hiking, many stopping along the way, gasping for air. I was really worried that someone was going to have a heart attack. The views from the top were spectacular.

We spent late afternons and evenings in Gatlinburg. It’s not our favorite town, mainly because it is a giant tourist trap. Gatlinburg has changed drastically since I was there over 30 years ago with friends. Then, it was a sleepy little town with “old time photo” places and a few souvenier shops. Now, the town is always packed with tourists and consists of mostly  Ripley’s Believe It Or Not attractions and distilleries.  Thinking I wanted to take something local home, I inquired about a tasting at one place. I learned that everything they sell is very sweet, such as butter pecan moonshine or salty carmel whisky, so I skipped it. Instead, we went to the brewery in town and we ate at a mexican restaurant. The free shuttle was great. We avoided parking fees and trying to find a spot suitable for our large Silverado 3500 HD.

I actually forgot to take a picture of the campsite.  Just imagine a very neat, full campground with little vegetation and campsites very close together. When we return to the area, we will plan ahead and find something closer to our style –  more scenic and more privacy.

View of town from the Skylift, Gatlinburg, TN (Oct 2015)
Smoky Mountain Brewery, Gatlinburg, TN
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Newfound Gap Overlook, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Newfound Gap Overlook, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Oct 2015)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Charlies Bunyan Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Oct 2015), We hiked everyday on that trip.  My favorite trails were this one, Cades Cove and Chimney Tops. (Interesting grammar note: it appears they chose not to use apostrophes for names in the park)
Dave and his brothers on Charlies Bunyan Trail, sometime in the 1970’s. The usually went over Easter break.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Stopping at an Appalacian Trail sign on the way up to Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was built in 1959 on the mountain named Clingman’s Dome, named after a confederate general. There is an official name change underway, which will restore the mountain to its original native American name,”Kuwahi”.

The view from Clingmans Dome Observation tower, the highest point in the park, with a 360-dergree view. On a clear day you can see seven states: Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Great Smoky Mountains National Park