There is something special about taking a long leisurely drive, over rolling hills, through the forest, stopping here and there to breathe in the fresh air. We set out on a Friday morning, rolling from Asheville, NC on the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. Our destination was Gatlinburg, TN and according to Google maps the drive was meant to be 86.5 miles/2 hr 10 min. However, because we wanted to take our time, experiencing the Blue Ridge Parkway at a slow-pace, our drive ended up being 6 hours total. As we meandered, we took in the stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. At Highway marker 109 we stopped off just past Mt. Pisgah, for a quick hike up Frying Pan. The hike was about 3/4 miles straight up to the tower. It took us about 45 min but the views were amazing.
We continued on towards Gatlinburg, stopping a few more times, to explore some of the Parkway’s stunted hardwoods and flora, includes various grasses, shrubs (including rhododendrons and dogwoods), hemlock, mixed-oak pine forests and spruce-fir forests.
The transition into the Smokey Mountains was noticeable as the foliage and elevations changed. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs atop the mountains, where as, once we entered the Smokey Mountains, the highway began to descend deep into the valley and surrounding forest, running along the river.
We stopped one last time for a quick hike at Clingmans Dome in the Smokey Mountain National Forest. This hike climbs about a 1/2 a mile to a look out tower. About half way up we spotted a Black Bear and her baby cubs. The park signs warned that approximately 1,500 bears live in the park, which equals a population density of roughly two bears per square mile. We kept our distance and kept walking to the top. Clingman’s dome is a 70’s space aged tower and offered some pretty fantastic views. Funny how sometimes getting to the top of the mountain isn’t enough, rather we long to go that extra bit to the top of the tower, on the top of the mountain.
After our hike we spent a few hours dining and walking around Gatlinburg. This crazy mountain town is a fantastic version of the county fair mixed with every bizarre tourist attraction you can think of, including things like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Wax Museum Putty Golf, folks sipping on Moonshine while watching a bluegrass band, and all the ice cream, cotton candy, fudge, fried foods and any other sweet treats you desire. After a long leisurely day over the mountain and through the woods, soaking in all the goodness that nature offers, Gatlinburg was a bit overstimulating. Still, it did the job in refueling us and getting us on our way back to Asheville.
All up we’d do this 14 hour day again. Thankful for opportunities to explore and experience all of the beauty in this great big world.