The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the National Parks that makes you feel so small.
Overlooking the rolling hills along the skyline had a profound effect on me. I could never understand why The Great Smoky Mountains National Park had more than twice the amount of visitors than the Grand Canyon, arguably one of the National Park’s crowning gems.
I asked this question to myself while I visited The Great Smoky Mountains National Park last spring. How could this National Park have more than 8,000,000 visitors every year and still maintain the park’s calm and tranquil demeanor.
I had no idea when I was planning this trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that the visitor fee has been waived for everyone, too.
Needless to say, I was skeptical going into it. This was my first mistake.
My second mistake was going into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in an air of ignorance. Could these rolling mountains be just as majestic as some of the other great mountains of the West or Alaska that I had been to over the years?
My trip through this park started by driving from Nashville. This is a straight-forward drive. I found it calming to drive the length of Tennessee on a relatively open highway. The stark green landscape of Tennessee was definitely shocking to someone that grew up in Utah and spent the last three years in places devoid of all but one color, white.
Getting into Knoxville, I made it a point to find one of the best local BBQ joints for lunch.
My mum and I split a combo platter of three different meats and a couple sides. The crew smoking all the meats even let me take some pictures for my website, kcloosemore.com.
Freshly smoked Tennessee BBQ anyone? @fullservicebbq @knoxvilletennessee What’s your favorite smoked meat? . . . #knoxville #tennessee #bbq #bbqtime #pork #smoked #mmm #food #cookingwkc #adventure #travelgram #travel #traveling #travelbug #travelphotography #travelblogger #travelblog #iphone #iphonephotography #iphone6 #instagood #foodie #foodstagram #foodblog #foodblogger #foodbloggers #slcbloggers #slcfoodie #knoxrocks
Then we wandered around downtown Knoxville.
In all honesty, this was not a highlight. Unless you are a serious civil war history buff or particularly care for world fairs that do not exist anymore, there is not much of a reason to stick around this city for more than a couple hours.
Knoxville is a college town with local fare. Get some BBQ for lunch, walk around downtown until you get bored, and move on. Oh, the homeless population knows you’re a tourist. They will likely follow you around for money and food. This is not different than any other big city but Knoxville does not have a massive tourist population.
I wish I spent less time in Knoxville and more time in my AirBnB for the night.
I found a beautiful property on the edge of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It overlooked a section of the park that is usually overlooked.
Good morning @greatsmokynps ! Who else has an awesome view like this in the morning? . . . . #greatsmokymountainnationalpark #smokymountains #mountains #mountain #nps #nationalparks #nationalpark #nationalparksystem #tennessee #iphone6 #iphone #iphonesia #iphonephotography #natgeo #airbnb #airbnboftheday #cabin #adventurousbeard #adventure #roadtrip #travel #traveller #travelphotography #travelblogger #slcblogger #slcbloggers #nofilter
About 45 minutes away from the main visitors center, there is not much reason to visit the park this far north it is frequented by local Tennessee people wanting to camp away from the crowds but still in the park.
It was also very hard to navigate. The AirBnB I found was incredible but my rental car barely made it up some of the steep hills I had to climb. The couple was some of the nicest hosts I have stayed with, as well.
We made it just in time for sunset.
The place we stayed in was perched on top of a hill overlooking some of the best views we had of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The cabin we stayed in had a full kitchen, running water, a shower, electricity, and two separate bedrooms. Oh, by the way, it was built by hand by the owners. I could have spent a week on this property!
The next morning, I was woken up to Cardinals and a plethora of other birds happily chirping outside my window.
The sunrise was almost as good as the sunset. It was so unique.
Unfortunately, we had to be back to Nashville that night so we could not doddle around too much. The Great Smoky Mountains National Parks was calling.
As we drove through the highway, we passed through a small little town outside of the park. If you have the time, spend at least a half a day here. It has great BBQ, interesting tourist attractions, and a stunning mountain backdrop that I love.
When we reached the visitors center in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I found out how this park operates without an admittance fee.
Everything costs money except for The Great Smoky Mountains National Park newsletter. All proceeds go towards park maintenance, of course. I do not mind forking over five dollars for a hiking map.
Our first hike of the day was Laurel Falls. It is a easy-moderate hike over gorgeous switchbacks. The views look out onto the rolling hills of the Smoky Mountains. When you reach the end, you are greeted with a two-tiered cascading waterfall.
This is Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I got loads more pictures besides this one and I’m excited to share them with you. Unfortunately, photobombing everyone can get annoying so you will have to wait. In the mean time, here’s the first of many. This is a very popular hike and I was lucky to have gotten many pictures without people in it. Had I gone an hour later, it would have been impossible. Where are your favorite waterfalls? @greatsmokynps @nationalparkservice @nationalparkbox . . . . #adventurousbeard #laurelfalls #greatsmokymountainnationalpark #nationalparks #nationalparksystem #mountain #smokymountains #mountains #tennessee #slcbloggers #slcblogger #travelblogger #travelphotography #traveller #roadtrip #roadtrippin #waterfalls #waterfall #sony #sonyalpha #sonya6000 #travel #adventure #natgeo #natgeotravel #natgeoyourshot #nationalgeographic
Make sure you do this hike in the early morning or late afternoon.
It is one of the most popular hikes so it can get very busy. I was very lucky to have gotten a few great photos of the waterfalls between the groups of people trying to take selfies.
The road leading up to Laurel Falls has many great pull-outs along the way. Each pull-out has an incredible view to compliment it. I definitely stopped at every single one of them.
This is at the bottom of Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There is quite a few people here so it was a miracle that I got any good photos. @greatsmokynps @nationalparkservice @natgeo . . . . #adventurousbeard #nature #greatsmokymountainnationalpark #nationalparks #nationalparksystem #waterfalls #smokymountains #mountains #tennessee #slcbloggers #slcblogger #travelblogger #travelphotography #traveller #roadtrip #roadtrippin #waterfall #natgeoyourshot #iphone6 #iphonesia #iphone #natgeo
Laurel Falls was my mom’s favorite part of the park that day.
You should not miss this view even though it is a relatively strenuous hike. If you cannot make it work, here are some photos!
We were very hungry when we made it back to the car. We drove back down to town and found a BBQ place for lunch. This turned into a bigger hassle than I expected. The first place was closed for an employee party, the second place was closed for no reason at all, and the third place was closed for renovations. Even the national chain Texas Roadhouse was closed out of their usual scheduled time!
We settled for the only place in town that we could find. It took an hour to get our food, which was disappointing.
At the top of Clingmans Dome in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they say you can see 22 miles in every direction. 🌄 I think I got pretty close to this! It was stunning at the top, though my mom did not think it was worth the climb. To get to the top, you have to hike up a paved walk way for half a mile. ⠀ ——-⠀ It is very steep and when the sun is out, very hot. I thought it was the best part of the trip but many people I talked to did not think so. To me, the climb is always worth it but if you don’t feel like climbing this hill, just check my photos out instead! ⛰🗻 .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #greatsmokymountainnationalpark #smokymountains #mountains #mountain #nps #nationalparks #nationalpark #nationalparksystem #tennessee #sony #sonya6000 #passionpassport #backpacker #natgeo #utahblogger #natgeo #natgeotravel #worldnomads #travelgram #adventurousbeard #adventure #roadtrip #travel #traveller #travelphotography #travelblogger #slcblogger #clingmansdome #travelawesome #roadtrip
After our lunch time fiasco, we started off on the twenty mile road system that led to Clingmans Dome.
Clingmans Dome is the highest elevation in Tennessee and the second highest east of the Mississippi River. The winding road up to this view point is almost as good as the viewpoint itself. In fact, I do not know how you cannot love The Great Smoky Mountains National Park after this drive.
The parking lot at Clingmans Dome is teeming with tourists but the cliff side that it perches on is stunning. At the bottom of the hill, we bought some patches from the visitor’s center and started out climb. Admittedly, it is a hard climb. Even incredibly fit people had to take a couple breaks along the long half-mile paved walkway.
Reaching the winding walkway up to the dome is a sight to see. It was every bit as magical as stepping around the corner to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Instead of endless stairs to get up to the tower, the park built a spiral walkway that stops at the highest point in Tennessee.
Now you are probably asking yourself why there has to be a tower at the top of a mountain in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
While you are hiking in this area, you will notice that the tree canopy usually obliterates the views around you of the rolling mountains. As more and more visitors complained about this, the National Park Service decided to build a platform to get above the tree line. This makes it so you can see 360 degrees around you.
In fact, here is a 360 degree video of Clingmans Dome from my youtube channel! Make sure you subscribe to my channel for more awesome videos! Coming soon: Alaska and Antarctica!
My mother was not as impressed with the view as I was. I loved it. I could have stayed up there until sundown but the wind was picking up. Above the tree line, it can get pretty cold.
On our way down the mountain in our car, I stopped at every major pull off for even more photos. In case you have missed all the other photos in this post, here is another video at my favorite pull-off:
What it looks like driving through Great Smoky Mountain National Park! It was so pretty here. @greatsmokynps @nationalparkservice . . . . #adventurousbeard #nature #greatsmokymountainnationalpark #nationalparks #nationalparksystem #mountain #smokymountains #mountains #tennessee #slcbloggers #slcblogger #travelblogger #travelphotography #traveller #roadtrip #roadtrippin #greenery #natgeoyourshot #iphone6 #iphonesia #iphone #natgeo
What was your favorite part of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Tell me in the comments below! Otherwise, check out some of my other posts of various National Parks!
My motorbiking trip through Vietnam was a lot of fun, too!
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