I commented in my last post that I was a little concerned about traveling through Smoky Mountains National Park because of crowds that would result in delays along the roads and parking issues. It ended up not being that bad and coming in through the North Carolina side made much of the drive less busy. When we got to the Tennessee side, it did become busier especially at popular hiking spots. There were still places though to pull off the road and enjoy some serenity and scenery. The photo below was at one of those places, a beautiful creek that was a very short walk from the road. I met a family there and the wife told me that this is their favorite spot in the Park, a place they return to during each Smoky Mountain visit.
Moving on, we came upon a line of cars parked for perhaps a half a mile or more in each direction, overflow from a crowded parking lot at a favorite trail head. This can be common in other National Parks, so no surprise here either.
The Park has set up “Quiet Walkways,” shorter trails off some of the roads where one can walk with less crowds to areas of scenic interest. Periodically, we would see a sign for one of those. We stopped at one that led to this delightful rushing stream in the photo below. I had the trail and stream to myself until walking a little further when I came upon a young man fly fishing in the middle of the stream.
After my “quiet walk” we headed back the way we came on Newfound Gap Road, stopping at the Newfound Gap Scenic Overlook. When we had driven past earlier in the day, the parking lot was very crowded and after some attempts and still not finding a parking spot we drove on. When we stopped on the way back we were able to get one. The overlook is noteworthy for several reasons. it is here that the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee meet.
The Rockefeller Monument made from stone is located next to the parking lot and can be seen in the left hand side of the photo above. Completed in September 1939, it was on this spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Great Smoky Mountain National Park in September 1940. A plaque on the monument states that the park was given by the states of North Carolina and Tennessee as well as donations in memory of Laura Spellman Rockefeller by her husband John.
This is also the only place in the Park where the Appalachian Trail passes across a road. During our travels, we have run into the trail in several different states. In the photo above, you might notice on the smaller sign that it is 1,972 miles to Katahdin Maine, the ending point for the trail and a long trek ahead for the weary hiker! I read that the Appalachian Trail runs for more than 71 miles through the Park and the highest point on the whole trail is reached here in the Smoky Mountains at Clingmans Dome which is 6,625 feet.
The road to Clingmans Dome leaves from Newfound Gap and in seven miles you reach a parking lot and can walk to an overlook at the highest point in Tennessee. We contemplated driving up to this very popular spot, but I read reviews where people talked about waiting for an hour along the road to get a parking spot, so we decided to move on. Above is a view from the Newfound Gap Overlook.
When people come to the park, they really hope to see wildlife, especially elk and black bear. We didn’t see any bear during our visit, but upon arriving back at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center area in North Carolina we did see a herd of elk in the large meadow. They tend to gather here in the late afternoon/early evenings and I counted almost 30 of them. Fall is the rutting or mating season when the males make bugling calls to challenge other males and attract females. Dominant males gather a harem of up to 20 females. In the photo below, I watched a mother tending her baby.
Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian mountains as well as other areas in the Eastern U.S. but due to over hunting and loss of habitat they started disappearing. I read that the last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700’s and in Tennessee in the mid 1800’s. By 1900, there was concern that they could be headed for extinction. The National Park Service began reintroducing elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 when 25 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2002, another 27 animals were brought into the Park.
During our stop there was a line of people standing along the edge of the meadow. The National Park Service has strict rules about observing elk. Visitors have to remain by the roadside while viewing and cannot enter the fields where elk are located. The Park website states it is illegal to approach within 50 yards and violation can result in fines and arrest. I noted that there were some park employees along the road when the elk were in the meadow. I have seen elk before in my travels, but this was the largest gathering I have ever seen. It was neat to see them, especially when they are now making a comeback after being absent from this area for so many years.
Thanks for reading! In the next post we move on to Kentucky!