Heavy Heart Lightly Dusted With Snow

Sunrise from Gatlinburg Bypass Overlook
Sunrise from Gatlinburg Bypass Overlook

Snow was in the forecast for the overnight hours and it didn’t disappoint! Darren woke me up early. I really have no idea what time since my watch said one time, my computer another and my phone yet another. We lost an hour yesterday with the time zone difference and then skipped ahead another with Daylight Savings. I am still not clear exactly what time it is. It’s dark and night…lol. I believe it is 9:33pm Tennessee time.

It’s been another great day. Good to be in the Smoky Mountains. They are so beautiful even in winter and even with all the devastation. We saw some of that today and it was sad. In the picture above, that fence used to stretch the length of the overlook and there was a sign with information about what you were overlooking. All gone except for that little stretch of fence.

I think God dusted everything in snow to soften the blow for my tender heart. The snow and views were beautiful. My heart grew heavier with every burned cabin we passed. It also makes me angry. Angry at the teenagers that we heard started the fires and angry at the national news stations for not doing a better job covering this story. The Great Smoky Mountain fires were the deadliest wildfires in the eastern U.S. since 1947. Over 2000 structures were lost and over 14 people died (at last report I saw) with another 134 injured.

GSMNP signAfter we stopped at the overlook, we stopped by the main park sign over by the Sugarland Visitor’s Center.  So many wonderful memories at this sign alone! It was lovely along the Gatlinburg Trail as well. Some ducks came right up to Darren down by the water. They must be used to people feeding them. We didn’t. We didn’t even feed ourselves before we left. We wanted to capture as much of the snow as possible before it melted.

It did melt but not before we visited Bud Ogle’s place over by Roaring Fork. This is another place full of memories. Darren can remember visiting as a child. We brought our kids on their first trip in 2007. It was so good to see it still standing. On the way to it there were burned cabins and charred trees on both sides of the road. We hiked the short loop so we could see if the old mill house made it. It was still standing but the trough was partially collapsed. It didn’t look like it was related to the fire but maybe had rotted. We had fun playing with the snow in the trees and following animal tracks in the snow.

Bud Ogle Place-Historic Cabin
Bud Ogle Place-Historic Cabin

We finally headed to breakfast around lunch time. I knew it was close to lunch because the Log Cabin Pancake House we ate at has a lunch buffet and they were serving it. We opted for breakfast. Darren had his usual Pecan Pancakes and I had an omelet and some cakes that came with it. The place was packed and lined out the door but this place moves quickly.

After brunch, we both agreed a nap was in order. Between the hiking over the last few days, the traveling and the time changes we were ready for our Sunday nap! We curled up by the fire place and were out. By them time we got up, the snow was long gone. We decided to drive up Wiley Oakley Drive before heading to Pigeon Forge to visit The Island and Darren wanted to try a new place for dinner.

Wiley Oakley Drive and that entire part of the mountain were some of the worse hit in the fire. We had stayed there November 2015 so we wanted to check things out. It was heartbreaking. I went live on Facebook but not sure how much of the video you can actually see. I am still learning Facebook Live. Not that anyone wants to see all that sadness. I posted some pictures to Facebook as well of where are cabin had been.  You could tell where most cabins once stood by the remaining chimneys. Our cabin’s chimney had crumbled as well. All that was left of the entire cabin was a pile of cinder blocks and the bear proof trashcan holder with melted trashcans inside. The view is still gorgeous. I can’t wait to see how they rebuild.

Enough with the sadness! After our drive, we went to The Island to walk around. I bought some tea at my favorite new store, Blossom. They had a couple of hot teas out to try and I loved the turmeric one. With my achy hiking joints, I bought some to drink this week!

Darren’s pick for dinner started out great. It was just a short drive from The Island. They had fried deviled eggs. They didn’t sound good to me, still don’t sound good but they were excellent! After, the appetizer, the service went downhill and the food was okay. I think the waitress forgot to put in our order. We split a burger and it took over forty minutes to get our food. When the table of eight got their food before us, I let the manager know something was up. The burger was okay but we’ve had better in the area with better service.  My recommendation for a great burger in Pigeon Forge goes to Blue Moose! We ate there last summer and love it. The service was great and you could build your own burger.

Tomorrow, we will hike to another waterfall. Can’t ever get enough of those! I’ll probably go live again. I am trying to get the hang of it! Again, let us know if there is anything you want to know about the area, we’d love to help you have an adventure in the Smoky Mountains!

 

 

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3 Free Things You Must Do in The Smoky Mountains

There is so much to do and see in the Great Smoky Mountains. In Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge there are plenty of places to spend money. If you are traveling with children or teenagers we suggest giving them a budget so they can decide how they will spend their money. From shopping, shows, miniature golf, go-carts, Ferris wheels, bungee jumping, indoor sky diving, arcades, mountain coasters and more! Set your parameters with the kids ahead of time so the flashy lights and attractions don’t sink you from the start.

We prefer to head to the woods. Don’t get me wrong, we partake in some of the attractions, but we prefer the woods. Here are three motor trails that would only cost you gas and time. Pack a picnic (remember to bear proof it), load the cooler and hit the road. Even if you never step foot out of the car you’d be glad you made these drives. Each one is packed with things to see and do. Plan ahead if you want to do some hiking, swimming or hammocking.

Fall in the Smoky Mountains
Fall in the Smoky Mountains
  1. Roaring Fork Motor Trail: from the Parkway (441) in Gatlinburg coming from Pigeon Forge the traffic lights are numbered. Take a left at #8 Historic Motor Trail Road. Follow the road until it forks to the right. At first, the road will be two lanes but once you get into the actual 5.5 mile motor trail it  narrows to a ONE WAY loop. It is paved but buses, trailers, and motor homes are not permitted on the motor nature trail.  Leave plenty of time to stop at the pull-outs for great pictures or to explore the old cabins. There are several great hiking trails along the motor trail but you should prepare/plan ahead of time. Do your homework! The only easy family friendly, spur of the moment, “hey, get out of the car and come see!” is the Bud Ogle Trail. It is a short loop less than a mile. It is easy and mostly flat. There is an old mill beside a beautiful mountain stream that everyone will love. The huge moss covered boulders are gorgeous. There are several more stops along the Motor Trail. Enjoy, watch for bear, snakes and wildlife and leave nothing behind. Plan 2-4 hours depending on how much you get out to explore and traffic.

    Bear in Cades Cove
    Mama and Cub in Cades Cove
  2. Cades Cove: from the Parkway (441) in Gatlinburg head South toward Cherokee (our through Gatlinburg if your coming from the Pigeon Forge side, you can also take the Gatlinburg Bypass). You will see signs for the Sugarland Visitor’s Center. Take a right onto Fighting Creek Gap Road. It’s the second street outside of Gatlinburg. You might want to stop for a potty break at the visitor’s center because you’ve got 27 miles of a beautiful winding road all next to a stream. If your from Texas don’t think 27 miles equals 27 minutes. This is a twisted road and the speed limit is between 20-35mph. USE pull-offs if cars are stacking up behind you or if you want to stop for pictures. This drive alone is scenic with waterfalls, the stream and tunnels. Make note of Laurel Falls, you’ll want to come back to this or stop on the way. It’s a paved 2.5 mile round trip hike to an always beautiful waterfall. This is where the road changes to Little River Road. There are also four other falls, Upper Meigs at the Sinks, Spruce Flats in the Tremont area, and Abrams and Crooked Arm Cascades in Cades Cove you may want to do along this road so plan to see which one fits your level or which ones you want to come back to. The Sinks is a nice stop. This thunderous cascade is worth it. After leaving the sinks, keep an eye out for Meigs Falls. There will be a pull out on the side of the road. Worth the stop! Both the Sinks and Meigs Falls is a quick in and out of the car or you can linger at the Sinks. There are also several camp grounds to explore along the way. Once you get to Cades Cove follow the signs to the restroom before you hit the loop. Traffic is slow going and if you hit a bear jam you could be there for a while. We have spotted bear here every trip except one. There are several old churches to stop at and a visitors center, restroom and working old mill about half way around the loop. Please be courteous and use pull offs! The loop is only 11 miles but can get backed up if drivers don’t pull off for every picture. Up for a swim? You can splash in the cold river where Little River Road intersects Laurel Creek Road just before the Townsend turn off after leaving the cove. If you’ve had a full day and want to get back to town quicker, cut through Townsend. Look for the signs after leaving the cove. You will take a left on E. Lamar Alexander Parkway. Then take a right on 73/321/Wears Valley Road this will bring you out across from The Island in Pigeon Forge. Important note: Cades Cove is closed to motor vehicles until 10am on Saturday and Wednesdays so bicyclists can use the loop safely. You can rent bikes! Plan for a full day. Pack a picnic and bring a cooler. There is so much to do and see!

    Elk by Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC
    Elk by Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cherokee, NC
  3. New Found Gap: from Gatlinburg take 441 South toward Cherokee. This road has the Sugarland Visitor Center on the Tennessee side and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side. Plenty to see when you stop in the middle! 360 degree views! Appalachian Trail entrance is right by the restrooms, check it out.  Again, not in Texas anymore this 32 mile trek will take you over an hour during heavy tourism. Don’t ride your brakes! It smells bad and well, you might need them later. Learn how to drive in lower gears. You will be going up the mountain to the state line and then down the mountain either back to Tennessee or into North Carolina. Again, there is plenty to see along the way and hikes to make note of are Alum Cave, Chimney Tops and Clingman’s Dome. All of these are hikes and should be planned. While Clingman’s Dome is paved, it is the highest elevation in the park at 6,643 feet and you feel it walking up the little paved road. It’s worth it! Plus, it’s one more place you can step onto the Appalachian Trail. If you decide to go into Cherokee, you might see Elk herds in the grassy area by the Oconlauftee Visitor Center. Definitely go all the way to the dead end on 441 until you get to 19. Take a left and you will see nice shopping centers on the right and left. There is plenty to do in Cherokee as well. Free things, chase more waterfalls in the Cherokee-Deep Creek area, find Mingo Falls, and Soco Falls which is just a windy way down 19. Soco is a nice little pull off with an over look or you can climb down to the falls. Both Mingo and Soco are good falls for little effort. Paid things include shopping, eating at unique places, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino (no children), and to really get a feel for the culture check out Unto These Hills. Plan a day if you are going over into Cherokee, depending on if you are hiking or how many pull-offs you stop at. Don’t rush it as there is so much to see and there will be others enjoying the beauty as well.

Okay, so I said three free things but as you can see the GSMNP is full of free things to do and see. We’ve been at least once a year for the past ten years and haven’t seen or done it all. We love it! My best advice would be to always have some snacks and water on hand so if you get side tracked you’ll be prepared. For more information on what to have in your backpack click here.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what free things you like to do in GSMNP or if this will be your first visit, let us know if this was helpful.

Happy Travels!

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means that if you click them and buy something we make a commission — at no extra cost to you. This is just one way we are able to keep this blog going. So if you enjoy the blog and were going to buy this stuff anyway, this is a great way to show your support. And don’t forget: We only recommend products and services that we use and love.

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How to chase waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains

Best book for chasing waterfalls!
Best book for chasing waterfalls!

The easiest way to navigate the waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains is to buy this little book. We purchased one on our first trip and had a blast chasing waterfalls. This little gem is small enough to carry on the trail but full of all the information you need:

-Pictures of the waterfalls (is it worth the hike)

-Elevation gain

-Round trip mileage (nothing worse than thinking it’s a four miler when it is really an eight miler)

-Directions to the trailhead

-Directions to the falls themselves

We love this book so much, one year we couldn’t find it so we bought another! We write the dates we hiked each one on the page along with any other important details we might want to remember.

Get your copy now and start planning and training if need by for those elevation gains!

 

 

 

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means that if you click them and buy something we make a commission — at no extra cost to you. This is just one way we are able to keep this blog going. So if you enjoy the blog and were going to buy this stuff anyway, this is a great way to show your support. And don’t forget: We only recommend products and services that we use and love.

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