The Great Smoky Mountais National Park is one of the most visited parks in the USA and has been declared a World Heritage Site. This is especially true because of the vast forested areas with ancient trees, some of which are considered the oldest on our planet.
We came from Atlanta and drove US 441 north from Cherokee. This is the main road through the mostly densely forested park. A very nice ride.
Just after a few minutes drive, a short stop at the Mingus Mill is worthwhile, a mill from 1886 with a special feature for the time, because it was not operated with a water wheel, but with a turbine.
From the parking lot it is only a few meters to this sight and you can take a short walk.
In this park, of course, there are countless hiking trails, we have and u.a. the Kephart Pond Trail, which runs idyllically over and along the Oconaluftee River.
The signposted trail starts about 10 minutes drive north of the aforementioned Mingus Mill.
After about 10 miles of driving we came to a turnoff, the small side road leads to Clingmans Dome. This is the highest elevation in the state of Tennessee and the 2.025 m high mountain can be climbed on a very well constructed, partly steep hiking trail.
The ascent takes only 20 – 30 minutes and at the top you can climb an observation tower. From there you have a nice panoramic view of this vast national park.
It goes then again back on the US 441 and further to the north. The road winds through the forest and again and again you come to clearings with beautiful views.
Then after about 15 miles of driving, something strange, even frightening, happens, as the drive through the beautiful forest and mountain scenery stops abruptly, you virtually drive past the last tree, and suddenly you are in the city of Gatlinburg. The contrast can hardly be greater, because after so much nature you experience a hectic hustle and bustle in this city with traffic jams, many people and (unfortunately) a kind of fairground atmosphere. Bars, restaurants, showmen's establishments and gambling houses are lined up one after the other.
Tip: Of course, you have to have walked up and down the main street once and experienced the hustle and bustle. We then stopped into the Cherokee Grill and were more than pleasantly surprised.
A very nice and authentically decorated restaurant with good food and large portions, especially of course wonderful steaks.
The Gatlinburg Trail at the southern end of town is highly recommended as a digestive walk. This hiking trail leads along a small river through again beautiful nature.
With a little luck you can also watch the game while bathing in the evening.
Especially beautiful is the drive on Cherokee Orchard Road. This leads from the city center in southeastern direction into the national park.
The initially narrow two-lane road becomes a narrow one-way street from the parking lot to Rainbow Falls. The winding drive leads through a dense forest with watercourses and some hiking trails. Here you feel in absolute seclusion and tranquility, a great natural landscape.