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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If I look back, it was this to Great Smoky Mountains National Park trip in the spring of 2022 that really set me off on my National Park Journey in earnest. When I returned home, I found the National Parks Travelers Club, which opened my eyes to the options and opportunities out there. Check out a post I wrote about my journey on an earlier blog post.

Smoky Mountain National Park Sign with family posing infront

This trip report on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will share that initial trip and the adventures we had on that spring break trip. You have no doubt seen some of the planning posts that illustrate a listing of different sites that we target on a specific trip. This trip was very simple, as it was early in our quest. We simple targeted the Smoky Mountains and looked at the area around the North Carolina section of the park.

Our first stop was the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee. Behind the visitor center is an amazing mountain farm museum. A group of historic log-cabin farmhouses were moved here in the 1950’s during the establishment of the park to preserve the structures. They have a number of living history exhibits that help educate how the mountain communities lived in and around the Smoky mountains.

Flower Board at Smoky Mountain National Park showing numerous different flowers in bloom in the park

Inside the Visitor center they had a ‘blooming board’, that showed all the spring wildflowers seen in the park up to that point.

We enjoyed seeing the wildflowers starting to come up and the little stream river that was next to the Oconaluftee River trail just behind the visitor center. We also saw many on our other hikes later that day. A great resource for hiking is this NPS trail map that shows the entire park.

map of Great Smoky Mountains showing trail map

After stopping by the visitor center, we drove a little way on the blue ridge parkway and then decided to go back toward Bryson City to hike around Deep Creek to see some waterfalls.

Deep in the National Park, we took a windy road to the Fontana Dam, which is the tallest concrete Dam east of the Rocky Mountains. A Project of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the dam was built in the early 1940’s and provided electricity not only to the local area but to the important Aluminum industry in the area to support WWII.

There is a nice little visitor center that provides background on the Dam, restrooms and nice little picnic areas. The Appalachian Trail crosses the top of the dam, and it actually has on the best stop over points for hikers. Apparently, the Fontana Dam is the Taj Mahal of showers and bathrooms for hikers on the AT. Nice facilities like this I am sure are very well received!

Green and white Sign for the Appalachian trail on Fontana Dam
Appalachian trail sign on Fontana Dam

We of course had to walk across the dam, and it provides some striking views, and a little vertigo as you look over the edge.

West of Bryson City, a road called lake view drive continues into the National Park and even has a tunnel going through the mountain and then just stops. After the Fontana Dam was built and flooded the area, this promised road was started in the 60’s but was halted due to a number of environmental reasons and the ‘Road to Nowhere’ was born. Bryson City has a great webpage on details about the road to nowhere. They have planned improvements for the road/tunnel in Q3/Q4 of 2022 that will improve access (and maybe get rid of all that graffiti!)

There are a number of pull outs along the 6-mile drive to view the scenery of Fontana Lake. A parking lot right before the tunnel is available for hikers as well. Bring a flashlight to walk through the 1-mile tunnel to the hiking trails on the other side!

One interesting side trip we main was on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. This was tied to the Zip line tour we setup. We were able to ride the railroad out one way, and the zipline tour picked us up. After the zipline we were taken back to Bryson City.

It was overall very neat; the only thing was we were a bit unlucky with the weather. All the cars are open air and being the first week of April in the mountains, it was wet, rainy and cold. We layered up pretty good, so it was fine. One note though. If you sign up for a zipline in brisk early April, and it is pouring down rain, you are still going ziplining. My son and I did the big zip lines, while my wife and daughter did the lines for younger kids. We all got soaking wet. It was a huge blast, and we still talk about it!

We only touch a small portion of the park, and surrounding area, but we did have a great time. There is certainly room to visit again, maybe later in the spring, to see a different view of the park and other areas.

Great Smoky Mountains National park Stamp

Unit: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Path to 428+: 22

Region: Southeast

Month/Year: Apr 2022

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