Subject: Re: Great Smokey Mountain National Park
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Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 13:47:21 -0800 (PST)
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Subject: Re: Great Smokey Mountain National Park
From: -hh <recscuba_google@huntzinger.com>
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On Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 11:24:17 AM UTC-5, PeterN wrote:
> I am thinking about going to the Smokey Mountain National Park. Does 
> anyone here have any information about interesting photo spots, that are 
> accessible. I cannot climb, or walk more than about half an hour.


I've done a good number of the waterfalls there; most are hikes.

First, here's a PDF of the NPS Map:

<https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/upload/grsmmap2-2.pdf>

But you'll also want this higher resolution Trail Map, for
better landmarks:

<https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/upload/GSMNP-Map_JUNE14-compl...


Next, be aware of distances (travel time, congestion).  As a 
general rule of thumb, people generally stay in/near:

* Generic 'Too far away, TN side:  Knoxsville.  These sort of
places work (& have respectable dinner choices) but the drive
time to/from the park will eat you up.  

* Townsend, TN.  Good for proximity to Cades Cove, okay for Little
Pigeon River valley too.  The food here has sucked over the years; 
I'll be testing it this coming June to see if it has become decent.

* Pigeon Forge, TN.  Huge tourist trap area.  Lots of stuff, but 
also lots of congestion.  Similar to Gatlinburg, but add another 
30+ minutes to travel times.  Cheapest hotels in the region?

* Gatlinburg, TN.  The "old" tourist trap town that was confined 
so it couldn't grow (hence, Pigeon Forge).  Daily traffic gridlock
to manage/avoid & minimize exposure to.  A great place to HQ in, 
if you're good enough to get moving in the morning (be out by ~7AM).  

* Cherokee, NC.  The old traditional tourist trap place on the 
North Carolina side.  Visited it a few years ago for my first 
time...dining was underwhelming (a Dairy Queen was better than
some of the diners); ended up at the new Casino one night.  Don't
really know this side of the park very well, but there are some
"skyline drive" roads that could have some promise.  

* Also 'far away':  Ashville, NC.  Probably better food at the
cost of longer drives. 

FYI, places I'm not familiar with staying:  Western corner, near 
where the "Tail of the Dragon" road is (popular with motorcycles).  
And similarly, the Eastern corner, where I-40 goes past (we've
day-tripped to this area out of Gatlinburg). 

For quasi-roadside subjects, I'd consider the following:

1.  Wildlife / Elk 

IIRC, the main viewing area is in Cataloochee, which is on 
the Eastern side of the park.  From the NPS Website:

"Most of the elk are located in the Cataloochee area in the 
southeastern section of the park. The easiest way to reach Cataloochee 
is from Interstate highway I-40. Exit I-40 at North Carolina exit #20. 
After 0.2 mile, turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow signs 11 miles 
into Cataloochee valley."

I've also heard reports of Elk near the NPS Oconaluftee visitor center 
too (North Carolina side of Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road).  

2.  Wildlife / Other ... see "Cades Cove"

3.  Roadside vistas / high

In general, I'm referring to landscapes of the mountains while up
in the mountains.  Note that the prevailing weather can result in 
open/closed views on the same day/hour, depending on what's being
blocked from which direction:  it can be socked-in on the TN side
while the NC is clear & vice versa. 

- Newfound Gap .. large parking lot; expect congestion. 

- Clingman's Dome ... medium parking lot; expect congestion.  

- "Look Rock", on the Foothills Parkway (runs West, off of Rt 321,
  which is between Townsend, TN and Maryville, TN).  Parking lot,
  or take the short-ish (~.2 mile) uphill walk to the fire tower.

- Any pull-off along any road that looks promising 
--> including the Foothills Parkway en route to Look Rock
--> including Rt 441 between 'Chimney Tops' and Newfound Gap

- A "TBD" for me is the new section of the Foothills Parkway.
  Think its still not open all the way to cars yet, though.  


3.  Roadside vistas / low 

This is referring to landscapes down in the valleys and is
typically going to be water-centric (creeks).  

- Little Pigeon River Road (From "The Y" in Townsend, to Metcalf Bottoms)
** Be aware & plan for peak tourist days/hours traffic congestion **

--> "The Sinks" (waterfall & swimming hole).. not listed on the 
    generic map ... but it *is* on the trail map.  Located at the 
    trailhead for "Meig's Creek".


--> Waterfall set back from the road .. can get it with a telephoto

--> Turn-off/Elkmont ... old camp buildings; "Little River" (creek) 

--> Turn-off/Tremont Institute ... "Middle Prong" (creek) is along 
  the road on the drive in.  Plus there's some nice sections further
  in (walking - wide easy path); the two sections do differ 
  significantly (sun vs shade - bare rocks vs mossy).

--> Creek in Metcalf Bottoms picnic area

--> plus lots of generic pull-offs to explore 

FWIW, there's also "Laurel Falls" - a short (1 mi) hiking trail 
that's so popular that it is paved.  Huge parking area with tons
of tourists during peak hours. 

- Newfound Gap Road / NC side 

--> Kephart Prong Trail? 

--> Smokemont Picnic Area? 

- Route 321 / 73 (North side, going East): Greenbrier

--> creek along the road to the Ramsey Cascades trailhead


4.  Gatlinburg - Roaring Fork Motor Trail

This is a "nature trail from your car", but it features a good
number of pull-offs and short walks, such as to the Ogle House.
On the latter half (going downhill) there's a bridge over a 
creek which has some nice views, plus "near the end" is a 
location that's known as the "Place of a Thousand Drips". 
Parking at these two last spots is very limited so it can be 
tricky.  Again, be contrarian and go in the early morning for
the smallest crowds.  

5.  Cades Cove

This a one-way driving loop (closed on Sunday? mornings for bikes)
with stops along the way at various sites.  Expect tourists & be
aware of the hours of operation (closed at night too).  Single lane
and one-way, with clueless tourists who never realize that there's
50 cars backed up behind them moving too slowly.

--> most stops are at old buildings (farmhouse, primitive church, etc)

--> trailhead for Abram's Falls has a creek immediately, plus 
    some easy Creekside walking which has some photo ops

--> the Visitor's Center has a small 'village' of old buildings too
    includes a grist mill

--> multiple pull-overs which offer nice views of the grass fields 
    in the valley, with mountain backdrops ... 

--> Wildlife.  There's quite a bit here, although most people
    don't see much.  Expect people to stop in the middle of the
    road if they see a deer.  

Also make the time for the drive to Cades Cove as part of your plan:  
from Gatlinburg, I plan on ~45 minutes with an early morning start 
without tourist traffic...but I know the road.  The section of the 
Little Pigeon River Road between Metcalf Bottoms and the "Y" (Turnoff
to go to Townsend) is pretty twisty and and first-timers on the road 
will go slower than its 25mph speed limit.

Well, this should be a start!


-hh