Elk at Oconoluftee

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The Oconoluftee Visitor Center is at the south entrance of Smoky Mountain National Park. They boast a re-created farm with a beautiful river on one side and a wide open field on the other. Of course the mountains are off in the distance as well. The park service has gathered farm buildings from all over the park and Southern Appalachian region and put together an historic and interesting farm depicting life as it was before this part of the Smoky Mountains became a park.

DSCN4222We were there on a beautiful fall day, the sun was out and the temperature was comfortable. I was struck by how well the farm was laid out for us tourists. It was very picturesque as you wound your way down the concrete sidewalk to the walkway between the river and the hand-hewn picket fence. The trees were still sporting a good amount of orange and crimson leaves which added to the beauty. There were chickens milling about to entertain us as well.

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Each of the buildings had some kind of placard or wooden label so we knew what it was used for. There is a separate ‘Meat House’, a Blacksmith shop, a large barn, chicken coop, a woodshed and ‘Spring House’ to name just a few. Life in these hills must have been busy, challenging, and rewarding all at the same time. It always amazes me how people were able to live in those days without all of our modern conveniences. The buildings were interesting inside and out. I love to look at the construction and see how they whittled away the corners to dovetail them together so perfectly.

There is also a trail along the river where you can take your dog. I spoke with a man who had just come back from the trail with his dog. He said it was absolutely beautiful, and they had even seen Elk while walking in the middle of the day. This is definitely worth a trip with the dog sometime. There are only two dog-friendly trails in the park. The other is at Sugarland Visitor Center at the north end.

But the best part of our day was yet to come! Once I had my fill of the farm we decided to venture a bit further south to Cherokee, just a few miles away, and on to Bryson City, home to The Smoky Mountain Railroad. We stopped for a late lunch and headed back from Bryson City to Cherokee then on to the park entering at Oconoluftee. When we were just south of the park we noticed a traffic jam ahead. At first it seemed odd but then we realized it was about 4:30pm, nearing dusk on this fall day. And that could only mean one thing; the Elk were in the field. And they were! There were over 25 of them; a very large buck, about 20 assorted females and their calves, and 3 other smaller bucks on the fringes of the herd.

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The first thing we saw was the big buck fighting with a smaller outlier buck. Then I noticed the line of cars on our side of the road, which numbered 25+ as well. People were out of their cars, Rangers were busy keeping the people safe and the Elk in the field. I got out to take pictures and ended up with a video of the activity. The Elk were simply grazing and making their way through the area living life as they do, we were the interlopers.

DSCN4283That big buck wanted one of those females, and he kept after her for a long time. But after a failed attempt at mating he switched his romancing to one of the other ladies in the group. Apparently all the offspring in this group belonged to Mr. Big Buck. The other males stayed far off at the fringes occasionally sparring but with no real outcome. I was told by a Ranger they were former calves that had outgrown their time in the herd and would be going off on their own soon enough.

It was fun and engaging to happen upon this scene, totally unexpected. We did find out the herd comes to this area at dusk and dawn, pretty much every day like clockwork. So if you are up for the adventure take a day trip to Oconoluftee; bring your dog, walk by the river, look at the old buildings, sit on the porch, and stay long enough to see the Elk.

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Easy Hikes and Quiet Walkways

There are over 700 miles of hiking trails in the half-million acres comprising The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. With that amount of hiking trails you will be able to find a trail to satisfy anyone, from expert hiker to just getting started, and the littlest members of the family.

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River view from the trail.

Accessible Trails – There is one, just south of Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail is paved and relatively flat. It is a giant circle similar to a running track, and about 1/4 mile long. The river runs next to the trail and there are remnants of buildings from years past. There are plenty of benches along the way to offer respite and the opportunity to sit and reflect.

If you are hiking with others and want a workout simply walk fast around and around the trail. I think it is one of the prettier trails in the park since it has a mix of trees, water, wildlife and history.

I was pleasantly surprised to find bear tracks in the concrete as well. See if you can find them on your hike!

Bear track - up close and personal!

Bear track – up close and personal!

You can see where the bear crossed the concrete. Too fun!

You can see where the bear crossed the concrete. Too fun!

Quiet walkways – These designated trails are just that. There aren’t many people on them and they can be just a few hundred yards or longer. I’ve been on a few and they can be steep. All of them are not easily accessible. But if you are looking for an easy hike a Quiet walkway is a good place to try. They also offer learning opportunities. See this information made available for the third grade classroom.

You’ll see the signs for Quiet walkways along the road closer to the entrances and lower elevations. I’m sure this is because it is flat enough to provide an easy, quiet walk. Pull over and take a break, go for an easy, quiet walk.

Other Easy Hikes – If you are looking for more easy hikes, but that are a bit more challenging, you will find them in the park. There are plenty of miles of hiking trails to suit all abilities. My suggestion is to stop at a park Visitor Center and ask one of the Park Rangers. They will be able to help assess the level of difficulty you are looking for and where to do your hiking for the day.

Be careful and have fun!

Winter Beauty in the Park

Porch View

View from the front porch of Southern Serenity on a frozen January day.

I just never thought I’d find a winter drive in the Smoky Mountains beautiful. But I did. We were in Gatlinburg for a long weekend in January 2013 and one of the days the rain turned to icy drips on the surrounding scenery. Sitting on the porch in my rocking chair the view is very pretty as you can see in these photos. Driving in the park was really fantastic.

Another view from the porch.

Another view from the porch.

Icicles on the roof. They melted within days.

Icicles on the roof. They melted within days.

We drove through the park from Gatlinburg to Townsend on this day, and there was a beauty in the park that I would never had expected. The sky was overcast, the waterfalls had icicles forming along the edges, and the trees had a whitish cast from the snow and ice crystals. As you can imagine there weren’t many people driving in the park on this day so it was a quiet and relaxing drive. If you find yourself in the area in the winter and you have the opportunity to safely drive through the park when there is ice on the landscape, take it, but be safe.

Kayak in The Park

In April I was riding in the park on my way to Townsend and I saw many folks in kayaks as I often do in the spring. I stopped by the side of the road to watch these people. They had to portage some of the boats and patiently waited for until everyone was ready before heading downriver. This was just about 2 miles east of Townsend.

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It was fun to watch them. The fella in the orange kayak stopped to talk to me about his adventure. They were heading to Townsend and he agreed the water was VERY cold this time of year! But they were wearing a kind of wet suit for kayaking. I was on my motorcycle so he explained it was similar to the rain suits we have for biking. It looked like a real adventure, but I’d have to be much younger to try this anymore!

There are outfitters in Gatlinburg area that will teach you how to kayak and rent you the equipment. Otherwise if you have your own kayak, take it along on vacation and enjoy the water. But be careful out there, rivers and rapids can be dangerous.

http://www.rapidexpeditions.com/smoky_mountain_kayaking.html
http://www.noc.com/whitewater-rafting/pigeon-river/

Dolly Parton to be in Local Parade May 10th

Did you know Dollywood Theme park is only 15 minutes from Gatlinburg, and Southern Serenity, in Pigeon Forge? You can spend a day or two at Dolly’s theme park on your Gatlinburg vacation. If it’s warm enough you can spend all or part of your day at Dollywood’s Splash Country as well. Ticket prices can found here. But I digress – I want to tell you about the parade with an appearance by Dolly Parton herself!

Dolly in the Pigeon Forge parade

That’s right, every year for the last 25 Dolly Parton has a homecoming parade in Pigeon Forge, which also marks the beginning of the Pigeon Forge Springfest celebration

Personally I prefer to spend most of my time in Gatlinburg rather than Pigeon Forge. But if I was here the weekend of this parade I would probably attend.

 

Pigeon Forge is situated in a large, flat valley of the mountains. This could be a very pretty place, but the retail industry has overrun the area. There are a lot of opportunities to shop, and spend money on carnival-like rides, and shop, and go to the strip mall, and buy one get one free, oh – and did I mention shop? There are a lot of lights and neon, not my cup of tea, but you might like it. If you come to Gatlinburg from the north you have to come in via Pigeon Forge, but just be patient. After stoplight #10 in Pigeon Forge you enter the Foothills Parkway of the Smoky Mountains National Park and it is a beautiful 5 miles to Gatlinburg, and a short ride to the Smoky Mountains National Park entrance.

Aerial view of Pigeon Forge

Little River Trail in Elkmont

DSCN3677Elkmont is now a campground in the park, but the area is also chock full of history. Elkmont was a very busy place during the logging of the area. In addition to the logging, families from Knoxville and the surrounding area would vacation here during the summers. Homes were built and fun was had in the cool mountain air. Some of these buildings still exist, but are condemned and you can only view them from the road.

Two of the buildings are available for day use; The Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin. See the Park website for more information and to make a reservation.

DSCN3737      Appalachian Clubhouse

When I hiked the Little River Trail in Elkmont. I found many wildflowers in bloom and enjoyed the relatively easy hike. The trail is an old gravel road so it is very wide and easy to walk. The Little River runs right next to the trail, and there is a creek on the other side for some of the trail. I think it is a very pretty trail. The trail combines the best of the park.I love that is has water for the entire distance, beautiful vegetation, historic buildings, large boulders, and is easy to hike.

Warning for the squeamish – there is a snake and spider in the pictures below.

Dinner Shows and Movies

I must confess we don’t attend many of the dinner shows in the area, but it’s not because there are limited choices. We aren’t opposed to dinner shows, we just prefer to spend our time in the park during the day and are usually pooped out by the time the sun sets. If you like the nightlife a dinner show or two might be just the ticket to complete your Smoky Mountain vacation.

Comedy Barn

Comedy Barn (Photo credit: fahrenheit45one)

When you travel to Gatlinburg from the north the advertising starts on the Interstate and continues to bombard you about all the different dinner shows in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. Most of them are in Pigeon Forge.

Just a few of the dinner shows that come to mind are Fanny Adams, Comedy Barn, Dixie Stampede, Lumberjack Feud, and the Smith Family something or other. These apparently did the best job of advertising as I remembered them, and I’ve only been to one of them!

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Phil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been to the Dixie Stampede and can tell you that the setup is similar to Medieval Times, and I think many of the other dinner shows are similar. You are seated around the arena or stage at a table facing the show. The food is prepared en masse and served while the show is taking place. Food at the Dixie Stampede was abundant and good, although I wouldn’t attend just for the food, and the show was very entertaining. It was a fun evening.

Show listings by city:
Sevierville
Pigeon Forge
Gatlinburg

If you are interested in a movie date night you’ll find The Forge Cinemas in Pigeon Forge. There is also a Movie Theater in Sevierville, their schedule can be found at Fandango.com.