What to Do Next?

I’m at Southern Serenity for what is probably my 13th stay. I’ve been to Gatlinburg many more times than that through the years, starting in the late 1980’s. My dilemma this time is what to do next?

There are so many things I have yet to see in the area. And so many things I want to do! But it never fails, I always end up doing those things I LOVE to do, and only manage to fit in one new adventure. Maybe this time I’ll push the envelope and partake in TWO new adventures! Or perhaps I’ll just spend a lot more time sitting in the rocking chairs on the porch?

If you could do something in the Gatlinburg area you haven’t done yet, what would it be?

Fires in Gatlinburg and GSMNP

In November of 2016 there were wildfires at Smoky Mountain National Park. People lost homes and businesses, portions of the woods were burned, and unfortunately some people even lost their lives. It was a very scary and tragic event that will have repercussions for many years to come.

Photo Credit: WBIR Taken 12/9/16

People who love the area want you to know (whether they are permanent residents, or just visit once in a while) that Gatlinburg and the surrounding area is up and running and as vital as it ever was!! Downtown Gatlinburg wasn’t greatly affected by the fire, neither was Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, or most of the acreage in the park for that matter.

You will see some fire damage, There were homes and forested areas and resorts that suffered great damage. I was there in December 2016 and even then, less than a month after the wildfires, Gatlinburg was up and running strong! Those Tennessee folks sure are resilient! So please – govisit, set a spell in a rocking chair on a porch. Gatlinburg will be happy to have you!

#mountaintough

Leaf Season in the Smoky Mountains

It’s that time of year again – Leaf Season in Gatlinburg. That’s what the locals call it. For the rest of the country it is simply Fall or Autumn of course. Where I live in the upper Midwest we say we are going to see the colors. Apparently, and I just learned this, in Europe they do not have the oranges and reds we have. They only have yellow leaves in the Fall. So I guess we are fortunate to have a lovely display no matter where we have seasons and deciduous trees in the Fall.

We’ve been to the cabin at all different times of the Fall and my favorite is the last week of October into the first week of November. That is when you’ll see the colors in the lower elevations, like right off the cabin porch! BONUS!

A view from a porch

A view from a porch

We’ve also been to the south end of the park to Oconoluftee. It’s worth the trip, especially if you are there later in the day when the elk show up. That was a real treat! There is a trail in the woods there where you walk right along the river, and you can take your dog/s. One of only two trails in the park that allows dogs. I’ve not done it but others tell me it’s beautiful and they even spied Elk grazing.

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So go, enjoy the colors, Fall, Leaf Season – or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods.

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.

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.

Smoky Mountain Park Views

Autumn Panorama

Have you seen the view of the trees during leaf season in Smoky Mountain National Park? If you have, lucky you, the colors as you know are beautiful and vibrant.  The changing leaf color continues for a month starting in early October at the top elevations and working its way down the mountain to the lowest elevations in late October/early November.  It is a gorgeous time of year to be in the mountains .

Autumn view from Black Bear Falls

Grotto Falls Hike in Autumn

If you haven’t had the good fortune to experience Leaf Season in the Smokies you can see it from the comfort of your chair via these National Park sponsored webcams.  Enjoy!

Look Rock Camera

Purchase Knob Camera