National Forest or National Park?

I had no idea there was a difference. In fact I’ve probably been heard using ‘Forest’ and ‘Park’ interchangeably all my life when referencing our National treasures. Today I found out the nuances. Ancora imparo.

Turns out a National Forest serves many purposes for United States residents; grazing, timber, recreation, and animal habitats. A National Park is mostly preserved as it exists, the only changes being natural. They are each managed by a different department of the government as well. The National Forest Foundation explains this and gives further statistics about some of our existing Forests and Parks.

I chose to hike a spot in Great Smoky National Park today that is not frequented, and I’m so happy I did! I was on the path alone and thoroughly enjoyed the gems I found. I took a right at this sign to see the Cemetery – it was fenced and gated so I didn’t go in. I could see both old and new gravestones from my spot on the road. A quick turnaround and I was off to Jakes Creek Trail.

Although I think I’ve been down this trail a few years ago, it looks so very different now. The only thing left standing from a long ago past of summer cottages are the fireplaces. And they are lined up one after another all along the river. They almost look like soldiers. I’m curious why they all seem to be on the same side of the houses that are no longer present?

Then there was this one across the road – all alone. Weird.








The single remaining structure on this road was once inhabited by Col. David Chapman who was tasked with raising the funds to preserve these lands as Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Thank you Col. Chapman!




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.


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!

Kayaking Rivers in the Smoky Mountains

Kayaks in Spring

I’ve seen people kayaking in Smoky Mountain National Park.  It looks cold.  I saw them doing this in the spring, and my thoughts went to the top of the mountains.  Where it is colder.  Where the snow falls.  Where, in the spring,  the water melts to feed the rivers.  I just think the water in the rivers and streams must be really cold.

According to the National Park Service web information there are over 2100 miles of rivers and streams in the park.  Sounds like there is plenty of room for kayaks and canoes in park waters. I’ve seen people park their vehicles in one of the large pull outs on the park roads, then unload their kayaks and brave the cold waters of the Smoky Mountains.  Brrrrrr…

If you do brave the waters in the park be careful and mindful of what you are doing.  Although probably a lot of fun, kayaking and canoeing rushing waters can be dangerous.  Here is a warning about dams on the rivers from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Salamanders in the Park

Did you know that Smoky Mountain National Park is known as “The salamander capital of the world”?  Well that’s quite a surprise!  What animal do you think of as inhabitants of the mountains?  Most people would answer bears, or deer, or fish, certainly not salamanders!

According to the National Park Service there are at least 30 different species of salamanders in the park. Some of the types of salamanders are the red-cheeked salamanders, found only in and near the park.  And the beautiful, vibrant, red salamanders pictured above. At any given time there are more salamanders in the park than all the other land animals.  I am always on the lookout for salamanders when I’m hiking or relaxing on the front porch of  our log cabin.  And you’d think with all those salamanders a person could easily spot them, but no.  I have only seen one salamander in all our travels to Gatlinburg.

Visitor at Southern Serenity

One spring day while sitting on the porch of Southern Serenity I was lucky enough to be visited by a salamander – then he quickly scurried away, I barely had time to snap this photo (you can see him in the shadow).  I’m not quite sure what type of salamander it was, but I know he was friendly or he wouldn’t have ventured up by me on the porch!

The largest salamanders found in the park are hellbenders. They can reach over 2 feet in length. Watch this video to learn more about ongoing hellbender research in the park.

For more information about salamanders and other park creatures visit the National Park Service website,

Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Center

Sugarlands Paved Trail

Are you planning a trip to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park?  Or maybe you are living vicariously through other’s adventures in the Smoky Mountains?  Whatever the case may be the National Park Service provides a terrific online website with loads of information about planning your trip and visiting the park.

There are actually four visitors centers in the park any of which will be helpful during your trip. In addition there are four other park information locations in Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Townsend.

My favorite visitors center, and probably the busiest, is Sugarlands. They have a 20 minute movie about the park, from initial concept through to today’s relevance.  The movie chronicles park history, people of the Smokies, natural habitats and the varied plants and animals in the park. I think it is worth the visit and plan to see it again this week.

There is a hike that starts right from Sugarlands and takes you to a waterfall, a good way to warm up those muscles for other more vigorous hikes in the park. There are live park presentations just about every day, and the information about this is available at Sugarlands.

Want to hike in the park but you need easy accessibility?  There is an accessible paved trail not far from Sugarlands Visitor Center which takes you right along a river – beautiful. Look for the bear prints left behind when the concrete trail was created!