The sheer beauty of this place overwhelms me, and I leave this place transformed. My senses remain dazzled by all I’ve seen and heard, touching emotions that cannot be processed in anything approaching real-time.
On my last day in Gatlinburg, the morning greeted me with a crystalline blue sky and cooler temperatures. I selected the Little River hike because it was in Elkmont, I part of the part I had not visited yet.
After missing out on the opportunity to get a view from the top of the park the day before, I headed back up to Clingman’s Dome after my morning hike at Porter’s Creek. This time, the sky was clear blue and the air was quite cool with a very strong wind adding to the chill. I decided to take the trail to Andrews Bald instead of hiking asphalt up to the observation area. In the Appalachians, a bald is a high flattish area without many trees, sort of an open field if you will. Since I didn’t have any pictures of spectacular vistas, this seemed like the place for me.
Feeling ambitious on my first day, I swung into the Cosby section of the park and hit the Gabes Mountain Trail to find my way to the awesomely-named Hen Wallow Falls. This had a completely different feel than the trail up to Mouse Creek Falls – no sound of rushing rapids and the trail was littered with roots and rocks.
On a cooler, overcast morning, I headed into the Greenbrier section of the park and made my way to Porter’s Creek Trailhead. The first two hikes I’d picked when making my plans were both Greenbrier hikes – Porter’s and Ramsey Cascades – but because of weather and other things, I did not visit until my fourth day in the park. Based on my (apparent lack of, lol) fitness level, I’d already decided to leave Ramsey for another trip, but I felt even more vindicated when I saw a traffic sign saying that the trail was closed.
I began my day with a hike up to Laurel Falls, an easy short hike. It was cool and threatening rain, with heavy winds howling in the trees overhead. Laurel Falls trail is paved the whole way to the falls, which is kind of odd.
After making the long drive to Cherokee, NC and then on to Bryson City, I found my way back into the national park at the Deep Creek trailhead. Despite driving so far, I did not plan to hike much, just to do a short loop to two waterfalls. I pulled on my gear and headed up the short hill to Juney Whank waterfall, just 0.3 miles from the parking area.
I have mentioned this in multiple posts already, but I will mention it again: this place is spectacular. I decided that I wanted to check out Cherokee/Deep Creek, which meant I got to drive from the Tennessee portion of the park straight through to the North Carolina portion of the park. I’ve long loved Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it clearly takes a second place to Highway 441/Newfound Gap Road. The high views on Trail Ridge are slightly better, but the roadside scenery at GSMNP beats it. And there are treasures hidden everywhere, some with turnout areas, some without. My head was whipping around all over the place, so I’m glad the speed limits are relatively low.
So there’s the wildlife
The weather was starting to clear as I entered the loop, but there were still some pretty scary clouds lurking about off to the south. I stopped at many of the turnouts to take pictures as the wind howled. The first traffic stoppage was due to a small deer in the woods. There were maybe six cars stopped to take a picture of one deer. I saw five times more deer than that along every ten miles of interstate back in Michigan. Sleep well, little Michigan deer!