Sunday, September 14, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US.  Whether it be swimming, hiking, waterfalls, history, or the beauty of the mountains in October when the leaves begin to change colors, there is always something to see and experience in the park, regardless of the season one chooses to visit.  Our Frugal Family Travelers enjoyed the park this summer! In addition to some of the most frequented spots by the park's approx. 9,000,000 visitors a year, we chose to visit some of the less traversed areas as well.   In doing so we discovered some amazing spots that we highly recommend to anyone planning a visit here in the future.

There are 4 visitor centers located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sugarlands, Cades Cove, Clingman's Dome and the Oconoluftee (near Cherokee, NC).  In addition to a visitor's center, Oconoluftee offers the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill which features historic cabins and building collected from places throughout the Great Smoky Mountains and preserved on site for viewing,  The visitor centers and the rangers who work there are an amazing wealth of knowledge and source for planning  amazing adventures while visiting the park.  Each center sells booklets for $1-$2 which focus on a particular area of interest within the park, such as waterfalls, auto touring, and hiking.  We relied heavily on these booklets and bought everything we needed for less than $10! This was our ONLY expense for all of the adventures you see below. The rangers are also happy to help you with any and all questions. If you tell them what you are interested in seeing or doing, they are happy to point you in a direction to find those adventures.    There is also a free quarterly newspaper published by the National Park Service which contains a calendar with interesting ranger-led activities and demonstrations happening throughout the park. Take advantage of these special program offerings as they will add yet another layer of excitement for your Frugal Family Travelers while visiting the park.

Another "secret" which may be obvious to some to keep these adventures affordable was to picnic nearly every day for lunch.  There are picnic spots located throughout the park and almost every trail-head has a picnic area and restroom.  Many spots also include barbecue pits and more than once we wished we had brought some grub for the grill!

A picture is worth a thousand words.  View the pictures and links posted below to discover some familiar locations in the park and some locations that are "off the beaten path".

This is a loop driving trail with many historic buildings to stop and visit along the way.  The trail can be accessed in Gatlinburg, TN.

Ephraim Bales Place on the "Roaring Fork Trail"

Beautiful Stream Behind Ephraim Bales Place

Another View of the Stream Behind Cabin

Alfred Reagan's Tub Mill on the "Roaring Fork Trail"

Another View of Tub Mill

Flume of Tub Mill

Alfred Reagan Cabin on the "Roaring Fork Trail"

This site with multiple waterfalls is located just minutes from the Sugarlands Visitors Center.  No hiking required--park right in the parking lot and walk just a few steps!

  Place of a Thousand Drips:  
Located on the "Roaring Fork Motor Trail"

This bridge is located near the trailhead for Abram's Falls.  Abram's Falls is a 2.5 mile hike (5 miles round trip) and is touted as a great family hike.  We started out too late in the evening so we chose to hike to the Elijah Oliver cabin from this trailhead.  This 1-mile round trip hike was easy and we all had a good time!

Elijah Oliver's Cabin Located in Cades Cove

 Trail to Hen Wallow Falls
Note: Hen Wallow Falls was a new waterfall to the Family Frugal Travelers.  After locating this waterfall on the waterfall guide provided by the National Park Service, we decided to give it a try!  The trailhead is located about 30-35 minutes from Gatlingburg via Highway 321.  The hike is 2.4 miles one way (4.8 round trip) and was moderate in difficulty.  There were multiple stream crossings like the one below with bridges made from old logs.  This was truly one of the favorite attractions for our younger travelers.  The falls were stunning and truly made the hike worthwhile.  There is a beautiful picnic area with restrooms at the trailhead where we also enjoyed a picnic after our hike.

Trail Behind Sugarlands Visitor Center:  This trail is great for families who do not want to take a strenuous hike with small children.   The trail head is right behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  This short .9 mile trail links the town of Gatlinburg to the visitor's center.  This was a great end of the day activity for us and a great place for skipping rocks across the stream.

On the Way to Spruce Flat Falls:
Note: This waterfall is not listed on any park map but is one of the most beautiful hikes! Please note that this is very a strenuous hike with vary narrow paths at times adjacent to steep drop offs.  In order to access the trail for Spruce Flat falls, follow the signs for the Tremont Institute within the National Park. The Institute is located near Townsend, TN.  After parking in the parking lot, look for the sign for Spruce Flat Falls.  Spruce Flat Falls was truly an amazing find because there are few hikers and the area is vitually undistrubed.  Southern Living Magazine has named it the Best Photo Spot in the Smoky Mountains.

Look Rock observation tower is located on the scenic Foothills Parkway.  An easy 1/2 mile hike leads to the observation tower which provides a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of the mountains. The Foothills Parkway is not as busy as other roads in the park, so this is a great place to get away from the crowds and traffic, especially during the summer months or peak fall leaf color viewing times in October. The Parkway is 18 miles long with many scenic pull-offs. Look Rock is at the highest point along the Parkway. The National Park Service maintains a picnic area and a campground at Look Rock.  Look Rock is a great alternative to the more lengthy drive to Clingman's Dove and offers a competing view!

Pack water, sunscreen, tubes, insect repellent, park guides from the visitor's center!!

Be sure to check the area for letterboxes!!  To discover more about letterboxing Click Here to read the information previously posted on our blog.

Useful Links to Help Plan Your Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

(Be sure to click on all highlighted text within the blog for additional information regarding activities, including websites, special instructions and travel directions!)

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