We left Mammoth Cave National Park on Friday, October 24th heading southeast to The Great Smoky Mountains! It was a pretty long drive, but it had some unexpected sights! Apparently on the way to the Smokies are 2 towns with (what I imagine to be) Vegas-style life and lights. We drove straight through Dollywood, then Gatlinburg, TN. Before those two towns, though, I must mention, we had some amazing BBQ at Parton’s Smoking Butz BBQ. I had no idea what town we were in, but what I do know is that I wanted a burger that had more beef than bread and that’s exactly what I got (plus bacon). Mike had some finger lickin’ ribs. We were both very happy.
Back to Gatlinburg… this town is so built up with Ripley’s, restaurants, shopping etc. and it goes right up to the very edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once in the park we drove about 15 miles in to Newfound Gap parking lot and made camp in our van for the night. We were woken early by dozens of cars driving into park. We soon learned that Newfound Gap is a very popular spot to watch the sun rise in the Smokies. People were looking in the van and we had to close all of the curtains. Could they not tell that we were trying to sleep?? Puhlease.
We had decided that we would take the round-trip 15.8 mile journey along the Appalachian Trail to Clingman’s Dome.
The trail was very well maintained and over the long miles we only saw 8 people until we ran into a large group about a quarter mile from the end of our hike concerned about altitude sickness at 5,000 feet. I think someone was nervous! On top of Clingman’s Dome at 6,643 feet was much less lonesome than the trail, and not in a good way. There is a paved road to the summit so there were dozens of tourists taking photos. The view from the summit was layered with mountains and fog and was quite a feast for our eyes.
The mileage took all it could from me, but I made it back to the car to complete my longest day hike yet!
We were beat when we got to the car and wanted food and a shower real bad. We got a list of campgrounds that let people shower for a fee, but they were pricey so we hit the grocery store to resupply and started driving out of Gatlinburg to find a place to park for the night. I came across a campground that wasn’t on the shower list so I figured we would see what their rates were. No one was in the pitch black office and the gate was open so Mike suggested we ninja camp. I selected a site, we cooked and ate, then set the alarm for early so we could roll out before the office opened in the morning. The campground was still super quiet at 6am so I had myself a leisurely 10 minute shower for 50 cents and drove out the gates with Mike still asleep in the back. Ninja camp mission: COMPLETE.