I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).
Vacation in Smoky Mountains
I've often been asked, "Of all the places you've visited during autumn, what is your favorite?" For me, this question is easy to answer. My response goes back many years to the first of my husband's and my wedding anniversaries when we decided to celebrate it by taking a vacation trip to the Smoky Mountains in the fall of the year.
This was done because our anniversary just happens to be in late October and also because we wished to see some glorious fall-colored leaves. We saw numerous vistas of rolling hills and mountains covered with the deciduous trees that are common in those areas. They were adorned with a spectacle of color that was truly amazing.
It was almost like a giant artist's palette drenched with color had tipped and spilled, covering the hills and valleys with unimaginable beauty! Needless to say, our timing was perfect and the photos in this post will share some of what we got to enjoy those many years ago.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
I remember hearing from both sets of my grandparents that the Smokies were a fabulous place to visit when they would be reminiscing about their vacation trips. Thus wanting to go there and experience it for myself was a long time in the making.
When my husband and I started talking about vacation plans, we did a bit of research and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park emerged at the top of our list.
We had both been born and spent our early childhoods in the Midwest, where the autumn leaves turn resplendent colors before dropping to the ground and leaving the deciduous trees bare-branched for the winter months.
Although some trees turn colors in Houston, it was nothing like the masses of color we experienced earlier. We wished to recapture it if even for a relatively few vacation days. So our plans were made.
These mountains do not assume the great heights of taller mountains such as the Rockies. For the most part, they are gently rolling with heights ranging from 875 to 6,643 feet.
Located between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, our plans were to see portions of this massive park in the Tennessee part of it since we did not have unlimited amounts of time for our vacation.
Our plans were made well in advance, knowing that this is the most visited national park in America and that particularly in autumn, the numbers of visitors are at an all-time high.
We would be seeing only a fraction of the over 800 square miles that make up this park in the southern Appalachian mountains, which have a northeast-to-southwest orientation.
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Reservations were made to stay at the Riverhouse Motor Lodge in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It would be our "home away from home" for the time spent exploring Gatlinburg as well as parts of the Smoky Mountains.
We loved the fact of it being located along the Little Pigeon River and we could not only see the river from our balcony but also hear it as it rushed and tumbled over the rocks in its path.
Proximity to the sites in Gatlinburg was also within walking distance, which made it nice.
Little Pigeon River
Seen below are photos of the Little Pigeon River as viewed from our balcony and also at ground level from our Riverview Motor Lodge motel.
In addition to being surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this historic town dates back to when William Ogle first laid claim to a home site in 1802. Gatlinburg has now become a mecca for people learning about and also showcasing and selling products that relate to arts and crafts.
Whether one is interested in woodcarving, ceramics, glass objects, drawing, painting or photography that and so much more can be found in the Gatlinburg area.
My husband and I purchased some of the most beautiful and decorative candles to be given as gifts that we had ever seen. We also purchased some stunning hand-carved wooden pieces of fruit and a hand-turned bowl that we gave to my husband's mother. She died a number of years ago and it is now back in our home. The candles are long gone but the bowl of fruit remains as a souvenir of our long-ago visit to Gatlinburg.
There are so many choices of things to do and see while in this area! Obviously, as you can see from the video above, if you like hand-made articles and even like to watch the craftsmen working on creating new ones right before your eyes, Gatlinburg is a shopper's paradise.
Taking the Gatlinburg ski lift one day, my husband and I got to experience a totally different perspective view from the top of the mountain looking down upon the town. It was my first experience riding a ski lift and it was exhilarating.
Sky Lift Views in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
If one wishes to view the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from its highest point as we did, visiting Clingmans Dome is a must. The road getting there is scenic and offers pull-out areas along the way for people to get out of their vehicles and admire the scenery.
Clingmans Dome (viewed a different time of year)
Obviously there are also many trails that can be hiked throughout the Smoky Mountains to suit any hikers' interest or level of endurance.
We traversed the steep half-mile walk to the top of the tower and were rewarded with a 360-degree view of the Smokies at an elevation of 6,643 feet. Depending upon weather conditions one can see vistas which can range from near or even as far as one hundred miles away.
The humidity and frequent rainfall which falls in the Smoky Mountains, averaging more there than anywhere outside of the Pacific northwest parts of the U.S., accounts for a perpetual misty or hazy look thus the "smoky" part of the name. Unfortunately, today pollution also accounts for some of this.
My husband and I enjoyed our hike to the top of Clingmans Dome and enjoyed some pretty scenery as can be seen via our photos.
This site that we visited in October of 1971 had been closed in January of 2008 and was supposed to have been demolished to make way for more condominiums to be built on that spot. That did not take place. It has reopened on the same location and is now known as Christ in the Smokies.
It is located near the Sky Lift in Gatlinburg, and we thought that we would see what this attraction held inside of its doors.
The face of Jesus carved into the massive six-ton hunk of Carrara marble outside seems to follow one no matter which way one walks. Inside, there are life-sized figures, paintings, music and things of interest showing aspects of the life of Jesus Christ.
Flora and Fauna
There is so much that could occupy one's time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that it would take numerous vacations to take in all that there is to see and do.
Each season of the year would create a different atmosphere with the hundred or so species of native trees about one quarter of which are old-growth forests.
- Plant species number over 1,500!
- Bird watchers would be in 7th heaven with 200 or so species of birds reported in the Smokies.
- Fishermen would be pleased to know that native fish number around 50.
- Mammals range from the large elk and black bears to the smaller chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits. In fact, a listing of all the animals in the park would number 66 according to accounts.
- And there are reptiles and amphibians!
One such amphibian called a Hellbender Salamander has been found that measured 29 inches! Yikes! The little guys that live around our house in Houston, Texas, would be dwarfed by a big guy like that!
The biodiversity of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park has encouraged the United Nations to designate it as an International Biosphere Reserve. It is no wonder with all of the numerous things that can be studied and researched coming from this unique area.
Things to Do in the Smokies
We barely scratched the surface of things to do and see not only in Gatlinburg but also in the Smoky Mountain National Park. Some of the outdoor activities would include the following . . .
- Bird watching
- White water rafting
- Horseback Riding
- Photography, etc.
We not only got to see spectacular autumn leaves that year but also beautiful natural scenery. It is no wonder that it is the most visited national park in America!
The Great Smoky Mountains have so much allure that visitors from far and wide will be longing to go there for as long as man exists on this planet. Would I like to return someday to see and do more? Absolutely!
Hopefully you enjoyed this introduction to this spectacular part of our country.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Peggy Woods