Because my grandparents summered in Franklin, North Carolina, some of my earliest memories are of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Every summer and at least one Christmas, we made the long drive from Florida to Franklin. Then, as soon as we arrived, my grandfather loaded us into his car to take us to see the sights.
Although Great Smoky Mountains National Park is 522,427 acres divided between North Carolina and Tennessee, my grandfather did not think twice about hauling us from one end to the other in a day. He delighted in finding stream and creeks for his grandchildren to wade and swim in. My grandmother took us horseback riding at Cades Cove and Smokemont. She also made sure we had lunch with us to enjoy under the trees at a variety of overlooks and picnic areas.
My love for history was most likely born in the Smokies at the pioneer homesteads and museums. Cades Cove was one of three areas I remember the most; Cherokee and Clingman’s Dome are the others.
Cades Cove includes an eleven-mile one-way loop road that in my childhood included fords to traverse streams by car. As children, we always took off our shoes and walked across the fords. Now, the fords have been replaced by bridges and culverts to protect the environment. Cades Cove was settled around 1818. By 1830, its population was 271. Eventually, the area grew to include three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses and other structures. Cades Cove has the largest variety of historic buildings in the park.
Like Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome is in the Tennessee section of the park. It is the highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park reaching an elevation of 6,643 feet. In 1959, the park service added a 45-foot concrete observation tower accessed by a 345-foot spiral ramp to Clingmans Dome. As kids, we raced to the top. As an adult, I arrive significantly slower and winded. Fifty years ago, the mountain was covered with balsam and firs. To be on the top of the observation tower felt like you were one with the trees. Sadly, the pine beetle left the area desolate. While the trees are slowly coming back, it is not the lush and dense forest I remember.
This trip, we did not make it to either Cades Cove or Clingmans Dome because the weather did not cooperate. The rangers were advising people it was too foggy to cross the mountains to the Tennessee side of the park, so we stayed in the Cherokee area where we chose to camp. It was a much more direct route home and we are on the downhill side of our trip.
Cherokee is much as I remember it. Many of the same shops that enticed us to purchase toy bears stuffed with straw complete with a collar and leash or “handmade” Indian moccasins still line the main road through the historic district. I saw the theater where we watched the outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills,” many, many times. The Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center also looked the same although I know that the buildings must have been restored at least once in the last fifty years.
We walked the girls on some of the 1.5-mile river walk past the farmstead that consists of a farmhouse barn, smokehouse, apple house, corn cribs and garden plots. The Oconaluftee River flowed swiftly after several days of rain, so I made sure I kept Cory on a tight leash. We did not walk the entire trail as it was raining but what we did get to see was beautiful, and the girls enjoyed stretching their legs. The only other trail in the park that allows dogs is the 3.8-mile Gatlinburg Trail on the Tennessee side of the park.
With only 5.3 miles of dog friendly trails in the entire park, it would be easy to say that the park is not dog friendly. However, dogs are allowed on the overlooks and the best way to see the park is still the way my grandfather showed it to us, by car. Unfortunately, if you decide to take your dog for a drive, you might want to keep some ginger cookies on hand in case your dog gets carsick.
Despite having been to the bathroom before we started on the winding mountain roads, Lark became agitated, crying and pawing at us. We finally figured out she was carsick and stopped to let her recover before returning to the campground. The mountains were very foggy and rainy the whole time we visited which wasn’t conducive to driving anyway.
There is so much to see and do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that we will be back. Hopefully, the weather will be better so that I can walk down memory lane!