Enjoy a Drive on Scenic Highway 129 near the Great Smoky Mountains and Experience the Tail of the Dragon!

Scenic Highway 129 starts in languid Chiefland, Florida, a far cry from the blue haze and cooler temperatures of the Great Smoky Mountains. Hundreds of miles from its inception, this iconic highway enters Tennessee west of the Smokies near the banks of Chilhowee Lake. The stretch of Highway 129 between Knoxville, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina winds through some of the best views and most exciting, motorcycle-friendly curves in the world in an 11 mile stretch known as the “Tail of the Dragon.”

Scenic Drive in the Smokies along Highway 129

Just before the start of the world-renowned “Tail of the Dragon,” drivers are treated to a stunning view of the majestic Tennessee hills rising behind Chilhowee Lake. Year-round, the blue of the water reflects the mountains in a display that makes drivers instinctively stop for photographs. The famous Foothills Parkway may be accessed to the left of Lake Chilhowee. This parkway offers stunning vistas, including some that span a hundred miles or more. There is no commercial development on the Parkway, which allows for the visitor to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature unfettered by urban clutter and noise.

In the few miles leading around Lake Chilhowee and prior to the start of the “Tail of the Dragon,” outdoorsy types can take a left onto Happy Valley Road and follow the signs to Abrams Creek Campground, a National Parks Service campground under the lush canopy of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Convenient to Look Rock and a variety of park-maintained hiking trails, Abrams Creek offers a great place to set up camp prior to enjoying the amazing “Tail of the Dragon” by car or motorcycle.

Motorcycle and sports car owners from all over the country pack this portion of 129, especially on weekends, three seasons out of the year, with a steady, but much thinner, stream making the drive in winter. The route, also known as Deal’s Gap, features a Harley Davidson store, other stops geared toward feeding and selling souvenirs to the cycling set, and at least three professional photography companies set up along the way, snapping away and then offering the weekend’s photographs for sale online.

The eleven miles of the “Tail of the Dragon” pack 318 curves with names like “Horns of the Dragon” and “Copperhead Corner.” Passengers are the only ones who can enjoy the view of surrounding forests and mountains as the road, while beautifully banked in the turns, forces the full attention of the driver. In the last ten years, 28 people have lost their lives in this short stretch, 27 of these were on motorcycles.  This year, in the month of September alone, 177 traffic citations were issued and seventeen crashes took place. Sport bikers roar around Goldwing cruisers out for a Sunday drive. Sports cars of every make and model meet scooters and trikes, sometimes traveling in small entourages as friends make a special event out of the Dragon. The highway is alive with visitors with an appetite for fun.

The Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort offers motel and camping amenities on the North Carolina end of the Dragon, where 129 meets Highway 28. The resort, which also features a restaurant and store, is a hub of activity in every season except winter, when it is temporarily closed.

Check out this video of the world’s fastest rider, the Dragon Slayer, who is part of the USA129Photos.com Race Team!

If you choose to head south to Robbinsville, North Carolina as you exit the “Tail of the Dragon,” you’re in for a real treat. The community has a tucked-away feeling that makes one instinctively grab for real estate tracts. Lake and forest vistas and small-town charm foster a sense that all is right with the world. The Native American community of citizens in Robbinsville reminds the traveler that these hills have a history longer than our nation. The area around Scenic 129 has seen buffalo stampedes, British troops and Civil War intrigue and angst. It’s wonderful to know that the area is now devoted, by and large, to the joys of nature and the fellowship of family and friends.

laurie-crater-battles-heysmokiesPost by Laurie Crater Battles – journalist, blogger, hiker, biker, mom, animal and coffee lover who makes her home in Knoxville.

The Cades Cove Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The 6,800-acre valley comprising Cades Cove, one of the most visited areas of the park, provides a glimpse of a bygone mountain lifestyle. Travel in your car or truck (no RVs or commercial vehicles) on a one-way, 11-mile paved loop road. Sightings of deer, turkeys, black bears, coyotes, ground hogs, raccoons, butterflies, and other animals are exciting and common.

Great Smoky Mountains Sunrise in Cades Cove

A Great Smoky Mountains Sunrise in Cades Cove.

Those seeking an out-of-the-vehicle experience may enjoy cycling the loop or hiking the many trails found in Cades Cove. One of the most popular hikes is to the picturesque Abrams Falls. Midway of the loop, the Cades Cove Visitor Center, home to the John Cable Grist Mill, the Gregg-Cable House, a Cantilever Barn and other farm buildings, is the perfect place to pause. Grassy meadows and banks of the babbling stream provide great picnic venues. Graveyards, located beside several historic churches in the cove, bear mute testament to early residents.

 Cades Cove Need to Know

  • The path into the cove is open from sunrise to sunset year-round.
  • It can sometimes take more than four hours to complete the 11 mile one-way loop during the busy summer and fall seasons, and on most weekends. Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane offer shortcuts out of the cove.
  • The road is closed to motor vehicles until 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays from early May to late September.
  • The loop is closed to cars until noon each Saturday in December to allow bicyclists and hikers a quiet journey. Bike rentals available at the Campground Store. Enjoy an ice cream cone from the Campground Store too!
  • Cades Cove Riding Stable offers guided trail rides on horseback, hayrides, and carriage rides from early March through late November. For more information and prices, visit CadesCoveStables.com or call 865-448-9009.
  • A self-guiding booklet is available for a small fee at the Orientation Shelter at the beginning of the loop.
  • Cades Cove Picnic Area has charcoal grills for cooking or consider packing a basket for a picnic in the cove. Don’t forget a blanket and chairs.
  • Please pack out all your trash!
  • Bring binoculars for optimal wildlife viewing.

Continue reading…

All You Need To Know About an Overnight Stay at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

leconte-lodge-cabin-matthew-gjedde-heysmokiesLeConte Lodge is the only overnight lodging, other than camping, available within the borders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You cannot drive to LeConte Lodge. You must hike one of the five trails that access this rustic retreat located near the top of the 6,593 foot Mt. LeConte. An overnight stay at LeConte Lodge is an incredible experience you won’t find any place else in the world! Just ask anyone who’s witnessed an awe-inspiring sunrise or sunset from LeConte’s Myrtle Point.

LeConte Lodge is open from late-March to mid-November and with a maximum capacity for only 60 guests a night, reservations are often made more than a year in advance.

The traditional ringing of the dinner bell each evening promptly at 6:00 p.m. welcomes overnight guests to a hearty family-style dinner with next morning offering another family-style breakfast feast at 8:00 a.m. Sack lunches, along with lemonade hot chocolate, coffee, and baked goods are also available from the lodge’s dining hall. Adults, be sure to pre-order wine service for your dinner!

Although you should take care to pack your backpack lightly, these items are a must to bring along for your adventure on Mt. LeConte:

  • Sturdy and durable hiking boots or shoes, that are already broken in, along with more than one pair of  non-cotton socks. Trust us, wet feet are no fun. Waterproof boots are shoes are even better.
  • A raincoat or poncho is a must along with lightweight clothing that will dry quickly and can be layered. In spring and fall nighttime temperatures can dip into the teens with snow. Summer nights can even drop to a chilly 30 degrees, so a lightweight fleece jacket is needed year-round.
  • Adequate water supply and a snack or lunch for your hike up the mountain to the lodge. For the safety of your health, please don’t drink water directly from mountain streams.
  • A headlamp or flashlight. There is no electricity at LeConte Lodge. We prefer a headlamp to keep your hands free. Kerosene lamps provide lighting in the cabins with propane heaters providing warmth.
  • A hand towel, washcloth and personal items like toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. Although there are no showers, wash basins with soap are in all cabins. You will be happy to know there is modern privy building with flush toilets. All bedding linens, including pillows and cozy Hudson Bay wool blankets, are provided.
  • Credit card or cash for additional food or souvenir purchases at LeConte Lodge.

Continue reading…

The Cosby Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cosby Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is perfect for those who are looking for somewhere a bit off the beaten path and away from the big crowds in the park. Nestled on the northeastern side of the Smoky Mountains, Cosby is a great destination for hikers, cyclists, campers, horse lovers, and the locals!

cosby-mt-cammerer-kirkendal-spring-photographers-heysmokies

The Historic Fire Tower atop Mt. Cammerer (Photo: Kirkendal/Spring Photographers)

Great Hikes in Cosby

Cosby Nature Trail – 1 mile roundtrip
This is a terrific one-mile long nature trail beginning at the Cosby Campground near the outdoor amphitheater. A great little walk through a bit of old-growth forest, which Cosby Creek runs through, is magical any time of the year.

Hen Wallow Falls – 4.2 miles roundtrip
Hike to Hen Wallow Falls on Gabes Mountain Trail which begins across the road from the Picnic Area just before the entrance to Cosby Campground. One of the main highlights of this trail is the big trees of the old-growth forest.  A spur trail steeply descends to the right at mile 2.1 to lead to the base of the waterfall. Use extra caution when stepping on the slippery rocks.

Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower – 11 miles roundtrip
This strenuous hike begins on Low Gap Trail located near the designated parking lot for hikers near the Cosby Campground Picnic Area. Low Gap Trail, which is horse-friendly, climbs steeply for 3 miles before intersecting with the famous Appalachian Trail (AT). Take a left on the AT towards the Mt. Cammerer Trail. At almost the 5-mile mark, you’ll find the spur trail that leads the summit of the 4,928 ft. tall mountain. From here, it’s about seven-tenths of a mile to the historic fire tower with views of the beautiful Pigeon River Gorge.

Sutton Ridge Overlook – 3 miles roundtrip
The hike to Sutton Ridge Overlook begins on Low Gap Trail for about four-tenths of mile to intersect with horse-friendly Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail. At about mile 1.4 mile you’ve reached the overlook. Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail continues on to access backcountry campsite #35 and then on to intersect with the Appalachian Trail.

Poet Laureate of the Smokies & WWII POW Ella V. Costner Gravesite – less than 1 mile roundtrip
The graveyard is accessed via Snake Den Ridge Trail that begins near Campsite B-55 at Cosby Campground. The trail begins as an old road and after three little creek crossings you’ll see the small graveyard on your right. Costner (1894-1982) was born in Cosby and grew up on Crying Creek near the Gabes Mountain Trailhead. After her stint as an Army nurse in Pearl Harbor and Guam, she returned to Newport, Tennessee and published several books of poems and essays. For more information on Ella V. Costner, check out her Facebook page!

Continue reading…

The Greenbrier Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

heysmokies.com smoky mountain hiking club cabin greenbrier

Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin

…feeling great in GREENBRIER!

The Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be found six miles east of Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Highway 321. Also known as Big Greenbrier, this watershed is widely considered the finest example of a cove hardwood forest on planet Earth. The entrance to the cove is a narrow paved road which meanders alongside the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

 

A Driving Tour of Greenbrier

The first mile into Greenbrier has many riverside pull outs for fishing, paddling, and the occasional wedding ceremony. After passing the ranger station the road turns to gravel and narrows, so please be courteous and allow room for other vehicles to maneuver. Past the ranger station the next landmark will be a quiet picnic area on the left next to the river. The picnic grounds have several tables and composting toilets.

Traveling on you will soon find a pair of bridges on the left. The Grapeyard Ridge trail begins on the west side of the bridges. Grapeyard Ridge meanders 7.6 miles west ending at the Cherokee Orchard Motor Nature Trail.

The Old Settler’s trail begins on the east side of the bridges. Old Settlers trail stretches 15.9 miles east to its junction with Maddron Bald trail and Gabes Mountain trail.

Turn left onto the bridge and drive 1.5 miles to the Ramsay Cascade trailhead. Ramsay Cascades is a tough eight mile round trip hike to one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls found in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trail is renowned for its old growth forest and giant trees in addition to the awe inspiring waterfall.

Remaining straight at the bridge will bring you to the second picnic area found in Greenbrier. This spot has a covered pavilion, picnic tables, a pure, running spring and composting toilets.

A half mile after the picnic area the road dead ends at the Porters Creek trailhead. Porters Creek trail is 3.7 miles long and is a favorite among wildflower enthusiasts during the spring. Porters Creek trail also provides access to the historic Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin and the Brushy Mountain Trail. Brushy Mountain is 4.7 miles long to its junction with Trillium Gap trail and is considered one of the most challenging ways to access the summit of Mt. Leconte. Continue reading…