We went to the Smoky Mountains, a national park that I have oddly enough never visited.  Being winter, I wasn’t sure if there would be a ton of great photo opportunities, since the Smokies are somewhat similar to the Ozarks in that winter is a time with a lot of drab brown and grey color.  But it was still beautiful and we enjoyed some great hikes!

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Here we are taking the typical entrance sign photo.


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We stopped at a roadside turnout to checkout a waterfall area called the Sinks.  Emma and Papa went off on their own for a little bit to explore. Something I liked about the Smoky Mountains was the very tall and straight Yellow Poplar trees, one of my favorite tree species! I’d like to see them with their leaves on!

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Something I enjoyed about the area was the many streams.  It seemed like every trail we hiked included a stream like this!


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The girls found this nice quiet spot to hang out for a bit and throw some rocks and draw in the sand.  The rhododendrons added in some nice greenery in the otherwise brown forest setting.

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A lot of the trees were covered with moss around the bases.  Not quite to the extent of the trees in Ireland, but many of the sights in the Smokies did remind me of Killarney National Park.  Oddly enough the rhododendrons that are so beloved in the smokies are considered an invasive problem in Ireland.


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Most, if not all of the trails we hiked had one of more of these log type bridges.


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We did a hike up to Laurel Falls, which was pretty crowded even during the winter.  I can’t imagine what it would be like on a summer weekend!  Being easily accessible and well known, it’s one of those hikes where you see all kinds of people that don’t appear to be very comfortable or knowledgeable with regards to being outside in nature.  I have also never seen so many people using selfie sticks!


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One morning we headed over to Cades Cove, a pretty valley with a road that loops around through various early settlements.  This is generally one of the most crowded areas of the park but it wasn’t bad today!  It was one of the few sunny days during our trip so it was nice to have a clear view of the mountains around the valley.

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I hiked up to Abrams falls with Randy, Emma and Eily-Beth.  It was a long hike, close to 6 miles round trip and with some pretty brutal elevation changes.  But the girls did great and enjoyed hanging out at the waterfall.  Although this trail wasn’t nearly as crowded as Laurel Falls, it was still pretty busy and we again saw a lot of weird things like people hiking in business or club attire and heels, smoking while hiking (never seen that before – must be an Appalachia thing), or families struggling to carry a 50 pound ice chest (instead of a backpack) for a picnic at the waterfall. It was fairly entertaining.


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Another late afternoon view of the mountains from Cades Cove.


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One morning we drove up to Newfound Gap, which is a low point in a mountain ridge.  It’s what I have usually heard referred to as a “pass”.  The elevation here was about 5,000′ which doesn’t sound very high to me but in terms of total relief, the smoky mountains rise close to 6000′ above the surrounding area, which actually isn’t much different than Rocky Mountain National Park.

The highest elevations in the Smokies (above 5,000) is where the deciduous hardwood forests transition into evergreen forest that I typically associate with “mountains”.


smoky mountains-12The other cool thing about Newfound Gap is that it’s also the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina.  North Carolina was one of the few states I had not been do, so I was able to check #46 off my list!  Unfortunately the sign is located in the middle of the parking lot so the backdrop isn’t very spectacular.


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I cannot remember what this place was called but it’s a historic (still functioning) mill located in the park near the town of Cherokee, North Carolina.


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Here is a panorama of what I had always envisioned as the “smoky” mountains.  This was also taken from Newfound Gap, but later in the day when we crossed back over into Tennessee and the fog in the valley had broken up.


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The low clouds hung around on the Tennessee side of the mountains for several days, so even though it was nice and sunny in the high elevations and in North Carolina, it remained foggy and gloomy on the east side of the range.  It did make for some interesting shots of the deciduous forest as we were passing through the dense layer of clouds.

I also did a solo hike up to the top of Mt Leconte, one of the highest peaks in the Smokies.  I will post about that journey a bit later!