great smoky mountains national park

On our way home from Tennessee at the end of August, we visited our fifth national park, the Great Smoky Mountains. We’ve driven through this park on the NC/TN border many times but never stopped to explore it. Greg chose a place called Chimneys to have lunch, a scenic spot in Gatlinburg along the Little Pigeon River.

Next, we stopped at Clingman’s Dome in Bryson City for a joint purpose – to get a passport stamp from the visitor center, and to climb the daunting observatory tower there. Our passport stamp was passed through a narrow open window by the cautious park staff (most visitor centers, unfortunately, are still closed due to COVID). As for the climb, we found ourselves on a tight schedule, having made reservations at our favorite restaurant which we could not afford to miss. Greg was determined to make it to the top of the tower, naturally. In his own words:

“I love a good challenge, so despite the observatory’s warning signs to take our time and drink plenty of water, we headed out with neither time nor water. The incline was so steep that if we stopped, we would start sliding backward. I quickly realized this was going to be a big challenge for all the children. Just when we were ready to give up and turn around, we turned a corner and saw the trail flattening out ahead at the base of the dome. I shouted to the children, “There it is!” With this extra motivation, we ascended the cement ramp. Huffing and puffing, we made it to the top, and the spectacular 360 degree view was worth every drop of sweat.

Next, the descent. We jogged slowly down, passing crowds headed to the top. By this point, everyone was tired, thirsty, and out of breath. I found myself needing to run with Eva in my arms and carry another child on my back. There was no time for breaks. We sped down the trail. Even with 3 out of 4 children in tears at one point, we made it back to the car with a great story to tell. To this day, Clingman’s Dome is one of the most physically demanding hikes I’ve ever done in flip flops.”

We drove into Cherokee for a stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to pick up a commemorative park pin. We’ve started collecting these pins from each park for our national park map. The Oconaluftee stop turned out to be a great idea because we found ourselves driving through a herd of elk! It was amazing. They were huge, and very comfortable around cars. People were stopping to take pictures of elk all over the road.

And yes, we made it to Asheville for an incredible gluten free dinner. Already planning a trip back to the Smokies. Until next time!


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