GSMNP Day 4 – Clingman’s Dome / Forney Ridge Trail

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Great Smokey Mountains NP

Friday 10/16 was our most physically demanding day in the park. Jason and I got an early start and headed up to Clingman’s Dome by road, the highest point in the park and in Tennessee. The road wound up to the higher elevations to the south of us, climbing into the morning fog and clouds that shrouded the mountain tops, with occasional pockets of clear skies and sunlight.

From the vantage point of the tower at the top of Clingman’s Dome, we had a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain ranges.

Access ramp to the tower at the top of Clingman’s Dome.

After the beautiful morning on the dome, we set off from the parking area onto Forney Ridge Trail, descending gradually to the south, with ridgetop views towards both sides — Forney Creek valley and Suli Ridge to the west, and Mill Creek valley and Jerry Bald Ridge to the east.

We experienced many different sub-ecosystems on our hike — from misty pine forest to dry grass and ferns — as we hiked from Clingman’s Dome past Andrew’s Bald (lunch stop) and Buckhorn Bald down to Board Camp Gap, where we rested at the junction with the Spinghouse Brook Trail before starting the long climb back up to the highest point in the park.

All told we covered 11.3 miles and climbed a cumulative 2720 ft… quite the day!

[All photographs are copyright 2020 Nalin A. Ratnayake. They are free to use and share for any non-commercial purpose, with attribution and a link to the original post on naratnayake.com, without modification, and provided that this text is also included.]

Photos posted here were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T1i and the EF 28-105mm 1/3.5-4.5 II USM lens. Images were compressed to 1/4 resolution and 85% image quality for easier upload and sharing. The panoramic and video were taken with an iPhone7.

GSMNP Day 3 – Cades Cove / Rich Mountain Rd

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Great Smokey Mountains NP

On Thursday 10/15, Jason and I headed out for an “easy” day at Cades Cove, a low lying area in the northwest quadrant of the park. The geography is lower elevation (and thus with less fall foliage), with more open views over fields (including horses and wildlife!). A single-track paved road of bumper-to-bumper 15 mph traffic loops around the basin, connecting several historic sites and buildings that feature frontier mountain life in prior centuries.

Similar to the previous days’ experiences in the park, though the road itself was crowded, the sites themselves were less so as most people seemed to be content to view things from their cars. Further, once disembarked, even a half mile hike on a trail away from the parking area in one case led us to complete isolation for a quiet lunch.

After lunch we explored the Cable Mill site of an old (still working) grist mill, alongside several other historic buildings that had been relocated from other areas to create a small “village” of historic buildings.

We wrapped up our exploration of Cades Cove by taking Rich Mountain Road, a single-track dirt road through the mountains, out of the valley and into the town of Townsend, TN.

[All photographs are copyright 2020 Nalin A. Ratnayake. They are free to use and share for any non-commercial purpose, with attribution and a link to the original post on naratnayake.com, without modification, and provided that this text is also included.]

Photos posted here were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T1i and the EF 28-105mm 1/3.5-4.5 II USM lens. Images were compressed to 1/4 resolution and 85% image quality for easier upload and sharing. The two photos of the grist mill were take with an iPhone7.

GSMNP Day 2 – AT / The Boulevard to Anakeesta Knob

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Great Smokey Mountains NP

On Wednesday 10/14, along with my friends Jason and Mel, I hiked 2.7 miles on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to The Boulevard Trail, then another 2.5 miles (roughly) to Anakeesta Knob in the northeast quadrant of the park, before returning along the same route. (Due to a late start, we judged we did not have time to actually summit Mount Le Conte further along that trail.)

Although the large number of cars during peak hours at the major parking sites (including Newfound Gap) can make GSMNP appear to be a crowded park, our experience was that the crowds disappear quickly after about a mile or so away from the parking areas. Most people seem to be just day-tripping from Gatlinburg or the surrounding area, driving through, and stopping for roadside photos or a quick mini-hike. The AT is a little more crowded than other trails, but once off of it we dropped from seeing just a few people to almost no one.

There were some nice views along the way, but the real highlight of the hike was the moss! On a whim, we started trying to name and classify all the different kinds of moss we found. Knowing basically nothing about botany or moss, this meant we just named all the mosses we found based on what they looked like to us!

Found moss types included: microfern, tempurpedic, frosty moss, mossted tips, christmas tree, spiky moss, feather moss, happy little moss, star moss, tentacle moss, off-brand tempurpedic, midsummer night’s moss, and Bob Moss Himself.

[All photographs are copyright 2020 Nalin A. Ratnayake. They are free to use and share for any non-commercial purpose, with attribution and a link to the original post on naratnayake.com, without modification, and provided that this text is also included.]

Photos posted here were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T1i and the EF 28-105mm 1/3.5-4.5 II USM lens. Images were compressed to 1/4 resolution and 85% image quality for easier upload and sharing.

GSMNP Day 1 – Jake’s Creek Trail / Meig’s Creek Trail

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Great Smokey Mountains NP

Last week, I got to spend four full days (and parts of two more) in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. So beautiful! It wasn’t quite peak foliage, but we still got some amazing colors.

Having grown up in the West, I’ve always been biased towards the number and quality of the western national parks — and while I expect any national park to be beautiful, I have to admit that GSM was the first to really convince me that the East can be on the same level as the West in terms of natural beauty!

The broad extent of the mountains in all directions; the lush vegetation and seemingly endless forests starting to show their autumn color; the abundance of water — innumerable streams, rivers, cascades, and falls, along with the trademark fog and steamy morning mists; and the diversity of terrain all made the park level up from the expectation of “probably good” to a genuine “wow this is awesome.”

My friend Laura and I spent October 13th in the northwest quadrant of the park, starting with a 4.25-mile trail run on Jake’s Creek Trail (near our campsite in Elkmont Campground) and part of Meig’s Mountain Trail. After lunch, we hiked Meig’s Creek Trail near The Sinks, where we counted 20 stream crossings!

[All photographs are copyright 2020 Nalin A. Ratnayake. They are free to use and share for any non-commercial purpose, with attribution and a link to the original post on naratnayake.com, without modification, and provided that this text is also included.]

Photos posted here were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T1i and the EF 28-105mm 1/3.5-4.5 II USM lens. Images were compressed to 1/4 resolution and 85% image quality for easier upload and sharing.