Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Smoky Mountains Birthday

Posted September 1, 2009

How many of you have ever visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee?  What are your favorite memories of America’s most visited national park?

Back in the 80’s I carved out a week each autumn to hike the trails of this marvelous park which celebrates its 75th anniversary this week with a rededication ceremony. My favorite trail is Alum Cave which leads up to Mount LeConte and a rustic lodge. I spent a week at LeConte lodge one October and hiked all five trails leading up to this peak of nearly 6600 feet. It was one of the more spiritual periods of my life and I treasure the insights I gained during those trail journeys.  The highlight of each day here was to watch the sunset.  It was plenty of entertainment all by itself.

Cades Cove and Newfound Gap are two other favorite spots in the park situated between Cherokee on the NC side and Gatlinburg on the Tennessee side.

What about you and your Smoky Mountain memories?


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  • racinjunki Sep 3, 2009

    I hate to contradict sunshine69, but if you went from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, you didn't travel the parkway. That was 71/441 .... but I must admit, it's just as pretty of a drive as the parkway, in some respects it's better.

  • ltfitzgerald Sep 2, 2009

    My husband and I just returned on Monday from hiking to Le Conte on The Alum Cave Trail. It was our first trip up and we stayed at the lodge for one night. There was alot of bear activity along the trail and even had a small bear enter the lodge area. We will be back.

  • bleslie Sep 2, 2009

    From Randy Cotten: "I first visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1976. I instantly fell in love with the splendor of this magnificent place. Within a ten-minute walk from any signs of civilization you can be instantly transported into a true wilderness. The remoteness, natural beauty, and ruggedness of the Smokies leaves me daydreaming about the hardships that the folks who once called this home must have endured while scratching out their way of life. Somehow a visit to this place makes me feel a kinship to all of those families that once lived here. The tub mills, the long lost chestnut trees, and the smoke rising from a cabin chimney are among the thoughts that I have of this forest."

  • Celt Sep 2, 2009

    I have hiked through the grandeur of Glacier National Park, the rugged beauty of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park, and elsewhere. But nowhere on the continent is there a park that makes me feel more at peace and, almost paradoxically, more alive then the Smoky Mountains. A fall morning hike there makes me feel as though all is right with the world, and the mountains remind me how small are my fears and how great is my God. I remember taking my daughter as a preschooler there, and this little girl, who would want to be carried through a shopping mall because she was tired, would hike all the way to Laurel Falls, looking down every snake hole and up every tree trunk along the way. And as I watched her, I would see this grand old park through her eyes as if it were my first time there again. It was, and still is, magical.

  • thinknc Sep 1, 2009

    This goes back a number of years, but I was attending a teacher retreat at NCCAT. A naturalist named Doug Elliott led us on several hikes. He knew every plant along the trails, and shared songs and legends about many of them. One particular trail led to spectacular waterfalls, which we approached by walking over several large rocks. After the group had all stepped across a particular rock, Doug told us to wait up--and used his walking stick to retrieve several copperheads from beneath the rock. (They only wanted to return to their rock--no aggression at all). The same week we learned to make poplar bark baskets, went whitewater rafting, and gained a great sense of renewal as we started a new school year.

  • bleslie Sep 1, 2009

    A friend once called GSMNP "a beautiful jewel bounded by the gaudy bookends of Gatlinburg and Cherokee."

  • 10hummingbirds Sep 1, 2009

    I must admit going to the Smokys and Gatlinburg are one of my favorite vacation spots. My husband and I have been going for the last 12 or so years. One of my most memorable is getting engaged in Gatlinburg. We always try to get a house with an awesome view of the Smokys. A couple of years ago we had the pleasure of watching a Mama bear and her 2 cubs eating on the parkway. The same year, when I came out of the house we had rented to pack the car, there was a coyote just off the side of the deck. We saw each other. Boy was I glad we didn't have our dog with us on that trip. No telling what would have happened. I'm definitely ready to go back even though I was just there a couple of weeks ago on a girls' trip.

  • MorrisseyMusings Sep 1, 2009

    Bill, I know this is offtopic, sorta, but I love the scenic routes through towns, instead of using the interstate, when possible.
    Even the scenic route TO the mountains is interesting, with little towns and stops just full of personality.
    Also, Route 66. Sigh. But, I guess that's too far away for this blog!

  • carolinamissy Sep 1, 2009

    I am going to the Rod Run in Tennessee in two weeks,and I can't wait. It is a trip my dad and I started making for the first time three years ago. I decided to plan the trip, because I missed the Mountains so much. We went every summer from the time I was 18 months old until I was 11. We always camped in the same campground every year. Some of my fondest memories of staying there are looking at all the different types of lights people would hang outside their campers. We had ones that looked like owls ice cream cones and flowers. We always took a day and rode the trolley to Gatlinburg. We got carmel corn and home made candy and chocolate covered strawberries. We rode the chair lift and went through the haunted houses. On the way home we rode through Cherokee and stopped on the Reservation. The car show is a new memory and tradition now, but it is fun to relive the old ones while I'm there.

  • sunshine69 Sep 1, 2009

    I got back from the mountains late last night. Took the parkway from Gatlinburg to Cherokee. It was the 1st time my husband had been and he really enjoyed the Newfound Gap. It was a little cloudy but still very beautiful. I was surprised at how many flowers were in bloom.




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Bill Leslie