The most hiked section of the Appalachian Trail
The southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, with its temperate climate, slow changes in elevation and lush greenery, is a haven to hikers from around the world. People flock to the Smokies especially to spend time on any number of trails, but the trail that is most popular and the one that a lot of people want to tackle part of is the Appalachian Trail. One end of the AT starts in the Smokies, in northern Georgia. From that point you can work your way north to the heart of the Smokies in North Carolina and Tennessee, passing through state parks and national parks along the way. It is a gradual climb that will inspire both awe and a renewed sense of respect for the mountain folk and Native Americans that hiked these trails season after season in the time before their were European style cities in the area.
In North Georgia, you will start at Springer Mountain, one of the southern most areas of the Smokies. Technically you are in the foothills of the Smokies at this point. The gentle slopes, the gradual climb, the verdant landscapes will help to build your anticipation as you progress north. In this area, you will pass near towns and civilization. The hike takes you near several state parks with facilities that are open almost year round, depending on the weather. The North Georgia part of the AT is some of the easiest hiking that the trail has to offer. Even if you start here when it is late spring you will find that the elevation is not high enough to give you the extremely cold temps that you will encounter in the highest elevations.
One of the next high points on the trail that you will come across is Fontana Dam. At this point on the AT you have made your way into North Carolina, your second state if you are heading north from Georgia. Fontana Lake is one of those TVA created lakes that took in the small towns of Judson and Proctor (near present day Bryson City) when Fontana Dam was established in the early part of the 20th century. As the trail winds around Fontana Dam, you are going to start to gain some serious altitude. The elevation change will start to reveal a change in the wildlife and the flora around you. Just north of Fontana Lake and Dam, yes you follow the dam as you start up the mountain, you will climb until you are walking the ridge of the Great Smoky Mountains in the GSMNP. You are also walking the Tennessee / North Carolina line at this point on the trail.
Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap Road
The top of the world in the Smokies is Clingman’s Dome. You will go all the way to the top of this part of the mountain as you progress northward on the AT. The climb to Clingman’s Dome will take some time even for the most seasoned of hikers but the breath taking views from these peaks are like no other you will find east of the Mississippi River. As you reach the summit of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will immediately start back down again. Soon you will arrive at the most visited portion of the GSMNP, the piece of the Appalachian Trail that starts at the Newfound Gap parking area and trailhead. From this point you can hike almost 2 miles of the AT, the most hiked portion of the 2,200 mile trail.
Roan Mountain State Park
If you were to hike from the Newfound Gap trailhead and continue northward the next focal point you are going to come to is Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee. If you happen to plan your hike through accordingly you can spend some time at the top of the mountain in the rhododendron garden while it is in bloom. Bring a camera and prepare to take a lot of pictures. With the Catawbas in bloom it is a pink and purple wonderland of color. Roan Mountain also has lots of facilities that a Thru-Hiker might need to take advantage of like campgrounds and other amenities.
Hike the various pieces of the Appalachian Trail int he Smoky Mountains. Take in the terrain and the sights and the sounds of nature from the trails that make up the AT. Hike the most hiked portion of the trail and then you too can say that you hiked the AT!
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s history is forever tied to the nation’s railroad industry. So much so that the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad is still one of the best ways to re-live the history of the Smokies while getting an up-close view of its natural beauty at the same time.
Obviously, the scenic train excursion is what makes The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad such a unique attraction. Train rides include the Nantahala Gorge Excursion – a 44 mile trip to the gorge and back, or the Tuckasegee River Excursion – a 32 mile roundtrip along the river. These spectacular trips range from three and a half hours to an entire day and can even include a meal or special seating while you ride the rails in the Smokies.
With each new season comes a different set of trips. Rhododendrons explode into a pink canvas in the spring; the fall foliage comes into full view as the steam engine makes its way around the Great Smoky Mountains. This is the same experience people had decades ago when they wanted to visit the national park before it was actually a national park.
The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s special events calendar is pretty crowded each year with new programs and shows turning up by the month while annual events continue to attract large crowds. The Lone Ranger is the star event on the spring calendar. With a “Hi Yo Silver!” the Lone Ranger does what he does best – saves passengers from a train robbery. In October, the railroad features an adaptation of “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” This classic Halloween tale is told to kids while they travel to the pumpkin patch to pick out their own great pumpkin. Also dedicated to kids is a November ride aboard the Polar Express. Listen as the story of the Polar Express story is read while families ride along behind the train. It’s one golden ticket per person to ride the Polar Express.
Deciding on the type of rail car you want to ride will be your hardest decision. It’s a decision that will more than likely depend on how much money you want to spend on your trip. Pick from First Class, Crown Class or Standard seating. With a First Class ticket you get a ride in an air conditioned enclosed car with a meal served to you by the car’s personal attendants. Crown Class admission gives you a seat in an enclosed environment with large windows. You also get a tumbler for a drink during the trip. The final option, Standard seating, is the most cost effective way to travel and includes open air seating during the train ride.
For East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad is a one-of-a-kind attraction. Bryson City, NC is home to this unique attraction and they continue to preserve and share this piece of living Appalachian history with visitors of all ages. Whether you’re in town for one of the seasonal special events or just to take a train ride through the Great Smoky Mountains, they give you plenty of options for the train enthusiasts in your traveling group. Make sure that you ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad while you are in the area.
From Gatlinburg, TN: Take US 441 south to Cherokee, North Carolina. US 441 will dead end onto US 19. Turn right onto US-19. Turn left at next stoplight onto US-441 South. Continue on US 441 South to US 74. Go West on US 74 until you reach Bryson City exit 67. Bear right at the end of the exit ramp onto Veterans Blvd. Turn right onto Main St at the first traffic light on Veterans Blvd, and then turn left onto Everett St at the next light. At the first traffic light on Everett, turn left onto Mitchell St. Parking for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad will be on your right.
From trout tournaments to just recreational fly fishing, the Smoky Mountain trout brings many visitors to the National Park each year. However, trout fishing is not necessarily the easiest way to spend a day in the Smokies. It actually takes time and lots of patience to become good at and requires a lot of gear that can be, at times, a hassle to carry around – especially around the creeks and rivers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park . That being said, at the Cooper Creek Trout Pond in Bryson City, NC you can catch a trout; take it home to eat, and all without having to ford a mountain stream or spend hundreds of dollars on a rod and other fishing equipment.
A little over an hour south of Sevierville, TN traveling U.S. 441, Cooper Creek Trout Farm sits on 70 acres of land in western North Carolina. Cooper Creek was originally constructed in the 1970s, and though it has gone through a handful of owners, the current ones have kept the farm open year round. So yes, you can fish even when there is snow on the ground. There’s no better way to trout fish and get a guaranteed catch then by fishing at the Cooper Creek Ponds – a place dedicated to helping you catch trout.
A number of branches and streams flow from the pond through the farm. Again, you’re guaranteed to catch a fish. The staff will even catch the fish for you if you’re having a hard time just to make sure that you take a fish home with you. Don’t worry about bringing gear either, they provide it. Rods and reels are available for you to use or you can bring your own and break them in at the farm. You don’t even have to have a license to fish here.
At Cooper Creek you keep whatever you catch. Once they’re caught, the fish don’t get thrown back in for someone else to catch, it’s yours. Cooper Creek staff will also clean the fish for you. Or they’ll show you how if you plan on trying it out for yourself. It’s a very clean operation, from the fish all the way down to the streams they live in. Just make sure that you give yourself enough time to hang out for the whole day, especially if you’re bringing a family or large group to the creek. It’s going to be a lot of fun that you don’t want to miss and won’t forget any time soon.
As previously stated, Bryson City, NC is home to the Cooper Creek Trout Pond. Right outside of town you can spend the morning riding the train and then spend the afternoon catching trout in the mountains. Fresh caught trout is one of the delicacies that the Smokies offers to its visitors. Rather than fishing somewhere that you can’t be sure to catch a fish, go to Cooper Creek. They will help you fish and make sure that all of the kids and adults get to reel in their supper.
Check out Cooper Creek’s Facebook page for the latest goings-on at the creek.
“Base Camp for the Great Smokies”
Bryson City is becoming one of the most interesting day trips in the Smokies. Home to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad the towns downtown area is full of railroad memorabilia. And besides being on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City is also located near the Nantahala Gorge and all the great outdoor activities that happen there on a daily basis.
What is today Bryson City was once part of an Indian Reservation owned by a Cherokee Chief named Big Bear. Big Bear sold part of the land to two different settlers and the resulting area became known as a Bear Springs. The county seat of Swain County was originally the town of Charleston which was located along mina street in current day Bryson City. In 1889 the name of the town was changed to Bryson City, after Colonel Thaddeus Bryson one of the early land owners.
Two big changes happened to Bryson City in the first half of the 20th century: the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the establishment of Fontana Dam. The GSMNP provided millions of visitors to the area each and every year. Bryson City has garnered these visitors into a thriving tourism trade that has become the main economic stimulus in the area. Fontana Dam flooded the valley near Bryson City. The creation of Fontana Lake brought people to the area that wanted to spend time playing in the water – these visitors soon found Bryson City a nice day trip from the lake.
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- The AT in the Smokies - The most hiked section of the Appalachian Trail The southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, with its temperate climate, slow changes in elevation and lush greenery, is a haven to hikers from around the world. People flock to the Smokies especially to spend time on any number of trails, but the trail that is most popular and … Continue reading "The AT in the Smokies"
- Great Smoky Mountain Railroad - The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s history is forever tied to the nation’s railroad industry. So much so that the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad is still one of the best ways to re-live the history of the Smokies while getting an up-close view of its natural beauty at the same time. Obviously, the scenic train … Continue reading "Great Smoky Mountain Railroad"
- Cooper Creek Trout Farm - From trout tournaments to just recreational fly fishing, the Smoky Mountain trout brings many visitors to the National Park each year. However, trout fishing is not necessarily the easiest way to spend a day in the Smokies. It actually takes time and lots of patience to become good at and requires a lot of gear … Continue reading "Cooper Creek Trout Farm"
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