Some things are worth getting up at 1:30 in the morning for, and the Great Smoky Mountains are one of them.
If the Smokies could be described in a word, it would be something like Fanjestiful. (There is no one word that accurately describes them, so I had to make up my own.)
Their beauty is absolutely unmatched. From pastel sunrises and smoky, blue hues that cover distant mountains throughout the day, to crystal clear streams and lush green forests—being there is like wandering through a master’s painting. No bad pictures can be taken!
Chad and I have wanted to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park since we arrived in Tennessee, but, for various reasons, we kept putting it off. Well, this past Wednesday we finally made it there, rising early in the morning to make the 3 1/2 hour drive to Newfound Gap by sunrise.
And what a sunrise it was!
When we got out of the car to watch the sun come up, we immediately realized that we hadn’t dressed warm enough. The mountain air was freezing! Neither of us could feel our faces by the time the sun had risen. But it was so worth it!
My advice for fellow travelers to the Smokies: dress in layers, and make sure you have a hat or hood that covers your ears. The weather forecast said it was going to be in the low 70’s in Gatlinburg, but that’s at a much lower elevation than the mountains (something we didn’t realize).
After the sun had risen, we drove up winding Cligman’s Dome Road, past gorgeous vistas of blue mountains and cliffs covered with Spruce and Fir trees, to the parking lot just below the look-out.
The parking lot would have been another good place to watch the sun rise. It’s situated on the southern face of Clingman’s Dome, and offers a 270 degree view of the mountain range.
From there, we tackled the steep, half mile climb to the summit look-out. We were rewarded by views of smoky, blue mountains as far as the eye could see, with Gatlinburg nestled amongst their slopes in the northwest.
I could have stayed up there for hours, but there was work to be done! Chad and I are working on a re-launch of Our Debt Free Journey, and traveled to the Smokey Mountains to get some footage for that purpose.
We spent the afternoon doing some filming on the Appalachian Trail, then headed back up to Clingman’s Dome to take a nap in the parking lot.
Surprisingly, neither of us was overly tired, even though we had only gotten about three hours of sleep the previous night. The vistas in the mountains are so invigorating that we were too energized to take much of a nap.
Instead, we did some more hiking, then walked back up to the look-out for sunset.
By then, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and we were again wishing we had brought warmer clothes. As soon as the sun descended below the horizon, we practically ran down to the car, snapping some last shots of the mountains along the way.
Both of us were tempted to stay overnight and do some more exploring the next day, but it was supposed to rain the following afternoon. We also wanted to leave some things to do for the next time we visit the mountains--which will hopefully be soon!
So we packed our equipment into the car, and headed back down Newfound Gap Road toward Gatlinburg. Chad had a great time driving out of the mountains, because he was able to keep the car in neutral and coast the entire way. (It’s the little things.)
Re-entering Gatlinburg was like arriving in another world. We went from the quiet majesty of the Smoky Mountains, to the bright lights and heavy traffic of a tourist town. Such a contrast from the natural beauty of the park!
In all, our trip to the Smokies was a wonderful experience, and we plan on going back again. Next time, though, we’re staying longer. The wonder of the Smoky Mountains demands more exploring than a single day can contain.
See for yourself! Check out the video of our day:
Have you been to the Smoky Mountains? Tell us about your trip in the comments!