We went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park twice on our spring trip, once to the relatively close Cataloochee Valley in the early evening, and then an all day trip to the Tennessee side of the park around Gatlinburg.
The Cataloochee Valley was about a 45 min drive, so we decided to do go in the early evening. The road takes you up and over a mountain pass via a dirt road — on the way in we saw woodchucks, turkeys, and a displaying ruffled grouse.
Once in the valley we quickly found a herd of elk resting in the meadow. Over the course of about a half hour we watched as individuals took turns standing guard, then eventually all get up to begin grazing. Later a second herd came along and merged with the first herd. This included one elk who was particularly curious about our car!
And through it all we saw only one other vehicle, and only for 15 minutes, so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
On the way out we also stopped for cascades on Winding Stair Branch and some wildflowers.
With a full Friday off we decided to make the drive to the far side of the Smoky Mountains National Park. This was our first time through Gatlinburg – yikes, so many people! We made our way through the congestion to the border of the park where all the development suddenly ends.
Unfortunately, Laurel Falls was also quite busy…
This made us worried about the rest of the day, but we pushed on, hoping people would concentrate on a few of the primary hikes.
Meigs Falls was nice. Given the rains that week a river crossing would have been difficult, so I settled for a telephoto view. We also stopped at Cane Creek Twin Falls, which also featured several fly fisherman in the river.
Meigs Falls; Cane Creek Twin Falls
From this point we turned around with Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail our next destination. Wanting a bathroom break, we stopped by the visitor’s center to check out Cataract Falls — this was better than our last trip, more water and fewer people.
The Roaring Fork Motorway was beautiful – less cars than expected. Our first stop was the trailhead for Grotto Falls. Parking was a little tight, but we found a spot and hiked the 1.5 miles up to the falls. We passed a few groups of people and some lovely wildflowers.
Shortly after we got back in our car we found ourselves in a small traffic jam — turns out a black bear with her cubs were foraging just off the road!
Continuing the drive we saw lots of trilliums and other flowers about 10 minutes after the falls. This was probably my favorite part of the whole day.
Our final stop of the day was Place of a Thousand Drips, a waterfall spread over several sections. We were fortunate to have good waterflow!