There are three towns immediately north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that house and entertain most of the people who visit the park: Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. All I can say is "Yikes!" We manage to successfully avoid them most of the time. But just outside of Gatlinburg is one of our favorite places in the Park, and unfortunately you have to drive right through downtown Gatlinburg, past "Ripley's Believe it or Not," about ten "flapjack" houses, and endless souvenir stores and hotels to get there. But it is absolutely worth it. It's called the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and it is one of the most lovely scenic drives we have ever been on anywhere.
You would never guess that you're only about a mile from town. This unspoiled, six mile, narrow, winding, paved one-way road, lets you relax and enjoy the scenery without worrying about oncoming traffic. For the second half of the drive you follow the Roaring Fork stream and much of the time it is in what I'd call a gorge, deep below the road. (No guard rails here to block the view!) The stream is just beautiful, and loud!
In several places along the road there are historical farms with log cabins and barns preserved by the Park, and trails through the woods to additional buildings and other parts of the farms. We poked around this one, which I believe is the Jim Bales Place. (The Park has retained the names of the families that lived there.) The first picture is of the home and traditional split rail fences that you see everywhere in the park.
And this is one of the barns, and another fence.
Along the roadside where we parked there were many kinds of forest wildflowers, but this tiny wild orchid was the best.
Now, we liked our visit to Roaring Fork so much that we went back again! This time we hiked the nature trail around the Noah "Bud" Ogle Place. Here's one of several primitive bridges crossing the streams that are even more numerous than the split rail fences. Sometimes there were no bridges, so stepping stones were the only option.
You may be noticing the color palette of this Park. Everywhere we're surrounded by intense spring green. The wooden buildings, tree trunks and rocks balance out the palette with shades of grey and taupe.
This is the Ogle home.
The wildflowers provide just a hint of accent color in shades of pink, yellow, white, red and purple. The diversity of plant life here is unbelievable. These are crested dwarf iris nestled against a moss covered tulip tree trunk.
Another rhododendron lined stream to cross...
...that led us to an old mill. You can just see the troughs to the left of the mill house, that brought the stream water into the mill to grind grain, mostly corn. Much of the surrounding forest we walked through was at one time crop fields.
Even this snake fits in with the color scheme. We came upon him looking like a stick on a pile of rocks that was the foundation of a long gone cabin. Don't know what kind he was, but he was at least a yard long.
A sweet violet graced our path.
Our destination for the day was actually the Grotto Falls trail, further on down the road. I wanted to get some exercise, and I sure did.
The trail was only about a three miles round trip, but it was 1.5 miles up all the way to the falls, and then downhill all the way back. Not as easy as we expected it to be. You can see in the picture above how heavily used this trail is by how exposed the roots are.
FYI - the Great Smoky Mt. NP is the most visited national park in the USA. It has 9 million visitors every year. That's more than twice the visitors of any other park!
Back to Grotto Falls. We did finally get there. Here's Rick by the lower of two sections.
And here we are under the upper section. It was pretty cool to be able to walk completely around and under the falls.
This is a really large park, and there are lots more places to visit in the coming weeks. Next time I'll tell you about Cades Cove and the bears.