The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If visiting the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee area - you absolutely can not miss taking a trip into The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hopefully, it is one of the reasons you chose to vacation in the area.
Unfortunately, you won't have time to visit every location within the park, travel every trail or see each waterfall.
We managed to narrow down our choices this vacation and hiked to Grotto Falls and to Clingman's Dome. Each on separate days.
Due to the steep climb and my growing fear of heights, I would have assumed this to be my least favorite hike. However, the drive and hike to this location are very much worth the view you find in the end.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647), both located in Mt. Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina, rise higher.
The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top.
On clear days views expand over a 100 miles. Unfortunately, air pollution often limits viewing distances to under 20 miles.
Again, with my escalating fear of heights, the winding walkway was a bit difficult for me. I stayed in the center and slowly made my way to the top - while my son ran ahead as fast as his little legs would go.
Though a beautiful storm was slowly making its way onto the horizon, we still had an amazing view of the surrounding mountains.
In fact, the entire drive and hike to the dome is completely beautiful. Even if you aren't able to make it up the path to the tower, you will still find an amazing view from the parking lot. At the point, you are still able to look out on a vast portion of the surrounding park.
The hike to Grotto Falls wasn't nearly as difficult - though it is still a hike that you will want to prepare for. The kids really enjoyed being back amongst all the trees and stopping throughout the trip to enjoy the view and take a sip of their water.
Once you reach the falls, things become a little crowded. This is especially true if there are a lot of other hikers enjoying a hike to Grotto Falls. It's best to sit back and wait your turn for a trip to walk behind the falls.
Trillium Gap Trail meanders through an old-growth hemlock forest and actually runs behind the 25 foot high waterfall. The cool, moist environment near the falls is ideal for salamanders and summer hikers. The hike is 3 miles roundtrip and considered moderate in difficulty.
The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 3 miles and the hike is generally considered moderate in difficulty. It takes about 2-3 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.
Carry drinking water with you. Portions of this trail are rocky - sturdy hiking shoes are recommended. Do not attempt to hike the trail in sandals or flip flops. Pets and bicycles are prohibited on the trail.