We all need a little sunshine time, some time each day when we step out from our desks, and break away from the noise and demands of our hectic lives. There is just something about being outside, breathing in the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on your cheek. Often we take vacations for this purpose, to enjoy the great outdoors and have a respite from the daily grind. Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains can provide just the fix to be outside and enjoy a sunny day.
When most people think of basking in the sun, they envision a beach, sand crusted between their toes, the sound of lapping waves in the distance. However, many people find the same serenity sitting on a warm rock beside a cool mountain stream or walking through a grassy meadow on a mountain top.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg has many such serene settings that are guaranteed to relax and replenish every visitor. Whither you want to dip your feet in a babbling mountain stream, enjoy a picnic in a grassy meadow, or hike along pristine mountain ridges, there is something here for everyone looking to get in a little sunshine time!
I have had the fortunate opportunity to live in East Tennessee for several years. During my down time, one of my favorite things to do was explore and discover the natural wonders of the Great Smoky Mountains National park, often places not mentioned in the guidebooks. I was fortunate to uncover many serene and majestic places during my adventures. Here is a list of my personal favorites, sure to rejuvenate your spirit and calm your mind:
Most visitors the Great Smoky Mountains National Park make it a point to visit Clingman’s Dome, the highest point of elevation in the park. However, many visitors fail to visit this incredible grassy bald accessed just a few miles past Clingman’s Dome. This easy 3.5 mile hike leads you to a breathtaking panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains. Families can enjoy hiking through a spruce fir forest on their way to a magnificent bald with a bird’s eye view of the park.
Directions: From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 13.2 miles south along Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome Road. Turn right onto Clingmans Dome Road and drive 7 miles all the way to the end of the road. Andrews Bald is accessed via the Forney Ridge Trail, which you will see at the far end of the parking lot. Follow the Forney Ridge Trail. About 1 mile from the parking lot Forney Ridge Trail will branch off to your right. Continue straight here to reach Andrew’s Bald.
The Jump Off
This is one of my favorite spots in the whole park. This incredible hike follows the spine of mountain peaks via the Appalachian Trail. at one of the highest elevations in the park. Your reward for hiking at the Jump Off is an incredible vista of the park that offers sensational views of numerous mountain peaks including: Charlie’s Bunion, Mt. Guyot, and Mount LeConte. This trail is 3.2 miles each way, 6.4 miles round trip.
Directions: From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 13 miles south on Newfound Gap Road to the Newfound Gap parking lot. Hike eastward on the Appalachian Trail, and then turn left on the Boulevard Trail to reach the Jump Off. Less than a tenth of a mile after turning onto the Boulevard Trail, you will see a sign for Jump-Off.
Ramsey Cascades Trail
This trail is very special to me, as it’s one of the first hikes I did with my husband (boyfriend at the time). While the trail it is not for the faint hearted, it can be done at slow pace, and viewing Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park, is well worth the effort. This trail follows the Ramsey Prong stream through thick old-growth forests culminating at the spectacular 90-foot waterfall, Ramsey Cascades. This trail is 8 miles roundtrip and a quick drive from Gatlinburg.
Directions: To find the trailhead, take U.S. Highway 321 east out of Gatlinburg and continue 5.9 miles to the Greenbrier Road entrance to the park. Turn right onto Greenbrier Rd. and follow it 3.2 miles to the left turn at the sign for Ramsay Cascades. The road follows the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon for 1.5 miles and dead-ends at the trailhead for Ramsay Cascades.
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