Don’t fool yourself, I’m not a great hiker. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t necessary to hike in order to see some pretty neat stuff, I can assure you, I likely wouldn’t hike. Now, when I talk about hiking, I don’t mean walking–I’m a great walker. I can walk for miles! On flat ground, slight hills. When I want to. Hiking? Hiking to me combines walking with large hills or mountains. I’m not a fan of walking large hills and mountains. But that’s where you find the neat stuff. While in the Great Smoky Mountains, we HIKED! Not far, but up big hills and steep inclines. AND we saw some neat stuff!
We started our long weekend by working our way through my list of places I HAD to see. First up, Clingman’s Dome. Even though it was only 27 miles from our hotel, the drive took us over an hour (we stopped frequently). Driving into the mountains yields incredible views, pull-offs for you to snap a shot, and lots of small waterfalls.We made numerous stops while driving higher and higher up. At one point, the road went upwards like a corkscrew. The first thing I noticed when we got out of the car in the parking lot was that it was windy. And a lot colder. With Clingman’s Dome being the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at 6,642 feet, it tends to be 10-20 degrees cooler than the lowlands. It’s a good thing I had my down jacket. Although the trail up to the observation tower is only a half mile long, it’s a long, steep half mile.Once you are at the top, you have a 360 degree view of the Smoky Mountains. Supposedly, on a clear day, you can see 200 miles in any direction and yes, we were up above some of the clouds.
The next trail we hiked was called Laurel Falls. All I knew going in was that this trail was known for the abundance of laurels growing along it, May is the season for laurels to be in full bloom, and that the trail ended at a waterfall. It sounded like a good one for us to tackle.Since I didn’t know what a laurel flower looked like, we were able to pop into the Sugarlands Visitor Center, which, in addition to having a gift shop and National Parks info, had a museum that contained a branch of laurels. (You could also watch a short film about the Smoky Mountains while there, but we skipped that.) Once on the trail, I found the laurels! They were everywhere and beautiful.The distance to the waterfall was 1.3 miles and the trail was considered moderate in difficulty. It was a paved trail though, which made it seem a little easier. Once at the falls, I was overwhelmed at the beauty. It was absolutely gorgeous and the sound of the water falling was so relaxing.
The next day we set off for Grotto Falls. This was another HAD to see because there was a waterfall that we could walk behind. There were actually a few waterfalls along the way, which was even better. We knew this trail was 1.4 mile to the falls, but we missed the part about it being “moderate” in difficulty.I wouldn’t even rate it as moderate–this trail was the roughest one we hiked and we were walking on tree roots and rocks for the majority of it. The climb seemed to go on forever, and in my “in my head voice” I kept asking myself, “why?” along with murmuring the occasional curse word under my breath (I was trying not to poke my bear of a husband into using his “outloud” voice.) We knew we were close when we could hear thunder of running water.
Once we arrived at the top fall, easy conclusion, the work to get there was all worth the effort. There were large rocks to sit on and rest a bit, and the cold water of the falls made the air seem like it was air-conditioned. The only thing missing was a picnic lunch and a cocktail. The really neat part of the Grotto Falls was that we could actually walk behind the waterfall without being IN the waterfall. (That water is COLD!)
In hindsight, while I’ll never be a great hiker, there IS a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow–or hike–and hard work usually has a payoff in the end. The hike was well worth the waterfall and if you get the chance to go to the Smoky Mountains and hike some of the trails, do it!