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Smoky Mountain Serenity

by

Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher

USA, Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains from the Foothills Parkway TN-6-1

The Smoky Mountains have to be seen, first-hand, to be comprehended. We know mountains–we live in the Mountain State, but our mountains are different, rounder, older. The Smokies are incredibly beautiful, sharp, angular, and steep–a word that does not do justice to those precipitous pieces of nature. Approaching from the west along US Route 321 (after exiting I-40), the Smokies appear on the horizon, looking more like cardboard cutouts stuck on the horizon’s edge, than real landscape features.

We had visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park several years ago and decided it was time for a return visit, as part of a Southern road trip. Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the town most folks associate with the Smokies. However, Gatlinburg’s overcrowding, over commercialization, touristy feel isn’t what appeals to us–though obviously it appeals to many. T-shirt shops, video arcades and water parks were not part of our motivation. We wanted the mountains, nature, and serenity. Therefore, we chose the small town of Townsend as our destination.

Townsend and the surrounding area bills itself as "the peaceful side of the Smokies"–an apt description. The town only has a population of 400, but the amenities and accommodations for such a small town are amazing. There are more than 325 cabins, bed & breakfast establishments and rental cottages that dot the area, along with 16 motels and inns. There are accommodations to meet the taste and budget of nearly any traveler. Here one finds log cabins tucked into quiet coves or perched high on the flanks of the nearly perpendicular mountains. Townsend’s distinction is its easy access to the natural environment and outdoor activities such as hiking and biking, or simply basking in the natural beauty–it is a destination of choice for those looking for a close-to-nature vacation.USA, Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains from the Foothills Parkway TN-6-3

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Spruce Flats Trail (Tennessee) TN-2-13Twelve hiking trails within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (of 130 total trail segments within the park) are found on the Townsend side of the Smokies. The trails range from 2.5 to 14 miles in length, and from easy to strenuous in difficulty. Very popular with cyclists is the 11-mile Cades Cove loop. Saturdays and Wednesdays June through August the loop is closed to auto traffic until 10:00 A.M., allowing cyclists a chance to have the area to themselves. The loop is very popular for wildlife viewing–and early morning is a primary wildlife viewing time. Townsend has several bike rental shops for those who do not bring their own.

The Cades Cove area within the park is the most crowded place we saw on our visit to the region. Many tourists enjoy driving their vehicles around the popular  wildlife-viewing loop. Here we encountered bumper to bumper traffic as we joined one of the park service’s hay rides. The slow-moving traffic soon came to a standstill when a black bear and cubs crossed the road. The driver of the car nearest the bear slammed his car in park, bounded from his vehicle, camera swinging from his neck, pursuing the bear and cubs into the woods. USA, Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove TN-5-2 Amazingly, several others followed suit. How stupid can people be? Don’t they know these are wild animals? Don’t they know the ferocity of a bear with cubs? There are laws against harassing wildlife. Those laws exist for the protection of people as well as protection of the wildlife. The idiot we witnessed, stopped traffic, risked his life (though apparently clueless to that fact), possibly endangered others (who knows the damage a rampaging bear could cause a group of people stuck in traffic or riding in an open hay wagon?). He didn’t even have enough sense to know the low light level of dusk, in the woods would not yield a photograph.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Spruce Flats Branch (Tennessee) TN-2-9We enjoyed the Cades Cove area of the park, with the exception of the stupid hardtop tourists, but much preferred getting out on the hiking trails. There we encountered few people. It is amazing how quickly the crowds thin once one leaves the asphalt behind. Give us a trail away from the hardtop anytime. One afternoon, we enjoyed a quiet hike along the Spruce Flats Trail. The day was reasonably warm, so after a sweaty climb up the mountain, we stopped by a rushing waterfall for a time of refreshing. Moving on, we found a wide grassy area under a stately grove of hardwoods where we shared a picnic lunch surrounded by the sounds of nature.

Townsend, Tennessee’s rural flavor is enough to draw many, but it is its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is the primary drawing card. We chose one of the many log cabins for our stay. What could be more romantic than your own log cabin in the mountains? Our cabin, Top of Townsend, had to be one of the highest around (in elevation), located high on the mountain at the end of a narrow, twisting, one-lane road reminiscent of something one might expect in the Guatemalan Highlands. One morning we sat in the porch swing, listening to moisture dripping from the leaves of the fog-drenched forest surrounding us. The oft-appearing fog is what gave the Smoky Mountains their name. Though our visit was in late September and the days were still borderline hot, the evenings and morning were cool. Fall color had only started to grace the region with a tinge of color. One evening we made a dash out to the deck hot-tub, where we enjoyed a soothing soak before a mad dash back indoors, where we cuddled before our fireplace, as the fire crackled and the flame provided the room’s only illumination.

Stock photography by Thomas R. Fletcher at Alamy 

IF YOU GO:

Smoky Mountain Visitors Bureau

7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway

Townsend, TN 37882

Phone: 800-525-6834

865-448-6134

Fax: 865-448-9806\

Web: www.smokymountains.org

E-mail: smokymvb@chamber.blount.tn.us

Top of Townsend

Little Mountain Hideaway

460 Boat Gunnel Road

Townsend, TN 37882

Phone: 865-448-1203

Web: www.topoftownsend.com

Explore Tennessee

Tennessee Tourism Development 

Tennessee Tourism Websites 

USA, Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains, Nursery along Route 321 TN-1-16 
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Spruce Flats Branch (Tennessee) TN-2-8 USA, Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains from the Foothills Parkway TN-6-19 

Smoky Mtn. Cabin Rental

Smoky Mtn. View Cabin Rental 

Smoky Mtn. Camp Cabin Rental 

E-mail mtnretreatcabins@aol.com 

Phone: 615-779-9106

 

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