Adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains
There are very few things that a mini vacation can't fix , as we recently discovered while taking a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of city life here in Tampa. Our short getaway to Eastern Tennessee saw us take in the scenic sights and sounds in one of the country's finest national parks and most popular outdoor escapes - The Great Smoky Mountains .
Affectionately known as the 'Great Smokies' , this acclaimed mountain range , which straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina , is the country's most visited national park and is home to the world-famous Appalachian Trail ( the longest hiking footpath in the world which extends along the Eastern United States , from Georgia to Maine).
Nestled at the foothills of these legendary mountains , the popular vacation town of Gatlinburg - otherwise known as the ' gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains - was the perfect spot from which we could recover from the humidity (and alligators!) of Florida and escape into the great American outdoors!
On a pleasant morning , the day of my husband's birthday , we woke up bright and early to unwrap some birthday gifts and thereafter we swiftly set off for our escape to the Great Smoky Mountains. In a country that is so perfectly set up for road tripping , with ample rest-stops in scenic locations and plenty of interesting little towns along the way , we were looking forward to the exciting journey ahead - despite it being a twelve-hour drive from Florida to Tennessee!
While we were still revelling in the familiar feeling of being on the open road towards a new adventure , I was surprised by how quickly the trip was going . When we had arrived in the state of Georgia , our halfway mark and rest stop for the night , I had barely had enough time to become impatient or fed up with the journey.
Our overnight accommodation , located just outside of Atlanta , was a lodge known as Callaway Gardens. This lush forest retreat , tucked away in the Pine Mountains , looked like the sort of place where the neighbouring city folk would for a secret escape from the city.
Completely enclosed by thick woods and adorned with a small lake at its centre, the leafy resort-style lodge was far more impressive than we had expected especially seeing that , on top of the natural scenery , it also housed an indoor butterfly garden and a historic 1830s log cabin hidden deep in the woods. From what we could tell , our great outdoor escape had begun , and what a start!
After revelling in the beautiful natural surroundings, we were a little reluctant to leave the peaceful confines of Callaway Gardens the following morning as we continued on with our journey to Tennessee.
Making our way past the sprawling city of Atlanta , Georgia's capital , we headed north for most of the journey until we crossed the stateline from Georgia into Tennessee.
Crossing into Tennessee the landscape suddenly became more rugged and reflecting the natural peaks and valleys in the distant horizon, it was clear that the Great Smoky Mountains were upon us.
Even from a distance we could make out the traces of the smoky-blue mist which the legendary mountains are known for as it covered the peaks and hills in a blanket of thick smoke . I imagined how cool the forest air must be , surrounded by refreshing and misty streams. By late afternoon we had reached the outskirts of Gatlinburg when were suddenly (and out of the blue) caught in a heavy traffic jam!
To think that we had driven all this way to escape the city , only to be stuck in a traffic jam miles away from our destination - how bizarre! Looking around at the heavy flow of traffic , most of it heading towards Gatlinburg , it seemed that the entire Eastern United States had converged in this little town! In every direction were cars (and licence plates) from various states : Kentucky , Alabama , Georgia , North Carolina , Missouri , Mississippi , Virginia, Illinois .. and more!
Once we were finally free of the traffic , we made the final stretch into the bustling centre of Gatlinburg which , unsurprisingly , was bustling with visitors in every direction. Framed by the beautiful backdrop of the mountains to one side , it immediately struck me how , in a different life , Gatlinburg could almost certainly pass for a charming European mountain village - minus the crowded streets , brightly-lit restaurants and theme park-like attractions!
Once we had settled into our accommodation and explored a bit of the town centre we decided to seek out some natural attractions away from the bright and lively streets. Noticing a mountain lift across the street which (even though it was bright orange and yellow!) promised great views of the surrounding mountains , we promptly bought tickets and sought refuge from the crowded streets. As we were lifted high up the mountain peak we glanced at our feet where the bustling commotion of the town below gradually disappeared.
Sitting high up in the sky we enjoyed our first moment of peace since arriving in Gatlinburg. We could see the mountain peaks roll on indefinitely into the horizon and we could hear the gentle humming of the wind. Tomorrow we would be taking our first hike in those mountains and looking at the dark forest woods , I quietly wondered what they had in store for us.
You can read Part II of our Adventures in the Smoky Mountains - here .