Spring rouses us from our winter dreams; snowflakes turn to wildflowers, icicles drip relentlessly to mingle their water with streams and rivers. While many people enjoy winter sports, some people get cabin fever and wish for warmer days that promise the gorgeous scenery the Smokies is known for. We've collected several mini-guides to some of the best scenic spots in our area. Whether you like to explore trails at sea level or traverse the unknown at over 6,000 feet, here in Gatlinburg we've got spring scenery you'll love.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It soars 6,643 feet into the air. As the highest point in Tennessee it is naturally a favorite tourist spot. Visitors follow a paved trail to the observation tower. Please note that pets and bikes aren't allowed on this half mile trail, which is fairly steep and challenging. Once you arrive at the tower, the walk will definitely pay off as you'll get to see a fantastic panoramic view of the Smokies. The road leading to Clingmans Dome is sometimes closed if the weather is poor. It's best to travel here on a bright day, which makes sense as fog or cloud cover can obscure the view.
NPS.gov offers this page about Clingmans Dome with more information. Our blog also offers a post about Clingmans Dome to help you plan your trip. One tip you may wish to remember is that it can be best to come up to Clingmans Dome early in the day as the weather can be very changeable; the early part of the day usually offers better views. It can get quite cool up at the tower so please dress warmly or bring along warmer clothing if it is early in the spring when you visit.
Visitors report that the road to Clingmans Dome and the hike in offer multiple areas to stop and view breathtaking scenery. These additional opportunities to view the Smokies even before you get to the observation tower are definitely an added bonus.
Cades Cove is a favorite wildlife viewing spot in our area. Thousands of people visit Cades Cove every year and see all manner of creatures, from dozens of types of butterflies to deer, fox, otters, skunks, wolves, snakes (most are not poisonous), birds and more. Birds are some of the most intriguing residents of Cades Cove. You can potentially see over 200 types of birds. This visitor took some great photos of woodpeckers, bluebirds, and even bears!
You may have heard that Cades Cove is also home to black bears. It's hard to explain, especially to kids, that the bears in the National Park are not tame; they are wild creatures. Those that approach humans or campgrounds where humans stay are looking for food. Feeding any wildlife and especially bears, is prohibited in the park. The best thing a person can do is to not disturb bears. It's important to keep food stored out of sight so bears will be discouraged from visiting an area where you are.
You can start your Cades Cove explorations on the 11 mile Loop Road which will allow you to get a good overview of the area. Cades Cove has its own visitors’ center on the loop road and several areas to pull off and see the scenery. May - September is a great time to visit Cades Cove because until 10:00 am on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the Loop Road is closed to vehicle traffic. This is an awesome opportunity to walk and bike on the Loop Road and enjoy some quiet viewing time.
Cades Cove is also well-known for its historical buildings and homesteads. These can be seen up close and even entered as you walk along. Over the 6800 acres of Cades Cove you'll find a variety of sites dating from the early 1800s when the first families settled in the Gatlinburg area. See log cabins, old mills, churches and more. If you'd like to do some virtual sightseeing before you visit, take a look at the historical mini-guide we've put together. It offers you a good summary of some of the sights in Cades Cove, including Cades Cove’s first and oldest cabin. https://gatlinburg.com/have-fun-with-our-historic-gatlinburg-mini-guide/
Next time, in part 2 of this series, we'll examine some of the trails and waterfalls in the park that offer pristine spring views.