As soon as I got my US driving license done, the first trip we planned was to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Some quick help from Trip Advisor forum & we were set to explore this beautiful mountain range along Tennessee and North Carolina. Weather predictions were not favourable with rain / snow over the weekend, although we were optimistic and decided to go ahead with our plans and enjoy whatever nature throws at us. Weather predictions were completely true, but so were the fantastic views and fall colours in the Great Smoky Mountains!
Starting at around 0600 hrs from Atlanta, we entered the national park via Cherokee by 1000 hrs. Just as we crossed the signboard of the park, we were greeted by rains and this Wild Turkey foraging next to the road!
Driving for another mile or so and we arrived at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Enquiring about the weather the rangers, we were told that the road may be closed tomorrow due to snow and even today if it rained heavily. We still took a chance and decided to go ahead to visit Cades Cove – part of the park which is at the other end and also where you have maximum chance of wildlife sightings. The wildlife had pretty much hunkered down due to heavy rains – only respite being a lone Coyote, White-tailed Deers and Wild Turkeys. We finally completed Cades Cove loop in around an hour and visited the Sugarland Visitor Center. We were told that roads would be closed by 1630 hrs, hence we decided to head back to Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Till now, the views & drive was really beautiful, although heavy rains ensured we couldn’t do any photography. Finally while returning, just as we crossed Newfound Gap overlook point – the weather cleared up showing some amazing fall foliage in the valley amongst the clouds.
We were back to Oconaluftee Visitor Center by 1600 hrs, where we saw a huge herd of Elks. Watching them from close quarters against the fall colours was something special… making this one of my favourite clicks from the trip!
It started pouring again and light was dipping fast, so we started our journey to the motel (Travelowe’s Motel – decent place to stay, nice clean rooms) in Maggie Valley via the Blue Ridge Parkway. This road was really beautiful, filled with fall colours but light was too low and rains too heavy! We continued to drive and arrived at the motel by 1800 hrs. The day finally ended having dinner at Frankie’s Italian Trattoria – a delicious grilled Salmon & Calamari fritters with Pinot Noir & Chardonnay! (highly recommended if your are fond of Italian Cuisine)
Day two started as late as 0900 hrs, with no rain but flurries! We stopped at Mountaineer restaurant for breakfast, again highly recommended – especially for the pancakes and sausage patties! Being a Halloween weekend, we stumbled upon this fella at our table 😀
The view from restaurant was very scenic and one can get some lovely views of the mountains. We also saw a small off road from the main Soco road which had some lovely fall colours.
We were excited to see the colours on the Blue Ridge Parkway but right at the signboard we saw it had snowed, which had subdued the colours at bit.
As we drove towards higher elevation, the snow had completely covered the trees – so much that it was look really beautiful. We stopped at the Lickstone Ridge Overlook for some lovely views of the valley…
& also the Lickstone Ridge Tunnel which was covered with snow!
Next stop was the Bunches Bald Overlook (a little less snow here)
Driving around couple of miles from Bunches Bald Overlook and there was no snow! We were seeing some beautiful fall colours and soon we stopped at Big Witch Overlook – this was probably the best view we got of the fall foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains, with the snow clad peaks!
The roads also looked amazingly beautiful, with fall colours on either sides…
Next was the Rattlesnake Mountain Tunnel (yet another favourite click of mine)…
followed by another lovely valley view from Ballhoot Scar Overlook…
and finally the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway ended. Snow & Sun with beautiful fall foliage within just 10 miles or so! Next we visited Oconaluftee Visitor Center again, only to find that it had snowed at higher elevations and roads were closed. We couldn’t believe our luck and were so glad that we drove through the park the previous day! We still drove ahead till the gate closure where we came across this beautiful stream near the Newton Bald Trail Trailhead.
We drove back to the visitor center, which was itself surrounded by beautiful fall colours.
We were also able to make some lovely images of the Oconaluftee river that runs right next to the visitor center..
and some random colourful clicks as well 😀
Finally we decided to head back, but not before clicking the mandatory shot against the Great Smoky Mountains National Park signboard… 🙂
The fall colours did not end though, we saw them all along the road as we drove back… here is one such click near Sylva town in North Carolina.
One amazing trip for sure! We were not even sure whether we would be able to enter the park but things just fell into place one after another. The beautiful scenic drive across the Great Smoky Mountains in rain on day one and the amazing fall foliage in snow & sun on day two! – couldn’t have asked for a better experience at the Great Smoky Mountains! Signing off.. until next time 😀
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– Rudraksha & Shraddha