Appalachian Trail to the Boulevard in the Smoky Mountains National Park

The second hike we did in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park would be the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) to the Boulevard.

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This was a bucket list dream come true for me. I have always wanted to hike on the A.T. and this was my moment to do it.

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We started this trail at the Newfound Gap parking area where there is once again, ample parking with great photo opportunities right from the parking area.

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Here we did find that the restrooms were open in January unlike the other trailheads in this national park.

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A few things to note about this trail. Unlike the Alum Cave trail, which was at a lower elevation, this trailhead was much colder. We found snow in the parking area,

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and it did not take long for my husbands fingers to freeze.

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So if it’s warmer down below, be prepared to have layers on up above. We were not prepared for this at all, especially since we did not even think we would be hiking in the national park while visiting Tennessee. Although, we did have enough supplies to safely do what we did and not put ourselves into danger.

As for the trail itself…..it’s strenuous with a capital S!!!  You will be boulder climbing at times on the edge of cliffs, stumbling on tree roots and everything in between. If your anything like me, you will love every second of it.

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When we arrived at the signs that said we had made it to our goal,

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we had the pleasure of being greeted by some friends of nature. I am amazed being so far back in the wilderness, these two deer were very friendly and not afraid of us at all.

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After taking a short beak and photographing these fury friends we headed back to the trailhead……standing around made me very chilly and we needed to get moving again.

My family hiked a total of 6.3 miles on the A.T.

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and I have the memories and the photos to look back on and remember forever.

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This trail is not for children, it’s is strenuous and is hard on the ankles with many spots that accidents could happen. The first mile or so you will see people, after this you will be alone and come across few if any individuals.That being said, if you get the chance and are in good shape, go for it, I am sure you will not regret it.

 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Is Not A Total Loss Resulting From The Wildfires

I myself, like many of you, probably watched numerous media sources airing the Chimney Tops 2 Fire roar it’s way through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Devastation, lives lost, and numerous people lost their homes, cabins, businesses and pets. I will be honest and say, I could never even imagine how horrendous this event could have been while it was happening.

I did not mention much here about a trip we had planned to this area since, while we were planning, this fire started and from what I read, really did a number on the area. We did end up changing our plans and moved one of our hotels from the Gatlinburg area to another city in TN. When we left for our trip, we had not even discussed hiking in the Smokies since everywhere I read said it was a loss, and that much of the park was closed or lost to the fire. There were debates whether the Sugarlands Visitors Center was burnt, debates about what trails were still open, and there were still bodies being found throughout the area as told to me by the hotel receptionist when I called to cancel our plans. Again, I could never imagine what these people all went through.

However, I am writing today to tell you the smokie’s are still there. Yes, some parts are burnt and some resorts/homes/cabins are just skeletons of charred lumber.

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The Sugarlands Visitors Center is standing and is operating just fine.

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The road to the Chimney Tops is closed with large orange barrels and most people we saw are respecting this closure.

We did drive through the town of Gatlinburg on the way into the park and found that most, if not all, business are open and are fire damage free. And there is no doubt it is still beautiful!!!!

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Up above and on the bypass road in/out of the park thru Gatlinburg there was clearly more damage and I did not find it respectful to take photos of personal property that was loved and lost by so many individuals.

As for trails in the park, well, we only hiked three and they were open. I can not say for sure what ones are or are not open but the scenic drive is by no means a charred complete loss. This park is something to still admire. Grass and moss are already beginning to grow back a bright, beautiful green and in no time this entire area will be as good as new if not better than before. It’s no doubt this was a tragic thing to live through and my heart goes out to every single person who lived through this and to the families of those that did not.

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Alum Cave Hike In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We did two hikes while in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in January. One being the Alum Cave hike to the bluffs.

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According to the day hikes guide we picked up at the Sugarlands visitor center upon arrival,

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it was a fairly short hike, 4.6 miles round trip and rated as strenuous.

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This trail was amazing…..there were so many different things to look at, experience, and explore. First, I must remind you, we were here in January and this particular day was a Saturday. The trail was no doubt wet. Some spots were wetter than others but easily doable.

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A bit down the trail we came to our first of three one sided bridges that were over water.

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This trail does follow a stream/river almost the entire way which makes for some very nice photo opportunities along the way.

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(photo courtesy of our son, Quade Byrnes Photography)

Eventually you will come to a cave opening that has steps built into it that will bring you up and over away from the stream. This is Alum Cave. There is cable built into the wall of the bluff for guidance but it is not difficult in any way, in my opinion.

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After going through the cave we came across our first water crossing without a bridge. In January we found it easy to find big enough rocks to make it across with dry feet.

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Upon reaching the bluffs, it was still very foggy and made for a good rest spot while our son took all the photographs he came to get. This also made a nice spot to stop and have a snack and cool down. It was a warm hike, being about 60 degrees outside on this day, but it is straight up the mountain the entire way.

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After this we headed back down the same trail we came up and back to the parking area where we began. Of course, there were more photographs to be taken along the way.

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For us this trail was great. Our GPS read 5.6 miles round trip when we returned to the vehicle. Now, we did make a few extra steps for necessary reasons but an extra mile I would have to wonder about. However, after many years of hiking I have found no one measurement of mileage on a trail is ever the same so for us it ended up being 5.6 miles proudly!

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A few things I must mention…..in January you will not find the restrooms at the trailhead open. So take care of “business” before hand. The parking area for this trail is well mark, easy to find and has ample parking. However, in January when we returned from our hike, vehicles were lined up on the road due to full lots everywhere. I can only imagine summer/spring and fall to be even worse. So I would say, arrive early during all seasons.

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And, as near other trailheads we have visited, this one was also well marked to take all valuables with you.

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I would highly recommend this hike if you are in good shape and like mountain hiking. Children will also be able to easily do this trail with parent supervision. Cliff edges are easily manageable and the views are breathtaking.