The leaf color may have peaked around Oconaluftee Visitor Center but not the visitors. They keep pouring in.
Most visitors have no idea of what to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They’ve come here and they expect us, the folks at the visitor desk, to plan their vacation for them. And I do!
Questions and answers:
- What is there to see here? You’re in the most visited park in the country and there are 800 miles of trails.
- Where do I pay my entrance fee? You’re in the only major national park with no entrance fee. But if you’d like to contribute, we’d be ever so grateful. I point them to a donation box put up by Friends of the Smokies.
- Is there any place to do an easy hike? If they want something real easy, it’s the Oconaluftee River Trail, just past the Mountain Farm Museum. Otherwise, I suggest Bradley Fork Trail or Kephart Prong.
- Waterfalls? Now that’s not a straight forward question. There are no waterfalls off the road. The easiest waterfall to reach is Mingo Falls, on the Cherokee Reservation. Yes, we suggest things out of the park. Mingo Falls is on Big Cove Road and requires only a 1/4 mile walk.
- How do I get to Cades Cove? I show them where we are at Oconaluftee and where Cades Cove is, two hours away. As part of our tool kit, we have official mileages and times from OVC and many other places. I don’t have to estimate. But I do question if they really want to do that drive (usually it’s already noon, when they get here) and if the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill would not satisfy their hunger for the history of settlers in the area. But they’ve heard of the Cades Cove loop and for the most part, they’re going.
- Where can we eat in the park? There’s no place to eat, drink or get gas in the park. The gateway towns, Cherokee, Gatlinburg and Townsend provide all those amenities.
I roved Bradley Fork Trail in the afternoon. Plenty of people on the trail with different ambitions. Several backpackers, day hikers doing the Smokemont look, more day hikers just going up to the bridge and back and a few photographers going maybe a quarter mile.
On the way back, I met Dan on the Trail Crew driving a park service vehicle. He and his colleagues are working on the Appalachian Trail up Hughes Ridge and are camping up there. He had to get down and drove on the trail. But the gate was closed and he didn’t have a key. I offered to help him by going to the ranger station but he had radioed his supervisor so I left him. I hope he’s not still there.