Category Archives: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Watch the Solar Eclipse from Clingmans Dome!

I just got my four tickets to a once in a lifetime event – a total eclipse on Monday August 21, 2017.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is offering an opportunity to experience the total eclipse through a special, ticketed event at Clingmans Dome as well as informal eclipse viewing sites at Cades Cove and Oconaluftee. The park is partnering with NASA, Southwestern Community College, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to provide a special program with featured speakers and storytellers that help explain the science and cultural connection to this unique natural event at Clingmans Dome.

Clingmans Dome

At 6,643 feet in elevation, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park and offers the unique possibility of seeing the moon’s shadow approaching across the landscape. The area will be closed to all public vehicle traffic to better accommodate a safe, memorable experience for about 1,325 ticketed participants.

Imagine, 1,325 of your closest friends.

The parking area will be converted into the special event site that will include a jumbotron screen for participating in a national NASA TV broadcast, telescopes, educational exhibits, and stage for special featured speakers.

“We are thrilled that the park lies within the narrow viewing band of this spectacular, natural phenomena,” said Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan. “I have great memories of the time I experienced a partial solar eclipse as a child and I am thrilled to view my first total eclipse from the top of the Smokies in the company of a passionate group of visitors.”

Tickets have just become available through www.recreation.gov for $30.00 each.

You must have a ticket to attend the event at Clingmans Dome. Participants will be shuttled to the site from Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC by coach bus. The Clingmans Dome tower itself will be reserved for the media and live broadcasting teams to share the experience with the widest audience possible. Special presentations and activities will take place during the approximately three-hour period in the afternoon when the sun will be partially and, for a brief time, totally obscured by the moon.

With a full schedule of entertaining and educational programs, park rangers and partners are working together to provide a worthwhile experience, even if the sun is obscured by clouds on the day of the event. There are going to be crowds. However, if you are patient, sociable, and flexible, this is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a total eclipse from the heart of America’s most visited national park.

When I went online at Recreation.Gov, I only saw an option to leave from Gatlinburg. I couldn’t find the Cherokee option, so I clicked on it. If I have to go to Gatlinburg, so be it.

Fontana – Here we come!

Fontana Lake in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not an easy place to get to. It’s far from everywhere. So I am so excited that Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes has chosen Fontana Village as the base for their annual overnight trip.

Sign up for the Friends of the Smokies trip on

Monday August 28 – Tuesday August 29 2017.

All the details are in the PDF document but here are some highlights.

Surprise – I won’t start with the hikes. Professor Dan Pierce, chair of the history department at UNC-Asheville has made the Smokies his life work. On Monday evening, he will be speaking about his latest book, Hazel Creek: The  Life and Death of an Iconic Community.  I’ve known Dan since Fall 2001, when I took my first course on Appalachian history, a few months after I moved here. I’ve been a Dan Pierce groupie ever since.

Fontana Lake

Now for the hikes. Monday afternoon, we’ll hike in the Twenty-mile area, even more remote than Fontana Lake.

Tuesday, you have a choice between a long and short hike. So friends and couples coming together can each choose a hike that they would prefer.

Note that I didn’t say hard and easy. Both hikes are very gentle.

Long hike on Hazel Creek Trail to the Hall Cabin. I led a group there in 2014, so you can read all about that experience. We’ll take the boat across Fontana Lake and hike the Hazel Creek Trail and then onto the Hall Cabin. It’s 15.5 miles round trip, with little ascent, but quite an experience.

Cars on Lake Shore Trail

Short hike on Lake Shore Trail to the old cars. Where did these cars come from? Again, you can read about the history of the area in an article I wrote years ago.

We’ll be staying at Fontana Village and not roughing it.

But you have to make reservations soon. They’ve even thought about all the single people who might want to find a roommate and created a form.

Sign up and see you on the trail.

Elkmont Houses to be demolished

Well, it had to happen at some point.

The Elkmont houses in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are to be demolished. To be specific, the park now has money to make progress on the plans solidified in 2009 to preserve 19 cabins and demolish 55 others.

Peering into the cabins

If you want a little history of how these modern-day houses came to land in the park, you can read my blog or read the full Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which probably runs in the thousands of pages.

A few years ago, the park refurbished the Appalachian Club and the Spence Cabin shown at the top of this post.

They didn’t have the money to move on the rest of the FEIS. It costs money to tear things down as well.

But the bottom line is that the park is going to stabilize 19 cabins eventually. Right now, they’re working on four cabins to be open to the public.

So as usual, I’m suggesting that you get out there. Once the demolition starts, the park will limit access to the area. They’ll close the Little River Trail and the Jakes Creek Trail.

In Elkmont

To get to the Elkmont historic area,

From Sugarlands Visitor Center, take Little River Road for about six miles.

Turn left toward Elkmont Campground which is well-signposted. Follow the road toward the campground. Turn left again at the “Jakes Creek Trail sign” and go up to the parking area. In front of you will be Millionaires Row. Get out, walk and explore.

Take lots of pictures because when they’re gone they’re gone.