Usually we camp there but since this was our first real hiking trip with Michelle we didn’t want to risk camping (plus our tent is for 2 persons only). Michelle enjoyed the drive out and started getting a little cranky only near the end. We have figured out that her normal limit for continuous driving is about 3 hours.
The first day, we started on Newfound Gap Road and then drove to the highest peak in the park, Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet or 2,025 m). There was a short 0.5 mile hike to the summit and the observation tower at the end of the road. Since Michelle was taking her morning nap at the time, we waited in the parking lot for 30 minutes. Just as we had decided that I would go up alone, Michelle woke up. This has become a routine for us now since anything we do we have to be careful about her rest, food and schedule.
We put her in the backpack we had bought recently. The backpack carrier is for older children than the Baby Bjorn front carrier we already had. Also, the backpack makes the child much easier to carry on a hike. It is pretty stable and the weight distribution between the hips and the shoulders keep the then-18 lb Michelle (plus a few lbs for the backpack) reasonably carry-able. It also has decent pockets for putting stuff, like food, diapers, in.
There is an observation tower at the top of the summit at Clingmans Dome. There we met an old couple who had hiked on the Appalachian trail from Springer Mountain, GA (a hike of about 200 miles) and were headed all the way to New Hampshire (more than 2000 miles). Michelle enjoyed the scenery at the tower and kept babbling. She was, however, a complete daddy’s girl and did not spend much time with Amber.
We drove then to Gatlinburg, TN on the northern end of the park. Gatlinburg seemed full of tourists. We got out of there and drove the scenic Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and hiked to Grotto Falls there. This hike wasn’t too difficult and was short (1.5 miles one way). However, there was some elevation change and the trail was a bit muddy and rocky in places. Also, we had to cross a few small streams on the way. Amber got tired on the way, but Michelle enjoyed it a lot. She was delighted at the river, the plants and finally the waterfall. She also enjoyed being in the backpack. When we got back to the car, Michelle was so pleased to see her car seat that she tried to climb into it herself.
Back at the hotel, we stepped out to the deck of our room where we could see the river flowing behind the hotel. Michelle showed some new appreciation for water then and stared at the river for a while. Back in the room, Michelle and I had a lot of fun playing and chasing each other.
On Sunday, we drove back to the Tennessee part of the park and took Little River Road to Cades Cove. Cades Cove is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. It has a one-way road that loops around it. The last time I was here in the fall, it was extremely crowded. But this time it wasn’t so much. It still took us more than 2 hours to do the loop.
We had wanted to hike either Abrams Falls or Laurel Falls, but the drive had taken too long and Michelle was a little cranky with teething pain as her molars have been bothering her for a while. So we stopped for a little while at the banks of a river and then decided to take the scenic route back to Atlanta.
From Townsend, TN, we took the Foothills Parkway. We enjoyed the scenic, deserted road to the Chilhowee reservoir. From there, we took Route 129 through the mountains to cross into North Carolina. This area is known as Deals Gap and the road has a lot of curves and turns. Every weekend, motorcycle riders and car driving enthusiasts gather there for a run (or more) through that portion of the road. Michelle was getting hungry and a little fussy, but there was no place to stop there. So Amber fed her a little banana and Michelle went to sleep while the car turned this way and that.