Had a great time on our camping trip to the Smokies. Thanks to all on TA for their sage advice. It was my 5 year old and me, her Dad, as the rest of the family had work and school. Not your typical travelling partners that you find, but we had a blast!
We decided to go the NC side first camping at Deep Creek. We drove their via Tail of the Dragon. It was nice to drive along the water. After this, the rest of the Smokies driving were cake easy.
We arrived on Sunday - lots of picnickers around, but on the streamside tent loop - we were the only campers. I wasn't sure if the loop was open or not but the restroom toilets flushed, even though the lights were not on. I've camped quite a bit, but never without any other campers around. We did have another tent camper in the loop by the end of the evenings.
Hey we had the pick of the sites. It was a bit scary when my head hit the pillow, knowing that any sound we'd hear would probably not be human, and knowing all those picnickers could have left a few chicken bones laying around to draw the bears.
We rode our tag-along tandem bike all around the campground and even down to Bryson City one night. Bryson City lived up to its billing as a nice quiet southern town. My daughter did go horseback riding - but it was the classic Sandy (mechanical horse) outside Bryson City IGA. So much fun we went back and did it again the 2nd day.
My daughter got a big kick out of the gem mining in Cherokee. Its touristy, but only $8 for a sand bucket to sluice around for gems in. She prizes those gems like they are the queen's jewels.
Had to stop at Na-ber's Drive-in for some ice cream. Also had lunch at Roland's Dairy Stop near Cherokee - I knew by all the locals and hard-hat workers stopping that it had to be good.
We hiked to the couple of falls (JuneyWhank etc) and were amazed by how accessible and beautiful it all was. She caught the spirit of hiking - but I dismissed right away any notion of completing a long destination hike. Littler-kids aren't wired that way, especially without siblings or friends along to egg them on. Plus, on the hikes, there are way too many cool things to stop and check out - boulders steams, butterflies etc. Even though we never made to the end of the trails, we did cover some distance and enjoyed the journeys.
Time flew by and we never made it down the Road to Nowhere, or over to
During the day we drove over to the Mtn Farm Museum which was nice, then up to Clingman's Dome to hike on up. Great views. A lot of the retirees that dominated the trail got a kick out of the little one.
Also stopped by Mingo Falls (159 steps we counted). They are easy to get to and worth a visit for anyone in the area.
Deep Creek was a great and beautiful place to camp and base ourselves. Too cold for any tubing yet. I will say, that I'm not sure I would like this campground if they were full. Again, we had the whole campground to ourselves virtually, but I did notice the tent sites are close together, and you have to walk right thru them all to get to your vehicle, the stream, or to the restroom. (though the upper loop sites seemed more spacious and private)
After a couple days we broke camp and headed to Elkmont. On the way we stopped at the Chimney Tops trail and walked it about half-way. We really enjoyed that. We didn't linger up at the higher elevations of the park as much as expected - after the long winter, I think we were naturally drawn to the lush spring going on at the lower elevations.
I had to pinch myself at the beauty of Elkmont and the Little River. We immediately took walk-in site B-3 by the roaring sounds of the river. (for those wondering about walk-in sites - they are terrible. Just kidding, they are a secret gem of the campgrounds- the walk is short and you have a great spot. Not that any sites I saw at Elkmont were bad) No hotel in the world could own such a great spot. With perfect temps, spring beauty, low crowds - everybody in Elkmont just had a peaceful amazed look on their face.
We rode the bike around the grounds. We played in the river. We just hung out. We hiked the Elkmont Nature Trail -(I think we actually completed this one-though my daughter insisted that we had to go back the way we came instead of finish the loop.)
From Elkmont we made the obligatory foray to Gatlinburg each day. Got something to eat each day there. She was awestruck by it all and we had fun with the town. She spent her money on stuffed animals. Went to an arcade. Almost got run over by someone when we were walking. I'll be honest, as far as the tourism towns-I preferred the NC side (even without getting to Dillsboro etc) - just a matter of style. Cherokee has cleaned up quite a bit from years ago and has a nice array of old tourism kitsch that is preserved. Bryson City, we liked the little game room in back of Papa's Pizza as much as the big ones in Gat. The NC towns blend with the park better. No offense to anyone- that's just us.
We went over to Little GreenBrier school which was just as pretty as we imagined.
A highlight was biking the Cades Cove Loop. That was a lot of fun -and we did it with the cars since it wasn't too busy. What a pretty place. The wildlife was out and about - bears, deer, turkeys. Saw a coyote on the way there. they all seemed pretty tame and accustomed to being photographed.
One local even joked that the animals in Cades Cove will try to get in your car and go home with you if you let them.
Just a few miles along our Cades Cove ride, I notice my bike pedal coming undone. Luckily we managed to catch up with some rangers working on the fences and they snugged it up good.
After the bike ride we took Rich Mtn Road. That is a great ride. I found it really safe, especially since its one-way and you don't have other cars to worry about. Ate a great meal at Deadbeat Pete's -sat outside by the river.
We left before the rains came in at the end of the week. But before we did - we went on the Little River Trail by Elkmont. For hiking with kids, that was the best place to explore. We had a blast boulder-hopping out to islands in the streams. On the way home we stopped at Tuckaleechee Caverns - a really nice cave tour.
So many things we didn't get to do as planned (Greenbrier, Bunion Trail, Road to Nowhere etc etc etc etc) but left satisfied. We will be back my friends.
Thanks again for everybody's advice in helping plan this journey.