We decided to combine three different National Park Service sites (Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Shenandoah) into one post, mostly because all three areas are very similar and are strung together geographically.
We started in the south at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smoky Mountains are aptly named—they are often surrounded by a blue-colored hazy fog that gives them an eerie quality. When we visited the fog was really more of a smog. They have a lot of pollution from neighboring cities and there are several wildfires burning nearby.
Cades Cove is a mountain valley at the south end of the Smokies where many European families first settled in the area. There’s an 11-mile loop with a number of historic sites like churches, log cabins, mills, and homesteads. We chose to travel the loop on our bicycles while enjoying the warmer weather.
After staying a couple nights at the Cades Cove campground we drove over Newfound Gap Road to the top of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park. The view from the top of the viewing tower was impressive.
That day we started up the Blue Ridge Parkway, which extends from Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina all the way north to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The Parkway was an awesome drive, definitely in our top 5 drives of the trip, across the rolling Blue Ridge and through tunnels of gold and orange trees. It’s a great way to connect these two Eastern parks.
The Blue Ridge Parkway took much of two days to drive (with a lot of overlook views and an overnight along the way). We arrived at the Big Meadows campground in Shenandoah National Park just before dark as a thick fog was beginning to blanket the mountains.
The next day at Shenandoah we journeyed through 3 or 4 different hiking trails along Skyline Road, including the Dark Hollow Falls trail which took us to this cool view.
Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah are among the most popular National Parks because of their Eastern US location. Besides the beautiful views, a few waterfalls, some neat history, and a lot of hiking trails, there isn’t much else to do there, so next we’re heading up to Gettysburg and then out to the coast and points South. Meanwhile, here are a few more nice views.