Monday, September 5, 2016

Sugarlands, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 9/03/2016

Arriving in Pigeon Forge on Friday of the Labor Day Weekend was probably not the best plan, but we left Cave City, KY, early and arrived at the RV park here around 1:30 pm. This area (Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dollywood) is packed  with vacationers for the long weekend. 

We are here to visit the National Park, but all of the literature says there is bumper-to-bumper traffic on weekends (in the summer) and holidays by 10 am. We decided to go to the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the Park to obtain planning information (hiking trails, auto tours, etc.) for the rest of our stay here. We left early (for me!) at around 8 am to avoid the crowds. 

This is the most visited National Park in the country with approximately 9 million visitors annually (double any other park). The 500,000 acres of the park are half in TN and half in NC. The Appalachian Trail runs north to south along the ridge of the mountains for about 70 miles. 

There is more diversity of plant and animal life in these ancient mountains than any place other than tropical forests. Additionally, there are over 90 historic structures that provide insight into Southern Appalachian culture

Far-sighted individuals began planning to preserve the beautiful natural area in the 1920s. It became a National Park in 1934; designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976; and a World Heritage Site in 1983

In addition to the 1,500 black bears that live in the park, the Visitor Center has numerous displays of other animals found here. Here are a few of them. 

Below is a gray fox and red fox; 

A raccoon; woodchuck; and two views of a bobcat.

There are also lots of displays about the many bird species found here and flowering plants. 

Only two trails in the park permit (leashed) dogs. One is the Gatlinburg Trail that starts here, next to the Sugarland Visitor Center. The first half mile is through the park headquarters area and along a service road. We saw this old cemetery (with markers from the 1800s) along the way. Many graves are identified with unmarked stones jutting up from the ground while there are also engraved stone monuments in the cemetery.

After crossing the service road, the rest of the 1.4 mile trail runs through the forest along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Our doggy, Sadie, was thrilled to be out and about on a trail in a new place. 

We came to these remnants of a CCC building fireplace and another from a two-story residence once located here.

Below is a wild turkey we saw near the bridge over the river. 

Sadie enjoyed going for a swim several times along the trail. In the hot humid weather here this time of year, it's great for her to be able to cool off a little bit.

We encountered lots of other hikers along the trail. Many of them had dogs that Sadie was very exited to meet. We made the return trip to the Visitor Center enjoying the great outdoors. This is my last and favorite photo of the day.

We will explore other areas of the park when it is less crowded.

There is no admission fee to the National Park. For additional information about what to see, campgrounds, hiking trails, author tours and more, check out their website.


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