After spending no more than 2-nights at any campground since our time in Utah, it was a luxury to be spending 5-nights at Adventure Bound Camping Resort. The whole family was looking forward to a day of just relaxing in camp.

Drake & Mia playing in the creek – Adventure Bound Resort, TN

After breakfast, Drake and Mia bounded out of the trailer to go play in the creek. There, they happily built dams and loved throwing rocks (until I shut that down – after the sling-shot incident in Colorado, any rock activity made me nervous)! Throughout the morning, different camp kids came by to play for a bit so the kids were happy.

On the other hand, I found it glorious to sit under our awning with a cup of coffee and read. It was paradise. When the kids decided they wanted to check out the pool and slide, Dad said he’d take them. What? Paradise AND quiet? Bliss!

Waterslide! Adventure Bound Resort, TN

Adventure Bound not only has a regular pool (which is average in appeal), but what got the kids really excited was the 500’ waterslide located just steps away from the pool. Anyone can walk up, grab a mat and head up the stairs for the exhilarating ride down the hill. Mia and Drake loved it! For a couple of hours they were on a continual loop; laughing, splashing, meeting new friends and soaking in the glorious sun. Finally, they had had enough and Troy let them return to camp riding in the back of the truck. A childhood norm for us that  brought squeals of delight from Drake and Mia.

Note: Adventure Bound offers many activities that we did not check out. There are: Fun Zone water slide inflatables, catch-and-release trout pond, Candy Bar Bingo, crafts, social events, volleyball, badminton, horseshoes, and so much more. It’s a big campground so they rent golf carts to get around. Midweek golf cart daily rate $45 and weekend daily rate of $75.

After our day of hanging out, it was time to get back out to explore the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We had designated two days to do this which wasn’t much time but we set out in the morning to do our best.

Note: To get to the entrance of the National Park, visitors must drive right through the middle of Gatlinburg. Depending on the time of day, this can be very congested.

Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Since I had studied the park map while relaxing at camp, I knew we should drive directly to Cades Cove (a cove is defined as a relatively flat valley between mountains or ridges) as I heard this area can be congested.  Here, visitors drive along an 11-mile, one-way road that winds through this idyllic setting. If you are lucky, you could see wildlife such as bear, deer or fox.  Armed with our “Cades Cove Tour” brochure (purchased at Cades Cove Orientation Shelter for $1), we set out to explore!

John Oliver’s Place – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Our first stop was John Oliver’s place, a short walk from the road. The house was most likely built around 1826 when John Oliver purchased the land. Today, it still stands strong and gives visitors an idea of what life was like in Cades Cove.

Methodist Church – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Next was a Methodist Church, established in the 1820’s in a log building that was replaced by the current beautiful white church in 1902. There is a cemetery there to check out as well.

Elijah Oliver’s Place – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Further down the road we made a stop at Elijah Oliver’s place (son of John Oliver, whose cabin we saw earlier). This cabin was unique as there was a “stranger room” added to the front porch. This was built so they could accommodate overnight visitors.

We had worked up an appetite so we pulled into the Cable Mill Area of Cades Cove. Besides another Visitor Center, there was a very large grassy area around the parking lot that provides shade so we pulled out our picnic and lawn chairs and enjoyed a well-deserved lunch.

Tip: There are no restaurants in the National Park. Bringing snacks, water and a picnic lunch is essential.

Cable Mill – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Watching the Miller demonstration – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Cantilever barn – Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

After lunch, we took a walk over to the Cable Mill area where historic buildings have been brought together from elsewhere in the park.  Here, visitors can check out the blacksmith shop, a cantilever barn (unique building style of counter-weighted overhanging beams), smokehouse, corn-crib, sorghum mill (used for molasses-making), the Gregg-Cable house and the Cable Mill (which is the only building original to the site). The kids were excited to watch the demonstration to learn how the grist mill is used to crush corn into cornmeal.

There were a few other stops along the Cades Cove route, but we decided to skip them. We were slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see any of the ample wildlife that make this area home. We heard early morning and evening are great times to see wildlife.  That may be a good reason to look into camping within the National Park the next time we visit.

We had heard a rumor from some folks that there was an awesome waterfall hike that was off the beaten path called Spruce Flats Falls. After inquiring more about it, we were told that the trail-head was just outside the Great Smoky Mountains Institute of Tremont. What a valuable tip!

Interesting feature of the Spruce Flats Falls trail, Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

The 2-mile round-trip trail is considered moderate in difficulty. The final section that descends to the falls was very rocky and there were exposed tree roots. It is because of this section that I wouldn’t recommend this hike if you have little ones.

Spruce Flats Falls – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

At the top of the trail before descending, you get this beautiful view of the falls. The main section of the falls is about 30 feet in height, then the water cascades over a smaller drop that lands in a plunge pool.

Cooling off under Spruce Flats Falls, Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

When we reached the falls, there was only one other family  there.  We had the falls pretty much to ourselves!  The kids and I scrambled over the rocks to the base of the falls. Here were little pools where we found tiny fish. Soon, the kids got bolder and before you know it, they were dunking their heads into the cascade. It was quite warm that day and the cool mountain water was a definite refresher! This was truly a highlight of our time in the park.  In my estimation, enjoying a waterfall without the crowds is a  rare thing indeed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Another  “must-see” on our list was Clingman’s Dome. Even though we arrived mid-morning on a weekday, the large parking lot was packed with no open spaces as far as the eye could see.

Again, Troy let us out while he dealt with the hordes of people vying for a parking spot. While we waited, the kids and I enjoyed the small Visitor Center and store. They even talked me into purchasing the National Park version of Monopoly!

The trail to Clingman’s Dome – Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower – Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

Finally, Troy joined us and we headed up the steep, one-half mile paved trail to Clingman’s Dome. Standing at 6,643 feet, this is the highest point not only in the National Park, but also in Tennessee. (It also ranks as the second highest point east of the Mississippi).  Along the trail there were beautiful vistas and wildflowers that made the trek a little easier. When we rounded that last bend and saw the observation tower, we forgot about the steep hike and bounded up the ramp. The views from here are spectacular! It is said that on clear days, views expand over 100 miles into seven states. We were not that lucky, but the views we had were perfect to us.  There was a welcomed cool breeze here that to me, held a hint of the fall season to come.

Glorious Views – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Note: The road to Clingman’s Dome is closed from December 1st to April 1st.

We hadn’t packed a picnic on this day, so we headed out of the park to the town of Cherokee, located at the Southern border of the park within the Cherokee Indian Reservation. We didn’t immediately see many places to eat so we settled for fast food which was enough to stop the tummy rumbles.

Note: Cherokee, NC can be a destination in and of itself. There are many campgrounds including the Cherokee KOA. There is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Oconaluftee Indian Village to learn more about the native people. Tubing seemed really popular as we saw many happy people floating down the river. Definitely on our list of places to return to and explore.

After lunch, we headed back into the park. The sky was heavy with clouds and by the time we parked and got inside the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the rain was coming down in sheets.  I sent Drake and Mia over to the Information Desk to find out if there were any ranger-led programs that they could attend (the last thing they needed to complete Junior Rangers).  They were in luck!  Not only was a program starting, but it was for Junior Rangers!  Since there was a little time before the program started, we headed out onto the large covered porch to enjoy the rain.

Blow Dart Demonstration – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

A few minutes later a couple of men dressed in traditional Native American clothing began to set-up something there on the porch. It was targets! Of course we were all intrigued, especially Drake.  Our family was their only audience at the beginning. Soon, more people realized what an opportunity it was to learn about the native people of the area.  The focus of their talk was the tools used to hunt.   There was a blow-dart demonstration and we learned about hunting with bows and arrows.  The guides even gave a lesson on arrow-making.

Junior Ranger swearing- in – Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

By this time, the ranger-led program called “Find your Park” started.  The ranger talked about some of the most popular National Parks and what they are known for.  There was a good-sized group of kids for the program, and most were working on earning their Junior Ranger badges too. After the program, the ranger swore-in all the new Junior Rangers together and the Visitor Center erupted in applause.

Blacksmith Shop – Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

Since the sun had returned, we took a stroll around the Mountain Farm Museum located at the Visitor Center.  This outdoor museum is similar to the Cable Mill area as it showcases farm buildings moved from their original locations within the park to this area.  There is a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse and a working blacksmith shop (closed when we were there, but they do offer a Junior Ranger Blacksmithing demonstration on certain days where kids get to create an item and bring it home. That would have been super fun).

Mingus Mill – Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

Our last stop in the park was only a half-mile from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center; Mingus Mill. This mill, built in 1886, was different from the Cable Mill we saw earlier. This mill uses a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power all of the machinery in the building. Inside, a miller also demonstrates the process of grinding corn and sells the cornmeal on-site. It was a lovely place and we enjoyed a little walk up the stream that powered the mill.

Note: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers many things geared for kids.  Not only do they have the Junior Ranger program, they offer a log book called Scavenger Hike Adventures, 13 hikes especially for families.  This book is full of “clues and hidden wonders” for your family to look for as you walk the trails.  There is another log book called Hike the Smokies – FOR FAMILIES to keep track of miles covered and comes with cool stickers and pins.  All books can be purchased for a nominal fee at the Visitors Centers.

It was time to say good-bye to Great Smoky Mountains! Our next day would be taking us to our new home state, South Carolina.