The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a bit of a homecoming for me. I walked the length of this park on the Appalachian Trail in 2016 from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap, a distance of 71 miles. Gentle G and I spotted our first black bear here, climbed the highest point on the trail, and experienced the culture shock of Gatlinburg while passing through this way. 3 years ago to the day I wrote a post titled “All Time Best Day of Hiking” about sitting on top of Charlie’s Bunyon, then staring out from Bradley’s View at the Blue Ridge mountains receding row after row to the horizon while listening to the entirety of Lord Huron’s album Strange Trails. I’ve covered a lot of miles since that day, yet it remains one of my favorites, and the Smokies have held a special place in my heart. Returning here made me reminisce about old times, and rejoice in wonder at how much has changed in three years. G was an excellent hiking partner and all, but this time I arrived with my wife.
After months in the desert, the Chihuahua, the Sonoran, the Mojave, and the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau, the most striking thing when we entered the Smokey Mountains was the dense forest, and all the water. We stopped by a brook to stretch our legs and I rubbed the cold mountain water on my neck.
We got to set our tent beside another stream. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: there isn’t much that compares to the sound of water to bring you peace, and for me a smallish stony run of fresh water is just about perfection.
We got to experience more water on the first day, as we took a short walk to a cascade behind the Sugarland Visitor Center and a longer climb up to see Laurel Falls. Kate even stuck her feet into the frigid pool.
Out west the views may be more dramatic, with grand geological features on display, (notice I haven’t said anything about sedimentary rock yet?) but here you can witness Spring quietly making its way up the mountains from the valleys below. It’s as incredible as I remember.