I had the pleasure of hiking to Gregory’s Bald on Saturday to see the flame azaleas. It was a pleasure to experience the beautiful azaleas but the getting there was honestly a challenge. We hiked the Gregory Ridge Trail. The trailhead is located at the end of Forge Creek Road in Cades Cove. This trail made our hike a tad longer –about a mile – but we didn’t have to go down the one way Parson’s Branch Road that exits on the southwest corner of the park. It really saves on the driving! That extra mile of trail is actually gorgeous. Almost as if God was welcoming us to his home, rhododendron petals were scattered along the trail. It was the warm up to what proved to be a strenuous climb of about 2000 feet over three miles.
As we summited the bald, the green, lush canopy opened into beautiful blue skies. The path was lined with fiery hues of oranges, pinks and reds. Mixed in with the azaleas are blueberry bushes. The bushes produce berries in August. Be careful! Black Bears do love blueberries too. From the bald you can see Fontana Lake in North Carolina, Cades Cove, Rich Mountain, Clingmans Dome and Thunderhead Mountain. Gregory’s Bald offer a full panoramic view of the park.
As we were enjoying our lunch, a deer was nearby nibbling on the grasses on the bald. He did not seem at all surprised to see us! Since this is a popular time of year to visit the bald, there were lots of hikers enjoying their snacks, taking in the expansive views or exploring the bald. Some were even playing frisbee.
The azaleas were just stunning. Everywhere you looked, bright oranges, pinks and reds painted the bald. It really was an impressive display of color! Smoky Mountains Flame Azaleas. The peak of the azaleas is mid to late June. Check out this video of Gregory’s Bald.
Video from the top of Gregorys Bald
I highly recommend time and hiking up to Gregory Bald. A few things to remember: This is a strenuous hike. The elevation change is pretty intense paired with the length. Plan for a solid 8 hours. Be sure to take plenty of water and food. There are no snack bars or gift shops at the top! Please also keep in mind that there are active black bears in the area. Be sure to read up on what to do if you encounter a bear. Below are a few photos. Be sure to check out our pictures of Cades Cove and Gregorys Bald in the Smoky Mountains.
The weather is beautiful, there are pumpkins everywhere and the leaves are changing, it is definitely fall here in the Smokies! According to Tom Harrington of the Great Smoky Mountain Association, the fall colors will be peaking in the next 10 days. If you’re a hiker, there are plenty of great hikes to view the beautiful colors, he suggests, Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald, Mt. Sterling, Ramsey Cascades, Abrams Falls, Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion, Rich Mountain Loop, Clingmans Dome, and Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower, but there are plenty of other great places to hike in the Smokies! If you would rather drive through the fall foliage the Blue Ridge Parkway is perfect for beautiful scenic views from your car!
In the spirit of fall, I’ve put together a list of 20 things to do this fall in the Smokies.
1. Fall Foliage viewing
2. Chimney Tops Trail hike, Located about 7 miles past the Sugarlands Visitor Center onNewfound Gap Road, this 4 mile round trip hike is a very popular attraction in the Smokies. In 2 miles, hikers climb 1,650 feet! A spectacular 360-degree view awaits those who complete this climb!
3. Cades Cove Loop for a scenic drive, some wildlife viewing, hiking and fall foliage viewing.
4. Hayrides in Gatlinburg or Cades Cove
5. Zipline – the new way to view the fall foliage!
6. Downtown Gatlinburg for some saltwater taffy at the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen and some moonshine at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery
7. The Apple Barn Cider Mill & General Store for lunch at the resturant, a visit to the general store, candy factory, cider bar, creamery and winery.
8. Picnic in Cades Cove
9. Haunted Houses – the Ripley’s haunted houses are great, or maybe check out the“Ghostwalk of Gatlinburg”. Instead of the usual haunted houses this is a walking night tour of Gatlinburg’s historic and haunted places. The tour is lead by a local storyteller who tells stories of local legends, history, superstition, folk tales and fiction.
10. Horseback riding – There are about 550 miles of the park’s trails that are open to horses. If you own horses, take advantage of the park’s horse camps. If you wish to rent a horse, horseback riding by the hour is available at five different commercial stables located in the park.
11. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe not the whole 469 miles of the parkway, but just enough to stop at a couple of the stops to take in the beauty of fall in the Great Smoky Mountains.
12. Harvest Festival
13. Smoky Mountain Popcorn Shop in Walden’s Landing try cotton candy, jalapeno, cinnamon toast and root beer flavored popcorn.
14. Clingmans Dome – Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s highest point. It is the highest point in Tennessee, it is half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee. The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap and then walking a steep half-mile trail. A paved trail leads to a 54-foot observation tower.
15. Historic Sites in the Smokies, there are plenty of great historic sites in the Smokies. I’ve always wanted to visit the Rockefeller Monument, there’s a first time for everything!
16. Hike part of the Appalachian Trail, part of the AT crosses Newfound Gap Road and continues down the North Carolina – Tennessee border, maybe knock numbers 16 & 17 out at the same time.
17. Drive Newfound Gap Road, with the 3,000 foot climb it is said that a trip over the gap is like going from Georgia to Maine in terms of foliage and and the variety of the forest ecosystems.
18. Camping in the Smokies. It’s about time to take the last camping trip of the year before it gets too cold.
19. Eat pancakes anytime of day. If you’ve ever been to Pigeon Forge you know there is an abundance of pancake houses. You can have any kind of pancakes you desire, all day, any day.
20. Drive through Pigeon Forge with my PigeonForge.com decal on the back of my car.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy fall is hiking in the Smoky Mountains. There is no better way to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage, cooler weather (less humidity) and the beauty of the mountains and the fall season. Right now there is not much color change in the lower elevations but over the past week we have started to see fall colors in the higher elevations of the Smokies. If you’re interested in taking a hike this weekend or into the first week of October, you should try hiking in the higher elevations. Mt. LeConte is a definite high elevation hike where you could see beautiful fall colors early in the season. You may have to set aside a full day to hike LeConte though, it’s an 11 mile roundtrip hike with a total elevation gain of 2763 feet.
There are plenty of other great hikes this time of year, just make sure you check out what’s going on with the foliage before you start on your hike, it would be no fun to hike LeConte when the colors are peaking in the lower elevations, and you’re hiking out of the colors. Just make sure you’re choosing higher elevations now, and in mid to late October try hiking Gregory Bald or the Sugarland Mountain Trail, which are lower elevation hikes where you will see more color.