Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Mountains, Rivers and Pow-Wows – How We Spent Our Time in Cherokee, NC

This year was the National Parks Service 100th Birthday and we certainly wanted to make sure we checked out a few more National Parks the year of their 100th Birthday. Last year we were so fortunate to visit several National Parks, read about our adventures in Yellowstone National Park here, our stay at the Grand Canyon here and our visit to Mount Rushmore here, to mention a few. Am I name dropping, but with National Parks. đŸ™‚ We may not have hit the lotto, but we did buy a camper (which allows all four us to comfortably go on these trips) and that’s pretty close, we think anyways.

This summer (2016) we took a two week trip that brought us to Greenville, South Carolina, Cherokee, North Carolina to visit the Smoky Mountains and Myrtle Beach to visit the Beach.

The Great Smoky Mountains (for those that don’t know) are a mountain range along the Tennessee – North Carolina Border in the Southeastern United States. The range is sometimes called the Smokey Mountains or even shorter the Smokies. This park was established in 1934, and, with over 9 million visits per year, it is the most-visited National Park in the United States. We were happy to be one of them this year. We were lucky that some of our visit was during the work week because boy does it get busy on the weekends.
From Wikipedia: The name “Smoky” comes from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance. This fog is caused by the vegetation exhaling volatile organic compounds, chemicals that have a high vapor pressure and easily form vapors at normal temperature and pressure.
It is pretty neat how there does indeed on a clear sunny day seem to be a fog or a smoke coming from the mountains.

Here’s what we did, while staying in Cherokee, NC and visiting The Great Smoky Mountains:
Visit the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. We checked in here, got some good information about the Smoky Mountains, they have a small little “museum” and a great gift shop. [the visitor center from our campground, was only about 15 minutes away]

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We Climbed/Hiked… crawled up… Clingmans Dome [from our campsite Clingmans Dome was around an hour drive into the park]
A little more about Clingmans Dome, from Wikipedia: Clingmans Dome (or Clingman’s Dome) is a mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, in the southeastern United States. At an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 m), it is the highest mountain in the Smokies, the highest point in the state of Tennessee, and the highest point along the 2,174-mile (3,499 km) Appalachian Trail. It is also the third highest point in all of Eastern North America. Don’t we feel very accomplished right now. đŸ™‚
If you go to the Smoky Mountains this is a MUST do to put on your list! No excuses. You’re in the Smoky Mountains this is a well organized, easy, yet very steep, hike/climb/walk to do and the views that you see when you get the top make it all worth it. And it’s much faster going down.
We had to take a few breaks, and that’s fine. There are benches to sit on along the way up. I enticed Liam to do the climb with us by telling him we were looking for a spaceship and the observation deck at the top of Clingmans Dome does kind of look like a spaceship to us. Just a way to keep the little guy motivated and something to talk about.
Here’s some more pictures from Clingmans Dome:

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We hiked to Mingo Falls (this is the #2 thing to do in Cherokee, NC – who knew.) I write about this in our Campground Review of Yogi in the Smokies Camp Jellystone, they have access to a trail from the campground that takes you to Mingo Falls.

We visited the Cherokee Visitor’s Center (hey they had Wi-Fi) Here’s where we found out the events that were coming up that holiday weekend, like the Pow Wow for example and got some recommendations on where to eat in the area.

We attended our first Pow Wow, which was awesome. Every 4th of July the Cherokee Nation hosts a Pow Wow at the Acquoni Expo Center and that evening of the 4th they have fireworks. (This is a ticketed event, but it was not expensive, well worth it.) It was great to learn a bit more about the Cherokee Nation of Indians, learn what a Pow Wow actually is and see all the beautiful outfits the Indians were wearing.
Here are a few more pictures from the Pow Wow:

Took a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Did some hiking and tubing.

Spotted a lot Bear Statues around town. The Bear Project started in 2005 and like in many cities in America, that have their own “animal” statues [Miami had flamingos, Dunedin has dolphins, Boston had cows] you can spot beautifully painted bears all over Cherokee.

We took two day trips while we were up there, one was to Bryson City, NC and the other was to Gatlinburg, TN.

Bryson City, NC is about 45 minutes from Cherokee, NC and a nice drive to it. We went for lunch and to do some sightseeing. We ate at Anthony’s Italian Restaurant and had Pizza, it’s was really good and the service was excellent. Since it was 4th of July weekend there was a street festival going on, with local artists and food vendors, in their downtown area. We walked around that for a bit before heading back to the campground.

We also took a day trip to Gatlinburg, TN and wow is that something else. Gatlinburg is on the other side of the Smoky Mountains National Park from Cherokee, NC about an hour 1/2 drive from Cherokee and it sure has a lot going on. Tons of Restaurants, Tons of things to do, Tons of People. Cherokee is a sleepy little town compared to Gatlinburg. It was a fun visit and very touristy.
We ate at Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que for lunch, which was a recommendation of places to eat from our favorite podcasters book RVFTA’s Idiot’s Guide to RV Vacations and shall I say it was nothing short of AWESOME. My mouth is watering just thinking about that delicious meal. We had the Brisket Stuff Mushrooms and shared the Ultimate Super Duper Brisket Burger and they were both YUMMOO.

Things we would do next time, when Liam is older:
Museum of the Cherokee Indian – I’m sure this is an awesome museum and we would love to go thru it sometime, but we knew if we went this time we’d be just running thru it and not be able to read everything we wanted and it costs $20 a person to get it, so we had to leave that till next time.
and we would check out Harrah’s Casino, just to see it.
Side Note: Harrahs Casino in Cherokee, NC has RV Parking and you can stay for one overnight stay for free. How do I know this? Because I have the awesome ALLSTAYS Camp and RV App, it’s a great resource while on the road or planning a camping trip.
Here’s some pictures from outside the Museum of Cherokee Indian:

Where we ate: (worth sharing)
Granny’s Kitchen Restaurant: The food was good, the service was friendly, it was clean and we had cell phone reception.

Where we camped:
Yogi in the Smokies – Yogi Bear’s Camp Jellystone, Cherokee, NC. You can read all about that here.

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That’s a wrap on a great trip the Great Smoky Mountains. I hope you enjoyed the blog post, so have you climbed Clingmans Dome… and lived to tell about it? đŸ˜‰

Oh and one other picture, this was Liam watching the Pow Wow, what do you think? Did he like it?
I would say so, he was pretty into it. What a joy.

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