NOTE: The Great Smoky Mountain National Park will be open Wednesday, October 16 through Sunday, October 20 2013.
Did you have a trip planned to Cades Cove, Clingman’s Dome, Abrams Falls, Smokemont, The Roaring Fork Motor Trail, and Treemont? As you know by now, the Smoky Mountain National Park is closed due to the government shut-down. But don’t panic. Your vacation is not ruined.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited unit in the National Park Service, is open and offers some incredible experiences to rival those you had planned. If you are staying in Galtinburg or Pigeon Forge, just come right across Newfound Gap on 441 and you’ll run into the Parkway in Cherokee, NC.
6 Parkway Must-Sees Closest To The Smokies
1. The Elk At Oconaluftee
Did you know that elk have been reintroduced to the region? The elk are abundant around the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (both Smoky Mountain and Parkway Visitor Centers are closed, but you can see them). The elk are usually out early in the morning which makes this a great first stop on your Parkway ride.
2. Waterrock Knob
Waterrock Knob features a panoramic view of not only the Smokies to the southwest, but the many ridgelines of the Nantahala National Forest to the east. (NOTE: A reader pointed out that the entrance to the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center is blocked off, but the overlooks and areas for pull-off from the road side in this vicinity have extraordinary views.)
3. Richland Balsam
Was Clingman’s Dome on your list? Richland Balsam is the highest point on the Parkway and only 600 feet lower than the pinnacle at Clingman’s Dome. (If you’d like to drive a couple hours more, the Parkway skirts the side of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Mount Mitchell has an observation deck similar to Clingman’s Dome.)
4. Graveyard Fields
Graveyard Fields is an extraordinary high mountain valley landscape unlike any other in the region. A visitor confirmed on October 3rd that the trails are open so hiking to both waterfalls is available. The US Forest Service (not the National Park Service) manages the trail system, falls, and camp sites at Graveyard Fields. The facilities at Graveyard Fields are scheduled to undergo renovations starting in November.
5. Looking Glass Falls
We know you’re bummed that you won’t get to go to Abrams, Laurel, or Grotto Falls, but this one may be even better. It was recently voted second favorite waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (It’s actually a couple of miles off the Parkway on Hwy 276, but close enough to count.)
6. Mount Pisgah
While the Visitor Center may be closed, you can still enjoy the views from this unique vantage point. You’ll see why George Vanderbilt constructed his hunting lodge on this mountain and hung out there quite a bit, as a break from his Biltmore castle in Asheville. You might even see a black bear on Mount Pisgah!