Tennessee Smokies on My Mind – A Photo Essay

Every April I like to make a two-day trip to the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I usually stay overnight at the Cades Cove Campground. It is a glorious time in the Smokies. The spring ephemeral wildflowers are busting out all over. The weather is warming and the days are getting longer. The rivers, creeks and streams are usually full of cool, refreshing water that comes from the snow melt high above. And so it was that I loaded up my Subaru to head to the Tennessee Smokies on April 13th. I just forgot to consider one thing. SPRING BREAK!

I could tell things were a little amiss at my first stop, the Laurel Falls trailhead. Sure, this is always one of the most popular points of interest in all of the national park. But at 9:30 on a Thursday the parking was already overflowing. That was the first tip off. On my 45 minute walk to Laurel Falls and back, there were at least a hundred others with the same idea.

My next clue came after that hike as I continued driving along Little River Road. As I approached Elkmont Campground, the sign that alerts you to “CAMPGROUND FULL” was shouting at me as I drove past. Hmmm. I had planned for my next stop to be the Chestnut Tops Trail, but maybe I should head straight to the Cades Cove Campground to see what the status was there. When I arrived at about 12:15 the friendly ranger told me the bad news. CAMPGROUND FULL! Oh No. What to do?

Well, my decision was to cram two days into one. So I spent the rest of the day (1) driving around the Cades Cove Loop Road, (2) playing with the wildflowers on Laurel Creek Road and Little River Road, (3) hiking about 3 miles of the Chestnut Top Trail, (4) stopping to visit The Sinks, (5) viewing the wonderful wildflower garden at Chimney Tops Picnic Area, (6) surveying the fire damage to the slopes of Mt. LeConte and Chimney Tops, (7) enjoying the climb back up to Newfound Gap, and (8) returning to my home in North Carolina.

The only thing on my original plan that I didn’t accomplish was a hike to Abrams Falls at the west end of Cades Cove. That is now safely stowed on the list of adventures for my next trip.

Following is a pictorial essay of my day spent on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below the gallery. Thanks for visiting!



This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.


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  1. Robyn Lay

    Thank you for sharing your amazing pictures and adventures Jeff! I can’t believe how many trillium you encountered already bloomed out! We are just seeing them begin on the trails we ride. Loved all the wildflowers. We just rode a new trail this past weekend as well. Dark Hollow in Unicoi leaving from the Limestone Cove parking area. It was a nice trail though it is open to mountain bikes and parts are open to ATV. Still a nice trail overall.

  2. Tim Truemper

    Jeff, you got my hiking juices flowing with this photo essay. Your macro shots of the flowers were magnificent. Sorry you did not get to stay overnight but glad you were able to enjoy a special day out. Been doing some walks here in the Piedmont- nice but they do not compare. As always, much thanks for your inspiring site.

  3. Thanks for the kind words folks.

  4. Rose Blackwell

    Jeff thank you for the beautiful pictures . We are so lucky to live in the Smokies !

  5. Kristina Plaas

    Completely beautiful, Jeff. You just made my morning!

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