August 5, 2023 What a glorious day this will be! We opened up the front windshield shade and saw a blue sky on a sunny day. Looking out the front windshield gives us a nice view of the river.
The orange fencing marks the construction of a future bike trail along the river that will connect to the current trail nearby. That will be nice when it finished. Around 10:00, we left the campground for a drive on the Newfound Gap Road.
It starts at the northern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and runs through the middle of the park ending on the southern edge of the park. The Newfound Gap Road is known as the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains with an elevation of 5,046 ft. and travels directly through the center of the park.
From Pigeon Forge to the Gatlinburg Bypass is 8.2 miles and from Gatlinburg to the town of Cherokee at the southern side of the park is 34 miles. Cherokee lies within the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Land. Great Smoky Mountain National Park occupies the traditional land of the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee would be our lunch destination and our turn-around point. We got on Highway 441 and started our drive toward Gatlinburg. The road would be another fun drive with lots of twists and turns.
It was another two-lane road, but we were able to travel at a faster pace than the Cades Cove Road from yesterday with faster speed limits and less traffic. We took the Gatlinburg Bypass towards the National Park.
They do not have an entrance fee, but have a parking fee of $5/day or $15/week instead and you only need to use a parking pass if you park in one place for more than 15 minutes. We entered the park and started our climb, but never had to buy a parking pass.
Like I said, it was a gorgeous day and visibility was at least 10 miles.
There were some hairpin turns and “loop-de-loops” in the road.
There were lots of areas to pull off and catch a fabulous view.
The sun was shining on areas of the mountains so we were able to see more of their distinct features.
Traffic wasn’t too bad for a Saturday. We passed through our first tunnel and Bob beeped the horn. (My dad used to beep the horn when he went through a tunnel and it would always make us laugh.) It was a long tunnel!
Soon after that we came to our second tunnel. Beep, beep!
The road followed the Little Pigeon River and the Oconaluftee River which cascades down and crisscrosses the road for 10 miles to the town of Cherokee. With all the rain, it was moving swiftly with lots of rocks and boulders lodged in the river bed to form many rapids and cascades along the way.
Sometimes the road was carved through the rocks.
Sometimes the sides of the road were totally covered in vines overtaking the trees and anything else in its path creating a blanket of green.
One of the overlooks gave us a great view of one of the few exposed rocky areas on the mountains called Chimney Tops.
We came upon our third tunnel. Beep, beep!
The Ben Morton Overlook was fantastic with a clear view of the “gap” stretching for miles.
We finally reached the highest point–Newfound Gap Overlook.
These 9 bikers had been following us closely for miles and they were making us nervous being that close. I could see them in the rear view mirror. They finally pulled off at the Overlook and we continued on. We would stop at the Gap Overlook on our way back.
Further down the road, we pulled off to check out the view. This map shows where we were. I just love the different shades of blues in the mountains.
From Newfound Gap, we slowly made our way down the other side toward Cherokee. In the park, the temperature was a pleasant 80 degrees and the shade along the drive made it seem even more refreshing.
The Blue Ridge Parkway comes into the park just north of Cherokee and at the southern edge of the park.
We pulled into the town of Cherokee around 11:30.
I had done some research about places to eat in Cherokee and came upon Paul’s Family Restaurant. What caught my eye on their online menu and roadside sign was their Indian Tacos on fry bread. They advertised that it was “Indian owned” so hopefully their Indian tacos would likely be “authentic”.
We found it in town and went in. We got a table on the outdoor deck.
They had a lot of interesting items on their menu.
That Buffalo Ribeye caught our attention, but we ordered the Indian tacos.
While we were waiting, we could watch the road and see many motorcycles come through town from the direction of the Tail of the Dragon road that I mentioned yesterday. Then these 3 vehicles, called Sand Rails, arrived. They are built to run on sand dunes, but these particular ones had road tires.
Bob spent some time talking to the drivers. They told him that they buy the frame and build everything else themselves. It cost $11,000 to build that white one. They were also returning from driving on the Tail of the Dragon road today. Bob found out that some of them were staying in Pigeon Forge at the Mountain View Motel with many other owners. They were having some kind of rally for the Sand Rail owners in Pigeon Forge. We’ll have to check it out! Our tacos were very slow in coming, but definitely worth the wait.
On previous trips that we’ve taken over the years, we have tried to find Indian tacos after we had our very first one in South Dakota and found it to be so delicious. We had another in Garryowen, Montana across from the Little Bighorn National Battlefield, and one in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is hard to find an authentic Indian taco with their delicious fry bread, but we’ve searched them out in certain areas of the country and have enjoyed them. After lunch, we walked across the road to the river where we saw this sign.
It was a reminder of where we were. It would have been interesting to really see one of those Eastern Hellbenders (salamanders) mentioned on the sign. We could see this fly fisherman fishing downstream from where we were.
Leaving Cherokee, we noticed some of the Native American establishments in town.
From there, we drove back into the park and started our drive back.
Outside of town we noticed this sign. The sign warned people to stay out of the field if elk are present. That would have been so cool to see one, but no such luck today.
We stopped at the river crossing to the Kephart Prong Trail. We got a beautiful view of the river in both directions from the bridge. I just love a mountain river!
We enjoyed the drive back to the top of Newfound Gap Overlook.
The parking lot was busy and there were lots of people, but we found a parking spot right away.
From the Overlook, we could see the road we had traveled on through the Gap. It was a breath-taking view!
In the parking lot, there was a sign marking the North Carolina/Tennessee state line. You could put one foot in NC and the other in TN.
The Appalachian Trail goes right through the Gap and there was a sign marking the trail. The trail goes across the parking lot and connects to the other part of the trail. There were a lot of people walking on the trail to say they’ve actually walked on part of the Appalachian Trail.
We found a nice person to take our picture at the Gap. We don’t have many pictures taken of us together on trips, but this is one of them.
I climbed up this rock overlook to see the view from there. It was fabulous!
From there, we continued our drive back through the 4 tunnels to the final overlook.
From the last overlook, we got a birds-eye-view of the town of Galinburg at the foot of the mountains.
We arrived back in Pigeon Forge around 1:30. On our drive today through the park, we passed 41 Jeeps that we gave the “Jeep wave” to. (That doesn’t count the Jeeps parked along the side of the road or in the parking lots.)
We wanted to see if we could find the motel where all the Sand Rails were staying in Pigeon Forge. We found it on the main street we took back into town. We pulled in and found quite a few of them in the parking lot there.
That part of Pigeon Forge was crazy busy with all kinds of attractions –anything you can think of, and people everywhere!
We drove back to the campground in the quieter part of town. Auggie and I hung out in the shade for awhile watching this family float down the river past our campsite. With the river close by, many people take advantage of floating in the river on a hot day.
The temperature reached 94 degrees and we went inside in the AC. We watched a movie inside waiting for it to cool off a little and had the rest of our Indian tacos for dinner. The campground emptied out a little this morning and a few more arrived in the afternoon. After dinner, we took our walk as it cooled off with the sun going down. We’ve had a great two days spent in the Smoky Mountains, but tomorrow they are calling for a bigger chance of rain, so we’ll adjust our plans accordingly.