After driving from Nashville to Gatlinburg we were amazed at the amount of hotels, neon signs, carnival rides and other tourist traps that lined the road. We had heard that Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were commercialized but we had no idea how bad it really was. With places like Dollywood paving the way, we kept on driving until we found ourselves surrounded by the beautiful outdoors we had come here to see:
With temperatures in the 30’s we had to drop all the water out of our van to prevent our pipes from freezing. On top of that, we had to go to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to see what hikes we could complete without the use of clampons and an ice axe (winter hiking tips here).
With 1 day to explore, we originally had our hearts set on the epic Mount Cammerer hike but we would have to risk turning back around before reaching the summit because of the over abundance of snow and ice. After speaking with a few different rangers, we settled on two solid trails that would be sure to deliver, Clingman’s Dome and Charlies Bunion. Note: The road to Clingman’s Dome is closed from December 1st – March 31st, but we got lucky and they opened the road 3 days early on the morning we arrived!
At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest point in Tennessee, the highest point along the Appalachian Trail and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi…! From the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, the trail is a steep, paved .5 mile incline, but just about anyone can do it, even with the added challenge of snow and ice!
After working up our appetites, we shared a picnic and headed towards the Newfound Gap parking lot, also the location of the Charlies Bunion trailhead.
The ranger who told us about this hike informed us that we would need to follow signs for the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail, until we reached signs for the Icewater Spring Shelter. It wasn’t until 300 feet before reaching our destination that we finally saw a sign for Charlies Bunion.
Characterized by its large boulder-like protrusion, which you can see in the photo above, the mountain is a rare instance of a bare-rock summit in the Smokies. As we admired the only bunion one could call beautiful, we rested our legs, felt the cool breeze on our faces, took in the fresh air and gave gratitude for all of the beauty that had filled our 1 day in the Great Smokies.