I had visited most of the parks in the western US by the time I was 26, but I had traveled through only sections of the eastern United States even into my early 40s. I had long been curious about visiting The Great Smoky Mountains since it was a large park with the highest biodiversity in the United States and it would include a mixture of historic sites and mist-covered trails and mountains.
In 2020 we had spent most of the year either home or on 3 or 4 day getaways but as the year went along we decided we could take a bit more time and fly out to some places we had never been before. So in October, at the height of fall colors, we traveled out to the Carolinas and Tennessee and spent a couple days in the Smokies.
The Smokies are the most visited park in the US and this is even more so in the fall owing to the spectacular fall colors. But it does detract from the experience and require a lot of forethought about what you can and cannot do in a reasonable time. We made it to Clingman’s Dome on arrival as sunset approached, and then found ourselves enmeshed in tourist trap hell (Gatlinburg). The next day my son and I left very early to find parking at the trailhead to Alum Cave Bluff which we hiked and again the scenery was excellent, but on return we were again feeling trapped in Gatlinburg’s crush of people.
In the late afternoon I drove the Roaring Fork road and enjoyed both the black bears and cabins left by former homesteaders. I would have liked to have seen Cade’s Cove but the lines of traffic made it impossible to even consider. I have been to Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon in the height of tourist season, but those parks didn’t feel anywhere close to as busy as the Smokies.
Overall this is one park that desperately needs to start charging admission. It’s almost amazing that a park with very beautiful scenery and freely roaming wildlife could handle the hoards of people but it somehow does.
Having arrived in fall with bright oranges, reds, and yellows vibrant in every direction I decided I would paint the Smokies in the height of fall. I saw three black bears in a matter of two days and wild turkeys along the roadside. Finally, unlike many parks which feature almost exclusively natural features, the many cabins were a unique aspect of the park that I decided to include in the painting.