REI is Offering an Extra 35% off on Closeouts

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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With spring hiking season already in full gear, and summer just around the corner, you may be finding yourself in need of some new gear. If money's a little tight, you may want to check-out REI's current sale.

Starting today REI will be offering an extra 35% off The North Face, ALPS, and Mountain Hardwear closeouts on REI-OUTLET. The outdoor gear retailer has over 300 styles from these top brands, including jackets, packs, hoodies, sleeping bags, tents, sleeping pads and more. This sale only lasts 3 days (from 4/30 thru 5/2/14).

For more information simply click on the graphic Ad:

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NC recreation and park planners seek public input for five-year plan

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North Carolinians place a high value on outdoor recreation places and activities, and view these resources as important components of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy community. The N.C Division of Parks and Recreation invites the public to participate in a survey designed to assess the state’s outdoor recreation preferences, needs and priorities.

The survey is one component of the 2014-18 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which is updated every five years to provide guidance for North Carolina’s recreation future. It also maintains the state’s eligibility for federal funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) administered by the National Park Service. The survey is available online through today at the division’s website.

”The results of the survey will allow the state to balance the outdoor recreation demands of its people with its mission to protect and restore natural resources,” said Carol Tingley, acting division director. “The information collected will make the state’s decision-making process more accurate and responsive to public need for the next five years.”

LWCF grants provide matching assistance to state and local agencies to acquire new land for outdoor recreation and develop or renovate recreation facilities. Since 1967, the State of North Carolina and its local governments have received more than $80 million in LWCF grants. In recent years, LWCF grants have been awarded for land acquisition for Chimney Rock State Park in Rutherford County, Carver’s Creek State Park in Cumberland County and Yellow Mountain State Natural Area in Avery County. The city of Wilson received a LWCF grant to build youth baseball fields, a walking trail, shuffleboard and bocce courts at Burt Gillette Athletic Complex, and the town of Morrisville received a grant to build tennis courts, a cricket field, picnic shelter and playground at the RTP Park.

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Frazil Ice in Yosemite National Park

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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The last gasps of winter in the Yosemite Valley....

Check out this amazing video showing the "giant slurpee" that forms when "frazil ice" collects on Yosemite Falls, and flows down Yosemite Creek each spring like a lava flow.

As you might expect, the scenery in this film is quite awesome:

My wife and I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time this past fall. We did quite a bit of hiking while we were out there, and have posted several hike reports and photos on our new Discover the West website.

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Firefly Viewing Scheduled for June 4-11

Monday, April 28, 2014

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced the Elkmont Firefly Viewing event in the park will take place from Wednesday, June 4 through Wednesday, June 11. For this year's viewing event, the on-line ticketing system, operated through, will again provide visitors with parking passes to guarantee they will be able to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center without the inconvenience of having to arrive hours in advance.

Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus; a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Access to the viewing area is provided by shuttle from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. A parking pass will be required for all vehicles wishing to attend the event.

The pass will cover a maximum of 6 persons in a single passenger vehicle (less than 19 feet in length). Four passes for oversize vehicles, like a mini bus (19 to 30 feet in length and up to 24 persons), will also be available. Each reservation will cost $1.50. Parking passes will be non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season. Each reservation through will receive an e-mailed confirmation and specific information about the event.

The number of passes issued for each day will be based on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity. Passes will be issued with staggered arrival times in order to relieve congestion in the parking lot and for boarding the shuttles.

The shuttle buses, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg, will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7:00 p.m. The cost will be $1 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle.

The shuttle service will be the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors will not be allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.

The parking passes for this year's event will be on sale on-line beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday April 30th. The park will hold back 85 passes for each day to accommodate individuals who did not learn of the need to pre-purchase tickets. The 85 passes will go on sale on-line at 10:00 a.m. the day before the event and will be available until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the event or until the passes are all reserved. Passes can be purchased at Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials strongly encourage the use of the on-line process, because it provides far more information to visitors about what to expect when they arrive at the park and because the process is faster and visitors are more likely to get a pass. The $1.50 reservation fee covers the cost of processing the requests for the passes. The park will not receive any revenue either from the reservations or the shuttle tickets.

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A Short Walk to the Edge of Life

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Over the weekend I finished reading another compelling story of survival, this one fraught with hard lessons every adventurer should learn. Called A Short Walk to the Edge of Life: How My Simple Adventure Became a Dance with Death and Taught Me What Really Matters, it's the first full length book written by Scott Hubbartt, a retired combat veteran and Air Force Chief Master Sergeant. Hubbartt is also an historian, having earned an M.A. in History, with a post-graduate certificate in Latin American Studies. While in the Air Force he meet his wife, Carolina, who happens to be a native of Peru. This background would eventually lead to Scott's five-day "dance with death".

After retiring from the Air Force in 2004, Mr. Hubbartt was now free to spend more time traveling around the world, especially to Peru where he paid visits to his wife's family. As an historian he became quite interested in learning the fate of an old gold mine that was owned by Carolina's grandfather in the 1930s. The mine was located on the isolated Puna, the high plateau grassland region of the central Andes Mountains of Peru. So, with a bit of wanderlust and adventure, Hubbartt set-off on what he thought would be an 8-hour trek from the small mountain town of Chepen de Salpo. From there he intended to descend through steep canyons to a village called Poroto, where he hoped to find some clues as to the whereabouts of the old gold mine.

However, as you might guess from the title of the book, things didn't go quite as planned. As he laid there on the desert floor - exhausted, hungry and completely dehydrated, on perhaps the final night of life - Hubbartt summed it up fairly succinctly when he stated:
"I knew I had miserably messed up and was a victim of my own undoing. Pride, arrogance, and overconfidence were leading to my demise"
The story, and the trajectory of his life, however, took a sharp turn when the author received a strange vision from his deceased brother. Did this, and another unexplainable physical miracle, actually save his life?

I thought A Short Walk to the Edge of Life was a great read. Hubbartt does a great job of moving the story forward, while keeping you eager to turn the next page. My only complaint with the book was with the maps he published. Just as the author was confused with his compass readings, I was confused with the maps that showed his location each day. I think some basic contour lines with elevation readings, as well as distance figures, would've been very helpful to the reader. But this is just nitpicking, and shouldn't prevent you from reading an otherwise great story.

The book is scheduled to be released next week, but you can pre-order it on Amazon right now. You can click here for more information.

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Bear Warning Issued for Black Balsam and Shining Rock Wilderness Areas

Saturday, April 26, 2014

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The U.S. Forest is warning visitors in the Black Balsam and Shining Rock Wilderness areas of the Pisgah National Forest, to be on the lookout for black bears and “Be Bear Aware.”

The warning comes after recent bear encounters have been reported in both the Black Balsam and Shining Rock Wilderness areas, north of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County. There were no injuries.

The bears have successfully obtained food from visitors. This time of the year black bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips. Regulations to require users to use bear-proof food canisters or bags are being considered. While black bear attacks on people are rare, such attacks have resulted in human fatalities.

Visitors are encouraged to prevent bear interactions by practicing the following safety tips:

* Do not store food in tents
* Properly store food by using a bear-proof container and properly hanging it in a tree
* Clean up food or garbage around fire rings, grills, or other areas of your campsite
* Do not leave food unattended

For more tips, visit, click on “Learn about Bear Safety.”

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Big South Fork to Conduct Guided Hikes

Friday, April 25, 2014

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The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will be conducting a series of wildflower and birding guided walks as part of the McCreary County, Kentucky, Tourism Commission's Wildflower Discovery Weekend. A number of state and federal agencies as well as volunteers will be working with the McCreary County Tourism Commission to provide a series of talks and walks around the county on Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3. Pre-registration is required and group size is limited.

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the Daniel Boone National Forest will be conducting wildflower walks at Yahoo Falls on Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3. Walks are scheduled from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on both days. The hikes will begin at the Yahoo Falls Picnic Area. The Yahoo Falls area provides a stunning variety of spring flowers on a short, moderate hiking trail. In addition to wildflowers, spectacular scenery is provided by 113 foot tall Yahoo Falls, towering sandstone cliffs, a huge rock shelter, and an outstanding overlook of the Big South Fork River. These walks will be conducted by National Park Service Ranger Howard Duncan and U. S. Forest Service Ranger Laurie Smith. The Yahoo Falls area is accessed from Highway 700, west of Whitley City, Kentucky.

National Park Service volunteer Chuck Nicholson will be conducting a birding walk on Friday, May 2, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the Big South Fork at the Blue Heron Mining Community. Dr. Nicholson is an environmental scientist with the Tennessee Valley Authority and past president of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. Take this opportunity to share in his abundant knowledge of the rich and diverse bird population in the Big South Fork. Blue Heron is accessed by following signs from U.S. 27 to Hwy. 92 west and then turning on 1651 south. Watch for signs to Blue Heron. Turn onto Hwy. 742 (Mine 18 Road) which ends at the Blue Heron Mining Community.

National Park Service Ranger Dave Carney will lead a hike at the Blue Heron Mining Community on Saturday, May 3, entitled "Myth, Magic and Medicine". The walk will begin at 1:00 p.m. and continue until 4:00 p.m. and will meet at the Blue Heron Mining Community. This easy walk will explore the diverse plant community along the banks of the Big South Fork River. It is an excellent opportunity to learn about the folklore surrounding local plants and the many ways that people in earlier times utilized plants for food and medicine. Blue Heron is accessed by following signs from U.S. 27 to Hwy. 92 west and then turning on 1651 south. Watch for signs to Blue Heron. Turn onto Mine 18 Road (Hwy. 742) which ends at the Blue Heron Mining Community.

For further information about the Wildflower Discovery Weekend, contact Tara Chaney of the McCreary County Tourism Commission at (606) 376-3008 or visit the website at To see the complete schedule of talks and hikes and to register for the events go to:

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Appalachian Trail Conservancy Launches 'Zoom in to the Appalachian Trail' Photo Contest

Thursday, April 24, 2014

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The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is now accepting submissions for its “Zoom in to the Appalachian Trail” photo contest, a nationwide search for the best photos featuring close-up shots of the details that make up the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

The photo contest asks participants to recognize that the A.T. is not only a footpath, but is also home to a vast array of wildlife and vegetation, scenery, unique people and special Trail communities. Contestants will submit a photograph of a favorite feature along the Trail. Photos may include people, places, scenery or more.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited to see the outdoor community’s appreciation of the Appalachian Trail displayed artistically,” said Javier Folgar, the ATC’s director of marketing and communications. “We hope that each photo will bring to light the special connections people have with the Trail.”

The top three photographers will each win a one-year membership to the ATC and will be featured in A.T. Journeys, the official magazine of the ATC. The grand prize winner will also win a custom ATC-themed hammock, courtesy of ENO™.

Photo submissions will be accepted through Tuesday, June 3, and can be uploaded via the ATC’s Facebook page, The public will then vote for their favorite photos through Sunday, July 13. Winners will be announced the week of July 14.

For a complete list of submission guidelines, rules and regulations, or to enter, visit

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Last week I mentioned a couple of times that Kathy and I spent a few days hiking in the Smokies recently. As a result of that visit, we have just added several new hikes to the website. Almost all of which are on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. Here's what's new:

* Mingus Creek Trail: There's still more exploring to do in this area after visiting the historic Mingus Mill.

* Chasteen Creek Cascades: Nice cascading waterfall - with lots of spring wildflowers along the way.

* Balsam High Top: There were fewer level spots on this hike than people. And we didn't see anyone else....

* Goldmine Loop: My first visit to the "Road to Nowhere!" Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with an excellent stout from the Nantahala Brewing Company.

We also updated a few hiker favorites with new photos and updated descriptions. These include Andrews Bald, Chimney Top Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.

Hopefully you'll find this information useful as you explore the many trails of the Great Smoky Mountains.

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Canoeist Breaks 20-Year-Old Record for Highest Waterfall Drop

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

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Last fall, Jim Coffey from Canada paddled over the 60-foot La Cascada de Truchas on the Alseseca River in Mexico. In doing so, he broke a record for the highest waterfall drop in a canoe that had stood for almost 20 years.

The previous record was held by Steve Frazier when he went over the 55-foot Compression Falls on the Elk River in Tennessee in 1994.

Although Coffey broke the record last fall, this video showing his amazing feat was only published two weeks ago:

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Bicyclist on Blue Ridge Parkway Killed by Deer

Monday, April 21, 2014

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The NPS Morning Report is reporting this morning that a cyclist was killed by a deer on the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the evening of April 2nd, a 52-year-old man was bicycling on the Parkway in the area of Milepost 64 (just northwest of Lynchburg, VA) when he was struck by a deer.

The bicycle was traveling at approximately 25 miles per hour when the deer collided with the rider’s right side, causing him to lose control of his bicycle. The cyclist, who was wearing a helmet, hit the roadway with his head, resulting in severe head and neck trauma.

EMS was provided on scene by Big Island Rescue and the cyclist was evacuated by helicopter to Lynchburg General Hospital. He remained in critical condition there until succumbing to his injuries on Sunday, April 13th. According to his obituary it was his first ride of the season.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation Seeks Support for Graveyard Fields Improvements

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Last week the Blue Ridge Parkway announced that work will soon begin on the final portion of the Graveyard Fields improvement project. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has been raising funds for this project for the past two years and seeks the support of local businesses and individuals to raise the remaining $50,000.

This project includes multiple enhancements to the Graveyard Fields area, some of which began this fall. In November, crews from the US Forest Service completed several areas of trail enhancements to both protect the environment and provide a safer resource for all visitors. The upcoming construction will provide additional enhancements to the area by doubling the parking capacity and constructing an ADA compliant restroom facility. This comfort station is part of the Park’s efforts to ‘green the Parkway’ and is designed to reduce waste and capture rainwater for cleaning purposes. This project will also include the installation of a new trail map at trailhead and four additional interpretive signs on the Loop Trail. All projects are intended to enhance visitor safety and protect the environment while ensuring visitors have an enjoyable experience.

“The Graveyard Fields Area is a significant recreational resource on the Parkway’s southern corridor, and we are thankful to the Foundation for securing a National Scenic Byways Grant to begin the work and for cultivating the interest of both visitors and neighbors to raise the funds to complete the project,” said Mark Woods, Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Foundation, adds, “We deeply appreciate all of those in our Community of Stewards – now over 100 businesses, individuals and families – who have shown their love for Graveyard Fields by contributing to these efforts. Anyone who loves this treasure is invited to help improve it by joining our Community of Stewards today.”

To learn more about how to support this project, visit or call 866-308-2773 x177.

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Annual Music of the Mountains Festival Scheduled

Friday, April 18, 2014

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park will hold its 10th annual Music of the Mountains celebration Friday, April 25 through Sunday, April 27. This event now spans an entire weekend, with performances of traditional music in neighboring communities, including an entire day of free music at the Sugarlands Visitor Center on April 26th.

The three-day event begins with a concert of Celtic music by The Good Thymes Ceilidh Band on Friday at 7:00 the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend, Tennessee. General admission is $5. Music of the Mountains continues on Saturday with a series of free performances of old-time mountain music at the park's Sugarlands Visitor Center. Programs are planned from 10:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. The park will welcome back the world famous Roan Mountain Hilltoppers – a family that has been playing traditional music for generations. The band will play two sets at 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.

New this year, in celebration of National Junior Ranger Day, Music of the Mountains will present a special Junior Ranger Program led by Boogertown Gap at 1:00 the Sugarlands Training Room. Kids will learn how to play the spoons and the washtub bass.

The Bluegrass music of Outta' the Blue can be heard on the plaza outside of the Ripleys Aquarium of the Smokies on Saturday evening from 7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. The Sunday afternoon program at the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Cosby, Tennessee will feature traditional Appalachian religious music with an old fashioned community sing along from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. General admission is $4.

The schedule of events:

♦ April 25 - Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, Townsend Admission: $5 7:00 p.m.– Celtic Music by The Good Thymes Ceilidh Band

♦ April 26- Sugarlands Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Admission is free:

• 10:00 a.m. Lost Mill String Band .
• 11:00 a.m. Boogertown Gap
• 12:00 Noon Brien Fain
• 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. Roan Mountain Hilltoppers
• 3:00 p.m.Mountain Strings

Special Program for Junior Rangers at 1:00 p.m. Join Keith Watson and Ruth Barber of the band Boogertown Gap in the Sugarlands Training Room (below the restrooms) and learn to play the spoons and the washtub bass. This hands-on program is a part of National Junior Ranger Day celebration.

♦ April 26 - Plaza at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg Admission is Free 7:00 p.m.- 8:30pm – Outta' the Blue

♦ April 27- Smoky Mountain Visitor Center, Cosby Admission: $4 2:00 p.m.- 4:00 p.m.– "Heritage, Harps and Hymns" – traditional offerings from Cocke County

If planning to attend the events in Townsend, also known as the “Quiet Side of the Smokies”, you may want to note that it's much easier getting in and out of the park, and is fairly close to Cades Cove. If you need a cabin rental during your visit, be sure to visit our Townsend Accommodations page.

If planning to stay in Gatlinburg, don't forget to visit our Gatlinburg Accommodations page before making any reservations!

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Smokies to Host Cherokee Exhibit at Oconaluftee Visitor Center

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is hosting a Cherokee touring exhibit, “Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future“, on Saturday, April 26 through Tuesday, May 27th at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The exhibit focuses on Cherokee language and culture, using sound recordings as the basis for presenting a coherent story in words and text. Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos will welcome the community to a special sneak preview of the exhibit on Friday, April 25th from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

“We are honored to host this incredible exhibit that tells the story of our shared past,” said Ramos. “We cannot separate the story of the Cherokee people from the story of the park and we look forward to sharing this rich history in such a special way with our visitors.”

The content for the exhibit was developed, by design, with significant community input allowing a more personal Cherokee story to be told. Community teams held monthly discussions to develop exhibit themes and images. Rather than presenting a chronological history, teams developed a thematic approach to sharpen the Cherokee perspective focusing on Cherokee homeland, heritage sites, tourism, family, and community celebrations.

Much of the exhibit text was excerpted from conversations originally recorded in Cherokee instead of translating from English into Cherokee. A Cherokee speakers group, organized in cooperation with the Cherokee Language Program at Western Carolina University, met weekly at the Kituwah Academy where members were shown historic photographs and asked to comment on them. These conversations were transcribed, translated, and included on the fifteen panels that make up the exhibit. Re-recorded by language instructor Tom Belt, these conversations are archived in Hunter Library’s online digital collections at Western Carolina University.

The exhibit panels use smart phone technology and QR codes to link to conversations in the archived collections. By hitting the on-screen play button, an exhibit visitor can listen to the Cherokee syllabary as it is spoken. Members of the speakers’ group include: Myrtle Johnson, Edwin George, Eli George, Marie Junaluska, Sallie Smoker, Nannie Taylor, and J.C. Wachacha. Others who worked on the exhibit include: Roseanna Belt, Western Carolina University (WCU) Cherokee Center; Tom Belt, WCU Cherokee Language Program; Evelyn Conley, Indigenous Education Institute; Jeff Marley, Nantahala School for the Arts; Yona Wade, Cherokee Central School; Andrew Denson, Jane Eastman, and Hartwell Francis, WCU professors; Corrine Glesne, Asheville evaluator; and Anna Fariello, project director.

The touring exhibit is sponsored by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in partnership with Cherokee Central Schools, Southwestern Community College, and Western Carolina University. Funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Slated to travel to ten sites in the region, the exhibit places cultural interpretation in locations frequented by the public. “Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future” will later be on view at the Swain County Center for the Arts in Bryson City, Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville, Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Cashiers Symposium and Historical Society in Cashiers.

If planning to visit the exhibit you may want to note that the North Carolina side of the Smokies has a lot to offer. In addition to lots of outdoor adventures and fun, both Cherokee and Bryson City have some excellent restaurants. If planning an overnight stay during your visit, be sure to visit our Accommodations page to find the perfect cabin or resort on the North Carolina side of the Smokies.

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Free National Junior Ranger Day to be Held in Smokies

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park will celebrate National Junior Ranger Day on Saturday, April 26, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with special activities at Sugarlands Visitor Center, Cades Cove Visitor Center and Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Children and their families can join in a variety of free, hands-on activities including ranger-guided walks, historic toy making, talking to a real wildland firefighter, making dinner bells at a blacksmith shop, and visiting touch tables with animal skins, skulls, and scat. Information about specific programs is available at each visitor center.

Children can earn their free Junior Ranger patch by completing three specially planned activities. A Junior Ranger booklet is also available for those who would like to explore the park in more depth. The Junior Ranger booklets, produced in cooperation with Great Smoky Mountains Association, can be purchased for $2.50 each at park visitor centers. The booklets are designed to serve a variety of age targeted groups from 5-12.

National Junior Ranger Day is a special event during National Park Week celebrated this year betweenApril 19 and 27. National Park Week is an annual presidentially proclaimed week for celebrating and recognizing national parks. This year's theme is "Go Wild!"

Most parks throughout the country will host ceremonies, interactive games, and special events designed to connect children with the resources found in national parks.

"Great Smoky Mountains is famous for its natural and cultural resources, recreational opportunities and scenic vistas. Junior Ranger Day is a great opportunity for children and families to "GO Wild!" for learning about the park by doing free and fun activities while interacting with our staff and the resource." said Park Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos.

Junior Ranger Day will run in conjunction with the park's annual Music of the Mountains festival at the Sugarlands Visitor Center onApril 26. Families are encouraged to stop in and listen to Appalachian music that will be featured in the theatre from 10:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m.

There will also be an opportunity for middle and high school students at Sugarlands Visitor Center on April 26th, to participate in a salamander monitoring project from10:00 a.m. through12:30 p.m. This project will provide a "behind the scenes" look into a real science project that has been an on-going study for many years in the park.

Students will help Park Rangers restore an aquatic salamander monitoring transect in a Sugarlands area stream. Once the scientific plot is set up, students will help search for salamanders to help take the first recordable data of the year by capturing salamanders to weigh, measure, and identify. By including this opportunity for older children during the National Junior Ranger Day event, the park hopes to provide opportunities for all ages to experience the park.

For information and questions about Junior Ranger Day, please contact Lloyd Luketin at 865-436-1292.

For information and questions about Music of the Mountains, please contact the visitor center information desk at 865-436-1291.

For information and questions about the salamander monitoring project, please contact Emily Guss at 865-736-1713.

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The Best Day in the Smokies…. Ever!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Okay, “best” might be too strong of a superlative, but we can certainly use the word “glorious” to describe our hike out to Andrews Bald this past Saturday.

As mentioned in a post on Tuesday, Kathy and I spent several days hiking in the Smokies last week, and spent our final day at Andrews Bald. And what a perfect day it was to visit one of the most scenic spots in the Great Smoky Mountains. Temperatures were in the low 60s, there wasn’t any wind to speak of, and we had cobalt blue skies above! It was a wonderful reward after enduring one of the worst winters in human history! Moreover, we practically had the entire grassy bald to ourselves for almost the first hour.

As we soaked in the amazing panoramic views, large white billowing clouds began to drift overhead.

During our five-day stay we literally saw spring emerge in the Smokies. Last Tuesday, as we drove over Newfound Gap, there were very few signs of spring. We spent the next several days exploring some new trails on the North Carolina side of the Smokies. So on Saturday, when we drove back over Newfound Gap, we were quite amazed to see how green everything had turned in just those couple of days.

Can’t wait to get back and possibly hike to Gregory Bald during the azalea bloom!

As result of our hike on Saturday we have updated our Andrews Bald page with some new information and photos.

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Big South Fork Celebrates National Park Week With Free Camping

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will be observing National Park Week from Saturday, April 19, through Sunday, April 27. Everyone is invited to celebrate all that America's more than 400 national parks have to offer with the theme "National Park Week: Go Wild!"

National Park Week will kick off with free backcountry camping permits as well as free camping at Alum Ford Campground for Saturday, April 19, and Sunday, April 20. Then join the park for the 14th Annual Spring Planting Day as well as National Junior Ranger Day on Saturday, April 26, with activities taking place at Bandy Creek.

From diverse wildlife and iconic landscapes to vibrant culture and rich history, our National Park System has something for everyone. For more information on the BSF, please click here.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Temporary Closure

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Beginning Tuesday, April 22, 2014, the Graveyard Fields Parking Area and Trailhead, at Milepost 418.8, will close for approximately 11 weeks. During the closure, the National Park Service will complete important phases of a comprehensive construction project underway at this highly used and popular recreation area. The project addresses important visitor services and safety issues, and includes construction of a new comfort station and doubling of the parking capacity.Complete closure of the parking area is necessary to protect the public during the project and expedite construction.

Graveyard Fields is one of the Parkway's most popular recreation areas, providing access to U.S. Forest Service lands and a variety of outdoor recreation experiences including the opportunity to view three waterfalls, pick seasonal blue berries, and disperse camp. Dangerous parking, heavy use of the area and lack of restroom facilities currently contributes to diminished visitor experiences and natural resource degradation. Planned and funded in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, Federal Highways Scenic Byways Program, and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, this project allows for a series of site improvements including:

· Expansion of the overlook parking area from 17 spaces to 40 spaces.

· Placement of a new three-unit, ADA compliant vault toilet restroom facility constructed adjacent to the parking area.

· Improvements to USFS trails that include installing boardwalk, constructing check dams, improving drainage, closing non-system trails, and modifying boardwalk sections to fit new design features.

· Installation of a new trail map at trailhead and four additional interpretive signs on the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail.

· Reducing the speed limit in the area and eliminating parking along the road shoulder.

Addressing safety issues at the site is a paramount concern for the Parkway. Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods says, "Currently visitors to Graveyard Fields use the island of the existing lot, and several hundred feet of the narrow road shoulder in both directions, for parking. This situation is unsafe and has resulted in numerous incidents. We're pleased this expansion will relieve some of the congestion and improve safety for drivers and pedestrians at Graveyard Fields."

This project could not have been completed without the Parkway's philanthropic partner, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation which is providing important financial support of the project.Foundation Director Carolyn Ward expresses her enthusiasm for the project stating, "We know that visitor use exceeds parking capacity every day of week throughout the summer and fall seasons at Graveyard Fields. The Foundation is pleased to provide a way to match people's love of this site with its long term management and stewardship."

Project managers ask for cooperation from visitors and to be aware of gates or lane closure signs in the area in order to expedite construction at the site. Parkway leadership encourages everyone to follow the progress of the project on social media at

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Foreign Visitor Fractures Leg on Chimney Tops Trail

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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Last week Kathy and I spent several days hiking in the Smokies. On Tuesday, our first day in the park, we decided to hike the Chimney Tops Trail. As we were putting our gear together I noticed three people standing near Newfound Gap Road trying to flag someone down. They were finally able to stop a road construction vehicle, and after a few seconds, the truck sped away. I had no idea what was going on, so I continued packing my backpack.

One of girls among this group noticed we were getting ready to take off, and approached us. She told us there was a woman on the trail who broke her leg and needed a rescue. She wanted us to tell the woman that emergency services had been contacted, and help was on the way.

As we climbed up the trail we found out from hikers coming down the mountain (the old information superhighway) that the woman was from Italy, and didn't speak a word of English. Finally, after hiking about a mile-and-a-half up the trail, on one of worst sections of trail in terms of rocks, uneven surfaces, mud and water, we finally reached the injured woman. She was sitting on a rock with her husband, who didn't speak any English either. Fortunately they were with a companion who spoke a little English, at least enough to get by. There was also a woman there that had some advanced first aid training. She told us the woman, likely in her 60s, suffered a compound fracture of her lower leg (tibia). Believe it or not, but the injured woman was hiking the trail in ladies flats!

After relaying our information that help was on the way, and making sure that she had enough clothes to keep herself warm, or seeing if she needed any Ibuprofin, we continued towards the summit. After about a half-hour or so we began our return trip back down the mountain. By that time emergency personnel had already arrived, and were just beginning to move her down the mountain on a stretcher. Interestingly, the stretcher had a mountain bike wheel attached to it, allowing the rescuers to move fairly rapidly down the mountain. In fact, they were moving almost as fast as we were.

We arrived back at the trailhead at almost the same time as the rescue party. Here they transported the woman to an ambulance. In addition to local emergency medical personnel, the Great Smoky Mountains Search and Rescue operations team played a major part in the rescue as well.

We couldn't help but think that this family had to be extremely disappointed in having to deal with a situation like this while traveling abroad. Hopefully the woman is doing much better now, and is already at home.

As a result of this hike we have updated the Chimney Tops Trail page on our website.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Major Section of the Appalachian Trail in Southwest Virginia Permanently Protected

Monday, April 14, 2014

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After nearly 30 years, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in Giles County, Virginia near the New River will be on permanently protected lands through the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Forest Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Columbia Gas of Virginia, Columbia Gas Transmission, Celanese Corporation, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, the Outdoor Club at Virginia Tech, and local governments. With this action there are only a few short segments of the 2,180-mile Trail corridor not in public ownership.

The final alignment of the A.T. in Giles County had remained unresolved due to challenges with Trail design, land ownership, and hiker safety issues. The current footpath location is on private property owned by Celanese and is open only at the discretion of the landowner. The current route parallels US 460, passes by Celanese’s manufacturing plant, provides minimal recreational or scenic values, is difficult to maintain and poses a barrier to certain land uses.

Through the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Forest Service and the ATC, in negotiation with the managers of Celanese and the local community and government, a new alternative route was identified on the Celanese property that provides a scenic and safe route from the New River to the summit of Peters Mountain. The new route alleviates impacts to adjacent private landowners, and minimizes the impact from nearby manufacturing operations. This is receiving broad public support. Celanese has generously donated an easement across 2.5 Trail miles for the new route.

The completed Trail will provide the local community with a much improved recreational experience. The proposed new A.T. route crosses the New River and U.S. 460 and immediately enters the woods. The new Trail will follow the New River for approximately one mile, offering scenic vistas of the river below before ascending a ridgeline onto Hemlock Ridge through terrain that provides a more remote experience and minimizes conflicts with Celanese’s operations. As it ascends Peters Mountain, it affords spectacular vistas of the surrounding terrain.

“The acquisition of this route is a landmark achievement for everyone who cares about the Appalachian Trail,” stated Ron Tipton, executive director/CEO of the ATC. “With this action more than 99 percent of the entire Appalachian Trail corridor is now in public ownership and permanently protected. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy salutes all of the parties to this agreement, and especially the U.S. Forest Service and Celanese.”

This Trail project dovetails with the southwest Virginia regional interest in enhancing local economies through outdoor recreation with a new initiative called “Appalachian Spring.” The A.T. provides numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, picnicking, hunting, observing wildlife, photography, and backpacking, to numerous populations along the length of the Trail. In western Virginia alone, the proposed new Trail section lies within a short distance of several of the largest population areas, including Blacksburg, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville.

This final protected section of footpath represents a monumental milestone as the A.T. management partnership can now fully apply its resources toward the protection of critical viewsheds, improvements to trail sustainability and expanding the corridor of A.T. lands. A $40,000 grant from Columbia Gas of Virginia and Columbia Gas Transmission will allow the ATC to complete this capstone Trail project. The ATC plans to build the 2.5 miles of new Trail during the Spring of 2014 and open this final section as quickly as possible, providing access to visitors from the local community, across the U.S., and around the world.

“The opportunity to make the final protected section of the Appalachian Trail a reality is consistent with our sustainability strategy and philosophy to be good stewards of the environment,” said Carl Levander, president, Columbia Gas of Virginia. “Each day, we work hard to build and maintain a modern energy infrastructure which incorporates innovative environmental conservation approaches like this collaborative effort in Giles County.”

Hiking in the Smokies
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Celebrate National Park Week 2014 With FREE Admission and Special Events

Sunday, April 13, 2014

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The National Park Service, in partnership with the National Park Foundation, recently announced that the nation’s 401 national parks will celebrate National Park Week April 19-27 with a free admission weekend and special events nationwide.

The theme for this year’s National Park Week invites visitors to “Go Wild” for history, nature, culture, wildlife, and fun in America’s national parks. Additional information, including a list of National Park Week events nationwide can be found online at

“National Park Week is a great time to discover the diverse wildlife, iconic landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history found in our national parks,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Every park offers a different experience so I invite everyone to join the celebration and get to know a park. And, to get the party started, all national parks will have free admission on April 19 and 20.”

Using the resources on the National Park Week website, visitors can plan park experiences based on their specific interests. A calendar of events includes many special National Park Week programs, including National Junior Ranger Day activities on April 26. Young visitors can take part in family-friendly activities and be sworn in as junior rangers at many parks. Visitors using the website can also share national park photos, videos, and tips, and learn about all the ways to help support national parks all year.

National Park Week also offers many opportunities for the public to explore local parks, trails, and architectural gems sustained by National Park Service programs such as the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program and theNational Register of Historic Places.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Hiking a Classic: Mt. LeConte

Thursday, April 10, 2014

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The hike to Mt. LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail is one of the classic hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are several trails in the park that are far longer, gain more elevation, and have steeper climbs, but the Alum Cave Trail is unmatched in its combination of interesting geological features, history, high adventure and stunning views. Below is a video highlighting many of the sights hikers will enjoy along the way. For more detailed information on this classic Smokies hike, please click here.

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this year, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with your vacation planning.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Two Found Guilty In Major Auto Break-In Case in Shenandoah National Park

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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Another reason to not leave valuables in your car while hiking - or at least lock them in your trunk:

On October 21st, Shenandoah rangers arrested two people – Florida residents Hataria Whitehead and Stephanie Kantz – who were suspected of committing two vehicle burglaries (‘car clouts’) within the park. Numerous items of stolen property were found inside their vehicle, including various IDs, bank checks, electronic equipment, and over 30 credit cards. 

The case was transferred to the Investigative Services Branch. The ensuing investigation revealed that the pair had been involved in a type of aggravated identity theft referred to as ‘Felony Lane Gang’ schemes. In summary, the scheme involves breaking into vehicles to steal identification documents, credit cards and bank checks. The perpetrators then cash one victim’s bank checks by using a separate victim’s bank information and identification.

The thieves frequently work in teams and wear disguises in order to appear like their victims. They use the outermost lane at a bank’s drive-thru to make their fraudulent transactions, thus earning the nickname the ‘Felony Lane Gang.’ They also use the victims’ credit card(s) to purchase gift cards that can be later used as cash.

At the time of their arrest, Kantz and Whitehead had in their possession over $3,500 in U.S. currency and 111 gift cards valued at more than $3,800.

Several state and federal task forces exist throughout the country to combat these traveling, Florida-based groups. With the assistance of the United States Attorney’s Office, the United States Secret Service, local law enforcement agencies, corporate fraud investigators and many victims, investigators uncovered evidence which linked Kantz and Whitehead to numerous cases in several different jurisdictions and identified more than 50 additional victims. This evidence was then used to indict them federally under conspiracy and various fraud-related statutes.

Whitehead is also wanted by the state of Florida on burglary and grand theft charges. Knowing he had an active warrant at the time of his arrest, Whitehead falsely identified himself as his brother. His true name was not known until after two court appearances, during which Whitehead testified (and lied) under oath about his identity. He was subsequently charged with two counts of perjury.

Pursuant to the terms of a plea agreement, both Kantz and Whitehead were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud using identification documents of another, conspiracy to commit fraud using access devices, and aggravated identity theft – the proceeds of which totaled more than $70,000.

The aggravated identity theft statute (18 U.S.C. 1028A) carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years imprisonment, which must be served consecutively to any other sentence that is received. A forfeiture provision for the items that were seized in the case was also included in the plea agreements.

Kantz and Whitehead have been in custody since their arrest and are scheduled to be sentenced on June 12th.

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Newly Revised Edition of Hiking Trail Guide for the Smokies

Monday, April 7, 2014

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A newly revised edition of a Great Smoky Mountains National Park hiking trail guide will be released this week. Written by Kenneth Wise, Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains: Comprehensive Guide is the completely updated second edition of his book, first published in 1996.

According to the description on Amazon, this edition includes details for more than 125 official trails within the national park. Each one has its own setting, purpose, style, and theme, which the author describes in rich detail. For each route Wise includes a set of driving directions to the trailhead, major points of interest, a schedule of distances to each one, a comprehensive outline of the trail’s course, specifics about where it begins and ends, references to the U.S. Geological Survey’s quadrangle maps, and, when available, provides historical anecdotes relating to the trail.

For more information on the newly revised guide, please click here.

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The Allure of Mt. Le Conte: A “Past and Present” Perspective

Friday, April 4, 2014

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The following is a guest blog by Andy Drinnon from Twisted Ridge Photography. This is the last part of a three-part series. You can read part one here, part two here, as well as an introduction on the series by clicking here.

Part Three – Following Traditions

Often recognized as the “grandstand of the Smokies,” Mt. Le Conte commands a central position within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The primary vantage points atop the iconic peak are Cliff Top and Myrtle Point. During the early-1920s, the majestic views provided by these locations inspired a generation of outdoor enthusiasts who helped popularize hiking throughout Southern Appalachia. As the number of men and women who reached the summit of Mt. Le Conte steadily increased, various traditions were established on the mountain. The final post of this series discusses the origins of several of these traditions and explains how they have survived the test of time.

Pioneering Smokies hiker, Herbert M. Webster, took this photo titled, “Old Indian Head at Cliff Top,” on January 12, 1936. Can you spot the outline of a head among the rocks? ©The Herbert M. Webster Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

This present view from Cliff Top shows the rocks that form the “old Indian head” photographed by Webster seventy-eight years ago. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Built near the site of the hiker’s camp established by Paul Adams in 1925, LeConte Lodge is the highest “resort” in the eastern United States. Each year, during the first days of spring, guests begin arriving at the lodge where they spend the night atop Mt. Le Conte in rustic cabins lit by kerosene lanterns. As spring turns to summer, more and more day hikers join guests as they stream up one of the five trails leading to the summit. On warmer days, tired hikers can find refreshment from cups of fresh squeezed lemonade in the dining hall for a small fee. Yet many visitors may not know that lemonade has been served on the mountain for almost a century. This tradition was started by Paul Adams who prepared the drink for hikers who arrived at his camp.

In July 1925, Adams and three local boys began the work of constructing the camp near the summit of Mt. Le Conte. During their first few weeks atop the mountain, the cost of bringing supplies up from Gatlinburg grew to 4 cents a pound. To save money, Adams trained his loyal German Shepherd, Cumberland Jack, to make solo trips from the camp to Charlie Ogle’s store (once located near the present site of traffic light #6 along the Gatlinburg strip). Adams had a leather cavalry officer’s briefcase – designed for use on horseback – custom fitted with a bellyband for Cumberland Jack to wear. Remarkably, at the command of “go to the store,” the obedient canine learned to descend the mountain and follow a shortcut leading from Cherokee Orchard to Ogle’s.

After the dog arrived at the store, Charlie Ogle would place supplies into the pack strapped around Jack’s waist. Then Ogle would give the command “go to Paul,” and Cumberland Jack would return to the summit via the same route. Jack routinely carried 25 pounds of goods back to the camp over an average time of four and a half hours. Along with nails and other small necessities required to build the camp, Jack often returned to his owner with coffee, snacks, and lemons. Adams used the lemons to make fresh squeezed lemonade which he sold to hikers. Basic supplies like Cumberland Jack once toted are now carried to LeConte Lodge three times a week by llamas who are guided up Trillium Gap Trail.

A train of llamas bring supplies up Trillium Gap Trail to LeConte Lodge. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Hikers who head up to Mt. Le Conte around the last week of March might hear the distinct sound of a helicopter flying overhead as they reach the summit. At the start of each new season, LeConte Lodge is resupplied via airlift with goods such as propane tanks, canned foods, and merchandise. Typically, a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter designed to lift 7000lbs will fly to a staging area at the Luftee Overlook parking area along Newfound Gap Road where it will begin hauling several loads of supplies to the lodge. While airlifts of this nature have been used to resupply the lodge for several decades, the earliest recorded airborne supply drop on the mountain occurred while Paul Adams was serving as caretaker of the Mt. Le Conte summit camp.

LeConte Lodge on a beautiful winter’s day. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

As discussed in part two of this series, Adams spent the winter of 1925-26 alone atop the mountain. Conditions were particularly harsh that season, and in his memoirs he noted the difficulties he experienced due to the accumulation of snow. Yet, on a cold day in March 1926, Adams received a blessing from the sky. That day, as Adams recalled, Lt. Bill Williams of the U.S. Army’s Air Division was flying survey trips over the Smokies. As his small plane passed over Adams’ camp, Williams dropped packages containing a week’s supply of Knoxville newspapers, a 10lb bag of flour, 5 lbs of sliced bacon, a side of sow belly, a dozen t-bone steaks, some round steak, two heads of lettuce, a head of cabbage, fresh fruit, and two pounds of pipe tobacco. Adams confessed that he prepared a fine meal for himself later that evening!

Dusk settles over the Great Smoky Mountains. Image captured from Cliff Top, November 2013. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Perhaps the most time-honored tradition that has added greatly to the magnetism surrounding Mt. Le Conte is that of watching sunsets from Cliff Top and sunrises from Myrtle Point. Within the pages of her classic work, The Great Smoky Mountains, published in 1937, Knoxville native and author, Laura Thornborough, recalled her first hike to Mt. Le Conte. After ascending the mountain via the old Rainbow Falls Trail, Thornborough joined other hikers assembled at Cliff Top. There, a silence came over her as she watched the sun drop below the horizon:
The petty annoyances of life seemed far away, as I gazed at the nearby peaks, which the setting sun was changing from green to blue, from blue to purple. I sat awed, spellbound, lost in the beauty unfolded before me, absorbed in the thoughts the scene inspired, enthralled by the spell of the Great Smokies.
For nearly a hundred years, countless hikers have been held captive by the same spectacle of light and spellbinding beauty Thornborough witnessed during her first visit to Mt. Le Conte. As early as 1924, Le Conte enthusiasts began gathering at Cliff Top in the late-afternoon to await the sunset. After spending the night on the summit, they would rise early and hike to Myrtle Point, the sunrise peak on Le Conte. Before dawn on the morning of August 7, 1924, Paul Adams led a large group of hikers that included two National Park Commission members out to Myrtle Point. Years later, he recalled the memorable sight witnessed by the group at daybreak: “We were small spectators, awe-struck by the vast, primitive beauty of an extra-special Myrtle Point sunrise.”

A dramatic sunrise begins on a moody late-spring morning. Viewed from Myrtle Point, May 2013. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Today, many individuals who spend a night at LeConte Lodge, or in the nearby backcountry shelter, follow the same rewarding ritual begun by pioneering hikers like Thornborough and Adams*. Dramatic sunsets and sunrises viewed from Mt. Le Conte leave a lasting impression on those who are fortunate enough to observe them. For this reason, many hikers seek to repeat the experience by returning frequently to the mountain. For example, beginning at the age of 48, Margaret Stevenson (1912-2006) climbed to Le Conte 718 times. In her hiking journal, Stevenson documented multiple overnight trips during which she had watched the sun drop below the horizon from Cliff Top and rise again the next morning from Myrtle Point.

Dating back to the early-twentieth century, several generations of hikers have ascended the slopes of Mt. Le Conte. Since that period, clothing and outdoor gear worn by hikers, along with the trails used to access the summit, have changed significantly. Likewise, the rough tent camp created by Paul Adams in 1925 is now a charming mountaintop retreat that accommodates sixty guests per night. But, despite changes brought about by the slow march of time, a number of traditions established on the mountain continue to link the past with the present. These historical connections have endured thanks largely to the perpetual allure of the magnificent peak.

* Laura Thornborough and Paul Adams made several treks to Mt. Le Conte with members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club which will celebrate its ninetieth anniversary this year. Mt. Le Conte was the destination for the club’s first official hike which took place in early-December 1924.

Readers interested in the early days of hiking in the Smokies may find the following secondary sources useful:

Paul Adams, Mt. LeConte, Holston Printing Co. (1966).

Carlos C. Campbell, Birth of a National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains, University of Tennessee Press, 2nd ed (1969).

Carlos C. Campbell, Memories of Old Smoky: Early Experiences in the Great Smoky Mountains, edited by Rebecca Campbell Arrants, University of Tennessee Press (2005).

Laura Thornborough, The Great Smoky Mountains, University of Tennessee Press, 1937.

Andy Drinnon is an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer. You can visit his blog at, or check out the latest on his photography project titled, Scenes from the Smokies: “Past and Present”.

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Temporary Partial Closure of Noland Creek Trail Due to Landslide

Thursday, April 3, 2014

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials just announced the temporary closure of Noland Creek Trail from the trailhead at Lakeview Drive to Campsite 65 for crews to repair a landslide on the 1.5 mile section of trail that is used for cemetery access in the spring.

The 1.5 mile trail section and Campsite 65 will be closed to all use Monday through Thursday beginning Monday, April 7 through Thursday, April 24. Backpackers who currently have a backcountry permit to stay at Campsite 65 or require access to the Noland Creek Trailhead on Lakeview Drive to begin or end an overnight backcountry trip will be allowed to pass through the construction zone with the assistance of on-site park staff by showing a copy of their permit.

Heavy machinery is required to complete this project. The temporary trail closure is necessary to provide for the safety of all trail use including hikers, horses, and workers. In order to lessen the impact of the closure, the trail will remain open on weekends throughout April.

“We regret the inconvenience to our park visitors,” said Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “Our team has thoughtfully planned the work to make the needed repairs as efficiently as possible so that visitors can safely use the trail this spring and we can provide access to cemeteries.”

For more information about trail closures, please visit the Park’s website call the Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.

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The Allure of Mt LeConte: A “Past and Present” Perspective

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The following is a guest blog by Andy Drinnon from Twisted Ridge Photography. This is part two of a three-part series that will run on this blog through the end of this week. You can read part one here, as well as an introduction on this series by clicking here.

Part Two – A Summit Camp for Hikers

In 1918, Paul J. Adams moved with his family from rural Western North Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, the Illinois native and avid outdoorsman made his first hike to nearby Mt. Le Conte. Inspired by the beauty of his surroundings, five years later, Adams set out to “learn every mountain of the Great Smokies.” He began by hiking from the southwestern end of the Smokies range to Davenport Gap located near Big Creek. Adams described his earliest hikes along the crest of the Smoky Mountains as largely “trailless,” and many of his routes were determined by “trial and error.”

Paul Adams explored the rugged high ridges of the Smokies a decade before the creation of the Appalachian Trail. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Adams’ trailblazing experience, and his knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Smokies, soon attracted the attention of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association. Organized in 1923, charter members of the association such as W.P. Davis and Col. David C. Chapman of Knoxville played a significant role in the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Adams’ initial duties for the GSMCA was to accompany groups - which at times included National Park Service commissioners - into the mountains in an effort to promote the park movement in the Smokies.

Prior to the creation of the Park, Mt. Le Conte was owned by Champion Fibre Company. Because of problems caused by improperly extinguished campfires, forest officials and rangers from Champion attempted to limit access to the mountain. A move that benefited hikers came in 1925 when Champion authorized the GSMCA to build a summit camp on the mountain. It was decided that a caretaker should be placed at the camp to assist with fire protection, maintain trails, and help with various other tasks performed by rangers. Knowing that a reliable water source would be required for the camp, Col. Chapman sent Adams and fellow guide, Will Ramsey, on an exploratory hike to the summit to locate what Adams referred to in his memoirs as “Basin Spring.” Adams claimed to have camped near the spring in 1918 during his first hike to the mountain.

After searching the summit area, Adams and Ramsey located Basin Spring and proceeded to select a suitable site for the camp near the all-important water source. Upon his return to Knoxville, Adams received a letter from the GSMCA stating that he had been appointed as the first custodian of the camp atop Mt. Le Conte. While living on the mountain, he was to protect plant and animal life, maintain sanitary conditions, and do what he could to make visitors more comfortable. Additionally, he was to charge a reasonable fee to those who utilized the camp. Funds received from hikers were to be handed over to the association each month.

Elated by the news of his appointment as caretaker, Adams began purchasing supplies and gathering materials necessary to build a tent shelter at the camp. Concerned about his safety and wellbeing, his mother suggested that he also purchase a dog to accompany him on the mountain. In Knoxville, a local dog breeder introduced Adams to a 90lb German Shepherd named Cumberland Jack II. Almost immediately, Adams forged an extraordinary bond with the highly intelligent former police dog that lasted a decade.

Paul Adams and Cumberland Jack, Winter of 1925. ©The Paul J. Adams Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

Cumberland Jack proved to be a faithful companion and source of protection for Adams during his tenure as custodian of the Mt. Le Conte summit camp. On July 13, 1925, the pair made the first of many hikes together up the mountain via the old Mill Creek Trail. They were joined by three young boys hired to assist with the construction of the camp. Near Basin Spring, Adams and the boys erected a 24x30ft canvas tent, under which they constructed a lengthy bed made of balsam and spruce. Later that afternoon, Adams cleared a short trail from the camp to Cliff Top. The trail is still used by hikers today.

Over the next few days, Adams and the boys made several hikes up and down Mt. Le Conte in order to haul extra supplies to the camp from Charlie Ogle’s store in Gatlinburg. Their pace of work intensified after word reached the mountain that a large hiking party led by Orpheus M. Schantz of Chicago intended to stay at the camp later that week. Schantz, a former president of the Illinois Audubon Society, enjoyed annual visits to Gatlinburg, and was hoping to study birds during the excursion. Adams and his helpers worked quickly to create a long outdoor dining table with split-log seats and a new bed for use under the tent. Prior to the group’s arrival, the camp staff washed dishes using a cauldron of boiling water, hung blankets out to dry, built two open-air “johnnies” (latrines), and fastened mirrors on tree trunks where a couple of wash basins were placed.

Paul Adams, Cumberland Jack, and Frank Wilson at the Mt. Le Conte summit camp. ©The Paul J. Adams Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

On July 19, 1925, Adams collected a total of $36 from Schantz’s hiking party which included guides Will Ramsey and Wiley Oakley. This is the first recorded payment for lodging on Mt. Le Conte. The image above shows the tent shelter and the makeshift bed that accommodated the group that evening. During the pre-dawn hours of the following morning, the boys prepared coffee for the guests. Then, the entire party set out for Myrtle Point where they watched the sunrise.

In the fall of 1925, Adams began the work of constructing the first log cabin on the mountain. Cut from nearby spruce and balsam trees, the 15x20ft cabin, which no longer stands, was built west of the site of the current LeConte Lodge. The rear 8ft of the cabin contained four levels of bunks to accommodate hikers. For insulation, or “chinking,” Adams spread a mixture of moss and clay between the logs of the cabin’s exterior. When he was satisfied with the new structure, Adams sent his helpers home and awaited the first snows of winter.

In 1925, Paul Adams built the first cabin on Mt. Le Conte. ©The Paul J. Adams Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

With Cumberland Jack by his side, Adams spent the winter of 1925-26 on Mt. Le Conte. As he later recalled, conditions were particularly harsh that season. “Snows fell, one on top of the other,” and because of the accumulation, Adams and the dog became “marooned.” Yet, despite the cold and isolation, Adams explained that he was “too busy to be lonely.” He jokingly remarked that a typewriter allowed him to “communicate with human beings,” and he wrote a number of letters to friends and family when he wasn’t working around the camp.

As the snows melted away during the spring of 1926, Adams readied the camp for prospective visitors by building new tables and additional fireplaces. He also improved several trails leading to the summit. Shortly thereafter, Adams informed the GSMCA of his activities. But despite his positive report, Adams received a letter from Col. Chapman notifying him that he was to be replaced as camp caretaker effective May 10, 1926. In spite of Chapman’s objections, the camp committee decided to place Jack Huff in charge of the camp. Huff’s father, Andy Huff, owned and operated the widely popular Mountain View Hotel in Gatlinburg.

The unexpected news was “disheartening” for Adams. In his memoirs, he explained that he had worked “hard in the interests of the association,” and that he had been looking forward to the 1926 season. After packing up and leaving the mountain, Adams returned to Knoxville and unsuccessfully tried to convince camp committee members to retain him as caretaker. Meanwhile, with financial backing from his family, Jack Huff proceeded to construct a larger cabin at the camp which became the forerunner of the present LeConte Lodge. Adams did not harbor any ill feelings toward Huff after the takeover. But, in his short book titled, Mt. LeConte, published in 1966, Adams reminded readers that the “house that Jack built” started from his “beginnings.”

LeConte Lodge as it looked in the mid-1930s. Note the “observation” platform at the top of the tree on the left. © The Herbert M. Webster Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

A present view of several cabins at LeConte Lodge. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Following his short tenure as caretaker of the Mt. Le Conte summit camp, Adams served as a mountain guide for Andy Huff. Using the Mountain View Hotel as his base, he continued to lead others along trails throughout the Smokies. Years later, he and his wife Maxine moved to Crab Orchard, Tennessee, where they ran a nursery and landscaping business. Additionally, Adams worked as superintendent of fire prevention and safety for the federal Atomic Energy Commission in nearby Oak Ridge.

Paul Adams died in 1985, but his love of Mt. Le Conte never waned. During the course of his life, the allure of the mountain led him back to the summit over 500 times. On July 13, 1975, the pioneering hiker returned to the top of the mountain at the age of 73, possibly for the final time. The occasion marked the 50th anniversary of the camp he worked tirelessly to create. To this day, his legacy has survived through several continuing traditions he and others started on Mt. Le Conte during the 1920s. These traditions will be discussed in part three of this series.

Andy Drinnon is an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer. You can visit his blog at, or check out the latest on his photography project titled, Scenes from the Smokies: “Past and Present”.

Read More Announces New College Football Bowl Game

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1 comment, the NCAA, and the National Park Service are proud to announce a brand new bowl game for the 2014/2015 college football season. The inaugural Bowl game will take place on February 1, 2015.

We here at feel that it’s an absolute travesty that any BCS school should be excluded from playing in a post season bowl game. Therefore, as a remedy to this deplorable situation, the Bowl will pit the third-last team in the ACC against the second-last team in the SEC, while providing fans with one last chance to see their favorite team pad their won-loss record.

We're also proud to announce that the game will be played inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the open field next to the Cades Cove Loop Road and Hyatt Lane. This will give motorists the chance to stop and watch the game as they make their way around the loop. So, in addition to bear jams and deer jams, there will also be “football jams” to hinder the flow of traffic along the popular motor trail. On game day tourist will have the pleasure of stopping in the road to watch a few plays, maybe snap a few photos, and then drive another 10 feet or so.

The National Park Service has also agreed to provide spotting scopes in the surrounding mountains. Several spotting scopes will be set-up on Rich Mountain, Rocky Top and Gregory Bald in order to allow hikers the chance to watch the game high above the action. Dana Soehn, Public Information Officer for the national park, told WBIR in Knoxville that the park wants to simulate the experience of sitting in a corner seat in the upper row of Neyland Stadium while watching a Tennessee football game.

Perhaps the most compelling news is that the Bowl will be played during the early afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday, and will offer fans an exciting appetizer before the main event. In a press conference earlier this morning, Pedro Ramos, Acting Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said that “a college football game of this magnitude is certainly far more entertaining than 9 hours of pre-game Super Bowl hype and analysis”. As proof of this game’s worthiness of being played on the biggest day in all of football, we just confirmed that our half-time entertainment will indeed be Paul Revere and the Raiders.

The winner of the game will be awarded the prestigious Ashrita Furman King of the Mountains Trophy. You may recall that Mr. Furman achieved international stardom and fame in 2011 when he became the first person to climb Mt. LeConte on stilts.

We will continue to provide additional information on this exciting new bowl game as it becomes available. For more information on, please visit:

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