Smoky Mountains! After spending three days backpacking in the Smokies we decided we'd take a "rest" day and spend it driving along Newfound Gap Road. Newfound Gap Road is a 33 mile road connecting Tennesse to North Carolina and drives right through the heart of the Smokies. There are several pullouts along the road for visitors to pull over and take in the breathtaking scenery. We absolutely loved this day!
Our day started from the Gatlinburg side of the park and we made our way up to the actual gap at Newfound Gap stopping numerous times for pictures. After spending three days in the trees, we were thrilled to be getting open views of the layers and layers of blue, smoky mountains with accents of orange, red and yellow. One of the pull outs had views of Chimney Tops, a destination that if we had had more time, we would have enjoyed hiking to. But we're grateful we were able to see the views from there that day. In early November the fire that raged through Gatlinburg originated near Chimney Tops and burned much of the land between Chimney Tops and Gatlinburg. That view won't be the same for several years.
New Found Gap Views After stopping at Morton Overlook and along Little Pigeon River for more photos we arrived at Newfound Gap. That place was hopping! From that location you could straddle the state line, join the Appalachian trail, observe dozens of butterfiles and see smoky mountains for miles. It was stunning. From there we were crazy enough to drive up to the parking lot at Clingman's Dome. After having hiked through there a couple days before, we wanted to go back and get a stamp in our national park passport. I'm not sure it was worth it. The crowds were ridiculous and we were SO glad we weren't doing any hiking from there. We quickly headed back down the mountain and got back on Newfound Gap Road to continue the gorgeous drive into North Carolina.
Heintooga Picnic Area As we approached the Oconaluftee Visitor Center we stopped in at the Mingus Mill. It's an old grist mill that is still in operation that we were interested in observing. Unfortunately for us, it wasn't actually operating that day due to technical difficulties, so it was a pretty brief stop. From there we paused at the Visitor Center and then turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. We drove along that road for maybe 15-20 miles before turning off and back into a different section of the park, but we thought it was beautiful. The views from the overlooks along the parkway were some of the best we had seen all day. We also finally could fully appreciate the origin of the name of the park way - blue ridges as far as the eye could see.
We ended our drive at the Heintooga Picnic Area where we found a nice little bench with a scenic view and watched the sun set. We weren't granted anything spectacular but it was still beautiful. And we did decide that should we find ourselves in that part of the world again, we would make sure to return to Bunches Bald for sunset.
What a lovely day we had! During that one day we took more pictures than we had the previous three. Our favorites are here.