If you’re planning on highpointing Mitchell or Clingmans this year, chances are you’ll be spending a bit of time in Smoky Mountain National Park. The Smokies are, of course, amazing. That’s why they’re so crowded. We are talking two mile back up because someone stopped their car to film a squirrel type crowded. To us highpointers who are used to driving where there aren’t even street signs, it can be a bit much. Luckily, if you’re willing to go off the beaten track a little, you can still visit the Smokies and get away from the crowds.
Cataloochee Valley has all of the charm of the more popular parts of the park. You just need to do a little more work to get there. That’s right, highpointers, the best route in is a windy dirt road featuring two way traffic where there’s space for about 1 1/2 cars. Just like we’re used to.
We spent a pleasant afternoon there a few years ago. My kids were really into animal tracks at the time, and we spotted plenty from the elk herd that lives nearby, and from the local bear population. The only live animals we saw were wild turkeys, but that’s probably for the best. We also enjoyed exploring the abandoned buildings, and playing by the stream. When we visit again, our plan is to hike the seven mile Boogerman Trail.
Note: The roads in the Smokies often close. I’ve found the @SmokiesRoadsNPS Twitter feed to be the best resource for determining what’s open.