Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Dog Lady Field Trip Series

national parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Dog Lady Field Trip Series

On a road trip back home, my dog and I decided to take a couple days to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  While pet dogs are only allowed in the picnic, camping, Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail, Whuffo is a service animal, so we ventured a few more places.  That being said, we did so with sense and respect for the environment.  Not only can dogs bring disease and non-native disruptions to certain delicate ecosystems, the Smoky Mountains has black bears.  We saw four during our time there and we stuck to populated areas.  Maintaining good health in your service animal, using sense when selecting trails, practicing good food storage by bear proofing, and meticulously cleaning up after your service animal are all musts if you want to venture into a National Park with him or her.  As always, be respectful and leave no trace.

Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingman's Dome

One of the sights, Whuffo and I saw was Clingman's Dome.  It was neat because even Whuffo was able to climb to the very top with me.  At 6643 ft, it is the highest point in the park and offers spectacular 360 degree views...if you are not smoked out.  It is the Smoky Mountains after all, so weather rolls in frequently obscuring views and bringing a chill to the air, even in the dead of August.

national parks
national parks
5 minutes later

You can read more about it here: Clingman's Dome

I met a fellow veteran on the top, hiking the Appalachian Trail and he gave Whuffo a bandana he had carried with him in Afghanistan with a protection psalm written on it.  We gave him the St. Francis from Whuffo's collar because it brings good luck to animal lovers.  It was a poignant exchange and it made me grateful to have Whuffo in my life to help me when I need it.
My best buddy

Mingus Mill and The Mountain Farm Museum

While visiting the Ocanaluftee Vistor's center to get our trusty National Parks Passport cancellation stamp, Whuffo and I got to explore the historical structures maintained by the park in the Mountain Farm Museum.

Junior Rangers
Junior Rangers Smithing Away
Among the structures are a smithy where Junior Rangers can take a class in historic blacksmith work, farm houses, horse and pig barns (and live pigs!), an apple house, a chicken house, a meat house, and a spring house.  While the structures were not originally built where they stand, the park service had gathered them from the nearby vicinity.  It is a fascinating piece of history to absorb and behold.

Mountain Farm Museum Pig
Resident resembling some former bosses

Mountain Farm Museum
Mountain Farm Museum

Mountain Farm Museum
Great Smoky Mountains

Shop Hiking Gear at US

Great Smoky Mountains
Whuffo taking it in

Just down the road from the Ocanaluftee Visitor's Center, on our way from the North Carolina side of the park to the Tennessee side, is the historic Mingus Mill.  It is a functioning grist mill.  Whuffo and I stopped to view the structures and the equipment on display in the historic house and surrounding grounds.  We even bought a bag of whole wheat flour from the mill (proceeds go partially to the park).
Great Smoky Mountains
 Mingus Mill

How many people have seen this view over the ages?

Cades Cove

Cades Cove was an exercise in patience, even on a Thursday afternoon.  It is the most visited spot in the national parks.  It is an 11 mile scenic drive on a one way loop.  There are a couple outs if you cannot contain your road rage, but mostly you are stuck on the loop behind other motoring tourists.  You are not supposed to stop, but instead to pull off onto the many pullouts located around the road...but everyone stops.  Traffic aside, it was still a great sight to see.  Each of the main historic buildings has a pullout or parking lot so you can stop and explore.  Whuffo and I wandered through the Cades Cove Visitors' Center grounds.
Great Smoky Mountains

We had seen at least three black bears on our way around the loop and decided not to stray far from the Jeep.  Other tourists...well they were stopping and snapping pics.  A large group decided to situate themselves surrounding a treed baby black bear.  I could see the headlines already as Whuffo and I quickly made our escape.  Even a stunning picture of a black bear is not worth the wrath of the mother bear separated from her cub by a row of unsuspecting tourists.
Great Smoky Mountains
Gorgeous Scenery...and some people who might become bear snacks


Here is a quick note on the campgrounds we used in case it is of interest.  The first night, after a long 8-9 hour drive from Tampa, we stayed on the North Carolina side at the Balsam Mountain Campground.  We chose site 23 online and it was nice and private.  You did not feel like you were on top of your camp neighbors.  It was pleasantly cool even in the dead of summer due to the elevation.
Great Smoky Mountains
Our Camp setup

dog jeep camping

They have basic restrooms, very clean, but no showers and a dish washing station.  The stay was lovely.  I cooked up some biscuits and gravy, and enjoyed a cup a coffee while I was suffused with the lovely view.

The next night we camped at Elkmont Campground.  We selected G012 (again online.  I like having a reservation rather than battling at first come, first serve campgrounds) and it was right along the babbling brook.  I slept like a log in the back of the Jeep with that lovely background noise.  It was cool enough, although I was glad I put screening around my back Jeep windows and had a fan going.  We could have gone to a campfire meeting about bears after I cooked up my chili dinner, but Whuffo and I were so tired after that we ended up turning in early.  Camping has a way of turning on one's circadian rhythm.


Great Smoky Mountains gateway

Whuffo and I stopped briefly in Gaitlinburg to wander up the main drag.  I wanted some coffee and he wanted to accomplish his form of tourism...which involves peeing on allowable structures.  It was a little overwhelmingly busy, but I got a delicious latte from The Coffee Shack.  Check out this little coffee stand if you get the chance.  I got directions and gas price advice from the friendly owner.

It was a lovely little side trip and being immersed in America's wilderness always puts in perspective how vast this country is.  The Smoky Mountains are immense and grand.  I encourage you to check out America's most visited National Park.

dog travels
Road trip!!!
Cheers and Happy Travels,
Sammy the Dog Trainer


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