This is part six of an eight day series. Click here for the rest of the blog posts!
Despite the feeling sticky from the humidity, I slept well at Tsali. We didn’t have to worry about rain, and it was fantastic! I cooked breakfast, while Tyler packed up camp. It was so much nicer packing up dry gear instead of wet. Although, Tyler learned that you should not shake dirt off tarps like you do water. While generally a bit of mist sprayed on you from the tarp is no bother, a shower of dust and dirt is less appealing!
We left Tsali mid-morning and turned the car towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After a short drive, we arrived at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near the southern entrance to the park.
Did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t charge an entrance fee? The reason comes from the history of the park. Originally, the park was private land. The states of North Carolina and Tennessee as well as local communities paid for the construction of Newfound Gap Road (now US-441). When ownership of the road was transfered to the national government, it was with the stipulation that no toll or license fee could be imposed to travel on the road. Newfound Gap Road cuts through the middle of the park , with visitor centers on the northern and southern terminus. In order for the national park service to charge an entrance fee, they would have to change this very old law from the 1930s. Nifty, eh?
Also, did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park? Usually when I think of popular national parks I think of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, not the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s not featured in tons of pictures online and documentaries. Yet, it hosts 10 million visitors annually. That’s twice as much as the second most popular park. Craziness!
We stopped by the visitor’s center to get a park map before driving along Newfound Gap Road to the northern perimeter of the park. The drive was twisty with one section where the road completely looped back on itself! At the northern terminus, Tyler showed me around the other visitor center, telling me about how he and his brothers used to play tag among the stuffed animal exhibit.
Tyler grew up visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. A family friend owned a cabin in Gatlinburg, so his family visited Gatlinburg and the national park every now and then. It was fun to watch him look around and try to remember all the sites. We drove through Gatlinburg and then turned east towards Cosby Campground. It is interesting to me that the park has very few roads within its boarders. To get most places in the park, you actually have to leave, drive on an non-park road, and then re-enter the park.
We thought about camping at Elkmont, which is very close to Gatlinburg, but we were worried that it would be crowded despite the fact that it was a Thursday. Instead we chose to camp at Cosby, which according to the national park website, often has availabilities even if Elkmont is full.
We pulled into Cosby campground. It felt nice and secluded at the end of a quiet road. We drove around looking for a good spot. There were sooooooooo many campsites and so few people! It was great. Finally, we picked a spot at the end of a row. We got out of the car and spied some wild turkeys. Sadly, they took off into the woods before we could get a picture of them. Not for lack of Tyler trying though.
Then, we set up camp. It was by far the fastest and smoothest we have ever set up camp. Granted, this was the only time during the whole trip where we set up completely in the daylight. It was nice; for once we had a little bit of time to just relax at camp before going off on our next adventure. I read my book and Tyler I think took a nap. Or maybe he played with a spiderweb, I’m not sure.
Soon enough, it was time to leave for dinner. Originally, we had planned to eat in Gatlinburg, but as we were driving to the campground Tyler remembered eating at super tasty place not too far away. Tyler called his mom to make sure that we were going to the right place. We were a little confused because Tyler remembered that it was called the Apple Barn, but we couldn’t quite find it online. It turns out that the whole complex is with the general store is called the Apple Barn and Cider Mill, but that the restaurant itself is called the Applewood Farmhouse.
We drove to Sevierville which is a little bit north of Gatlinburg and immediately north of Pidgeon Ford. We got to the restaurant around 4:30. We wanted to eat early because this place gets busy! Luckily, there was no wait; we were seated right away.
Immediately, I was overwhelemed. There was so much food to choose from! With each meal, you get complementary apple fritters served with apple butter and apple julep.
For your meal you pick a soup and either a salad or cole slaw to be served as an appetizer.
You can pick from a number of southern style entrees. I chose the fresh trout with a lemon viniagrette sauce. Each entree is served with mashed potatoes and your choice of side.
Then, you get to pick a desert too! All this included in the price of your meal!
The food was so tasty! I just wanted to eat more of it, especially those apple fritters. There was so much food. Tyler and I should have split a meal, but this was our splurge night of the trip, so we didn’t.
I ate way too much. And not in the usual, “oh, I’m so full, I should probably stop eating” sort of way. I literally felt sick. The worst part was that I thought I had stopped eating in time to not feel too bad, but while we waited for our check, it caught up to me. So much regret. We had to sit out on the porch for a while; I was afraid of driving around in the car. Eventually, we moved down to a little creek across the road. The cool water felt nice on my feet. A good thirty minutes went by before I was ready to get in the car.
I definitely want to go back, but next time, Tyler and I are splitting a meal!
Next up, Hill Billy Golf. We drove back into Gatlinburg to play putt-putt. Tyler and his family often played at Hill Billy Golf, which is a cute little putt-putt place on the side of a hill. The counter where you pay to play is at the bottom of the hill. There, you wait in line to ride a little tram up to the top of the hill. The tram takes about 9 people up the hill at a time, which is nice because it is a good way to space out groups of players. At the top, there are two courses on either side that wind halfway down the hill. There you board the cart to ride the rest of the way down.
Tyler and I exited the cart, and waited to be the last ones to play on our course. This was a good idea because it meant that the next group was a tram-length behind us, giving us plenty of time to play each hole. The groups in front of us were slow, so Tyler and I actually played each hole twice! Once for score, and once while we waited.
The course was cute with various Hilly Billy-esque obstacles. We had to hit our balls through farming equipment, covered wagons, and an outhouse.
Tyler and I were closely matched. I started the game with a pretty awful first hole score 5, but then I improved. Soon Tyler and I were neck and neck. In the end I won by 1 point.
By the time we finished playing putt-putt it was dark outside. We were quite happy that we didn’t have to set up camp when we got back to our campsite. Cosby campground doesn’t have any shower facilities, so for the first time while camping, we didn’t shower. We did however, wipe down with some cleansing wipes, which felt really nice. Tyler got into bed before I was ready. He declared that it was too hot! Since we had the tarp set up and weren’t expecting rain, we took off the rainfly to increase airflow. Much better.
I read my book for a while though it was a bit of a struggle. Our headlamps had died, despite replacing the batteries, so I had to use a little lamp we happened to bring along. Not blinding Tyler was difficult.
Our last night in the tent was nice and uneventful. I woke only a few times to the tarp flapping in the wind. Otherwise, I slept quite well in our little cocoon home.