Camping Diary: Smokey Mountains

Smokey Mountains Trip – October 2016


It’s now been almost two months since we left on this trip.

What can I say? I’ve been meaning to procrastinate, but I haven’t got around to it yet.


We had been planning to make this trip for over a year.

We had been to the Smokey Mountains once before in 1977.

That had been our first big camping vacation.

We had a 1974 International pickup truck with an in-bed camper.

We left Kansas City Labor Day weekend.

We made stops in St. Louis, Dayton, and Philadelphia.

We spent several days in both the Washington, DC area and the Smokey Mountains.

We loved the Smokey’s and had always wanted to return.

You’ll notice that the information about the campgrounds themselves is very limited.

Originally we had planned to take a full two weeks for this trip.

We also wanted to limit our travel days to no more than 300 or so miles.

That would mean we would plan three travel days in each direction, leaving 8 days for the Smokey Mountains.

When I went to make camping reservations, I found that all the KOA campgrounds in the area were booked for our timeframe. I was able to get a five-day reservation at the Pigeon Forge KOA for Sunday through Friday.

This required us to change our plans for the travel days. We left one day later than we originally planned and added an extra night in Nashville. We actually did not make any return reservations before the trip keeping our options open.

Normally I try to write a review of each campground but it seemed this trip was quite hectic due to the compressed timeframe and the tire and jack problems we encountered.

Day 1 – October 6, 2016 – Travel Day

On our first day we drove from The Colony to Little Rock where we had reservations at the North Little Rock KOA.

We had made it to Little Rock and were only a few miles from the campground when we ran into our first problem.

We had a blowout on one of our trailer tires.

Fortunately we were able to call Good Sam Roadside assistance and they were able to mount our spare for the final few miles to the campground.

Fortunately the roadside assistance people were able to give us the name of a tire company in town.

Since it was nearly dark when we arrived at the campground and we left the next morning, I really didn’t get much of an impression of the campground.

We did, however, stop at the same campground on the way back.

Day 2 – October 7, 2016 – Travel Day

Our plans for the second day were to travel from Little Rock to Nashville.

Due to our tire problems on the previous day, we had to insert a stop at Looney’s Tire Center.

The first thing I did that morning was to call Looney’s to check on the availability of the tire I needed. They had it in stock.

I also asked if I would have trouble maneuvering my travel trailer into their store / garage. Their response was, “Is it bigger than an 18 wheeler?”

We were able to get a new tire mounted and be on our way before noon.

The trip to Nashville was uneventful.

We stayed at the Nashville North KOA for two nights.

Day 3 – October 8, 2016 – Nashville

Our first non-travel day was in Nashville.

We had never been to Nashville, so we decided we would just explore.

We drove into downtown Nashville and visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Despite not being a country music fan, I thought it was well worth the trip.

We didn’t really see much else that seemed worth visiting in downtown Nashville.

I only took a few pictures in Nashville. They can be found at Nashville Pictures

After returning to the campground, we learned that a few days earlier there had been a shooting right outside the Hall of Fame, so I’m not sure I can recommend the safety of downtown Nashville.

Day 4 – October 9, 2016 – Travel Day

On day 4 we travelled from Nashville to Pigeon Forge where we stayed the Pigeon Forge KOA.

Normally we try to reserve a pull-through campsite but do to the heavy booking in the area our reservation was for a back-in site.

Our site was a 90-degree turn from the road and was between a tree and utility pole.

If it had not been for the escort assisting us with the back in I would not have been able to get in the site.

Even with the escort’s assistance we touched the utility pole with our awning. Fortunately there was not damage and the escort was really apologetic.

Day 5 – October 10, 2016 – Cades Cove

For our first full day in the Smokeys we wanted to visit Cades Cove.

This is a valley surrounded by mountains.

It has an 11-mile one-way loop road, which circles the cove.

We had visited it in 1977 and had seen an abundance of wildlife particularly deer.

During that visit we had camped in the cove, but with our pickup camper we had no need for electricity or a large site.

In 1977 we also went horseback riding in Cades Cove.

During this trip we only drove the 11-mile loop.

I was actually somewhat disappointed in the lack of wildlife we saw this trip.

It is recommended that you take two to four hours to drive the loop.

At peak times such as it was for our trip, it could also take one to two hours to drive from Pigeon Forge to Cades Cove.

So a trip to Cades Cove can easily “burn” most of the daylight hours depending on the time of year.

Day 6 – October 11, 2016 – Grotto Falls


During our 1977 trip we had hiked to Laurel Falls.

Se picked Laurel Falls because At the time I had never really seen a waterfall and Laurel falls was not only one of the taller falls (80 feet) but with a paved trail it was one of the easiest to reach.

For this trip I wanted to see another waterfall.

The Concierge at the KOA recommended Grotto Falls.

The trail is to Grotto is considered moderate in difficulty.

The roundtrip distance is 2.6 miles and the brochures say it takes about 2-3 hours for the roundtrip.

I think we made the round trip in less than 2 hours.

The view of the falls was well worth the hike.

See the links below for my pictures and videos of the falls.

Day 7 – October 12, 2016 – Cataloochee Valley

There are two areas within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that seem to be mentioned most frequently when the subject of wildlife viewing is mentioned.

They are Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley.

In recent years Elk have been reintroduced into the Cataloochee Valley.

While Cades Cove is in the middle of the national park, Cataloochee Valley is on the eastern side of the park in North Carolina.

This means that from Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg you must drive completely through the park or around the park.

Additionally the entrance road to Cataloochee valley is a winding, gravel road that has some steep drop offs with no guardrails.

As we were driving into the valley, Mandy commented that I had probably honked the horn on my truck more that day than since I had bought the truck three years ago.

We decided to drive through the park on our way to Cataloochee.

The main road, US 441 goes through the middle of the park from Gatlinburg Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina.

There are several places to stop and enjoy the view as you transverse the park.

They include its intersection with the Appalachian Trail, Newfound Gap, and the Tennessee / North Carolina border.

Once we made it to the valley we saw wild turkeys and a few elk.

The few elk we saw were at the edge of the meadow just outside the wooded area.

We were told that more elk usually come out into the meadow around 5:00 PM.

We waited around but they “stood us up.”

Since we had quite a long drive back to the campground we only waited until about 5:30.
For our return trip we drove around the park via I-40.

My pictures for these three days in The Great Smokey Mountains National Park can be found at Smokey Mountain Pictures

They can also be found on facebook at Smokey Mountain Pictures (Facebook)

I did take a few videos while at the park they can be found at Smokey Mountain Videos

Day 8 – October 12, 2016 – Gatlinburg

After three days exploring the park, we decided to spend our last full day being “tourists” around the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area.

We took the Pigeon Forge Trolley from Patriot Park (adjacent to the KOA) to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center.

From the Gatlinburg Welcome Center we took Gatlinburg Trolley to the “main drag” of Gatlinburg (Parkway.)

We spent most of they day strolling up and down Parkway.

There was a craft show at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, which we visited.

We also bought a couple of souvenir shirts.

While staying in Pigeon Forge, we decided to slightly change our return route.

Instead of stopping in Nashville, we decided to make our first stop at the Buffalo / I-40 / Exit 143 KOA in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.

We planned to make our second stop at Little Rock North KOA.

Our plans were to only stop one night at each place.

Day 9 – October 13, 2016 – Travel Day

As I mentioned, the backing into our campsite was quite a challenge.

It looked as if getting out of the campsite would be even more difficult if that is possible.

We asked for help from the KOA staff and through some miracle we were able to finagle our travel trailer out of the spot.

While travelling from Pigeon Forge to Hurricane Mills we decided we would like to spend a day in Hurricane Mills for some site seeing.

Upon arrival we were able to extend our stay in Hurricane Mills to two days and move our reservation at Little Rock North back a day.

Day 10 – October 14, 2016 – Hurricane Mills

We spent the day visiting the nearby Mennonite community and Loretta Lynn’s Ranch and Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum.

Day 11 – October 15, 2016 – Travel Day

We spent the next day travelling from Hurricane Mills to Little Rock where we stayed at the Little Rock North KOA. (This is the same campground we stayed on our trip to the Smokey’s.)

Upon arrival at the campground we were setting up when our second major travel trailer problem occurred.

As we were leveling the fig there was a loud noise. The shaft of the right rear stabilizing jack broke.

Fortunately, the KOA gave us the name of a RV Repair person who could come to the campground to look at our jack first thing the next morning.

Since I was not sure how long it would take to repair the jack we extended our reservation in Little Rock by one day.

Day 12 – October 16, 2016 – Little Rock

The RV repair person was able to arrive first thing that morning.

He told us the jack motor would have to be replaced

He was able to cut the wires to the motor (which was hanging by those wires) and retract the jack leg so that we could travel.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the Arkansas state capitol in Little Rock.

My pictures can be found at Little Rock Pictures and on Facebook at Little Rock Pictures (Facebook)


Day 13 – October 17, 2016 Travel Day

As we were preparing to leave we found we had one residual problem with our stabilizing jack.

Since the right rear jack motor was not connected, the automatic leveling system would not retract the jacks.

I had to re-attach the wires so that I could retract the other three jacks.

Once this issue was resolved our trip back to The Colony was uneventful.