Ever since reading about the Road to Nowhere in Jim Parham’s mountain biking guidebook Off the Beaten Track: Smokies I wanted to bike the road for myself to see what it was all about. We drove out from Bryson City and planned on parking at the gate and riding our bikes the 6 miles or so in to the tunnel located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We were surprised when we arrived at the gate to find it open, so we decided to drive in instead of biking. We found parking area at the end of the pavement and hiked less than a quarter mile to the tunnel. The tunnel itself was pretty amazing, I would estimate it was more than a quarter mile long and it seemed high enough to accomodate a tall semi tractor trailer. The tunnnel was a bit smelly and we were sure we were stepping in horse manure (though we couldn’t see where we were stepping) since we saw a trail of manure leading up to the tunnel. Stupid horses…
Our next stop in the park was Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park and (nearly) the highest point on the east coast of the United States. The weather was nice most of the way up but as we drove above 6,000 feet the fog moved in and we spent the rest of the afternoon in the clouds.
The parking area at Clingman’s Dome is still several hundred feet below the actual summit and the paved path to the top was surprisingly steep. At the top we climbed the tower for a great view of the clouds (it was difficult to even see the ground from the 30 foot tower!).
We descended into Gatlinburg and were completely amazed at the scene there. Like an Appalachian Las Vegas, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have thrill rides, wax museums, theme restaurants, and throngs of people walking the sidewalks staring at the billboards and shops. I’ve never seen so many pancake restaurants, go-cart tracks, and mini-golf courses in one place in my life. What a huge contrast from the North Carolina side.