My Impromptu Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains

It has been a few weeks now since my last trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, but I’d like to take a moment to share the trip with you. 

If you’ve followed my adventures for any length of time it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this trip was extremely spur of the moment! I didn’t do what I had originally planned in The Smokies, but I did stop off to visit a Kentucky waterfall with some friends and had a great time just wandering around the mountains with my camera. 

The Plan

It was Thursday evening. I did my usual end-of-the-week ritual of checking the weather for just about every location within a 6-hour drive of my house. I noticed that the weather down in the mountains of Tennessee was going to be perfect! It was at this point I decided I was going to drive on down to The Smokies. 

My original plan was to drive down there after work on Friday, sleep in my car, and night hike up Mt. Cammerer to photograph the sunrise. I would then simply hike back to the car and drive home. 

I spent the rest of Thursday coming up with the above plan and setting up a makeshift camper set up in my Jeep Patriot. I’ve got to say, the setup I came up with worked out pretty well!

My makeshift camper setup.

At about 5 p.m. Thursday night I got a message from my buddy Mike that he and another photographer, Greg Grayson, was planning on heading to a waterfall in Southern Kentucky that I hadn’t been to yet. They invited me along to meet them at 4 p.m. Friday and hike out with them. I did what any reasonable person would do and said “Of course! Who needs sleep anyway?”. 

Pine Island Double Falls

As planned I met Mike and Greg Friday evening. We all piled into Mike’s car and drove out as close to the waterfall as we could. From there we went bushwacking through the woods in search of Pine Island Double Falls. It didn’t take us long to find it and work our way down to the base of it. 

Pine Island Double Falls is a really unique double waterfall that flows into a gorge area. I was really impressed with it and ended up getting a pretty sweet shot of the falls. 

Pine Island Double Falls, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

From here we hiked back to Mike’s car and he proceeded to drive us back to our vehicles. From here we said our goodbyes and I continued on toward Cosby, Tn. 

The Mountains of Tennessee

I arrived at the Low Gap Trailhead at about 11 p.m. By the time I ate dinner, changed into some clean clothes, and got settled in it was close to 1 a.m. I was planning on getting up at about 2:30 a.m. to have plenty of time to wake up, get my gear ready, and hike up to the summit of Cammerer in time for sunrise.

When that alarm went off, however, I wasn’t having any part of it! I decided that I was tired enough that trying to night hike up Mt. Cammerer, then hike back down, and then make the 5-hour drive home just wasn’t a good idea. I instead rolled over and went back to sleep.

I finally got up at about 5 a.m. and decided to go check out the Middle Prong Trail. This was an area I had never been to before and that I’d heard good things about. 

The Middle Prong Trail

I arrived at the Middle Prong Trailhead right as the sun was coming up. I threw my pack on my back and started slowly wandering my way down the trail.

A mountain stream in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

Let me just say that this is one of my new favorite streams of all time! The stream itself is absolutely gorgeous and there are a handful of waterfalls sprinkled along the way. The hike itself is pretty easy too since it follows an old railroad grade. Along the way, you may even be able to spot signs of days past.

The remains of a 1920s or 30s-era Cadillac located just off the trail.

After wandering along the Middle Prong Trail for a while and taking a number of shots it started to approach midday. With it came a cloudless sky and harsh sunlight. I decided to go ahead and head back to my car and explore some other areas of the park.

The Cataloochee Valley

I decided to go ahead and make the drive out to the Cataloochee Valley to see if there would be any photo opportunities out that way. This area is similar to Cade’s Cove in that there are a number of historical structures that the park service has preserved. Unfortunately, the light was just too harsh to get any great photos.  

An example of the historic structures that can be found within the Cataloochee Valley of The Great Smoky Mountains. This was taken in an upstairs room of the Caldwell House. 

While I didn’t have an opportunity to get any great shots during my time in the Cataloochee Valley I did have a pretty cool Elk encounter on my way out. 

An elk crossing the road in The Great Smoky Mountains.

Wrapping Up the Trip

I decided at this point that I was going to go ahead and wrap up the trip and head on home. Before starting the drive, however, I decided to go through Cade’s Cove one last time. The light was still too harsh to eke out any decent images and the place was an absolute madhouse! I decided to cut up Rich Mountain Road and just head home.

This ended up being a pretty lucky decision, however, since I ended up coming across a black bear right along the road. I was the only one that got to experience this and watch this bear before it slowly made its way off into the woods 🙂 

It was nice getting to sit and watch this bear for a few moments before driving home.

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