Got a later than hoped for start this morning – the final cleaning and packing took a bit longer than originally planned. Still, I was on the road by 8:15am. First part of the drive was the same as my old drive to work. Much less traffic today than a normal workday – I assume everyone stayed home for Boxing Day.
Kentucky went by quickly. In Tennessee I diverged a bit to visit Norris Lake and the old Rice mill before descending into the hellscape that is the Knoxville-to-Gatlinburg corridor. A very late lunch in Gatlinburg, then off to the Smokies.
After passing the Sugarland Visitor Center the road through the park ascended alongside snowy rhodo-lined streams. The frequent pull-offs were filled with families building snowmen. While the valley was smoke-free and in the mid-40s the mountains still had plenty of snow.
As the road climbed higher the streams were left behind, replaced by icicle-covered rock walls where the road had been blasted out of the mountainside.
By the time I reach Newfound Gap it’s the golden hour – the red-gold light makes the snow glisten and the trees slopes glow.
Google told me that the road from Newfound Gap to Cherokee is closed, but there’s a lot of traffic on the road so I decided to chance it. Happily the road was open. Near the southern visitor center elk were grazing in a field and people were lined up along the road to watch.
Two hours later and long past sunset I arrive at the turnoff for my planned camping area in Nantahala National Forest to find that the road was closed. Happily there was a forest service campground nearby, so I set up camp and was in my tent by 8 pm.