Great Smoky Mountains National Park & Atlanta

We spent our Christmas break in the southeast part of the states to get away from the cold brutal Minnesota winter. A lot of folks wondered why we chose to visit Atlanta in Georgia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, and the primary reason we went there is because we had never visited the southeast part of the states besides Florida. So, Atlanta seems to be the most logical choice to us for some reason. Now that we are back home, we are glad that we made this trip because it was truly an enjoyable trip. Technically, we covered 3 states in this trip (Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina) because the national park sits in between Tennessee and North Carolina.

We flew to Atlanta a day after the first phase of heavy snow storm had hit Minnesota. We boarded the plane on time, but our plane sat on the tarmac for an hour waiting to be de-iced. Once we arrived in Atlanta, we drove 4+ hours through heavy rain to Gatlinburg. By the time we reached there, it was already dark and we had trouble locating our secluded (but awesome) vacation home in the mountain. The mountain wind was unusually strong that night. We got up a few times in the middle of the night due to the loud howling winds and the noise of things flying wildly outside and we did wonder whether our vacation home would get blown away or not.

We had to readjust our trip schedule on the following day because parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were temporarily closed due to the damage done by the strong mountain wind from the previous night. The scenery in Cades Cove was spectacularly beautiful, calm and relaxing. We did a 9-hour 2700-foot in elevation hike to Mount LeConte and a 4-hour 1300-foot elevation hike to Chimney Tops in the national park. Most trails were treacherous and incredibly dangerous because they were mostly covered with snow and ice. Further, the strong mountain wind at the higher elevation was freezing cold. Even though most parts of the park were closed due to the winter season, we certainly enjoyed our time there. This national park is different from other national parks we have been to in the sense that it has lots of waterfalls, streams, trees and historic structures such as houses, barns, mills, etc. Although this national park has one of the highest concentration of black bears living in the wild, we were VERY disappointed that we didn’t encounter any throughout our stay.

During our drive from the national park to Atlanta, we stopped by at the Lookout Mountain, which is located at the border of Tennessee and Georgia, to visit the underground Ruby Falls and the Rock City Garden. These attractions were pretty touristy, albeit interesting and unique. Our stay in Atlanta was an enjoyable one, besides the fact we had meals from different countries. This is one trip where we learned a lot about the American Civil War and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We visited CNN Center, World of Coca Cola, Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta History Center, Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta Zoo and Stone Mountain. Most of the attractions were included in our CityPass tickets. The main reason we bought the CityPass tickets is because these tickets covered the Georgia Aquarium where the gate price alone is $50+ per adult. So, it was a no-brainer to get the $69-CityPass tickets. The Georgia Aquarium is dubbed the largest aquarium in the world. Although we were cautious with that “largest in the world” claim, that building does house one of the largest aquariums we have ever seen so far in the states. The botanical garden and the zoo were at a fairly pathetic state in the winter. The outdoor plants were virtually nonexistent and the animals were sleepy and hiding at warm places. Thankfully, we didn’t pay for these admissions individually.

Although it rained a few times throughout the trip, the 30F weather over there was certainly much better than the -20F snow blizzard in Minnesota. This is one trip where we tried to see as much green grass and leaves as possible before departing because we would have to wait for another 4 months to see some greens in Minnesota (besides our money).

P/S: A special thanks to Andy and Jenny for allowing us to crash at their place a day prior to our trip departure and for sending us to/from the airport.

Day 1: The airport crews worked very hard to de-ice the planes prior to take-off.
Great Smoky Mountains
Day 2: Relaxing atmosphere in Cades Cove.
Day 3: The incredibly treacherous 9-hour hike to Mount LeConte.
Day 4: The view of the smokies at the Newfound Gap.
Day 5: The unique Rock City Garden.
Day 6: The Georgia Aquarium is certainly one of the largest aquariums we have seen so far.
Day 7: All about American Civil War.
Day 8: All about Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Day 9: The final opportunity to view some greens from the sky.
Road trip map.

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