Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Clingman's Dome

The Smoky Mountains, rays of sunlight piercing the clouds and a fog bank overwhelming a ridge like you would see in San Francisco, that’s what a visit to Clingman’s Dome is like.  Clingman’s is: the third highest point east of the Mississippi; the tallest mountain in the Smoky Mountain Range; and peers down paternally on the rest of the Smokies.  It can’t be ignored or avoided, it is too impressive for that. 

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The parking lot provides a carnival-like atmosphere.  There are families taking pictures, elderly waiting for the bathroom and hikers challenging themselves to take a brisk walk to the observation tower without stopping to catch their breath.  This mountain is over 6,600 feet above sea level and the walk from the parking area to the tower, although not far, is very steep which is challenging for those who live at much lower elevations. 

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Unfortunately, the observation tower is currently closed due to renovations.  It is expected to open again in the spring of 2018.  Seven and a half miles of the Appalachian Trail crosses the mountain just north of the observation tower.  There are also many other trails of varying grades that can satisfy the appetite of any avid hiker. 

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It was overcast during my visit but I definitely recommend spending some time here.  The observation tower is scheduled to re-open in April 2018.  I would schedule a visit after that date so you can enjoy the 360 degree view from the top of the mountain. 

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Have you been to Clingman’s Dome?  What was your experience like there? 

For more information about the Clingman’s Dome area, click on the link.

Shenandoah National Park: The Gem of the East Coast

Last night I was watching a repeat of a Seinfeld episode that I’ve probably seen at least a half dozen times.  Despite my familiarity with that particular episode it still brings a smile to my face whenever I watch it.  Driving along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is a similar experience.  You see view after view of the great expanse below and it never gets old. (These first five pictures are from just one overlook)


The word “WOW” is uttered by nearly everyone who exits their car at one of the dozens of scenic overlooks.  The Appalachian Mountains roll along in an unending wave of trees and leaves.  The slopes of green are peppered with rays of sunlight that poke through the clouds.  The contours of each ridge stand proud like contestants at a beauty contest. 


Skyline Drive meanders 105 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Route 64 where it turns into The Blue Ridge Parkway.  Within the park, there are 75 designated areas where you can stop and enjoy its beauty.  Most of those turnoffs provide views like these. 


You can’t see forever from here but you can come really close.  The views from atop the mountain ridges are breathtaking.  Visitors spend their time sightseeing, camping, hiking, horseback riding and cycling.  These mountains are perfect if you want to have the Tour De France experience in America. 


There are over 500 miles of trails to hike.  Be aware that you need to have proper walking/hiking shoes and clothing.  I went on a hike to photograph a waterfall.  The mountains are steeply sloped which provides you with the great views of the valleys but they make for strenuous hikes.  Here is my report……..

The busiest time of the year is from summer through the end of October when the leaves change their colors.  There are three choices for lodging in the park with several campgrounds also available.  If you choose to stay outside the park, expect a 20-40 minute drive to one of the surrounding towns. 


Shenandoah National Park is a hidden gem of the east coast.  When I mention it to people they either get a quizzical look on their face or they say, “Oh yeah, we went there years and years ago when I was a kid.  Beautiful place.”  It certainly doesn’t get the recognition it deserves so I encourage everyone to make the trip. 


Have you visited Shenandoah NP?  What was your experience like?  What did you do there?

For more information about Shanadoah National Park, click the link below.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a charming park which features waterfalls, bridges, wildlife, massive rock formations and a historic canal.  Cuyahoga is different from many other parks in that it was named a national park in 2000, therefore human intrusion left its imprint on the park prior to the designation. 

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Brandywine Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park.  These pictures show a decent flow but it can be a much heavier flow at different times of the year or after significant rainfall. 

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The area between Cleveland and Akron was very rural in the early 1800’s when the Ohio and Erie Canal was established.  This canal spurred economic development and trade that transformed one of the poorest areas of Ohio into one of the wealthiest areas of the state.

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The Great Falls is located at Viaduct Park in the northeast corner of the park.  As you can see from the pictures, the trip to this area is definitely worth it. The journey starts above the falls and flows to the tunnel where the water disappears. 

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Cuyahoga is a desirable destination during the fall when the leaves are changing colors.  The forest not only allows just the right amount of sunlight to warm the earth, but it also shrouds many roads with limbs that reach across the pavement. 

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The Ledges area is a zoo for enormous rock formations.  Many of these rocks are larger than houses and weigh hundreds of tons. 

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This tree had one root that traveled along the rock and ended in the dirt.  This is what I call survival mode.

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Our last stop is at the Everett Covered Bridge.  This is a bridge that was rebuilt in 1986 to reflect what the original bridge might have looked like in the 1800's. 

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a very nice park.  It would not make my top 10 list of best national parks due to some issues.  First, two major highways run through the middle of the park (I-271 and I-80).  Secondly, there is an active rail line running through the park.  There are also many residential roads that cut through the park.  In addition, there are private residences within the borders of the park.  Maybe I am being too nitpicky but I believe that a National Park should have that eye-popping WOW effect.  I didn’t get that feeling at CVNP.  It felt more like a state park or National Forest.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go or it’s not worthwhile, but I wouldn’t prioritize it over many other parks in the NP system. 

Have you been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park?  How would you compare it to other parks in the national park system?

For more information about Cuyahoga Valley National Park, click the link below.

Congaree National Park: Silence is Golden

Hello darkness, my old friend,

I've come to talk with you again.

Because a vision softly creeping,

Left its seeds while I was sleeping.

And the vision that was planted in my brain,

Still remains,

Within the sound of silence.


The Sound of Silence—Simon and Garfunkel


Wandering through Congaree National Park will not elicit feelings of angst or depression that the lyrics of The Sound of Silence might evoke but the overwhelming feeling that you are experiencing a sacred ritual is prevalent.  Although you’ve walked thousands of times through all different types of terrain (cities, suburbs, stores, beaches, etc), one element of this experience has been lacking—silence.  Congaree is amazingly silent and even encountering other hikers means that a courteous hello will be met with hushed tones.  Congaree commands respect without ever uttering a word.


A small park (only 26,000 acres) it boasts 25 miles of hiking trails, camping, fishing, canoeing and kayaking.  I hiked approximately 3 miles between the Boardwalk and Sims Trails, spending time at Weston Lake and Wise Lake. 

A turtle (directly below the 4 x 4 post) makes his way towards the shore in Lake Weston.

A turtle (directly below the 4 x 4 post) makes his way towards the shore in Lake Weston.


The mud between these trails can measure eight feet thick in spots and helps to cleanse the environment of pollution and toxins that would threaten the ecosystem.  My advice is to stay on the trails as much as possible because there are some huge spiders to be found between limbs, leaves, stumps and trees. 

The thick mud seen here helps to maintain a healthy balance in this special forest.

The thick mud seen here helps to maintain a healthy balance in this special forest.

If you look closely just above the center of this picture, you can see a rather large spider resting in its web.

If you look closely just above the center of this picture, you can see a rather large spider resting in its web.


Congaree is (according to the National Park website) home to “the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.”


Congaree, located about 20 miles southeast of Columbia, SC, is unique in that it is open to the public 24 hours/day, does not charge a fee for entry or use of the park and has a Boardwalk trail that allows disabled visitors (especially in wheelchairs) to enjoy the surroundings.  If you want a secluded place where peace and quiet is your goal (and your phone will be inoperable) Congaree is a destination that you will want to experience. 

A colorful black butterfly travels along the brush.

A colorful black butterfly travels along the brush.

The roots of the many trees in the forest intertwine like a web of wood.

The roots of the many trees in the forest intertwine like a web of wood.


Have you explored Congaree National Park?  If so, what are your thoughts about this park? 

For more information about Congaree National Park, click the link below.