Great Smoky Mtns. National Park Feature

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One Day on the North Carolina Side

If you only have a day to visit the Smokies and are coming from the North Carolina side, start early, pack a picnic lunch, and drive to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to pick up orientation maps and brochures. While you're there, spend an hour or so exploring the Mountain Farm Museum. Then drive the ½ mile to Mingus Mill and see corn being ground into meal in an authentic working gristmill. Head on up Newfound Gap Road and, via Clingmans Dome Road, to Clingmans Dome. The 25-mile drive takes you, in terms of the kinds of plants and trees you'll see at the mountain top, all the way to Canada. Stretch your legs and walk the ½-mile paved, but fairly steep, trail to the observation tower on Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies. If you've worked up an appetite, head back down the mountain and stop for a leisurely picnic at Collins Creek Picnic Area (MM 25.4). If you want a moderate afternoon hike, the 4-mile (round-trip) Kephart Prong Trail is nearby and wanders for 2 miles along a stream to the remains of a Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Alternatively, and especially if it's a hot summer day, save your picnic and hike and instead drive via the Blue Ridge Parkway and Heintooga Ridge Road to the Heintooga Picnic Area at Balsam Springs. At a mile high, this part of the Smokies is usually cool even in mid-July. If you're up for it, you can hike all (about 5 miles round-trip) or part of the Flat Creek Trail, which begins near the Heintooga picnic area and is one of the hidden jewels of trails in the park. If you decide not to take a long hike, you may have time to drive the one-way, unpaved Balsam Mountain Road to Big Cove Road back to Cherokee. Catch the sunset at an overlook on your drive back.

Updated: 09-2013

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