The part of Greater Providence with the most distinct cultural and historic identity is the Blackstone River Valley, which begins just north of Providence in Pawtucket and extends north to Woonsocket, encompassing a swath of nearby communities. In this area you can get a sense of how the nation shifted from an agrarian land of farmers, independent artisans, and skilled craftspeople to a full-fledged industrial powerhouse. Shortly after the War of Independence, complete mill communities—with worker housing, community halls and churches, and massive mill buildings—sprang up all along the Blackstone River and its tributaries, from Pawtucket north through Woonsocket and across the Massachusetts border to Worcester, nearly 50 miles away.
[pullquote align=right]In this area you can get a sense of how the nation shifted from an agrarian land of farmers, independent artisans, and skilled craftspeople to a full-fledged industrial powerhouse.[/pullquote]For all intents and purposes, the American Industrial Revolution started at Slater Mill (Main St. and Roosevelt Ave., Pawtucket, 401/725-8638, www.slatermill.org, 10am-4pm Tues.-Sun., $12 adults, $8.50 children), a collection of mill buildings now preserved as a historic site along the Blackstone River. Young English immigrant Samuel Slater took a job in Ezekiel Carpenter’s clothing shop, and by recalling the exact blueprints for water-powered textile machinery in his native country, developed the nation’s first such textile factory. A 10,000-square-foot visitors center across from the mill provides orientation with a short video offering a stark view of mill life in Rhode Island.
The 5.5-acre site has several buildings, including the three-story Wilkinson House, built in 1810 on the site of an old metalworks, which contains a full machine shop on the ground floor and a re-creation of the mill’s massive waterwheel in the basement. During the tour, you watch a nine-ton wooden waterwheel turn and spread the power through the building, the gears turning a series of pulleys that in turn power individual tools and machines.
Perhaps the most striking of the site’s structures, the Old Slater Mill is a sturdy 1793 wooden structure, which looks especially striking when sunlight streams through its many soaring windows. Within just a few months of its construction, the factory had turned out the first cotton yarn produced in the New World. Inside, you’ll find a few original machines from the period and many more authentic replicas that provide a clear sense of how these factories operated in the early days. Many of the machines were either designed or modified by Samuel Slater himself. At one end of the building, a small museum store sells penny candy and small gifts, including work by local artisans and fiber artists, as well as a selection of books on industrial history and textile crafts.
Moved here in 1962, having been spared destruction when I-95 was built through Pawtucket, the 1758 Sylvanus Brown house, a nicely restored gambrel-roof colonial, is also part of the tour. Demonstrations of flax-weaving are often given inside—a garden of flax was planted behind the house in 2000. (The golden-colored debris left after flax has been combed through a large metal hackle is called tow, hence the term towheaded to describe a blond-haired child.) Millwright Sylvanus Brown ran the house as a carpenter’s shop during the late 1700s. It has been fully restored to its original appearance.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Rhode Island.
The natural beauty of Nova Scotia’s Fundy coast is sublime. Sea breezes bathe the shore in crisp salt air, and the sun illuminates the seascape colors with a clarity that defies a painter’s palette. Wildflowers bloom with abandon, nourished by the moist coastal air. And fog, thick as cotton, sometimes envelops the region during the summer. This is the Fundy Coast, which stretches from Yarmouth in the west to the farthest reaches of the Bay of Fundy in the east.
[pullquote align=right]Locals take the Fundy tides for granted. For visitors, it’s an astounding show.[/pullquote]Quietly and relentlessly, twice a day, a tidal surge that has its beginnings far away pours into the bay, creating the highest tides on the planet. Fishing boats are lifted from the muddy seafloor, and whales in pursuit of silvery herring hurry along the summertime currents, their mammoth bulks buoyed by the 100 billion tons of seawater that gush into the long bay between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The cycle from low to high tide takes a mere six hours. The tide peaks, in places high enough to swamp a four-story building, and then begins to retreat. As the sea level drops, coastal peninsulas and rocky islets emerge from the froth, veiled in seaweed. The seafloor reappears, shiny as shellac and littered with sea urchins, periwinkles, and shells. Where no one walked just hours ago, local children run and skip on the beaches, pausing to retrieve tidal treasures. Locals take the Fundy tides for granted. For visitors, it’s an astounding show.
To a great extent, the history of the province’s Fundy Coast is the story of all of Nova Scotia, and this is reflected in the region’s wealth of historic and cultural wonders. France’s colonial ambitions began at Port-Royal and clashed head-on with England’s quest for New World dominance, and multiple national historic sites along the coast lie in testament to these troubled times. The trim Acadian villages of La Côte Acadienne, the historic streetscape of Annapolis Royal, and the gracious towns of Wolfville and Windsor add to the appeal.
You can drive between Yarmouth and Halifax in a single day, but you should allow a minimum of two days, which lets you reserve a room at one of Annapolis Royal’s many historic inns. This small town is definitely the historic heart of the Fundy Coast, with sights such as Fort Anne National Historic Site and Port-Royal National Historic Site easily filling out a full day of sightseeing. For this reason, two days and two nights should be allotted for exploring the Fundy Coast. At the western end, the detour through La Côte Acadienne and stops at Acadian icons such as Église de Sainte-Marie add only slightly to the length of the drive. The most impressive Acadian attraction, Grand Pré National Historic Site, is farther east, and it deserves at least three hours of your time.
At some point during your travels through the region you’ll want to focus on visiting the Bay of Fundy (digging into a plate of plump Digby scallops doesn’t count). Taking the above into consideration, if you have two nights planned for the Fundy Coast, and you are traveling east from Yarmouth, spend the first morning meandering along La Côte Acadienne, order scallops for lunch in Digby, and continue to Annapolis Royal. Spend the rest of the afternoon and the first part of the next morning exploring the town before moving on to Wolfville. Spend the night, rise early for a short hike through Blomidon Provincial Park, and then move on to Grand Pré National Historic Site. You’ll be back in the capital by late afternoon. With an extra day and night, plan on driving along Digby Neck and combining a hike to Balancing Rock with whale-watching.
Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Atlantic Canada.
Nothing says summer in Colorado quite like standing amid a colorful carpet of wildflowers swaying in the breeze, beneath a crown of craggy peaks and an azure sky. But where exactly can you find this quintessential Colorado experience? Below are some of my favorite spots to seek out stunning wildflower displays, which usually “peak” in July. As you explore, keep a sharp eye out for storms that build up in the afternoon, and be sure to heed the safety tips in the back of my book Moon Colorado, as well as these from the National Parks Service.
The American Basin offers amazing opportunity to see radiant wildflowers in a tranquil setting. Located high above the tiny town of Lake City (55 miles south of Gunnison), this alpine basin is typically packed with fields of wildflowers, including the showy blue-and-white blossoms of the Colorado Blue columbine (Colorado’s state flower), and glowing fireweed, named for its frequent appearance in recently burned areas. The adventurous road to the trailhead requires a 4×4, which can be rented in Lake City, or a walk from one of the many pullouts where 2WD vehicles can park along the way. From the trailhead (11,600’) for Handies Peak, it’s an easy stroll through the verdant meadows beneath the jagged cirque.
If you’re in Aspen, you don’t have to travel far out of town for excellent color displays; one of the best spots begins at the edge of town along Hunter Creek. Here you can stroll through sun-dappled groves of quaking aspen, as well as lush meadows filled with lupine, buttercups, orchids, and snapdragons. With lovely views of the area’s snow-crowned peaks and glimpses of historic mines and dilapidated prospector cabins, it’s a great place for a classic Colorado photo-op.
One of the premier hikes near Boulder, Mount Audubon is also one of the best places in the Front Range to view wildflowers. The trailhead is easily accessible via paved roads, and you can usually see wonderful displays of yellow, purple, and blue flowers close to the trailhead without having to walk too far. Try to get to this popular spot early in the day, when the crowds are thinner and the light is better.
Among the many excellent wildflower-viewing spots in Rocky Mountain National Park, Ute Trail stands out for its blooms—as well as its gorgeous views. Because it’s accessed from a high (11,430’) trailhead, the Ute Trail is almost exclusively above tree line, offering a unique opportunity to view fields of alpine sunflowers and other high-elevation blossoms with very little climbing. While you walk, listen for the squeaks of marmots, the furry creatures who survive in this landscape by feasting on the wildflowers throughout the short summer season.
The legendary displays near Crested Butte, the self-proclaimed “Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” are well worth going out of your way for. One of the best viewing spots in the area is Washington Gulch, where you may see a large diversity of flowers, including cinquefoil, wild roses, goldenweed, and the beautiful, rounded clusters of pink blossoms known as Queen’s Crown. Crested Butte’s July Wildflower Festival includes guided hikes, 4×4 tours, and photography classes.
One of the most scenic spots in the San Juans, Yankee Boy Basin is another gorgeous alpine basin high above the charming mountain town of Ouray. It is best known for its incredible displays of columbine carpeting the lower slopes of one of Colorado’s prettiest peaks: the 14,157-foot-high Mount Sneffels. The best flower displays are typically just above tree line. Because it can only be accessed via a rough 4WD road, it’s best to get here by jeep tour, such as the three-hour outings offered by Switzerland of America.
The best of Yosemite spans guided valley tours, a pleasantly easy bike ride or two, stargazing, visiting at least one waterfall via a good hike, and some of the most amazing panoramic views in the world. If you have only three days to dedicate to this amazing park, here’s how to make the most of your visit.
Take a ride on an open-air tram through Yosemite Valley. The two-hour Valley Floor Tour is educational, interesting, and fun, and you can feel good about not destroying the ozone layer by driving your own car. Buy tickets and start the tour at Yosemite Valley Lodge. In the busy summer months, it is best to show up right after breakfast to see if you can get tickets for that day.
[pullquote align=right]In the heat of summer, head for one of Yosemite’s great swimming holes.[/pullquote]Afterward, rent bikes at Yosemite Valley Lodge or Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) and cruise around Yosemite Valley on its 12 miles of paved bike paths. The Valley’s bike paths are so flat that the rental bikes don’t even have gears—you spend much of your time coasting. Make reservations in advance to spend the evening at the park’s Glacier Point Stargazing Tour. The tour bus leaves Yosemite Valley around 5:30pm and arrives at Glacier Point before darkness falls, so you have a chance to take in the spectacular view. After dark, enjoy a one-hour astronomy program before being chauffeured back down to the Valley.
No visit to Yosemite is complete without hitting at least one trail. Shuttle stop 6 drops you at the short, 0.25-mile trail to Lower Yosemite Fall; the falls roar in spring, but are nonexistent by midsummer. The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall won’t disappoint, though. The three-mile round-trip hike ascends a granite staircase to the top of Vernal Fall. If you want more, keep going to the top of Nevada Fall for a 7-mile round-trip hike.
In the heat of summer, head for one of Yosemite’s great swimming holes. Relax in the soft sand alongside the Merced River at Sentinel Beach or Cathedral Rock picnic areas and gaze at Yosemite Valley’s spectacular scenery. At day’s end, head over to the Majestic Yosemite Bar—unlike the restaurant, there’s no dress code here.
Take a drive or ride the tour bus to Glacier Point. This is world-class Sierra scenery that you’d expect to have to backpack for several days to find, but it’s completely accessible by car. Order an ice cream at the Glacier Point snack stand while you gaze at the view of Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, and the crest of Yosemite’s high country. If you start in the morning, you can ride the bus to Glacier Point and then hike back to the Valley via the Panorama Trail. Shorter hikes from Glacier Point Road lead to spectacular viewpoints at Sentinel Dome and Taft Point.
At the end of the day, head back to Yosemite Valley and attend the evening program at the Yosemite Valley Theater or Yosemite Valley Lodge’s amphitheater.
Drive your own car or get tickets for the tour bus to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Wawona, the south part of the park. Some of the best and biggest giant trees are near the parking lot, so you won’t have to walk more than a few hundred feet to get a look at them. If you want to see more, hike the entire 6-mile loop through the grove, or ride the open-air tram one-way, then disembark and walk back downhill. You can buy your tickets and broad the tram right at the parking lot. Afterward, stop by the historic Big Trees Lodge for some refreshing libations.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon.
Road tripping Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies and can’t decide between vibrant nightlife and breathtaking views? Moon has you covered. Here’s the best of each region, from dynamic cities to world-class national parks. Take in historical sites, astounding mountains, and Western Canada’s best food. Whatever your mood, start here to find adventure on the road.
The rainforest meets the city in Vancouver, where massive Stanley Park and forests of glass-and-steel skyscrapers populate the downtown peninsula. The North Shore Mountains overlook the city skyline, while the sea hugs the city, with sandy beaches just steps from urban hotels. Yet this outdoor-oriented metropolis has plenty of culture as well, reflecting its First Nations heritage (the totem poles at the Museum of Anthropology are a must-see) and its contemporary Pacific Rim society. Granville Island, Gastown, and Kitsilano draw food-lovers to their locally focused restaurants, while the suburb of Richmond has some of the best Chinese food outside China. With its well-connected international airport and location just north of the U.S. border, 145 miles (230 kilometers) from Seattle, Vancouver is a convenient starting point for trips along the British Columbia coast and east to the Canadian Rockies.
Across the Strait of Georgia at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia’s waterfront capital city of Victoria retains elements of its British heritage—visiting the world-class Butchart Gardens and taking afternoon tea at the grand Fairmont Empress are still beloved traditions for visitors—even as this increasingly cosmopolitan community booms with new restaurants and cocktail bars. Elsewhere on the island, you can snorkel with seals, take a bear-watching tour, or watch the waves crash along the Pacific coast.
One of western Canada’s most spectacular short drives, the Sea-to-Sky Highway connects Vancouver to the resort town of Whistler. Known for winter sports, Whistler has plenty to do in warmer weather, too, from riding the gondolas into the mountains, to hiking, cycling, and canoeing, to exploring the region’s aboriginal heritage.
As you drive east from Vancouver and cross the Coast Mountains, you leave behind the green coastal rainforest and wind through the desert-like hills of British Columbia’s interior. Here, the sunny city of Kamloops makes a convenient stopover point midway between Vancouver and the Rockies, with several small museums and an emerging wine industry. Continue east on the Trans-Canada Highway to a trio of national parks, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, and Yoho, where you can hike, paddle the glacier-fed lakes, or enjoy the mountain scenery. Base yourself in towns like Revelstoke or Golden (only Yoho National Park has accommodations) and enjoy their cafés, restaurants, and comfortable lodgings.
Banff National Park is a highlight of any Canadian Rockies road trip, with dramatic mountain peaks and natural hot springs, the sparkling blue Lake Louise, and more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of hiking paths. Within the boundaries of Canada’s first national park, the town of Banff bustles with restaurants, museums, and shops, and though its sidewalks can feel as jammed as New York City’s during the busy summer season, there’s always plenty of space out on the trails.
The Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper is one of Canada’s great drives, where you can stop at the Columbia Icefield to walk on a glacier or hike among the glacier-capped peaks. Without Banff’s crowds, Jasper National Park is equally beautiful, and as the largest park in the Canadian Rockies, there’s ample room to explore its lakes, canyons, and mountains.
The Kootenays region extends across southeastern British Columbia, between the Rocky Mountains and the Okanagan Valley. Here, you can explore the diverse landscape of Kootenay National Park, follow the Hot Springs Highway to several natural mineral pools, hang out in funky mountain towns like Fernie and Nelson, or learn more about the First Nations who’ve lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. Delve into the history of other ethnic communities, too, including the Japanese Canadians who were sent to internment camps across B.C. during World War II, and the Russian pacifists known as the Doukhobors who settled here in the early 20th century.
More than 200 wineries hug the lakeshores and rocky hills of the sunny Okanagan Valley in central B.C., often called the “Napa of the North.” This agricultural region stretches from Osoyoos, in the desert-like lands near the U.S. border, north to Kelowna, the area’s largest city. If you love wine, or enjoy being outdoors along some of Canada’s warmest lakes, plan to stop in the Okanagan as you drive between Vancouver and the Rocky Mountains.
Canada’s fourth-largest city has the closest airport to the Canadian Rockies, so you can start or end your Rocky Mountain travels here. Known for the annual Calgary Stampede, Calgary has the excellent Glenbow Museum of western Canadian history, art, and culture; Heritage Park Historical Village, the country’s largest living history village; and a new National Music Centre. The city’s restaurants regularly rank among the country’s top dining spots. A short drive from Calgary, the Canadian Badlands has a completely different geological profile, with its unusual hoodoo rock formations and deep rocky canyons.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Vancouver and Canadian Rockies Road Trip.
Hitting all the highlights of Nova Scotia in one week is possible, but you’re not going to see everything. In fact, you’ll be covering so much ground, it may not seem like a vacation at all. This itinerary balances a little bit of everything—Halifax, the prettiest coastal villages, the two national parks, and the main historic sites—with time out for enjoying a glass of Nova Scotian wine over a feast of local seafood. This itinerary assumes you rent a vehicle or have your own.
Check in for a two-night stay at a downtown Halifax accommodation such as The Halliburton, a historic lodging within walking distance of Halifax’s harbor front. Rather than start ticking off attractions, settle into the city by walking along the waterfront and soaking up the sights and sounds of the busy harbor. You’ll see all manner of vessels tied up at the docks, and plenty of places where you may want to eat dinner at an outdoor table.
Start at the top, literally, by visiting Halifax Citadel National Historic Site and then take a stroll through Halifax’s formal Public Gardens. It’s now lunchtime, and the Italian Gourmet is ideally situated en route to downtown. Take a tour of Alexander Keith’s Brewery on your way to the Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Dine at the Economy Shoe Shop.
Rise early for the one-hour drive to Peggy’s Cove, famous for its photogenic lighthouse. Continue south to Mahone Bay for an early lunch and a walk through the many shops lining the main street of this busy waterfront town. Lunenburg is your overnight stop, and there’s plenty of colorful seafaring history to soak up along the harbor of this town that UNESCO has dedicated as a World Heritage Site. Grand Banker Bar & Grill will be within walking distance of your room at the Spinnaker Inn (both have water views).
Take Highway 8 to Kejimkujik National Park, which protects a large chunk of the forested interior. Rent a canoe for a paddle on the protected waterways. Continue to Annapolis Royal, where Port-Royal National Historic Site protects one of North America’s oldest settlements. After dinner, watch the sun set across the Annapolis Basin from the grounds of Fort Anne National Historic Site. With reservations at the inviting Garrison House, you’ll be within walking distance of everything.
Drive through the apple orchards of the Annapolis Valley to Truro and take the TransCanada Highway across to Cape Breton Island and overnight lodgings at Baddeck’s restored Telegraph House. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is the main attraction, but the town also has a picturesque lakefront area and a good choice of stylish eateries.
Today’s destination is Ingonish, along the Cabot Trail. You drive the long way around, but that’s a good thing, because the rugged coastal scenery between Chéticamp and Ingonish is more beautiful than you could ever imagine. (Though this also means that the 200-kilometer drive will take longer than you imagine.) Plan on feasting on eafood at the Chowder House in Neil’s Harbour and staying the night at Glenghorm Beach Resort.
It takes a little more than five hours to reach Halifax International Airport from Ingonish. If you’re on an afternoon flight, there’s enough time to spend an hour or two in Ingonish. To play the revered Highlands Links golf course, you’ll need to tee off early and fly out in the evening.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Nova Scotia.
Ireland has come a long, long way since homosexuality was legalized in 1993. The positive outcome of the republic’s same-sex marriage referendum in November 2015 means that it’s easier than ever to be yourself, and not just in the capital city. Dublin is embracing LGBTQ culture like never before. You’re spoiled for choice entertainment-wise; May is a great time to be here, for the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (tel. 01/677-8511), when you’ll spot Oscar Wilde’s mug hanging on banners all over town (though the plays put on are mostly contemporary).
Another event worth planning a trip for is the Gay Pride Parade, established in 1992; the parade is the culmination of the Dublin LGBTQ Pride Festival, a two-week event toward the end of June. There’s also the city’s Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Gaze (6 Eustace St., tel. 01/679-3477), for four days in early August, where international flicks are screened at the Irish Film Institute.
There are a couple all-gay clubs in Dublin: The George is the oldest (89 S. Great Georges St., tel. 01/478-2983), with something fun on every night of the week. Sunday-night bingo (free admission before 10pm) is still a local favorite. Or catch a drag show at PantiBar (7-8 Capel St., tel. 01/874-0710), which is open until 2:30am on Saturdays. Mainstream venues sometimes offer LGBTQ nights, though they don’t tend to last for more than a year or two at a stretch. One hopefully safe bet is Glitz at Dandelion (130-133 St. Stephen’s Green W., tel. 01/476-0870, €5 cover) on Tuesday nights.
As for LGBT-friendly hangouts, try The Front Lounge (33 Parliament St., tel. 01/670-4112) for a quiet drink (unless it’s karaoke night!), or Accents (23 Stephen St. Lower, tel. 01/416-0040) if you’re not in the mood to drink. Either way, you’ll probably want to plan on an afternoon or evening at The Boiler House (12 Crane Ln., tel. 01/677-3130, noon-5am Mon.-Thurs., noon Fri. to 5am Sun., €22), which has jacuzzi, sauna, and steam rooms along with massage treatments, a coffee bar (sans alcohol), and a “play room.” There’s a nightclub here one Saturday a month; check the website for details.
Now on to the practical stuff. Stop by the Outhouse (105 Capel St., Northside, tel. 01/873-4999), the city’s most established resource center, and peruse the notice boards before having lunch at the café (1pm-9:30pm Mon.-Fri., 1pm-5:30pm Sat.). The Gay Switchboard Dublin (tel. 01/872-1055) also provides advice and information. Gay Dublin is a decent source of entertainment info, and better yet is the nationwide Gay Ireland.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Ireland.
Many visitors are puzzled by what to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of the park is wild, and hiking trails rather than roads lead into every holler, corner, and cove. You can get the ultimate Smoky Mountain Trip Planner by ordering a copy of my travel guide: Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
In the meantime, here’s an idea on how to spend a week here, and to spend it well.
Base yourself in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where you’ll have all manner of accommodation options and tempting entertainments easily at hand. Begin your exploration of Smoky at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, a mere two miles from Gatlinburg at the northern end of Newfound Gap Road.
Drive Newfound Gap Road south through the park. Hit the trail to Alum Cave Bluffs, a steep and strenuous five-mile hike that rewards you with a view many visitors never see.
As you come to the crest of the mountains on Newfound Gap Road, take the time to visit Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park. From the viewing platform at the top (an easy walk), you’ll have an unparalleled view of the surrounding country. There’s a lovely hike to Andrews Bald nearby, a moderate 3.5-hour trek to a high mountain meadow that’s often ablaze with wildflowers.
Newfound Gap Road ends at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, North Carolina. Stop here to peruse the historic structures at the Mountain Farm Museum before returning to Gatlinburg for dinner with a show at the Dixie Stampede, a sort of Southern feast combined with a live-action play with horses, gunfire, and all sorts of excitement. Afterward, hit Sugarlands Distilling for a little moonshine to calm your nerves.
In the morning, have breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, and then head for the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail for today’s hike. Depending on how adventurous you feel, this can be a half-day exploration of a waterfall or two, or a strenuous 14-mile trek to Mount LeConte and back.
Either way, start off by hiking to Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot waterfall on LeConte Creek. For a short hike, turn around and hoof it back to the trailhead. To reach the summit of Mount LeConte, continue on the trail but be ready for a long, hard day of it. Baskins Falls is a smaller waterfall—only 30 feet—but few people make the tough hike in to see it, so it’s a bit of a hidden gem.
Since you’ve earned your supper, go for some traditional, stick-to-your-ribs country cooking at Mama’s Farmhouse in Pigeon Forge.
Head east to Cosby for a night of camping at Cosby Campground, where you’ll have your choice of beautiful day hikes. Hen Wallow Falls and Albright Grove offer easy, wildflower-filled hikes. The trip to the stone fire tower at the top of Mount Cammerer is a long, tough day on the trail, but well worth it. If you’ve brought your fishing gear (and license), catch dinner in Cosby Creek.
In the morning, break camp and head north on Highway 32 for breakfast in Cosby at Janice’s Diner. From Cosby, follow Foothills Parkway east to I-40 and take the scenic route south to Mount Sterling Road, a drive of about an hour. Along Mount Sterling Road, roll down the windows, relax, and breathe deep—you’re almost at one of the most secluded areas of the park.
In Cataloochee, register at the campground (reserve a site in advance), set up your tent, and enjoy a picnic lunch before lacing up your boots and heading into the valley. Look for elk in the field across from Caldwell Place, or hike to Palmer Chapel, Little Cataloochee Church, or the Woody House. Anglers can wet a line in one of the nearby creeks and try to catch dinner.
Sunset signals time for chow and stargazing—there’s so little light pollution that the celestial show is breathtaking. Sit back and enjoy.
Today, we head west to Cades Cove, a mountain community that was one of the first places settled on the western side of the Smokies. The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop leads through the former settlement and a collection of homes and structures. Take a moderate hike to Abrams Falls, a 20-foot waterfall or follow the Rich Mountain Loop (it’s a big day hike). A scenic drive north along Rich Mountain Road winds over the mountains to Townsend, where you can easily circle your way back to Cades Cove. Pitch a tent in Cades Cove Campground (reserve in advance) for the night. Be sure to take a walk and admire the stars.
The next day, follow Parsons Branch Road south out of Cades Cove to its junction with Highway 129. You’ll skirt the southern edge of the park heading east, crossing the border into North Carolina at Deals Gap.
After Deals Gap, follow Highway 28 east along Cheoah Lake and past Twentymile to Fontana Village. To stretch your legs, turn north toward Fontana Dam, at the western end of Fontana Lake, and the trailhead for Shuckstack Mountain, a strenuous hike along the Appalachian Trail.
Or stay on Highway 28 east all the way to Bryson City. Stop for lunch at the Cork & Bean Bistro before turning north for your overnight at the Deep Creek Campground. For a short hike, follow the trail to Juney Whank Falls, or head to The Road to Nowhere, an abandoned highway project that terminates with a tunnel through the mountain and hike alongside Fontana Lake.
After a long day, relax at the campground in Deep Creek, which offers a relaxing treat: tubing. Wash away the sweat and trail dust with a float trip and some splashing in the creek.
For your final day, head to Cherokee, the ancestral heart of the Cherokee Indians and home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The drive from Deep Creek is a short one, so you’ll have a full day to explore. Start by visiting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian where you’ll learn the Cherokee creation story, hear songs and legends, and discover the heartache of the Trail of Tears. Across the street at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual browse the traditional arts and crafts made by Cherokee artisans and craftspeople, then head up the hill to the Oconaluftee Indian Village to see how the tribe lived in the 1700 and 1800s.
Grab a belly-busting country buffet lunch at Granny’s Kitchen, then drive to Soco Falls for a short hike to stunning twin waterfalls. In the evening, head to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino where you can entertain yourself by dropping $20 on table games or slots before dining at one of the on-site restaurants. The casino has overnight accommodations or you can spend a quiet night at Panther Creek Cabins.
In the morning, it’s a 1.5-hour drive to the airport in Asheville and the flight home.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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