This was speculated to be one of the busiest weekends of the year for tourism throughout the Smoky Mountains. We knew that we wanted to do more things than we had time for and did not want ti sit in traffic any longer than necessary. After a quick deliberation, we opted to a 5:30am wake up. I think that alarm came earlier then either Ashley or I expected. We still had well over 2 hours of darkness.
An hour drive through the darkness on mountain roads, we waited at a locked gate in front of Cades Cove. This is the most popular spot in the park so we wanted to get in on Friday very early to avoid the masses. Although it was still packed at dawn, we were both confident that we made the correct choice in going early.
The reason for the name Smoky Mountains, was clear as soon as the sun began to creep into the Cove. The thick mountain fog give the appearance of smoke. It was quite gorgeous and made for some great images. However, it was a little chilly, about 35 to 40 degrees actually. About halfway to Tennessee, Ashley and I realized that I had neglected to even pack a long sleeve shirt. Needless to say, I was cold, very cold in fact.
After several hours driving the Cades Cove loop, with me running out in the cold to get pictures, we were exhausted. We took a nice drive back toward town on Little Rover Road. There were many great picture opportunities along the way. I risked my safety and temperature to get to the water while Ashley dozed off on the car.
We got a quick lunch at the only natural food store / cafe in the Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge area, Whole Earth. Interesting, we did not find the cafe to be very vegan friendly. We both got the single hot vegan dish on the menu. It was a frozen black bean burger on a store bought bun. We did however get some decent sides. Ashley got the vegan potato salad and after the long hours in the cold, I opted for the hot veggie soup.
After a quick nap we headed back into the park as many of the weekend visitors were leaving. We walked the Laurel Falls hike which was only about a mile and a half round trip. It was a good warm up to the park hikes and we saw some great foliage and a nice waterfall.
That night, after we found a pizza spot with a vegan pizza we played in a mirror maze. It was crazy. I thought it would be very cheesy and kind of lame but it was actually amazingly fun. At times, it even seemed a little creepy. We got separated and although we could see each other in the mirrors all around us, it took several minutes to find each other. Fun times.