Bright and early, Ashley, Kaleigh, and I were in the Smokey Mountains! We were up prior to the sun and in the woods waiting for the park to open. We were actually there before they opened, waiting for the rangers to open the gates to the Motor Nature Trail so we could get to our hike.
With the park being closed for over two weeks, we were greeted with some rare treats. Mushrooms were all over the place on the Grotto Falls trail. Right at the beginning we found a tree covered in the brightly colored fungus. We discussed that by the end of the day it was likely that most of the mushrooms would be trampled and dead. Mushrooms are fragile and most people are awful.
We got to Grotto before the crowds and Kaleigh found 4 salamanders behind the falls. Grotto is a great falls for kids since it is not a difficult hike and you can go behind the falls. The water comes down with a surprising force so people should not stand directly under the water though. On the hike back, Kaleigh was attacked by yellow-jackets. One got inside her shirt and one in her hair. She ended up with 5 stings and a few minutes of tears. She is a tough kid and we decided it was not going to ruin our hikes for the day.
After Grotto, we grabbed a little lunch and headed to Laurel Falls. This is about the most family friendly hike in the park as it is paved and only about a mile. The falls in nice, despite the crowds. We were able to find our way to the bottom of the falls and get away from the crowds a bit, which was nice. The foliage was not quite at peak yet in the Smokies but we were still thrilled to be there. No woods should ever be closed on the word of any government.