Home > s24o > S24O: Smokemont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

S24O: Smokemont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The 2013 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup qualifying trials came to town this weekend.  Boaters from around the world as well as the press, vendors and spectators you’d expect to see at a World Cup event; so what better time to slip out of town on my bike to avoid the circus and enjoy some solitude in the National Park.

About six miles north of Cherokee NC, nestled in the picturesque Oconaluftee valley and just within the boundaries of the Great  Smoky Mountains National Park, lies Smokemont Campground.  It’s about 20 miles from my backdoor making this a great S24O destination.  The road from my house to Smokemont passes through Bryson City, my hometown.

Not bragging but, Bryson is a beautiful little town.  While other small towns in our area are showing evidence of hard economic times, Bryson seems to be doing well.  Every store front is occupied with an eclectic collection of coffee shops, restaurants and gift shops.  There also a friendly local bike shop, Bryson City Bicycles.  But the main attraction is the train.  When not out on an excursion through the countryside, you’ll see a beautiful vintage locomotive parked in the middle of town.  The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad offers a unique way to experience the mountains here in Western North Carolina.

I stop by the bike shop and meet up with Andy.  Andy is Bryson City Bicycles co-owner and head mechanic. He’s also an avid fly-fisher who has begun dabbling in the cult-like world of Tenkara.  With only a little persuading, Andy quickly swings a leg over his bike and we head out for an overnight fishing/biking adventure.  Just because they said it could never be done, Andy is S24Oing on an all carbon racing bike.  I look at him with some doubt as if he’s off on a deadly mission never to return, but Andy has the confident look of a Mercury astronaut about to be shot into space.  This should prove, if Andy returns in one piece, that Ultralight bike touring can be done on any bike.

Leaving Bryson City on US19, we wind our way up and over a small mountain pass and drop into Cherokee.  Traffic Sunday mornings is light here in the bible-belt as most folks are attending services; only the wicked are out bike touring.  We make our way past countless souvenir shops and into the center of Cherokee.

The home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is rich with cultural and outdoor activities. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is well worth the visit.  I’ve been three times over the years and every time I visit I learn something new.  The theatrical production of Unto These Hills is another ‘must see’ attraction for those with more time.  But not us, this is an S24O, so we push on through Cherokee and enter the Oconaluftee Valley on US441.

Elk crossing signs mark our departure from Cherokee and entrance to the GSMNP.  The best times to see elk are early morning and late evening. The GSMNP visitor’s center is worth a stop too.  US441 is the main drag bisecting the park and leading to Tennessee. So this visitor center and the one on the other side of the park, Sugarlands (just south of Gatlinburg), get a lot of visitors. They are well provisioned with guidebooks, maps and souvenirs. But of course, the gift shop is not the reason to stop.  A short walk from the center is the Mountain Farm Museum with an old farmhouse, barn, smokehouse and corn cribs.  This is a good place to get off the bike and stretch your legs.  Just watch out for the occasional copperhead coiled up under the numerous outbuildings.  Almost nothing takes the fun out of bike camping like the bite of a deadly viper.

Not much farther into the park is Smokemont.  We’ve reserved our spot online (thanks for the help Raquel) to be assured of a place to sling our hammock-tents.  Reserving online also gave us the opportunity to pick a nice spot close to the river for more privacy, not that there is much of that to be had in a front country camp.  Once the hammocks are pulled taught between trees, we break out the Tenkaras and head for the river.

Fishing the Bradley Fork River, which flows through the campground, is usually productive and I’ve caught a number of small trout here on prior fishing trips.  I believe the river benefits from being upstream from Cherokee, where the river is kept well stocked for the tourists.  The Tenkara rod is particularly well suited for narrow Appalachian rivers.  Fishing our local streams is often like fishing in a tunnel of fly-snagging vegetation.  Long graceful over-arching fly casts are things of dreams around these parts.  Anglers here get very proficient at short side shots up-under overhanging limbs.  The Tenkara also packs down small making it the perfect bike-fishing rig.

After terrorizing the local trout, we ride back into Cherokee for a well earned dinner.  I pull into the first place we find, a Chinese restaurant which will remain nameless (but really, how many Cherokee-Chinese restaurants can there be? You figure it out). There I find the most dried out, unappetizing buffet I’ve ever experienced.  I eat three plates.

We leave the Cherokee-Chinese restaurant and head out in search of elk.  We find a big one munching on grass just inside the park.  The elk, bear too for that matter, are quite accustomed to the gawking gaze of tourists, so he’s just calmly hanging out by the side of the road with moose-like majesty.

Back at camp we enjoy a fire and sip a little Irish soup till the sun slips behind the jagged horizon.  Smokemont is at a lower altitude than much of the park, so nighttime temperatures are tolerable.  Hammocks are notoriously cold sleepers, and hammockers need to be prepared.  An extra layer of clothing and some form of insulation between you and the bottom of the hammock is a good idea as temps drop.  Still, hammocking is my favorite way to sleep outdoors.  It’s true adventure sleeping where you are one slipped knot away from thudding to the ground and becoming the laughing stock of the whole campground.

I wake the next morning to find myself still hanging from two trees, and I’m happy that I hadn’t become a dangling play toy for a bear during the night.  Another twig fire built in my hobo stove (tin can) heats a mug of cowboy coffee that leaves our teeth peppered with coffee grounds.  Cowboys must have had horrendous dental problems.  After we breakfast ourselves, we roll out onto the blacktop and cruise back home.

The bicycle gods have blessed me with bunches of fine S24O destinations within striking distance from my backdoor.  I’m looking forward to doing more and sharing them with you.

Follow along on Facebook and Twitter for pictures and snippets on the fly, and here at The Velo Hobo for more detailed ride descriptions.  I’ll give more detail later on Andy’s bike!

As always, thanks for reading. Jack

Categories: s24o
  1. September 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Wonderful post and sounded like a great wee adventure. Not quite sure the bike pictured entirely fits my mental image of a bike set up for lightweight touring mind. 😉

  2. The Velo Hobo
    September 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    I think a frame pack and a tiny handle bar bag would sell it more. Actually the panniers came off a vintage touring bike he has hanging in the shop. We had to carry a lot of light weight but bulky items to ward off the cold night temps here in the mountains. I think it’s a work in progress, as is Andy.

    • September 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      The Velo Hobo :
      I think it’s a work in progress, as is Andy.

      I guess we are all ‘works in progress’ – if we are lucky! 🙂

      • The Velo Hobo
        September 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

        Too true my friend, too true.

  3. September 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    A fine trip, Jack – a cool bike, some tenkara action, and some chilling in the hammock next to a wood fire. Good stuff!

    • The Velo Hobo
      September 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks Henrik, and thanks for the mention at Hiking in Finland!

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