Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 Fall Peak Leaf Season: Where To Go To See the Best Fall Color This Weekend

This weekend is the first major weekend of autumn leaf color for the 2014 peak season in the Great Smoky Mountains and luck be with us, it is going to be a weekend with great weather as well!

The Smokies have been unseasonably warm and wet so far this fall. We also had to contend with considerable rain and wind in the past week which has pushed some of the early leaves that changed into bright fall colors to the ground, especially leaves in the very high elevations as well as sycamores, sourwoods and tulip poplars in mid and lower elevations.

Since it was not really cold enough yet at night which the maples and oaks need to turn the sugars in their leaves into bright brilliant reds and oranges, and our grasses are still mostly mid to deep green, you will be able to see lots of greens still along with nice contrasting colors which all should last longer than normal this season.

The best place to be to see the most colors in a long landscape view right now is being up high. This means by car you should take advantage of places such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, the Foothills Parkway East between Cosby and I-40 and the Foothills Parkway West between Townsend/Walland and US129, The Smoky Mountain Parkway, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail behind Gatlinburg.

A little off the beaten path would be taking old State Road 284 from Big Creek to Cataloochee North Carolina. Not only are many of the overlook areas simply stunning as well as many parts of this drive, it will take you right to Cataloochee where the Elk Rut is still taking place and the colors in the mountains surrounding the Valley are beautiful.

Another exception ride today is US129 from the Foothill Parkway West all the way to the Fontana Dam. You must take a trip to the damn itself as the leaves have come in full force along the mountainside and against the blue green water, with what green is left in the mountains and the fall colors, the contrast are stunning.

If you plan on hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains to see the fall colors, there are many great choices this weekend. For a moderate hike and the ability to see stunning long range views, hike Andrews Bald starting at the Clingmans Dome parking area or the Brushy Mountain hike starting at Grotto Falls off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Both should be nice next weekend as well.

For a more strenuous hike with equally stunning color but a better long range view looking down into Cades Cove, consider going up to Gregory Bald. This is about an 11 mile round trip hike and should be fairly popular during peak fall color season so expect the trail to be a little more crowded.

Also moderately strenuous with a very outstanding view will be the Pinnacle Man-way Trail in Greenbrier off the Ramsey Cascades trail which should be very quiet and with a 9 mile round trip, or Charlies Bunion which will be much more crowded, but well worth the 8 plus mile hike along the Appalachian Trail starting from the Newfound Gap Parking area.

Some lesser know but great fall hikes would be taking the start of the Appalachian Trail in Fontana to the fire tower, the hike to the Mount Sterling fire tower from Old State Road 284 or from Big Creek, and the Mount Cammerer Fire tower from either Cosby or the Appalachian Trail.

Less strenuous great fall hikes would be would be Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, The Little River Trail Cucumber Gap Loop in Elkmont, Husky Gap Trail from Newfound Gap Road, Rainbow Falls off Cherokee Orchard Road behind Gatlinburg, Boogerman Loop in Cataloochee, and the waterfall loop in Deep Creek.

If you are a serious hiker, no matter what way you make it up to Mount LeConte this weekend you won't be disappointed, of course it will be crowded.

The Appalachian Hiking Trail still has beautiful long range views in spots, same as the Thomas Divide Trial, but the colorful fall leaves along the trail are virtually all gone.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

2014 Fall Color Observations for Tennessee areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Clearly peak leaf season in the Great Smoky Mountains is right around the corner, but is sure did not feel that way in the lower elevations in Greenbrier, Tremont, Cades Cove, The Foothills Parkway West and the Abrams Falls area.

Traffic is seasonally heavy for mid week on Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road, Laurel Creek Road and the Cades Cove Loop Road. The Spur section of the Foothills Parkway that runs between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge has not only seen heavy traffic and numerous accidents, 2 separate accidents this month each resulted in a single fatality, so drivers are asked to exercise extreme caution on park roads.

To get away from all the traffic, take the Foothills Parkway West and go south on 129 to the Abrams Creek part of the Great Smoky Mountains national park which is not only just starting to show some posts of color in the higher elevations, it is virtually deserted right now with about a dozen campsites in use and during a hearty 8 mile loop hike of Rabbit Creek, Hatcher Mountain and Little Bottoms Trail, I did not see a single other hiker.

Long range views along the trail were crystal clear with just random areas showing light green and tinges of yellow other than sourwood trees which have started to change toward the bright and deep reds we all love so much. At least a dozen different species of wildflowers are still blooming and wildlife including birds was plentiful.

The views from the Foothills Parkway West are still mostly summer-like with some lower bushes and some random trees turning and well as from Look Rock. By next weekend The Foothills Parkway West and the higher portions of Abrams Creek and Cades Cove will be a sight to behold as the riot of color will swing peak leave season into those areas.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

2014 Fall Leaf Color Peak and Dates for the Great Smoky Mountains.

As signs of fall start to show in the Smokies, signs point to beautiful color and bountiful food for the local wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains.

While fall color on the leaves is a huge attraction for people coming to the Great Smoky Mountains, a good mast crop of acorns and other nuts is crucial to wildlife in the Smokies. This year it looks as though the Great Smoky Mountains may have one of the highest yield mast crops in a very long time. On years where the mast crop is so good, the fall color tends to be brighter and last longer as long as there are no violent last minute storms to blow down the leaves.

While the first part of our fall season ushered in by the breaking of summer heat and the ripening of apples, walnuts, pawpaw, acorns and persimmons was generally dry and with seasonably comfortable temperatures, just as the acorns peak ripening ended we got a quick cold snap along with a few days of gentle soaking rain.

These cooling temperatures as well as the light soaking rain with moderate winds were enough to blow some of the early turned leaves such as in the sycamore trees which never have great color to the ground, but will hydrate the other leaves so they have a potential to stay longer in the trees and more slowly lose their green revealing much more brilliant colors that will last far longer than usual.

Based open visits have taken in the past few days to various parts of the Smokies including Newfound Gap, Elkmont, Cosby, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Balsam Mountain, Greenbrier, Smokemont, Bryson City, Maggie Valley, Cherokee and along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mile Marker 380 to 469, it is clear that the start of the 2014 leaf season will by October 12th along the higher elevations with southern exposure.

The first peak fall color leaf season in the Smokies for 2014 along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Balsam mountains higher elevations given present weather and plant conditions will run from October 12th through the 17th with some decent color in North Carolina and deciduous trees along higher points along Tennessee into the 25th.

Lower elevations in Tennessee such as around Cades Cove near Townsend, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail near Gatlinburg, Cosby, Elkmont, Greenbrier, Tremont and Big Creek will be most brilliant from the 17th all the way to the 28th of October as long as the weather cooperates. After the main peak there is usually still nice color mostly deep reds and maroons in the hardwoods until the first week in November Lower down in the valleys such as Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Wears Valley.

They key is as long as the weather keeps its current pace of wet and dry and the temperature gradually keep falling as they are doing right now, you can easily extend these dates another 4-5 days. In 2005 we had very decent fall color in the hardwoods of Tennessee as late as the second week in November with leaves in some trees the week of Thanksgiving.

As weather becomes more unpredictable and has more dramatic swings between hot and cold, and wet or dry, predicting fall color quality and peak dates as weeks as wildflower peaks have become harder and harder, however unless something dramatic happens, this looks to be an exceptionally great year for fall color and longevity of the autumn leaves in peak.

Note: These 2014 fall peak color predictions are based upon 23 years of historical data correlating temperature, moisture and fruiting density of local plants to leaf color brightness, timing and duration.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Wilderness Act Celebration at the Sugarlands Visitor Center

In honor of the Wilderness Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago, the Great Smoky Mountains national park (GSMNP) will be hosting a celebration from 9:30am to 2pm Saturday September 27th at the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg Tennessee.

This important Act to Protect Wilderness areas has allowed 109 million acres in 44 states to be protected in areas that are "untrammeled by man" so that it may continue "retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation."

The Wilderness Act Celebration in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will feature speaker Ed Zahniser, son of Howard Zhaniser who was widely regarded as the "Father of the Wilderness Act." And will kick off at 9:30 am with the Showing of the films "Wild By Law" and "Sanctuary" in the Sugarlands theater.

At 11:00 am there will be an hour long panel discussion on how wilderness principles have guided park management through the years. The discussion will be moderated by former Great Smoky Mountains national park backcountry specialist, George Minnigh and will include long-time GSMNP volunteer, Ray Payne, President of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, historian Ed Fleming, and Bill Hart.

At 1:00 pm Keynote Speaker Ed Zahniser will speak about his father's role in getting the Wilderness Act written and passed, as well as his family's relationship with one of the founders of the Wilderness Society, Knoxville attorney, Harvey Broome.

Howard Zhaniser and Harvey Broome

The celebration continues tomorrow Sunday, September 28th at 8:30 am when the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club will be lead a hike from Clingmans Dome to Silers Bald. This scenic portion of the Appalachian Trail is part of the famous 1966 "Save Our Smokies Wilderness" hike led by Harvey Broome and others, during which more than 500 hikers came to or passed over Silers Bald.

This is a strenuous hike that steadily climbs around 1,200 feet in elevation and only those prepared with proper clothing and in excellent physical condition should attempt this hike by meeting at Sugarlands Visitors Center in the west side parking area near the restrooms.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

2014 Firefly Viewing Dates in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Besides Leaf Peeping in the fall, the most popular event that takes place in the Great Smoky Mountains nation park each spring occurs when the synchronized fireflies in Elkmont draw about 1,000 spectators each night to which their miraculous matting light show.

More than a dozen species of lightning bugs inhabit the Great Smoky Mountains national park (GSMNP), but everyone is here to see just one of them the famous Photinus carolinus the Synchronous Firefly of the Smokies.

What makes the Synchronous Firefly of the Smokies so special as to attract so many people to the GSMNP is the unusual pattern of flashing which appears to be synchronized which is even more spectacular in certain parts of the park that have high concentrations of fireflies as well as no light pollution so they appear to be brighter and not effected by man made light as well.

Lots of people in the dark wandering around means that only a select few places are safe and particle to put everyone so the national park has been running special firefly shuttle trolleys as a ticketed event to Elkmont which is the safest and most practical area.

Since the fireflies emerge and use their synchronous flashing in order to mate is dependent upon weather, the prediction of the best time to see the fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountain national park a month or more in advance is part science and part educated guess. Most years the GSMNP firefly event is predicted very accurately.

The 2014 firefly season is predicted to peak between June 4th to June 11th in Elkmont where the firefly event take place and tickets will start going on sale at 10 am Wednesday April 30th and are expected to sell out very quickly. Additional tickets (85) will be released for sale online each day of the event as well. These generally sell out quickly as well.

Tickets for parking at $1.50 each and rides on the trolley cost $1 per person. None of the ticket and parking pass revenue ends up in the park as it is used to cover the cost of the reservation system.

2014 Firefly Viewing Dates in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

For detailed information about fireflies in the GSMNP and how to buy a ticket for the firefly shuttle or firefly biology you can click here.

Related Smokies Fireflies News Stories

Synchronized Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Allows Temporary Lane Closures on Southbound Spur.

In order to allow Sevier County Electric System (SCES) to replace six electric poles along the southbound Spur, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will allow 1 lane closures Monday through Thursdays from 7:00 am until 5:30 pm between Norton Creek and the Gatlinburg Welcome Center beginning Monday, February 24 through Thursday, March 6.

In order to better accommodate the heavier weekend traffic, no lane closures will be allowed over the weekends.

Road Conditions / Closures Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Volunteers Needed For Clingmans Dome Information Center

One of the greatest contributions you can make to the Great Smoky Mountains national park is your time as a park Volunteer, and right the now the National Park Service is actively looking for volunteers to staff the Clingmans Dome Information Center from April 1st through November 30th, 2014.

The volunteers need to work at the Clingmans Dome Visitor Information Center will be asked to work at least one 4 hour shift per week and are needed all days of the week with the most staffing required Friday through Sunday. Shifts are from 9:30 am until 1:30 pm and 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm.

Since Volunteers are needed to provide educational, recreational and trip planning information a basic knowledge of the Great Smoky Mountains national park and surrounding area is very helpful even though volunteers are provided orientation and training before their tour of duty.

The Clingmans Dome Information Center first came into being last year by moving the bathrooms into the Clingmans Dome parking area and converting the space into an information center where visitors could ask questions of park staff and volunteers as well as make small purchases of book, maps, tee shirts and other park related items.

If you are interested and could attend the mandatory training that will be held at the Oconaluftee Administration Building just inside the park on 441 North of Cherokee, North Carolina on Thursday, March 13, 2014, please contact Ranger Florie Takaki Monday through Friday at (828)497-1906 or by email at: Florie_Takaki@nps.gov.

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