Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cades Cove Motor Trail Parsons Branch Road Opening

Most of the almost 10 million people a year who visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park never leave their cars, trucks or vans while visiting the park. While that might be a shame to some, it does keep the amount of people on the hiking trails and in campsites at a manageable level.

Some people who stay in their cars may be doing so not by choice but because of physical limitations which would not let them make use of the more than 800 miles of hiking trails in the GSMNP. Others may be fearful of what may be waiting for them in the wilds of the Smokies.

All of the roads in the national park allow motorists to not only see the splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains and the beautiful views and vistas year round, but also the chance to see deer, black bear, coyote, wild turkey and a host of other animals who make the national park their home.

I especially love driving or hiking on the unimproved road from the Big Creek Section of the park in Tennessee to the Chattahoochee area near Maggie Valley in North Carolina and Rich Mountain Road which takes you from Cades Cove into Townsend Tennessee.

Another road on my favorite list of motoring trails is the Parsons Branch Road in the far end of Cades Cove which has been closed for more than 4 years but has just been reopened after repairs and much needed improvements.

When the road reopened last Friday I was expecting there to be a big celebration possibly attended by the upper echelon of the park. Instead the road closed sign was simply removed and we drove onto this wonderful historic motor trail.

newly opened Parsons Branch Road

To keep the trail from washing out, the park service has done a wonderful job raising the road and reinforcing the road near stream crossings and placing gray rock in the drainage areas around the road to prevent erosion. Some of the reinforcement can be seen in the photograph above.

Since the road was closed for so many years and it runs through some dense forest the park service also had to cut back plenty of braches and small trees that have tried to reclaim the Parsons Branch Road. Falling tress from the last few years winter wind storms have also been removed from the roadway.

Being 3rd in line to drive on the newly opened Parsons Branch Road (obligations earlier in the day prevented me from being the first) I was surprised how little dust was kicked up by the 2 cars in front of me and how incredibly smooth the ride was compared to even the paved area of the 11 mile Cades Cove Loop.

The Parsons Branch Road runs through some mostly lower elevations with about a dozen stream crossings. On the left you will see virtual walls of rhododendrons running up hillsides that will be spectacular when they bloom in the early summer.

While much of what you will drive by on Parsons Branch Road is second growth forest - areas that have been previously harvested for lumber that are still some fantastic old growth trees. These trees are huge and in many cases larger than most trees you can ever see from a road in the park. One of these old growth trees is pictured below next to one of the Your Smokies cars so that you can really see how huge these trees are.

fantastic old growth trees in the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You will also find along the motor trail a trailhead that will take you up to Gregory Bald as well as Sheep Pen Gap. There is a small parking area here and plenty of pull offs along the way where you can take a short break and look around.

My only disappointment when driving the Parsons Branch Road Motor Trail was to find litter on the side of the road I feel that should have been picked up while the road was being worked on. I should explain that it was one RC Cola can circa 1978 and in immaculate condition just yards from the road. I just don't get how this was missed. While you are not allowed to removed artifacts, plant or animals from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you may remove trash as I often do.

RC Cola can circa 1978

Near the end of the Parsons Branch Road Motor Trail you will see a picturesque low flat falls in the stream bed. This is a great place to have a picnic or snap a few shots.

The road finally ends up on the Tennessee side of the infamous Tail of the Dragon and unfortunately some of the constant whine and growl of motorcycles racing close by...But that's another subject.

Motorcycle on Tail of the Dragon

If you have the time to take the Parsons Branch Road Motor Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park do so - especially in spring, summer and early fall.

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