GPS in the Smokies

These days, if you’re planning a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a handy piece of technology to have in hand is a Global Positioning System or GPS. For nature lovers, it may even be one of the greatest inventions in the last 20 years.

By just affixing one of these small computers to the windshield of any car, you are afforded turn by turn navigation. Since its introduction just a few years ago, it has become an integral part of the way many people travel. Still, a paper map or atlas can come in handy and still have their place among travelers. A number of Smoky Mountain roads won’t come up on a GPS.

Here’s one example: During a recent January trip to Valle Crucis and Blowing Rock, North Carolina there was snow on the sides of the road but it had been warm enough to keep the roads from being icy. What the GPS won’t tell you is that Hwy 321 has a detour. This detour is well-marked on the way up affording fort a nice scenic drive to Valle Crucis on Hwy 421. All the work was done by the GPS and its recalculations. On the trip back from Blowing Rock, the detour’s signage was not as visible and the GPS took Hwy 421 all the way back to East Tennessee.  This route also takes you through the Cherokee National Forest.

Take advantage of this quick excursion through the Cherokee National Forest – it’s a beautiful area of the country!  It can be a bit more hazardous during the winter though, especially if you are not expecting a mountain drive on a small road through the Cherokee National Forest. Once you start, don’t turn around, it’s just as hazardous backtracking as it is forging ahead. Rest assured that these roads are salted regularly when there is the forecast of a winter storm.

As previously mentioned, one would think that being 2012, every road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – one of the most visited natural areas in the country, would be on your global positioning system.  Not so in this case.  Just try getting to one of those cabins on top of some ridge overlooking the Smokies. Another question, why don’t cabin rental companies just give out the address of the cabin they are staying in? The answer is simply that most of the time the address you’re seeking is not going to get you to the cabin you have rented.  As fast as the Smokies have grown the past two decades, its wishful thinking that during that time every road has been added to even the most recent GPS maps. To that end, follow the directions that the check in office provides for you. Naturally, they’ve chosen the easiest path to get you to your cabin. They know the area, you may not.

Additional tips for getting around the Great Smoky Mountains:

  • Pick up a map at one of the numerous rest areas.
  • Store the map in your car.
  • Save the location you are staying at in your GPS –then you will always be able to get back.
  • Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path, but remember how you got there so you can retrace your steps on your next trip.

Take these tips to heart.  Don’t be afraid to use your GPS, but realize that you may need a traditional map along your journey as well.  Save one for the area you are visiting for future use.  If you are on a detour you may want to consult the map before entering navigation points into your GPS.  And instead of asking for an address to your cabin, follow the directions that they give you with your check-in packet.  Your family will thank you.

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