I’m 1/6th of the way through the parks y’all! This weekend we arrived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my 10th park. Technically, we’re a little more than a sixth of the way there, but there are 59 parks and 59 is prime. So we’re going with a sixth.

This is my 10th park sign! Only 49 more to go!

I usually go to the mountains in Boone, so I was shocked at the size of the mountains around Asheville. The Smokies are a lot taller than the Blue Ridge Mountains (the ones in northern NC) are, which I never knew. I was excited to see that the leaves are already beginning to change here. There was less of that around the bottom of the mountains, but as we climbed in elevation, there was more and more color. Most of the trees were turning yellow, but every now and then there was one that was an incredible shade of red (which is my favorite color!).

This is one of the 31 elk we saw. He was probably only 20 feet away when I took this picture.

We did one hike on the first day since we didn’t get into the park until around 1:00. It went to 2 waterfalls, both of which were huge and gorgeous. I got some great photos while I was standing on rocks in the middle of the river (or creek? Maybe it was a stream? I don’t know) with the sun coming through the trees and making the water sparkle. The second day, however, may have been my favorite day in any of the parks for a few reasons. The first is that as we entered the park in the morning, we saw a bear! Great Smoky Mountains is home to a huge population of black bears, and we’d been really hoping to see one out and about. We came up on a group of stopped cars and there was a male bear making his way through the woods. I made my dad pull the car over so I could get out and take pictures of him as he crossed the road.

We also saw a huge herd of elk. I didn’t know this, but Great Smoky Mountains is known for its elk population. We were sad as the day went on because we hadn’t seen any, but we stopped at the visitor center for wifi (State had just beaten FSU in football and we wanted stats) and saw a few of them making their way into the fields behind the visitor center. In total, there ended up being 31 elk there. They were primarily females who were sticking with one dominant male (he had 12 points on his rack), but soon there were 7 or 8 males who were there trying to find a female (it turns out it’s breeding season right now).

We did a hike on the second day, but the first night I dislocated my knee again and didn’t want to do a whole lot of walking. This trail also had some really incredible waterfalls on it. I think that waterfalls are probably a pretty big draw for that park. Overall, I liked Great Smoky Mountains more than I thought I would. Part of that is due to the amount of wildlife we saw, but just in general the park is very pretty and large. I want to go back someday so I can do some of the things we missed this time!