Bike camping in the Great Smoky Mountains

I was planning a four-day trip.  The original plan was to ride to Big Creek campground (on the northeast corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) on the first night, then ride in to Cataloochee for the second night.  The third night would be back to Big Creek after a relaxed afternoon and morning exploring the Cataloochee area, then back home on the fourth day.

Bad weather and a persistent cough put the trip off until later in the week and cut it down to 2 days.  Rain pretty much came out of the forecast for Friday and Saturday after a very wet Wednesday and Thursday. The new plan was to just head for Big Creek, spend the night and head home on Saturday. 

Ready to go

Ready to go

I set out under a cloudy sky.  My route took me out Sevierville Pike to Seymour.  The original plan was to take back roads around Seymour, but I decided to brave Chapman Highway.  There was at least minimal shoulder most of the way, but lots of traffic, lots of fast traffic, and some of the shoulder was actively hostile, with nasty rumble strips.  Past Seymour, the shoulder was consistently wide (except some narrow bridges) until Sevierville, with steady traffic.

Hostile rumble strip

Hostile rumble strip

Sevierville is the county seat of Sevier County, which is the official sprawl laboratory of Tennessee (motto: how badly can we screw things up?).  Traffic is always clogged there.  Past the intersection where 441 and 411 split (I stayed on 411, aka Dolly Parton Parkway), the shoulder disappeared, but traffic was not too fast and the lanes were wide (and there were not many trucks) so it was tolerable. 

I turned right onto state 339, which was narrow, shoulderless, and busy.  Finally, about 35 miles out, I turned onto Jones Cove Rd (still 339), where the traffic volume dropped and I finally felt like I was in the country.



Jones Cove

Jones Cove

The rain started in here somewhere, first as a light drizzle.  I made Cosby, where there was nasty heavy traffic, and started up the road to the Park Service picnic area to dig my rain jacket out of the bag under the shelter of a picnic pavilion.  A park ranger stopped me to talk (probably thought I meant to camp at the currently-closed Cosby Creek campground) and let me know that Big Creek was already full.  So on to plan C, the commercial campground, where I went directly.


So 52 miles and just over five hours (I took my doctors seriously when they said not to push) from home, I pitched my tent at a funky commercial campground. 



Then I took a slow contemplative ride up Cosby Creek to the picnic area (farther from the highway than I thought), which turned out to be the only real contact with the Park I had on the trip. 

Cosby Creek

Cosby Creek

 I cooked dinner in the campground’s pavilion.  I went to bed, a little cold and wet, but slept warm and snug.

In the morning, I started to ride back the long scenic way through Gatlinburg and up Little River Road, but the cold, rain, and incessant weekend traffic made me think better of it.  I turned off on 416 through Pittman Center.  The road was narrow but traffic was light and the scenery was good.


Near Pittman Center


Traffic picked up again as I neared Sevierville, but the rain finally stopped.  I ate an Italian sausage sub at a strip-mall restaurant on Dolly Parton Parkway, and rolled on home, bypassing Seymour this time.   The return trip was a little longer, about 62 miles.


So nothing went according to plan.  I suffered from heavy traffic, weather, and did not make it to the really beautiful places I meant to go.  But I did get out and explore, tried some new roads, and had an adventure.  There were no major dog episodes, and in spite of all the traffic, no harassment or close calls, and the bike worked great.  This was not the kind of trip that you brag on to someone who is thinking about trying bike camping, but if there were no chance of problems, it isn’t really an adventure.

Back towards the foothills from Black Oak Ridge near Seymour

Back towards the foothills from Black Oak Ridge near Seymour


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