Road Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains
Day 4: Bowling Green, KY to Cosby, TN (inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
When considering our options regarding where to camp in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I landed on two sites on the eastern side of the park: Cosby in Tennessee and Cataloochee in North Carolina. We wanted a bit of solitude inside the nation’s busiest national park, so before leaving Bowling Green, I called the Great Smoky Mountains Public Affairs office and spoke with Brett who enthusiastically validated our selections. He said most visitors congregate in Cades Cove on the western side of the park and along the Newfound Gap Road which bisects the park vertically from Gatlinburg to Cherokee.
The Cataloochee Valley is gaining recognition for its growing Elk population and avid hikers like Cosby for its proximity to the Appalachian Trail. But all in all, it’s a very quiet section of the park and the campgrounds only fill up on major summer holidays.
We passed through the “hamlet” of Cosby, which consists of a small collection of houses, a few gas stations and a combination fireworks store/watermelon stand. My friend’s Dad warned me to stay away from the moonshine in this town. “Bad news,” he said. I’ve had Tennessee moonshine before so it was all he needed to say.
We pulled into the Cosby campground are were immediately greeted by the camp host Don and his pup. Don was a very friendly, older gentleman, who had the kind of thick, southern accent that takes a few minutes to get used to. Once I got the hang of the way he let his vowels run wild, I allowed mine to have a little fun, too.
We made a reservation ahead of time for the tent-only loop – along with nearly everyone else in the campground. Don told us our section was crowded and urged us to “go ahead and pick you another siiite.” We drove slowly through Loop B, occasionally jumping out to evaluate a potential site. We selected one that was beautiful and spacious, with tall trees perfectly situated for hanging our hammocks, a terraced-off camp pad, a fire ring and a picnic table. It was the prettiest site I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to enjoy it before a rainstorm passed through, dumping buckets of rain onto our tent, chairs and the tarp we just finished stringing up over the picnic table.
We made dinner under the tarp and talked quietly out of habit, which was unnecessary since our nearest neighbor was half a city block away. The rain picked up with a vengeance around 9 pm, so we called it an early night. We dashed from tarp to tent in a vain attempt to remain dry. My feet were still damp when I work up the next morning.
We would soon learn to live with an ever-present sense of dampness that came from the spontaneous rain showers and the constant humidity. Welcome to the Great Smoky Mountains.