I’m not normally an outdoorsy kind of girl.
Of course, you may have already gathered this based off of my decision to wear a bright-pink mini skirt to a National Park.
So as you might imagine, I was dubious when The Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced the implementation of vehicle-free Wednesdays on the Cades Cove Loop.
Vehicle-free Wednesdays are part of a pilot study to improve visitor experience at the park, and is set to run from June 17 – September 30.
“You mean I have to get out and walk… without air conditioning?” griped my selfish inner-dialogue.
But I’m an indoor-enthusiast of the open-minded sort.
And so, I packed a bottle of sunscreen, extra potent mosquito repellant and a 32 ounce Yeti of iced sweet tea. And just like that, my husband and I set off on an outdoor adventure.
The drive up the mountain began like any other, and the weather was unusually bright and sunny, which was remarkable in its own right.
Any born and bred East Tennessean will tell you – sunny summer days are few and far between. Even the sunniest of days usually turn into afternoon downpours. But such wasn’t the case on this particularly beautiful Wednesday, which I took as a good omen.
It takes almost an hour to travel from downtown Gatlinburg to the Cades Cove Loop.
As we drove I cherished the views of the Smoky Mountains as I most often enjoy them: With the AC blasting, the window rolled down and bluegrass music streaming via bluetooth through the car stereo.
Previously downloaded music of course, I’m not that much of a rookie. Of the many things you can expect to find in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, LTE isn’t on the list.
As we neared the Loop I began seeing signs warning visitors of the road’s closure to vehicle traffic. So, I knew I’d soon be leaving my rolling temperature-controlled cocoon behind.
The parking lot was busy. However, to my surprise, there were still plenty of spots available between Loop parking and the nearby Visitors Center.
We got out of the car and made our way past to the giant “Road Closed” sign.
And that’s the moment it hit me.
I had crossed into the fringe universe of the Cades Cove Loop.
Gone were the taillights I was so used to seeing.
Gone were the tailpipe emissions and the constant jerk of stop-and-go traffic.
And all of the creature comforts that I thought I once liked about the Cove? They’d been replaced by the sound of birds chirping, children laughing and horse hooves beating. And ya know what, I liked it.
In fact, I’ve decided the Cades Cove Loop on vehicle-free Wednesdays is exactly the amount of outdoors I can handle.
Clean paved roads, manicured scenery and some serious photo-ops, due to the fact that you can now actually take a moment to literally stop and smell the flowers.
The world has been a crazy place lately, and I’ve been finding it particularly difficult to “clear my mind.”
But something happened to me up on that vehicle-free Loop.
Surrounded by incredible views and fresh air, I found a moment of peace.
With fresh air in my lungs, surrounded by picture-perfect scenery, my problems and worries melted away.
Officials at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have said that the results of this pilot study will be used to inform future planning. With that said, I would imagine that it’s possible vehicle-free days on the Cades Cove Loop may become a regular ‘thing’.
And while I realize that not everyone will be on board, I would encourage those who are on the fence to give it a try. Perhaps experiencing the Loop in a different way will bring you some much-needed peace and relaxation to you.
After all, at the end of the day, there’s still that hour-long drive back down the mountain. And plenty of time to recover from the comfort of your rolling cocoon.
Note: On vehicle-free days on the Loop, mobility-assisted devices are still welcome for individuals with disabilities. If visitors need special accommodations for safe accessibility, they should call 865-448-4105 for more information in advance to their visit.