If you haven’t, first read Part 1 of my trip report. Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but I recommend it!
We left Elkmont Campground around 9:30/10 am and headed to Pigeon Forge. I hadn’t originally planned for us to go to any of the touristy areas around there, but at some point I noticed there was a Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge…that looked like the Titanic. You may not know this, but I was, at one time, and still somewhat am, completely obsessed with the movie Titanic. I saw it, I believe, 11 times in the theater. I’ve seen it countless times since. I read many books on the ship; I even went to the library and looked at microfilm to see the original reports from the sinking. So, I couldn’t pass up a trip to the museum! There’s evidently one in Branson too, which would technically be closer for us, but the internet told me the Pigeon Forge one was better, so my decision was made!
Before Louie got the camping shower, I’d thought we would need to seek out a place to shower, but luckily we didn’t need to do that! So we just headed straight for the museum. Our reservation was at 11 am, but we got there a little early and it wasn’t very busy at all.
When you enter the museum, they give you a “boarding pass” and each one has the story of a passenger on the Titanic. At the end of the museum you learn his or her fate.
I liked the one they gave Louie because he was a violinist!
The museum admission comes with an audio tour, which was quite helpful and informative. There is mostly no photography allowed in the museum, except in one area where they were showing off some of the actual costumes from the movie.
This is the corset from the scene in the movie where Rose’s mother is telling her “This is not a game. Our situation is precarious. You know the money is gone.”
And of course, the dress we first see Rose in! “It doesn’t look any bigger than the Mauritania…”
Although I think the museum is more of a “one and done” type of place, I thought it was well done and quite interesting. There were loads of actual artifacts from the ship and great information. I didn’t learn as much as Louie only because I already knew the information, ha! They even had an area (very cold) where you could feel what the iceberg and the cold water would have felt like. We couldn’t even stand to be in the room at that point, much less spend time in the water! There was another part with the deck at various tilted angles. And tons of stories of the people, both the survivors and those lost. I highly recommend taking the time to go if you are in the area. We probably spent about an hour there, so it wasn’t terribly long, but I felt it was worth it, at least for me. Who am I kidding, I loved it. Total guilty pleasure, and I’m grateful to Louie for tagging along.
Afterwards, we decided to grab lunch at a nearby restaurant called the Local Goat. I got a really nice portabella mushroom and goat cheese sandwich while Louie had less luck with fish tacos. Then we headed to our next campground destination, Cataloochee!
Before you go to Cataloochee, you need to know there are no services there, no ice, no wood available, so be sure to stock up. We made sure we had plenty of both and all the groceries we needed to, and then we were ready. You go up a winding gravel road for several miles, but it was no problem for the Corolla (unless I had been driving and then I might have had a panic attack, but Louie thrives on this windy mountain driving. ) After about 2 hours we arrived at the campground. This place was even more beautiful than Elkmont, and more remote. I had reserved site 7, and again, I think it was one of the best if not the best site. It was fairly private, and had lots of room and backed up to the creek.
We started unpacking, and noticed this right behind our campsite.
Was it what we thought? We headed up to chat with the camp host to see what he thought. He told us that yep, the past two nights a bear had been in the area, but the night before the rangers had trapped the fellow and relocated him about 20 miles away. Okay, good to know. Be on the lookout. Be ready to make some noise to scare the bears away!
Cataloochee campground had no shortage of trash cans. Only one bear box for those without cars, but every site had its own little bear proof trash can, which we thought was hilarious. We kept all our food stuffs in the trunk when we weren’t using them, though we noticed our neighbors weren’t quite as careful, which is frankly upsetting and annoying to me…we work really hard to keep a very clean campsite, and if everybody doesn’t, then the bears are coming.
The tent from the backside. How beautiful is this setting??
After we got set up, we decided to go looking for the elk…we were told to turn left out of the campground and continue into the Valley and we’d see them, especially around dusk, so we set out before dinner.
The elk were reintroduced to the Park in 2001, after being gone from the area for over 150 years. It took a little work, but the herd is now doing well and part of them even moved away to another area of the park.
We did the typical Park “pull over on the side of the road, roll down the windows and start snapping pictures…”
Cataloochee Valley used to be full of people, so there are quite a few historic buildings left.
Anyway, we spent some time just watching the elk and taking pictures, and after awhile we started heading back. We popped into a few of the old buildings, when there weren’t elk around.
And then! A smallish black bear crossed the road right in front of our car. Louie stopped the car and we both kind of froze and panicked! Then we watched it in the woods next to the car and hoped it didn’t notice us. I took this excellent photo.
I’m pretty sure that black blobby bit is the bear.
We were pretty close to the campground then, so we went back and told the camp host what we’d see. He was a little alarmed and said “Maybe they got the wrong bear!”. I think I was a little freaked out that evening! It started raining a bit after that so we waited for a break in the rain to make dinner, and then we relaxed a bit and went to bed.
In the morning we got up fairly early to do a hike called the Big Fork Ridge Trail Loop, about 9.1 miles. It was still fairly raining (light, off and on) and the humidity was high. Once we got started on the hike, we never saw another person!
The terrain varied over the course of the hike, from a wide gravel road, to narrow bits, mud, rocks, you name it! About 5 miles in the trail was completely blocked by a giant tree, and we had to crawl around it. Here’s what the trail looked like after we got around the tree!
Going around was a little tricky, but we could see the trail way on the other side so we felt good about it. We had forgotten our chain saws though
There was a little side trail to see the “Big Poplars” which were actually Tulip Trees, evidently.
That’s a big tree!
We ate our lunch at a campsite, since there were nice places to sit. We definitely needed to reapply bugspray! It was buggy and muggy.
Another side trail went to a gravesite from the Civil War.
Anyway, the hike took us about 5 1/2 hours. On our short drive back to the campground, yep, we saw more elk! We took camp showers after that, and then just did a variety of things around the campground, planned the next day, relaxed, made a fire, etc.
This is the view from the back of our campsite. We would have set up our tent further back if we hadn’t been required to use the tent pad.
You can see there was a lot of extra room!
The next morning we didn’t jump out of bed because we’d chosen a slightly shorter hike, called the Boogerman Loop. It was about 7.5 miles around, and the trailhead was within walking distance of the campground.
It started with a wooden bridge…
We ate our lunch around this giant tree. It was a bit warmer than the day before, and less raining, so we saw a few more people on this hike.
There was a lot of evidence of people having lived here before: old rock walls, grave stones, even old farm equipment. Not all of my pictures turned out well– sometimes I don’t spend enough time standing still.
During the hike there had been a variety of creek crossings, mostly with those little wooden bridges. It seemed like each crossing was getting more difficult…for instance, a bridge seemed quite broken and we walked very carefully, another crossing that didn’t have a bridge, but probably needed one…at one point Louie joked that the trail was presenting us with increasingly difficult obstacles, like a game. And then suddenly we came to a place where there was no bridge, just a creek…and it seemed there once was a bridge and now it was gone. There was no way around it: we had two choices, turn around (4-5 miles back) or forge the creek. It looked scary, but we had two hiking sticks, good shoes, and I figured, the horses do it. We plotted our course, took some deep breaths, and waded through the water.
This was, I believe, one of the earlier challenges, but you can see there’s plenty of water and not an obvious trail.
And here’s me going across!
After the first crossing, the second didn’t seem so bad…that’s always the way of it! Though I wasn’t super happy to see the second bridge out.
It wasn’t so bad though, and the worst was really all the mud on the trails afterwards!
But I was pretty relieved to see this guy later…
When we finally finished the hike, we noticed there had been this warning at the beginning, which I’d seen but hadn’t really read.
Anyway, we walked back to the campground, dipping our feet in the creek along the way to wash off the mud…and then we hung things up to dry and took showers.
This is a little swimming area at the campground. People swam, though the water would have been too cold for me! Not as a kid though, I would have made it work like kids do.
While we were getting cleaned up a woman drove by and told us about a ranger talk in a nearby house, so we decided to go check it out before dinner. We got there late but were only 2 of the 5 watching. As we listened, it started POURING rain…and just so you know, we weren’t so smart and left a bunch of stuff hanging on the clothesline back at our camp. We were dry under a porch (well, fairly, as it leaked) so we listened to the ranger talk about the Elk and various other things and it was very interesting. Then, as the rain let up a bit, we watched some male “bachelor” elk head our way.
This guy was right by our car. The ranger told us about another ranger who had had his car damaged by an elk, got it all scratched up. We were lucky this time.
The caution tape was actually for the front of the house, the Palmer House, as the porch had been repainted that day. I like it in the picture though.
After that, we headed back down to the valley area of the other night, and watched the elk there again. And…get this. In almost the same place, ANOTHER black bear crossed in front of us. We didn’t get pictures, because it was just too fast, but WOW. Two bears crossing the road in front of us? CRAZY.
We got back to the campsite and of course most everything was soaked. We decided to make the best of it and try to make a campfire anyway, and Louie managed! I also managed to cook dinner and then we hung out a bit. At one point…we were sitting at the campfire and then heard a loud crash from the bushes/trees behind us. We both jumped up and ran towards the car…I was certain a bear was going to be heading out the bushes towards us…I had my light pointed at it and was ready to start yelling, and nothing happened. Louie said he’d thought a bear fell out of a tree, because he’d heard a branch snap and then a lot of rustling. I don’t even know what really happened, because we never saw anything. Maybe just a branch fell and then made a lot of noise—the bushes and trees were thick and maybe that was the rustling. Or the bear ran away and was scared. In any case, we worked up the nerve to sit back down after awhile.
The next morning we had to pack up even though pretty much everything was wet. Our tent stayed FAIRLY dry but even that had some dampness from the floor. Our hiking shoes were soaked, our towels were soaked, everything was at least damp, but the good news was: we were heading to Asheville to stay INSIDE and could do laundry and take a real shower when we got there. So we packed up and headed out, stopping to get a few pictures at a viewpoint.
A few more thoughts on Cataloochee: We would come back again for sure. Site 7 was awesome! And there were more hikes to do. An overnight hike would also be great, though perhaps terrifying. All the backcountry campsites had wires and pulleys to hang your food.
Also, in a different vehicle, we might have driven in a different way. We took the “short” way in and only had to drive on about 3 miles of gravel roads, but there’s a more scenic way which means about 10 miles of gravel roads (decently well maintained), which in a different vehicle could be awesome. I guess I wish we’d had another night or two, though it was nice to get out of the rain.
So next stop: Asheville!