Listen To This Article - Click Play
Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. National Park Service, and one American couple decided to celebrate the occasion in a big way. Stephanie Payne and Jonathan Irish set out to visit all 59 national parks in 52 weeks! From January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016, Payne and Irish crisscrossed the country in an SUV and Airstream trailer, stopping at a new park each week (and sometimes, multiple parks per week).
Now that their epic journey is over, Stephanie and Jonathan have been writing about their experiences on their website, The Greatest American Road Trip. The couple is uniquely suited for travel blogging; Stephanie is a communication strategist for NASA and Jonathan is a professional photographer for National Geographic. With Stephanie’s beautifully written prose and Jonathan’s incredible pictures, their website provides an immersive look at America’s national parks.
As part of their road trip, Payne and Irish visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – and they had a wonderful time! To help get you excited about your next visit to Sevier County, Visit My Smokies has put together the highlights of John and Stephanie’s trip to our neck of the woods.
A Wintertime Visit to the Smokies
In order to visit all 59 parks in a single year, Stephanie and John had to follow a meticulously planned route that didn’t always allow them to experience peak season at each location. The couple’s schedule brought them to the Great Smoky Mountains during the middle of winter. While the cold weather months may not be the most popular time to visit the national park, Payne and Irish had a blast exploring the Smokies during the “off-season”.
In fact, Stephanie and John considered the timing of their trip to be a blessing. With fewer visitors in the national park, the couple was able to enjoy the peace and serenity of the mountains without any interruptions. On their website, Payne and Irish write that they “were able to stop to watch elk and deer and wild turkey pass through the landscape without disrupting traffic, and without traffic disrupting us”.
Perfect for Auto Touring
Stephanie and John noted that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is great for auto touring, comparing the park to a “driving safari”. One of the couple’s favorite spots to drive through in the Smokies was Cades Cove, which offers beautiful landscapes, historic buildings, and some of the park’s very best wildlife viewing. Payne and Irish also praised Newfound Gap Road as a “welcome mat to countless brooks, waterfalls, overlooks, and trailheads”. The couple noted that “it’s easy to lose an entire day or days exploring by car because there is so much to see just by looking out the window”.
When they weren’t driving through the Smokies, Stephanie and John enjoyed making their way through the national park’s forests on foot. The couple wrote that “there seem to be millions and billions and trillions of trees” in the Great Smoky Mountains. Seeing the mountain’s signature blue haze rest upon the tops of the park’s trees was a highlight of their trip.
On their website, Payne and Irish wrote that they wish they could have “stayed much longer and explored much more” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but they are hoping to make a return trip in the future.
To start planning your own adventure in the Smokies, check out our guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!