The US national parks are popular among tourists and outdoor enthusiasts and generally remain packed to the brim with travelers, flocking from around the world. Located in the eastern US, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one such outdoor haven. Spanning 522,427 acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in the region. But despite its size, the roadways and trails of the park can feel overcrowded, especially with summer hordes. But you can dodge the crowds if you know when and where to go and stay.
The Best Time
Depending on your elevation, temperatures can vary greatly within the park. The weather is temperate in the spring when the park hosts an annual wildflower festival. Summer brings humidity and touristy crowds into the park. Fall, with a colorful show of fiery foliage, and winter are the best seasons to visit the national parks.
The Best Place
The Cades Cove Campground in the park dates back to the mid-1800s, and now is a historic district boasting beautifully restored barns, churches, and split-log cabins. The campground also features a range of amenities like picnic tables, flush toilets, drinking water, bicycle rentals, etc. The Black Fox Lodge in Pigeon Forge offers cozy rooms with epic views and an in-house restaurant to satiate a traveler’s hiker hunger. To get away from the crowds, camp nearby John Oliver Place, one of the oldest and most tranquil cabins in the park.
The Best Trail
Taking off the beaten path is always the best approach to avoid crowds and experience something unusual. The area is full of such trails and routes. Go for a scenic drive to the Newfound Gap, which offers a quintessential view of the Smoky Mountains over the wooded hilltops. Or enjoy the quiet of the Smokies hiking along the lonely wooded trails like Baxter Creek Trail, shrouded in fog and greenery.
Walking along the golden sand, sunbathing with ice cream on hand, and cooling dip into sea-water; nothing makes any other spot a perfect summer hideout than a beach. But, many of us perhaps never have realized that diving in the deep blue sea can come with fantastic health benefits too. While any form of swimming is beneficial for health by reducing risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, invigorating ocean water comes with additional properties like mood-lifting, immune-boosting, and even fat-burning.
According to the medical director of Healthspan Dr. Sarah Brewer, swimming is undoubtedly one of the best all-round exercises working almost all body muscles. But the common cardiovascular benefit of swimming can be perked up with the calorie-burning property of chilly ocean water, as cold water immersion temporarily lowers our cholesterol, burns fat, and improves water retention. According to Dr. Brewer, during cold water swimming, the human body tries to maintain the core temperature of 980 F by increasing the metabolic rate by at least 80%. As a result, we burn more calories easily just to stay warm. Cold temperature also activates the brown fat by increasing the activity of brown adipose tissue in adults, which produces heat in the body helping in combating obesity.
The recent global pandemic situation caused by a single virus has made immunity of health a priority among all ages. Ocean swimming can help here too, as regular exposure to cold water helps build a strong immunity system from infections in a long run. According to Dr. Brewer, engaging in cold water immersion three times a week for only six weeks can significantly increase the numbers of immune cells and levels of powerful antioxidants, hence improving the adaptive tolerance system of the body against environmental stress.
Sea Swimming can also boost mental health and emotional wellbeing. Dr. Brewer suggests regular open water swimming as a form of meditation, as it helps refresh and calm the mind while focusing only on breathing. According to her, cold water immersion stimulates several brain chemicals, particularly endorphin release, thus improves mood and helps in combating anxiety, stress, and depression in long run.