Camping in the Smokies
Set on a slight incline in what once was a pioneer farmland, this attractive, terraced campground is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The large campground area is situated between the confluence of Rock Creek and Cosby Creek. During my trips to the area, I have rarely seen this campground crowded, while other large Smokies campgrounds can be overflowing, cramped, and noisy. Several loops expand the campground, and bathrooms are conveniently located throughout the site. A small store, specializing in campers' needs, is located at the turn off TN 32.
Now beautifully reforested, this area is rich in Smoky Mountain history. Cosby was once of the most heavily settled areas in the Smokies before Uncle Sam began buying up land for a national park in the East. The farmland was marginal anyway, so, in order to supplement their income, Cosby residents set up moonshine stills in the remote hollows of this rugged country. As a result, Cosby became known as the"moonshine capital of the world."
In remote, brush-choked hollows along little streamlets, "blockaders"—as the moonshiners were known—established stills. Before too long they had clear whiskey, "mountain dew," ready for consumption. Government agents, known as "revenuers" and determined to stop the production and sale of "corn likker," battled the moonshiners throughout the hills. It is doubtful if any stills are operating within the park boundaries today; however, in other areas of Cocke County, someone surely is practicing the art of "feeding the furnace, stirring the mash, and judging the bead."
Its past is what makes Cosby so interesting. Trails split off in every direction, allowing campers to explore the human and natural history of this area. Follow the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail 1.5 miles to Sutton Ridge Overlook. On the way to the overlook watch for signs of homesteaders from bygone days: rock walls, springs, and old chimneys. At the overlook, you'll get a good lay of the land: Gabes Mountain to your east, the main crest of the Smokies to your south, the Cosby Valley below, and East Tennessee on the horizon.
Another hiking option is the Gabes Mountain Trail. Along its 6-mile length, this trail passes picturesque Henwallow Falls and meanders through huge, old-growth hemlock and tulip trees and scattered, old homesites. Turn around at the Sugar Cove backcountry campsite.
Don't forget to explore nearby Greenbrier. The 4-mile Ramsay Cascades Trail traverses virgin forest and ends at a picturesque waterfall that showers hikers with a fine mist. The Brushy Mountain Trail winds its way through several vegetation zones to an impressive view of the looming mass of Mount LeConte above and Gatlinburg below. Grapeyard Ridge Trail is the area's most historical and secluded hike. Walk old country paths along Rhododendron Creek and count the homesites amid fields just now being obscured by the forest. At 3 miles, just before the Injun Creek backcountry campsite, look for the old tractor that made its last turn in these Smoky Mountains.
The crown jewel hike from Cosby is the 6-mile hike to the restored Mount Cammerer fire tower. Built on a rock outcrop, it was formerly called White Rock by Tennesseans and Sharp Top by Carolinians. It has since been renamed Mount Cammerer, after Arno B. Cammerer, former director of the National Park Service. Restored by a philanthropic outfit called "Friends of the Smokies," the squat, wood and stone tower was originally built by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. The 360-degree view is well worth the climb. To the north is the Cosby Valley and the rock cut of I-40. Mount Sterling and its fire tower are to the south. The main crest of the Smokies stands to the west, and a wave of mountains fades off into the eastern horizon.
Cosby Campground is a winner. Where else can you set up your tent in the middle of history? In the summer, naturalist programs in the campground amphitheater offer campers a chance to learn more about the area from rangers and other park personnel. The campground's size allows campers to set up near or away from others to achieve their perfect degree of solitude. If you are in the mood for company, though, the tourist mecca of Gatlinburg is nearby. Attractions range from the visual (Elvis Museum, wax museums, and musical revues) to the gastronomical (fudge shops, taffy shops, breakfast buffets, and plenty of fine dining). Souvenir shops abound with coonskin caps, stuffed black bears, and ceramic chickens. Don't forget to have your picture taken in the old-time pioneer garb at the numerous photo shops. It really is a fun place to stroll and people-watch.
© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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