Oconaluftee Visitor Center - A hiker's view
Yesterday I spent over two hours at the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The building is beautiful, airy and so convenient.
The highlight was definitely the history museum which focuses on the rich cultural history of the Smokies - yes, including moonshine, or Corn in a Jar, as they put it. See the picture above.
But there are several great improvements for hikers.
The left side of the Visitor Center is devoted to orienting visitors to the Park. A large video screen shows closed roads and weather conditions. Another area of the orientation section discusses easy hikes and minor roads within the park. It also answers the perennial questions such as "How far is it to Sugarlands?" and "Where is the Blue Ridge Parkway?"
For serious hikers, the biggest improvement is the open air information kiosk in front of the Visitor Center.
They've moved the backcountry permit station to the kiosk, so there's no excuse for not filling out a permit. The backcountry sites that need reservations are clearly listed. You can also buy a park trail map for a dollar on the honor system.
The bathrooms are much more visible, located to the side of the Visitor Center.
The trail to the Mountain Farm Museum starts just to the side of the building. The trail then continues seamlessly to the Oconaluftee River Trail. Hopefully that will encourage visitors to walk the easiest trail in the park.
By all means, hikers should visit the history museum and buy a few items at the bookstore. But even if they bypass all that, they'll still enjoy the new layout of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.