The last weekend of July, Tony and I got away for a long weekend to the Smoky Mountains. We had a lined up a hotel room, but beyond that, hadn’t planned anything special for the road trip.
In typical Alissa fashion, I pretty much hated everything about the tourist trap that was Gatlinburg. Our hotel was downtown, so we had to suffer through a dozen or more blocks of old time photography places, over-priced restaurants, candy stores, moonshine distilleries and crappy attractions just to get out of town. (To be fair, we didn’t stop at any of them – maybe they don’t all suck? I’ll leave that for someone else to explore and decide.)
But once you got out of town, you were at the foot of the Smoky Mountains National Park. And It. Was. Glorious!
Here are the five trails I loved hiking the most:
- Chimney Tops. This was the top trail on my “must-hike” list. Why? It’s short (less than four miles roundtrip), but very vertical (1,375-ft climb). After we settled in Thursday night, we decided we’d knock it off our list. Unfortunately, the trail stopped about a quarter-mile short of the Chimney Top formation due to the damage the trail incurred from the wildfires in 2016, so this was the best view we could get.
- Charlies Bunion. This was our last hike of the trip, and in holding true to the other two days of hiking, we were racing to beat the sunset to finish the eight-mile roundtrip hike. The hike itself was a lot more technical than I was expecting (poor pre-hike research on my part), so the hike in was rough. My body ached from the 23+ miles we’d hiked the day before. But the view at the end was worth it… even though it tied big knots in my stomach. (It didn’t help that Tony had to go all the way out to the farthest rock for a selfie!)
- Rainbow Falls. This trail was a last-minute, impulse-add on Friday afternoon after we had already hiked roughly seven miles into the National Park. We weren’t entirely sure how far it was to the falls, but decided to go for it anyway. The actual waterfall was okay, but I thought the best part was the hike down/back. It was four miles (one way) of the gnarliest trail we’d traversed that weekend, and a chunk of it had been burnt in the wildfires in 2016. It was eerie to be surrounded by towering dead trees, yet the ground was covered with lush green foliage. There were very few people hiking this trail, so it really added to the post-apocalyptic feel.
- Alum Cave. The trip out to Alum Cave was our the first leg of our hiking adventure on Friday. It’s about two and a half miles (one way) and relatively easy to hike. (I feel safe saying that strictly because of the shear number of folks we saw on the trail in Crocs or other ridiculous foot ware.) There are parts of the hike that get a bit dicey (think running water + rocks + steep drops down one side), but all of those areas had a heavy gauged cable available to hold on to, so you felt pretty secure. The cave at the top is awesome. Much bigger than I was expecting, but not really in a cave-like way.
- Mount LeConte. After hitting Alum Cave, we continued hiking up to Mount LeConte (another three miles, one way). The view was awesome. And the best part, was that you could visit the Mt LeConte Lodge (where you could fill up your water bottles – score!) and spend time toodling around the area without having to tack on much additional elevation gain. We checked out Clifftop Overlook and Myrtle Point while we were up there.
It’s easy to say that our quick trip to the Smokies was one of my favorite vacations in recent history (right up there with Costa Rica!). I LOVED hiking and spending time out in the wilderness. It’s always fun to push myself and see what I’m capable of achieving. Plus, I really like spending time with Tony – he’s a great hiking partner.
In all, we logged 47 miles over our four day trip. I’m certain it would have been more if we hadn’t had to burn 24 hours in the car, plus another four hours listening to a time-share pitch.