Top 5 Trails I Loved in the Smoky Mountains

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:

  1. 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.Chimney Tops in the Smoky Mountains National Park
  2. 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!)
  3. A portion of the Rainbow Falls trail two years after the Chimney Tops wildfire.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.
  4. 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.

  5. 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.At the summit of Mount LeConte, the third highest point in the Smoky Mountains National Park.

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.

Confession: I Over-Paid for these Shoes and I’m #NotSorry

My new Hoka One-One Speedgoat 2 trail runners.

Earlier this week I bought the Hoka Speedgoat 2 trail running shoes at Gary Gribble’s in Topeka. They were pricey, but they have all the support I’m looking for while also providing the feeling of walking on a bouncy cloud. Plus they look awesome!

The Confession

I paid $20-$25 more for these shoes than I would have if I’d ordered them online. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Why? Because of the value Gary Gribble’s employees bring to the shopping experience.

From the moment you walk into the store, the friendly team at Gary Gribble’s is there to help you find the right shoe for you. They care about the fit and how you feel in them. They care whether they’re a good option for your intended use. They know the shoes they sell aren’t cheap, and the people buying their shoes aren’t your average couch potato. They want you to walk (or run, since they’re a running store) away with the best-feeling shoes they can provide. And if they can’t find that pair of shoes for you, they’ll tell you.

Everyone knows I’m a digital girl. I love ordering things online – it’s easy, and it’s fun to get stuff in the mail. But quite frankly, online purchases simply can’t stack up to the in-person service experience you get when you visit Gary Gribble’s.


This November my husband, myself and another couple that enjoys outdoor adventures are hiking down into the Grand Canyon to visit Havasupai Falls for three days. During that time, we anticipate logging roughly 50 miles of hiking, and a good chunk of that will entail carrying a 35-pound pack on my back. No helicopters. No mules. No guides. Just good ol’ fashioned backcountry backpacking.

What does this mean? Good shoes (and socks) are critical. And a solid backpack, but I’ll save that for another post.

**Update to this post. After wearing these shoes inside for awhile (just as the manager at Gary Gribble’s suggested), I decided they weren’t for me. The fit wasn’t quite right and caused a weird numbness with shooting pain in the balls of my feet. So I took them back and the folks at Gary Gribble’s helped me find a pair that better fit my feet. Check out these babies:

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated or compensated by Gary Gribble’s. Just a fan girl. I purchased my first pair of running shoes there two years ago. I swear I will never go anywhere else.

Another Baseball Season in the Books

Last pic of the baseball season.Leo wrapped up his 9U baseball season with the Kansas Hammers this weekend. Part of me is sad the season is over. I really enjoy watching him play and have fun with his teammates – they’re a great group of kids.

Another part of me is relieved. Not because of all the time freed up from games/tournaments/practices… I really didn’t mind that part. But I’m relieved it’s over because I could tell it was starting to wear on Leo.

Mentally, the season was difficult for all of us. While Leo had a solid year defensively in the outfield and has improved so much since fall ball, he never found his groove at the plate. After awhile, it really started to take a toll on his self-confidence and made him begin to feel like he wasn’t good enough to play at that level.

It was hard for me (and the rest of the family) to watch him get so down on himself. I remember what it feels like when you want so badly to get a hit, but you just can’t seem to do anything but strike out. I’ve been there. It stinks no matter your age or the level of ball you’re playing. (Just ask Alex Gordon about hitting slumps.)

Things got really bad the last 4-6 weeks of the season. Positive reinforcement and instruction from the coaching staff became sparse. Negativity/fear seemed to rule the dugout. Instead of being reminded of proper form or strategy for a play, you’d hear, “What are you doing!?!” or “What were you thinking!?!” or “Come on!”

I slowly watched the fun of baseball being drained from some of the players’ faces.

I’ve played a lot of competitive ball in my life… softball, volleyball, basketball. I’d absolutely be lying if I said I hadn’t experienced that type of coaching. But I wasn’t 9. I wasn’t in the early stages of learning the sport I was playing, trying to adjust to an entirely new level of rules and competition. I was in high school and college.

For the most part, I was able to tap into those overly negative, you-can’t-do-anything-good-enough-for-this-team moments and allow them (and the anger they generated inside of me) to fuel me. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact game when I stopped loving basketball. It was a night that felt a lot like this season of Leo’s, and it ruined basketball for me. I kept playing (because that’s what you do when you live in a small town), but it was never the same… not even remotely close.

I really hope this season didn’t ruin baseball for Leo. His love for the sport doesn’t seem like it’s been tainted yet, but he’s definitely not interested in re-living this season again any time soon. And neither am I.

Quit licking that!

At least once a day I have to tell one of my kids, “Stop licking that!” or, “Quit putting (fill in the blank) in your mouth!” This past week alone you could fill in that blank with crayons, marbles, Legos, rocks, and this evening coins.

Tonight I caught Alex as he was spitting coins out – a quarter and two nickels. I said, “Buddy, you shouldn’t put money into your mouth. It has lots of germs and can make you sick. And if you swallow it, the doctor has to cut open your tummy to get it out.”

Cue the hysterical crying.

Apparently, Alex had in fact swallowed “a money” a bit earlier. Now he was convinced he was going to die. (To be fair, I probably played a role in that given my dramatics regarding the doctor needing to cut into a stomach to retrieve a swallowed coin.)

After asking a few questions, I was able to ascertain that he had probably swallowed a dime, and that it wasn’t causing him any pain. Then I assured him that he’d probably be able to poop it out, which of course resulted in several minutes of giggles.

Guess I’ll be on poop patrol for the next few days. 💩💩💩

Planning for Walt Disney World: 3 Questions

We’ve finally decided the kids are all old enough to do a family vacation to Walt Disney World early next year. It’s something Tony and I have been talking about for about 18 months… we wanted to wait until Kate would be old enough to really enjoy herself (and remember going)… yet not wait so long that Leo’s bored with all the “kid stuff.” I think I hope we’re hitting the sweet spot. Leo will be 9, Alex 5 and Kate 3.

In addition to the five of us, we’re also planning on traveling with my parents, my sister, her daughter (age 4) and Tony’s parents. It will be really nice to have all of the family there. It will give us the ability to split up in a variety of ways so each kid will get a chance to experience stuff together, but also things specifically of interest to them.

So far the biggest bulk of my planning and research has been on my own. It’s really helped us get a better idea of what we want to do while we’re there. But I still some lingering questions/decisions:

  1. Should we use a travel agent? We went to a AAA gal here in Topeka, and I didn’t find the experience to be particularly helpful. She basically covered things I had already read about in my research. I was hoping she’d help with booking Fast Passes and Character Dining opportunities, but she didn’t act like that was something her services would cover. For those of you who used a travel agent, what all did they help you with?
  2. Where should we stay? I know we want to stay on the property, but trying to decide which resort is tough. Right now we’re leaning towards the The Wilderness Cabins, mostly for the extra space. Has anyone been to those recently? Where else should we consider (we need to have enough space to accommodate 5 people in a unit, plus some type of room division to separate beds so the snorers can be in a different room than the non-snorers).
  3. I like the idea of the meal plan, but is it worth it? We will want to do Character Dining, and I can see us eating snacks at the parks but I don’t know that we’d all eat enough times to make it worth it. Plus, if we do stay at the Cabins, we’d have a full kitchen in each unit and could easily do big breakfasts and evening snacks/meals there.

We’re planning to do five days at the parks over the course of seven days. Plus we’ll be flying (the first time for our youngest kiddos). It should be a fun, although probably exhausting, trip.

My image was pulled from the Walt Disney World planning site, where I’ve spent entirely too much time reading about all the things available.