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.

My Moab Adventure

In October I had the opportunity to go on my dream vacation, an adventure trip to Moab, Utah. I spent five nights sleeping in a tent and stretching my comfort zone in the Moab desert. Every day I was challenged to do something that terrified me, but at the same time was something that I’d always wanted to try.

Adventure 1: Rappelling

Rappelling in MoabMy first day in Moab included a lot of hiking (almost 10 miles) and rappelling down a couple of 100+ foot drops. I’ve never attempted to rappel before, and in fact am quite scared of heights. But once you’ve hiked two miles into the desert on a (pretty much) unmarked path and a dozen of your closets new friends are waiting on you to rappel down before they can continue on, you pretty much don’t have a choice.

Once you get over the fact that you’re backing yourself off of a cliff, rappelling is pretty fun. You have a lot more control than you’d imagine and walking/hopping down the side of a mountain is pretty cool.

Rappelling near an arch in Moab

Adventure 2: Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing in MoabOur second day of the trip revolved around rock climbing. Not only have I never climbed before, I hadn’t even attempted to do one of those indoor climbing walls. Mainly because of the whole afraid of heights thing, and not being confident that I’d be strong enough to do it. So I spent the first hour or so watching others make their first ascent, studying their technique and strategies. Finally, it was my turn. It didn’t take me too long to realize that not only is rock climbing awesome, I’m not too bad at it.

I took several routes up on the sandstone at Wall Street. They were 5.7 and 5.8 climbs (if I remember correctly).

Big step rock climbing in Moab.
Climbing is certainly a physical challenge, but it’s also a mental game plotting your course on the way up. You are constantly scanning the face of the rock looking for small cracks or riffs, searching for your next hold. Sometimes there’s nothing to hold onto and you have to smear (basically pushing your foot against the rock and leveraging the friction between the sandstone and your rock climbing shoes) to make your next move.

It’s definitely intense!

I really can’t wait to go rock climbing again. I think  it’s something Tony would really enjoy, and I can see us planning future vacations around rock climbing opportunities.

Adventure 3: Mountain Biking

If you go to Moab and you don’t take the opportunity to ride a bike, you didn’t really experience Moab. On our third day, the rented mountain bikes and headed to Dead Horse State Park to spend the day riding the Intrepid Trail System.

I’ve been riding a bike since Kindergarten so it sounds funny, but of all the things planned for the trip, I had the most anxiety about mountain biking. For starters, I hadn’t really spent any quality time on a bike in like fifteen years. And when I was riding on a regular basis, it was through the very flat streets of Lebo – hardly the type of terrain that would catapult me forward over my handlebars and into cactus. Also, it was the first time all week that I wasn’t attached to safety ropes keeping me from totally hurting myself.

Mountain biking in Moab

As it turns out, I was probably right to be anxious about biking. The terrain was crazy. I rode over, up and down rocks (more like small cliffs in some areas) that I would’ve never guessed were possible to take on a bike. And then there was the sand. Once your tires hit it, it was like a suction cup force suddenly brought you to a grinding halt. Fortunately for me I avoided having a catastrophic wreck, but I did wipe out a few times. Turns out I’m not really capable of holding a conversation and riding a trail (at least at challenging points) at the same time.

After I managed to get some space from the rest of the group, I had plenty of room to challenge myself physically and see what I was capable of. Some cussing was involved, and I was slightly violated by my seat once, but overall it was awesome. I can’t wait to buy a mountain bike and start trail riding here in Kansas.

Adventure 4: ATV Riding
The final adventure for the trip was a day of ATV riding through the sand dunes in the back country of Maob. While I enjoyed riding, I really wish we had been able to go faster. I really wanted to be able to get some air on a few of the jumps that we rode over but we had to stay in line so that pretty much ruled out the opportunity to do anything too crazy.

Riding ATVs in Moab

Looking Back
I can’t really explain how much I loved this trip and what it meant to me. Not only did I have a chance to do a lot of cool things, I was able to learn a lot about myself in the process. I look forward to more adventures in the future, and look forward to being able to take Tony back to Moab sometime so he can check it out too.