Wow, so much has happened since our last blog post. We are still getting settled into our new home – as well as changing our domicile to South Carolina. I really want to write a post on what one has to do to become a resident of this great state – it’s not as easy as it was to become residents of Florida. I don’t want to forget and who knows, maybe one day some family members or friends will want to move here. It would be great to have the steps written down for them. But onto more exciting things!
When we got off the road, we knew we weren’t through traveling. Just like when we first bought our 5th Wheel on September 4, 2013, we didn’t know how our travels would work out. And now we can say the same thing about “settling” down – we know there is still so much to see in our great nation and so many things on our bucket list to see.
One such place was Smoky Mountains National Park (SMNP). We first visited the area in 2012. We stayed in a cabin in the Pigeon Forge area with our daughter, son-in-law and grand pup. Sadly, I didn’t write a blog post about the trip but I have pictures posted on my personal FaceBook page. We did a few of the same hikes, so I wanted to refresh my memory about them – but somehow, those pictures now seem to be lost in the outer spaces of the internet. Anyway, we knew this was a place we would return one day to do more hiking. We actually tried to get here several times in our motorhome but something always came up to hinder us….
This time, we stayed in downtown Gatlinburg – close to the entrance of the SMNP. After our time here, we’ve decided we’ll stay in this same location next time! While we don’t enjoy the traffic in either Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, heading straight into the SMNP from our location didn’t have any traffic….only once we got on either the Scenic Loop, were headed to a popular trailhead, or where the road was temporarily closed due to fallen trees. And we experienced all of these. Part of the traffic was the fact it was Spring Break for colleges all over the country – and we meet up with many students from all over the country! There is something about the caliber of the students who hike on Spring Break – they made us feel positive about the future of our country! I’m sad I didn’t get a picture of some of them, especially the five we met and enjoyed a lunch break from Perdue University!
Our actual driving time from Myrtle Beach was six hours. Very doable – we knew we could get in a short hike upon arrival. Once we did arrive, Bill commented he was glad he was driving his car and not the motorhome! We stayed in a hotel rather than try to find a great deal in a cabin or condo – since our stay was only four days. Those deals are for at least a week. We had no idea we were blessed with a huge jacuzzi bathtub and a fire place in this hotel – an unadvertised feature! Off we went to the SMNP to get in a short hike. We stopped into the Sugarland Visitor Center to pick up a map to figure out the best hike to take. And then we met the Spring Break CROWD! The Visitor Center was packed as was the trailhead – which we had a bit of a problem finding….Miraculously, once we arrived at the rather large trailhead parking area, we scored a parking space as someone else pulled out!
Laurel Falls Trail – up up up! We actually had to ask a Ranger for a recommendation for the hike, about 2 1/2 miles in distance. At first, we rejected this one because she said it was paved and rated easy. But at 5 pm, we didn’t have any other option. So up we went – with a small crowd! As it turned out, with the elevation, it wasn’t really all that easy. We’ve been walking on the flat beach since October – ok, truth be known, Bill is in REMARKABLE shape and I struggled to keep up with him. Oh how the tables have turned since we first started hiking in 2003….
Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail – This hike was listed as “moderate” in one place and “hard” in another. Trust me, it’s a hard hike because of several places that are challenging. The way we felt afterwards, we said it was hard, but now as we reflect back, it was pretty moderate! Sadly, my watch (which tracks my steps and workouts) and iPhone batteries died around 7.3 miles in so I don’t have an accurate picture of our full hike. It was one the Ranger recommended with spectacular views. It was listed as 8.4 miles but we added at least 1/2 mile to it to go to a bluff that was more private. We decided on day 2, we wanted at least one long hike. The trailhead was at Newfound Gap (photo at top of blog post). We cropped out the crowds in that pictures – it was VERY busy as it’s also an overlook. But the best views were up up up the mountain.
Now to head back down! It took us three hours to get up here. This hike was supposed to be 8.6 miles according to All Trails App going via the Appalachian Trail. We went at least .2 miles beyond the peak and probably at least 1/10th up. So this calculates out that we at least went 9 miles not counting the side trail to the shelter and an attempt at heading up to Charlie’s Bunion the back way, picture below.
We wanted a really challenging hike and the Smoky Mountains delivered. So for our next day, we decided we’d take a milder hike and let our bodies rest a bit – or so we hoped. We are in the Smoky’s after all. But our overriding goal was to find more solitary hike. While we loved all the interactions and everyone (nearly) was polite, helpful and kind, it was a busy hike. After all, it is Spring Break and the SMNP is the most visited National Park in the country…..
Stay tuned to find out how it went! Our next two hikes coming up.