Last week, I wrote about our interesting travel to and from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I promised to tell you more about our activities while we were there.
The 4th of July fell on Thursday this year, so we decided to make a long weekend by also taking Friday off work. Everyone arrived at the rented cabin on Thursday afternoon.
The cabin worked great for us. (I wrote a bit about the layout last week). Although it seemed small when we first arrived, we soon got used to it. We had some great family time hanging out in the cabin.
There was a hot tub on the deck which we enjoyed for a couple evenings, although we may have appreciated it more if the weather was cooler. Some of our indoor time was spent working on a yarn puzzle. We didn’t get it finished but tried to save the put-together pieces so we can work on it later.
The kitchen in the cabin was well-equipped with a full-sized refrigerator and range. It even had a dishwasher. Outside, there was a gas grill we were free to use. We took advantage of the facilities by cooking almost all of our meals in the cabin.
We did not spend the entire weekend in the cabin. On Friday morning, my hike-loving daughter and son-in-law got up early to go for an all day, 15+ mile hike. They hiked to the top of Mount Le Conte, starting on the Appalachian Trail and then moving on to the Boulevard Trail. On their way down, they followed the Bullhead Trail.
Mount Le Conte is the third tallest peak of the Smoky Mountains. The trail was recently re-opened after being closed when the fires swept through the mountains a couple years ago. Evidence of the areas that were burned can still be seen on several parts of the trail.
The rest of the family – three of us looking for shorter trails and one who likes to hike a little longer – headed to Clingmans Dome an hour or two later. Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the national park. At the top of the half mile trail is an observation tower. Although the trail is short and completely paved, there is a significant change in elevation, so I wouldn’t say it was easy.
As we started up the trail, it started to rain. We had rain ponchos and umbrellas, so we didn’t let the rain interfere. We made it to the top and climbed the tower.
The view could have been better – we were treated to the “smoke” in Smoky Mountains. Clouds and fog surrounded us. On our way down, the sky cleared and we started to see the beautiful views.
We finished the hike and started the drive to the Sugarlands Visitors Center. Because it was a holiday weekend, there was a lot of traffic. (It had been bad on our way to Clingmans Dome, too). By the time we arrived at the visitors center, it was time for a late lunch. We had packed a picnic and found a nice shady spot to enjoy it.
After lunched we walked the Fighting Creek Nature Trail and the Cataract Falls Trail. The two easy trails join together to make a total distance of about 1 1/2 to 2 miles. I enjoy hiking, but am not in great shape, so the three trails we walked that day satisfied me.
One of my daughters wanted to hike more, so she came up with a plan. We needed to drop off a car for my daughter and son-in-law who were doing the long hike – we had picked up their car at the other end of the trail in the morning. We would bring the car and my daughter to the end of the trail. She could hike in to meet the others. Although the meet-up was a little off, everyone got to hike as much as they wanted.
While they were hiking, the three of us that were finished hiking, took a drive on the less crowded, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It was beautiful! I’m glad we were able to enjoy nature in this way. We stopped a few times to explore the roadside areas, but, even from the car, the views were awesome!
Hiking and Tubing
After a good meal and relaxing evening at the cabin on Friday evening, we were ready for another fun day on Saturday. Two of my daughters went for a morning hike on the Meigs Creek Trail, while the rest of us cleaned up after breakfast and chatted at the cabin. We drove to a local burger place to meet the two girls for lunch.
The weather was warm – as we expected – so our plan to go tubing down the river was a good one. We drove to the River Rat Tubing Outpost #1, and picked up our wristbands and tubes. We had signed up and paid online ahead of time (a good idea). Following the people ahead of us, we went down to the river and got started.
For the next three hours, we floated down the Little River. The water was a little low, so we occasionally got hung up on the river rocks, but we were able to get unstuck and float on our way. It was a fun and refreshing way to spend the afternoon.
We had another delicious dinner back at the cabin. We worked on the yarn puzzle, did some knitting and spinning, and watched the first stage of the Tour de France. It will be especially fun to watch the Tour this year, since three of us watched part of it in France last year. The cyclists will be riding through some of the areas we visited.
All too soon, the weekend was over. One daughter and son-in-law left first, spending an hour or so in downtown Gatlinburg before continuing on their way home. The rest of us left shortly after they did. The daughter I traveled with and I had traffic issues on the way home, but we made the best of it. See last week’s post for details.
Although traveling over a holiday weekend allows an extra vacation day, the crowds throughout the park and the traffic on the roads, make me wonder if it was worth it. I haven’t been to the Smoky Mountains before (except for a quick drive through last fall) so I don’t know what a different summer weekend would be like.
By renting a cabin up in the mountains in a less populated area, we were able to escape the busy-ness every evening. If crowds bother you, look for less busy parts of the park like the longer more remote hikes. We also found the Motor Nature Trail to be quieter.
We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in the Smokies , despite the crowds. When can we go back?
Some photos in this post courtesy of J. Kamper.