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When I think about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the “smoke” or fog that rolls in is always a pretty sight. We have been to the mountains before, and every time is special.
We were able to stay in a condo on top of a mountain on the top floor. This view afforded us a scenic look at the surrounding mountains as well as being up high when the bears came out to forage for food; we were well away from the ground. We were able to enjoy the evening and morning view from our porch.
We did hike trails and met up with our daughter and son-in-law with their dog. Dogs are not allowed, for the most part, in Smoky Mountain National Park, and so we went hiking with them in the Cherokee National Forest. Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the busiest parks and by contrast, the National Forest appeared deserted. We had not previously spent time in the National Forest; we enjoyed the differences in locations.
In fairness, the Forest Service does not provide many services, cell phone reception is spotty and the trails are not as well marked as in the National Park. The area of the Cherokee National Forest is about 650,000 acres (the National Park is 522,000 acres). It is huge! We only explored a small portion of the forest. We have a child who lives in Rhode Island, it is 776,900 acres.
If you are looking to get away, go primitive camping or hiking and get away from civilization, the National Forest has a lot to offer. I think most retirees are in for the National Park and the “younger” adventurers are in for a real treat in the Forest.
We enjoyed our brief exploration of the Paint Creek area, with the pretty scenery and the creek that runs through it.
Hiking in the National Park:
We think the popular trek up to see Rainbow Falls is well worth the effort. In contrast to the National Forest, we saw evidence of a lot of travelers along the pathway.
This was the best hike we took. A well-marked trail, easy parking (we were early in the day) and beautiful scenery along the way. While we were hiking, our kids in Colorado were telling us they were on top of one of the 14,000-foot mountains. We made it to an elevation of 3,970. This is a pretty good elevation in the land east of the Mississippi.
Laurel Falls Trail
We noticed the mountain laurel in bloom near Memorial Day as we climbed this trail. This is a very accessible trail, and we saw several strollers being pushed up and down the mostly paved path. The asphalt could use some repair; however, it made it easy for everyone who could to climb up to see the falls. The falls were pretty and the hike was a good workout.
Other Fun: We were staying above Gatlinburg and did stroll into town to see the sights and purchase milkshakes at The Crazy Mason Milkshake Bar. A fun treat after a warm day hiking. We find that stopping for an ice cream cone or a milkshake is part of the fun and reward for hiking all day.
In addition to the bears near our condo, we had 3 other bear sightings. Bears are not as scarce as I had thought. I guess all of the people in the area lead to easy pickings for the bears.
No biking in the mountains. I am not a mountain biker and these would be hard places to start. We did see mountain bikers in the National Forest.
We went out to see our daughter in North Carolina. We were supposed to get together with her and her boyfriend earlier but COVID got in the way. This was the next best opportunity for all of us.
One of the reasons for the visit was so her boyfriend could ask my permission to ask her for her hand in marriage. My job, knowing what was coming, was to find out if he will take care of my daughter and that he is the man to do it. Spoiler alert—I gave my blessing and I trust the proposal will have occurred by the time this is published. We did manage a 9-mile hike in the South Mountain State Park in North Carolina. We began hiking together on the High Shoals Falls Loop Trail and really enjoyed the 80 foot high waterfall. The weather was perfect and we had a good view of the falls from the trail.
Other fun On our hike with my prospective son-in-law, we were talking and having fun and not paying attention to a map. As a result we went on the Saddleback equestrian trail.
When we had to take off our shoes and socks to wade across the river as no bridge could be found up and down the river bank, we should have turned around, except we were already 6 miles into our hike. No bridge, no big deal in August. But when the river is running in the spring it is a bigger deal. Here is the trail description from the website—wish I had read it prior to setting off: “The trail crosses the Jacob Fork River and ascends to Raven Rock Trail. This narrow trail is single track for horseback riders.”
We were able to visit some friends of ours in South Carolina, just south of the boarder. The visit was fun, and as he is a bee keeper we were able to enjoy local honey. They raise bees on their property and it is quite the operation. Check out his site: https://bigbeedaddy.blog/blog-feed/
Next time, read the guide prior to setting off on the hike! Review and follow a planned hiking route.
Staying at a hotel for the first time in a while was a good experience. We had contactless check in and out and my smartphone served as our key. It was simple. Even breakfast was a go bag and it was easy for us to move about. People were enjoying the pool and the lobby as well.
Being ready to answer a question makes you a poor conversationalist. A 9-mile hike with getting to know a prospective son-in-law makes me a worse communicator. I appreciate his respect for me and my daughter that he wanted to ask, and I am excited to welcome him to our family.
No bike rides on this trip. The bike is all tuned up and ready to go once the weather cooperates.
Our weekend to Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio began on Thursday. It is great to get away when everyone else is still working. Keep up the good work if you are among that group…
It was raining when we woke up on Friday morning. And then it rained until about 9:30 in the morning. At that point in time the porch in our cabin was a good place to be, but a hike in the woods sounded better. It was cool and misty when we started out for our hike from Old Man’s Cave parking area. If you have not been to this enchanting part of the park, access is free; it is well worth the trip. The GPS had a little trouble finding the park. As we found out, once we arrived, even a cool, rainy Friday, several people had no trouble finding the location, including us.
At the beginning of our hike, on the way to Old Man’s Cave, we first walked down to the Hocking River. The views looked like we were in a Disney movie and we half expected to find a troll or a gnome coming out from under one of the stone bridges.
After we hiked through the Old Man’s Cave, we took a longer hike out to Cedar Falls. We really enjoyed the quiet on the hike; the water was flowing due to the morning rain and sounded great. We could see the “just past peak” colors peaking out of the hemlock evergreen trees. The hemlock tree has “whispy” leaves and they are not thick. As a result, our views on the hike were better than they could have been if the park had cedar trees instead of hemlocks. We are planning on coming back during the week next year in October to see the colors at their peak. Past peak the colors were really good.
We did make it to cedar falls. Apparently the early settlers mistook (like me) the hemlock for cedar trees. The falls were nice to visit on our hike, and we were glad we hiked the trail. The trail on the way back warned of being strenuous. We now understand that the hike up away from the falls, on the several steps, was tiring and being on the cliffs looking down did show us how high we had climbed. It was not bad; the only part that strained was the initial climb out from the falls.
We enjoyed finding a suspension bridge on the hike. It was fun for us to take a break and cross it more than once. The path led to Ash Cave, another popular spot in the park. Apparently Ash Cave was the site for public gatherings for years as it has good acoustics.
We enjoyed hiking through the tunnels and over the stone bridges. We found many waterfalls and pretty sites along the way.
We enjoyed our during-the-week adventure. We are going to look for more of them in the future. This park did not have a lodge and closed at 5 PM during the week. We were able to get directions from a fellow traveler on how to access our cabin and how to get around. It is always good to ask for help from an expert. We recommend the park as an enchanted trip.
We did not bike this trip. We did hike over 8 miles in the park and could easily have hiked more.
Part of the retirement joy is the ability to leave town during the week. We were able to leave for our murder mystery weekend on Thursday and enjoy the best weather day of the week on site. Leaving Friday after work, we would have missed a beautiful (cold) clear Friday as Saturday was cold and rainy.
Our visit to Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky was great. This picturesque falls is known as the Niagara of the south. Fall colors were happening and the weather on Friday was perfect for hiking. We were able to start just after breakfast, on the trail at 8 AM, hard at work!
The fun part about Cumberland Falls is that it is one of two spots in the world where you can experience a Moonbow. If you have never seen one, a trip to this terrific state park should be in your future. The last time we made it here we stayed in a cabin and hiked the trails by day and saw the Moonbow by night. It is hard to photograph the Moonbow. It is great to experience it. Experiences are what we are looking to accumulate in retirement and not “things.”
On our Friday hike we noticed the fallen leaves looked like snow cover on the ground. The trees were raining leafs, including giant ones from the big leaf magnolia tree. It was fun to watch the leaves fall across our path.
The colors were vibrant in the park.
On our hike we saw turtles sunning themselves.
But, the most interesting sound we heard on the trail was the “talking trees.” On our afternoon hike we stopped, as we generally do, to listen to what is happening around us. We heard a weird sound. Looking around we noticed that one tree had fallen into another and when the wind blew, as it was doing, the trees were trying to pull apart and made a sound. I do not recall hearing that sound before on a hike.
The reason we went this weekend to Cumberland Falls was that the lodge was hosting a murder mystery dinner. We really enjoyed the interaction and the participation with the cast in solving the mystery. We made a few new friends as well. We are now planning on going with some of our friends to a local showing of a similar production put on by the same company.
One lesson stood out for us. The park was enjoyable for us because the park was purchased and given to the state for all to enjoy. It made us think about our legacy. We are not heirs to a fortune, yet we can all give back in our own way.
Other highlight: Late October is a great time to go to the southern part of Kentucky; all the trees were at or near peak. We also learned that the state park has fun with Halloween decorations and the staff got into the spirit with costumes.
We did not solve the murder mystery, although a few people in the audience had the correct answer. We managed to hike over 9 miles. We do not mountain bike, so, no biking this weekend for us.
After our travels to the Biltmore, we needed to get some fresh air. We hiked, or walked, up the stairs to the top, and them some more at Chimney Rock. We walked the 500 steps up to the top. We also took the additional 330 steps from Chimney Rock to Exclamation Point, the highest point in the park. Of course we had to hike to see the Hickory Nut Falls as well, since it is in the same park.
Since we biked through the Biltmore Estate, Kim thought it would be fun to kayak the French Broad River. It was a great time kayaking for over 2 hours on a bright sunny day. We saw the Biltmore (hard to miss that house!) and the path we had biked on the day before. It was a great day for a float, and I believe the tops of our feet are still sunburnt.
Finishing our travels in North Carolina and on advice from a former coworker, we made plans the next day to hike in DuPont National Forest to see three separate waterfalls better than the one we saw at Chimney Rock, which was pretty cool at over 400 feet up! The Forest trails were well-marked. Several mountain bikers rode nearby. This is a little known gem with over 80 miles of hiking available. We could have hiked another mile to see another falls as well. This is a park to check out. Of course we laughed at the way they prevent climbing on the rocks—check out the sign on the yellow post.
Next stop South Carolina.
Our first stop in South Carolina was the fun city of Greenville. We enjoyed riding Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit River trail. We would have ridden longer if it had been cooler. The temperature for the ride was over 95 degrees. We did meet a local store owner in downtown Greenville at the Pedal Chic bike store. The staff was helpful and we found a great parking spot and starting location for our ride.
We also rode on the Ft. Jackson Army base. It was interesting riding on a road that encircles live firing. The range was in full use as we went around it. The roads and hills were good and the path well marked.
It was also hot when we rode, so we did only one loop. The sign says share the road and the brown side says restricted access—this is how you get to the firing ranges. Follow the rules!
We visited the University of South Carolina as well as Clemson University. Yes, I got to play a few rounds of disc golf in South Carolina as well. I am glad my son knew the course layout in Columbia near his house.
The course near Clemson in Central called Grand Central Station; it was well marked and fun to play.
As a child my family often drove from Michigan to Florida on I-75 to visit grandparents. We always saw signs on the road for “See Rock City” and Ruby Falls. We made a stop at Lookout Mountain and visited Rock City in Georgia. The tour was good and cool walking through the rocks. Quite an enjoyable place to visit and worth the stop. We are not sure we saw all seven states from lover’s leap although we sure tried. We did visit all of them except for Virginia.
Ruby Falls in Tennessee is on Lookout Mountain near Rock City. Two fun attractions near each other. We did not make the time to see the military park on Lookout Mountain and it would make a good stop for our next time through. The cave tour was fun and the falls were grand. We also enjoyed the cool cave and were surprised to see that we were about the only ones that dressed for the travels.
A few lessons learned.
While visiting Rock City we met a lady who lived her whole life near Rock City. She was working in the fudge shop (yes, it was good!). She enjoyed Rock City as a child, with her children and her grandchildren. She loves Rock City and encourages all to come. She has been a retired nurse for several years and enjoys hearing other people’s stories, especially first time visitors. She was sharp and loved to share her story with others. I learned that if you have a special place, it is fun in retirement to work (part time) at that special place.
The military retirement must be good, and it should be for those who serve. We ran into several military retirees who live in and around Ft. Jackson. We thank all who serve or who have served for their service.
Too many touristy adventures can be too much. We needed a few days’ rest. Next stop, Alabama.
Other highlights: Walking around downtown Columbia and a big rainstorm! We enjoyed dinner and were happy to be inside. Downtown Columbia, SC, was a happening place.
Trip by the numbers:
States visited: North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
- Biking miles: 33 miles, 2 rides, longest 21 miles.
- Hiking/Walking 14.7 miles, 7 separate walks, longest 4.1 miles in DuPont.
- Kayak, 7 miles on the French Broad River.