GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: SMOKEMONT
Ahhh, the Smokies. Eric and I were really looking forward to getting back to the Great Smoky Mountains to see just how spoiled we had become after living out west. I am happy to report we still find the East Coast beautiful and awe inspiring.
I was heavily influenced by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at an early age. One of the few vacations we took as the Hanna family was camping in the Appalachian mountains, and I remember it so fondly that I blame that trip for inspiring a lifetime filled with wanderlust.
In 2011, I then traveled with the Nachtigal family up to North Carolina where Eric and I got to explore the park with a short backpacking trip. Fast forward 7 years and we are back again, this time we were able to see most of the park's main areas by car camping.
Our first week we camped in Smokemont campground on the North Carolina side. The National Park area looks surprisingly small on a map compared to how much national forest surrounds it, but it would take me years to truly feel like I have seen the whole park. With that in mind, it was a bit overwhelming to choose where we spent our time.
One of the main luxuries that long term travel affords us is not having the pressure to see it all in a few days. With two weeks allocated to the Smokies, we were able to balance exploration with relaxation. I have a tendency to want to hike ALL THE TRAILS! And forget about the joys of reading in a hammock next to a waterfall, or fishing, or napping in the sun. This is where Eric really balances me out, and we are able to achieve a well rounded visit with out being burnt out.
The Smokemont area of the park does not have a ton of trails or sights that you can get to without driving, so the first week we did a lot of car exploration. I was finally able get up to Clingman's Dome, which is the highest point in the park, and take in those sweeping views. We also hiked another section of the Appalachian Trail, which completes at least a mile hiked in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia (it's a start!).
On a cloudy day, we took a drive down to the Cataloochee campground just to see what that area looked like. To get there, we had to drive down a series of dirt roads and did not see nearly as many cars as the Smokemont area. As soon as the trees opened up to the valley, however, we were greeted with a whole field of Elk. It was most impressive. After I sufficiently freaked out over that, we set up our tarp and cooked a hot lunch. As our luck had it, it was cold and rainy again, and the motivation to go for a hike was a bit low, so we did some fishing and headed back to camp before the rain picked up.
When we got back, I was miserable. We have been in 40-50 degree rain during the day for the last forever. Nights have been consistently in the low 30's, and cooking while personally freezing is not my favorite. At this point, we have started seriously talking about possible upgrades to our set up. Neither one of us want an RV or #vanlife, but we are considering a teardrop trailer. I love tent camping, but it is quite different when you live out of the tent rather than just going for a week at a time.
I miss warm.
Also, I think Eric might kill me if I say “I'm cold” one more time.
We were the only tent campers in the campground for most of the week. The other element of tent camping that has graded on us is the inability to escape the sounds of generators. Seriously, fuck RV'ers that run generators CONSTANTLY! It's right up there with leaf-blowers for the most annoying outside sound.
Petty, I know, but even while living the life traveling in beautiful places, you can still be pissed off and miserable. And thats ok, what ever the reason.
Besides the weather and shitty people, we enjoyed the crap out of the Smokies. There were creeks a-plenty, and we could find solitude on most of the trails. The woods were peaceful and lush, and the hiking was engaging. I also spent a lot of time looking for salamanders, which did not disappoint.
In summation, most RV's are ridiculous, people are terrible, elk are amazing, salamanders are the cutest, I'm cold and we kind of miss inside.
To be continued in next blog!
Song: The great remember – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers