Six Things New Hikers Should Know

Six Things New Hikers Should KnowAfter hiking one of the most popular trails yesterday, I thought of a few important things new hikers need to know:

  1. Hiking etiquette-when hiking on any trail stay to your right when you are passing oncoming hikers. This may mean you have to walk single file if you are with a group. Be courteous to those hiking on the cliff side. If other hikers are coming up behind you, be mindful and let them pass on the left by going single file or by stopping to the side.
  2. Trail Markers-some trails, especially in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park(GSMNP), have trail markers. At the beginning of a trail, there will be what’s called a trailhead sign. This will tell you the ONE-WAY mileage of the trail.  Some trails have brochures you can pick up, some for a donation and some free. These brochures highlight certain aspects along the trail and are denoted by numbered markers on the trail. Some people confuse these with mile markers. They are not the same thing! Usually, if a trail has mile markers, it will say M or Miles on the marker. (I will update after I snap a picture from our next hike) Below is an example of different signage you might see. The first is a trailhead sign you will usually see near the parking area at the start of the trail. This is in one-way mileage. The second picture is of handy markers that were along the trail at Bud Ogle’s place. It helps guide you on the trail as it goes rocks and can be hard to tell which way the actual trail goes. The third picture below shows the same concept but in a different way. This particular trail system marks theirs by color. As you can see in the fourth picture, the Sycamore Falls Trailhead marker has a blue flashing on it. Along the trail itself, it will have flashing tacked to trees to indicate the actual trail.
    Forney Ridge Trailhead Sign
    Trailhead Sign
    Trail Guide Marker
    Trail Guide Marker
    Trail Guide Marker
    Trail Guide Marker

    Sycamore Falls Trailhead Sign
    Sycamore Falls Trailhead Sign
  3. Pack in-Pack out-There is nothing worse than sitting down on a rock for lunch and learning that it was someone’s potty before you got there because their soggy tissue is still on the ground! Yesterday, on the hike there was an older gentlemen actually cleaning these and other trash off the trail. It’s simple, if you are taking tissues, take a bag to discard them in and carry it out to the trash. The park is not a trash can. For a helpful list of what to pack click here.
  4. Bear proof cars- don’t leave any food in your cars if you are hiking in areas where there are bear which is all of the GSMNP area. Don’t leave your food wrappers either! Bear have a great sense of smell and will break into your vehicle. It’s not worth it. Hike with your snacks or leave them in the room. If you hike with snacks, see #3!
  5. Water-always carry water with you! If you happen to fall and break your leg, you may be waiting for help for a while. It’s better to be prepared! On most hikes, we usually carry a bottle for the way in and one for the way out. Longer hikes or hikes that we pack a full picnic for, we take more.
  6. Pets-pets are not allowed on any trail in the GSMNP. The only trail that allows them that I know of at this point is the Gatlinburg Trail. Check all trail allowances before heading out! Most visitor centers can tell you the rules long before you bring your fur-baby to the woods.

We meet new hikers all the time that aren’t prepared, that don’t understand the trail systems, wearing the wrong shoes and all kinds of other hiking faux pas. We were there once, too.  That’s why we are sharing what we know. We are not experts by any means but we want to share what we have learned over the years. Comment below with your hiking questions!

six things new hikers should know

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Heavy Heart Lightly Dusted With Snow

Sunrise from Gatlinburg Bypass Overlook
Sunrise from Gatlinburg Bypass Overlook

Snow was in the forecast for the overnight hours and it didn’t disappoint! Darren woke me up early. I really have no idea what time since my watch said one time, my computer another and my phone yet another. We lost an hour yesterday with the time zone difference and then skipped ahead another with Daylight Savings. I am still not clear exactly what time it is. It’s dark and night…lol. I believe it is 9:33pm Tennessee time.

It’s been another great day. Good to be in the Smoky Mountains. They are so beautiful even in winter and even with all the devastation. We saw some of that today and it was sad. In the picture above, that fence used to stretch the length of the overlook and there was a sign with information about what you were overlooking. All gone except for that little stretch of fence.

I think God dusted everything in snow to soften the blow for my tender heart. The snow and views were beautiful. My heart grew heavier with every burned cabin we passed. It also makes me angry. Angry at the teenagers that we heard started the fires and angry at the national news stations for not doing a better job covering this story. The Great Smoky Mountain fires were the deadliest wildfires in the eastern U.S. since 1947. Over 2000 structures were lost and over 14 people died (at last report I saw) with another 134 injured.

GSMNP signAfter we stopped at the overlook, we stopped by the main park sign over by the Sugarland Visitor’s Center.  So many wonderful memories at this sign alone! It was lovely along the Gatlinburg Trail as well. Some ducks came right up to Darren down by the water. They must be used to people feeding them. We didn’t. We didn’t even feed ourselves before we left. We wanted to capture as much of the snow as possible before it melted.

It did melt but not before we visited Bud Ogle’s place over by Roaring Fork. This is another place full of memories. Darren can remember visiting as a child. We brought our kids on their first trip in 2007. It was so good to see it still standing. On the way to it there were burned cabins and charred trees on both sides of the road. We hiked the short loop so we could see if the old mill house made it. It was still standing but the trough was partially collapsed. It didn’t look like it was related to the fire but maybe had rotted. We had fun playing with the snow in the trees and following animal tracks in the snow.

Bud Ogle Place-Historic Cabin
Bud Ogle Place-Historic Cabin

We finally headed to breakfast around lunch time. I knew it was close to lunch because the Log Cabin Pancake House we ate at has a lunch buffet and they were serving it. We opted for breakfast. Darren had his usual Pecan Pancakes and I had an omelet and some cakes that came with it. The place was packed and lined out the door but this place moves quickly.

After brunch, we both agreed a nap was in order. Between the hiking over the last few days, the traveling and the time changes we were ready for our Sunday nap! We curled up by the fire place and were out. By them time we got up, the snow was long gone. We decided to drive up Wiley Oakley Drive before heading to Pigeon Forge to visit The Island and Darren wanted to try a new place for dinner.

Wiley Oakley Drive and that entire part of the mountain were some of the worse hit in the fire. We had stayed there November 2015 so we wanted to check things out. It was heartbreaking. I went live on Facebook but not sure how much of the video you can actually see. I am still learning Facebook Live. Not that anyone wants to see all that sadness. I posted some pictures to Facebook as well of where are cabin had been.  You could tell where most cabins once stood by the remaining chimneys. Our cabin’s chimney had crumbled as well. All that was left of the entire cabin was a pile of cinder blocks and the bear proof trashcan holder with melted trashcans inside. The view is still gorgeous. I can’t wait to see how they rebuild.

Enough with the sadness! After our drive, we went to The Island to walk around. I bought some tea at my favorite new store, Blossom. They had a couple of hot teas out to try and I loved the turmeric one. With my achy hiking joints, I bought some to drink this week!

Darren’s pick for dinner started out great. It was just a short drive from The Island. They had fried deviled eggs. They didn’t sound good to me, still don’t sound good but they were excellent! After, the appetizer, the service went downhill and the food was okay. I think the waitress forgot to put in our order. We split a burger and it took over forty minutes to get our food. When the table of eight got their food before us, I let the manager know something was up. The burger was okay but we’ve had better in the area with better service.  My recommendation for a great burger in Pigeon Forge goes to Blue Moose! We ate there last summer and love it. The service was great and you could build your own burger.

Tomorrow, we will hike to another waterfall. Can’t ever get enough of those! I’ll probably go live again. I am trying to get the hang of it! Again, let us know if there is anything you want to know about the area, we’d love to help you have an adventure in the Smoky Mountains!

 

 

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Best Smelling Restroom, Evah!

If you’re new to following us, I’ll tell you that we love Tennessee! We come as often as we can and have bobbed and weaved chasing waterfalls along the way. This trip we spent two nights getting to Gatlinburg so we could see some beauties in the Monteagle area and the Fall Creek Falls State Park.
As I am writing this, we are back on I-40 heading to lunch at Full Service Barbecue in Maryville, TN.  We woke up to snow in Fall Creek Falls and hiked to the main fall which was stunning! The hike was a little steeper than I recall but short and easy. It’s rocky with plenty to see.
Trail to Fall Creek Falls
Trail to Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls
 The water was flowing with all the rain they’ve had and the snow was starting to accumulate. We opted to drive to Cane’s Creek Falls (<-video of falls) and park at the Nature Center so we could just hop in the car after and head out. We probably would have hiked it if we were staying another night and had more time. Either way you come out at the gorgeous Falls that cascade two levels. From the main overlook there was another fall back to the right that was tall! The lady at the Nature Center told me it was called Rockhouse Falls.
Rockhouse Creek Falls
Rockhouse Creek Falls
Suspension Bridge over Cane's Creek
Suspension Bridge over Cane’s Creek
View from the Suspension Bridge
View from the Suspension Bridge
Darren picked up a new book at the Nature Center as well. Waterfall Walks and Drives of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee will be the source for many new hikes, I am sure!
They park staff was great sweeping the snow from the suspension bridge and the stairs. It was all so nice! It was 27 degrees out but didn’t feel cold at all. Not until we got in the truck sweaty and then got out for gas a ways down the road…33 then felt like 12!  Heated seats never felt so good!
The snow stopped as we got onto I-40, when I was writing earlier. We had a clear drive into Maryville for lunch. It was about 35 degrees out so we grabbed our ribs and ate in the truck. Full Service is an old gas station and only has outdoor seating at this location. They have the best smelling bathrooms evah! I know, that’s weird. The bathrooms backup to the smokehouse so it smells like smoked ribs!!! It is rather strange walking into a restroom and enjoying the smell! Leave it to us to find such a gem…
Full Service BBQ
Full Service BBQ
The ribs are so good they fall off the bone. Darren said the flavor was so good they must have been smoking these since we were here in August. I have to agree! I didn’t even like ribs before I tried these. (I know I shouldn’t admit that since I am from Texas…I don’t like chicken fried steak either now that I am confessing.) This is a must stop for all carnivores. Dry ribs rock!
As we continued on, we went through Townsend, Wears Valley, Piegon Forge and then onto the Parkway to our resort. If you have followed us on Facebook, you know that our resort caught fire in December. Thankfully, some of the cabins were spared and here we are!  We could see some of the destruction driving in but when we turned onto our property, tears filled my eyes. It was overwhelming to look up the side of the mountain and not see it how we left it last summer. I couldn’t even look at the parking attendant. I was afraid I’d look like a crazy woman.
We will post some pictures tomorrow for those curious. After hiking today, the only thing I wanted to do when we got here was unpack and shower. Darren took a few pictures and we will take plenty more I am sure. Be sure to follow us on Facebook if you don’t already! I posted some live videos today and will do the same as the week continues!
We’d also love to hear from you in the comments. Let us know if there is anything here you’d like to know about or see? If you have any questions about any of the hikes, we’d love to help!

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How To See Six Waterfalls In One Day!

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." ~Robert Frost
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” ~Robert Frost

Yesterday, we headed out for our first parents only trip in six years. It was hard to leave our sixteen year-old, but she will have a blast with her 29 year-old sister; especially, riding around in sister’s new Jeep with the top off! They’ve got manicures and pedicures on the schedule, as well. Sounds like great sister bonding time!

As usual, Darren planned a wonderful trip. We got out of town yesterday around 3:30pm. We wanted to make it to Memphis to maximize our day today. We did make it to the East side of Memphis which we’ve found is a nice area right off I-40 to stay with plenty of eating options.

We arrived late so the snacks in the car were our dinner. Which brings me to a few travel tips, pack:
•    snacks within reach in the car
•    drinks, think about what you’d want to drink with your snacks, water for taking medications and for staying hydrated, and whatever you’d drink for breakfast if you don’t drink coffee or juice. (Are we the only rare people that don’t drink either?)
•    hiking boots in a plastic tote and take a pair of flip flops/crocs/slides for swapping out after a hike. The tote will keep the dirt/mud contained and makes for easy clean up. We leave the tote with the dirty boots in the car and change into and out of our boots at the car. Keeps the hotel/cabin cleaner too!
•    a gallon size ziplock bag to collect all your hotel soaps. (We are collecting this time for my daughter’s mission trip to Brazil this summer.)
•    an old towel and some wipes to clean any mud off your legs (I usually kick myself and get mud right above my boot. Maybe I just need to learn how to walk.)

We didn’t have a room reserved for the night so I drove while Darren did his magic on TripAdvisor. We stayed at a nice Hyatt Place Hotel. It had one of the best hotel free breakfasts we’ve ever had. Well, besides the one in San Antonio that had a breakfast taco bar. All South Texans would agree, breakfast tacos rock!

After breakfast we snagged a couple apples for our hike and loaded up for our next stop…Greeter Falls in Monteagle, Tennessee. Last summer we did this hike. Little did we know there had been a drought and it was a trickle!

When we first left Memphis headed east, the speed limit was only 65mph on the interstate. It was a nice speed trap with cops everywhere. I don’t recall it being like this before but just beware if you are doing that way. Even after the speed limit changed to 70mph, the cops were still out until at least Jackson. Maybe that’s why I -40 in Tennessee is better than in Arkansas? They can afford to fix the roads! Haha!

Stopped for lunch at one of our favorites, Whitts Barbecue. Doesn’t look like much from the outside but the food is always great.

Free Maps!
Free Maps!

We always like to stop at the ranger station or park headquarters before we set out on hikes. They can tell you water levels, and if there are any hazards to look out for on the trails. They usually have great maps and even a visual small scale mountain map…I am sure that has a fancy name but it escapes me at this moment. It’s 10:35pm, I hiked to six waterfalls at this point and I am beyond pooped so help me out…

When we stopped for the info, we were reminded of all the many falls that were in this area. We intended on only hiking to two that were pretty short. We decided to take on the Grundy Forest Day Loop with the extra 1.2 miles for Sycamore Falls. The water was high and the falls were full. In fact, we entered the loop to the right and passed several mini falls and cascades along the way. The trail is nice, ups, downs and flats. Don’t be fooled by the sign like the couple was that passed us on the trail. They thought the Sycamore Falls sign said 6 miles when it said .6 miles. You cross over a nice bridge to get to that trail and it is a stunning hike. A few narrow points but other than that it was great. We finished out the loop in a hurry as we wanted to make it to Greeter Falls before dark.

Again, the ranger gave us great directions along with addresses that we could put in our GPS so getting from one fall to another was a piece of cake. Greeter is in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area. The trail was muddy so we knew it would have water in the fall. It didn’t disappoint! It was worth the trek down the spiral staircase and other stairs.

Greeter Falls
Greeter Falls

After, we climbed out with shaky legs, we decided to go ahead to Boardtree Falls. That short little hike revealed my favorite of the day. The last time we were here it was completely dry. Not even a trickle. Today was amazing! Such a beautiful cascading fall.

See Darren at the bottom of Boardtree Falls!
See Darren at the bottom of Boardtree Falls!

We ended our day arriving at Fall Creek Falls State Park. We’ve been here before too. Enjoyed a nice dinner in their lodge. I had the salmon and Darren had the buffet. We are settled in for the night and will hike the falls in this park in the morning before heading on to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

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Travel Reading

Reading a book while you are on vacation or while traveling is a great way to enhance your reading experience as well as your trip.  This was never truer than our trip to Yosemite a few years ago. We flew into San Francisco spending a few days visiting some spots we missed on our first trip there. Must see places like Lands End and China Town. Then we headed south through Big Sur staying overnight in Carmel. Further south we stayed in Cambria to visit Moonstone Beach. The town was quaint and the beach was amazing! Then it was time to circle back to the north toward Yosemite. Once we made it to the National Park we stopped in the Ansel Adams Gallery and it was there I was taken by two books. The first was Ansel’s autobiography. I realized that while I had always admired his work, I really didn’t know much about him. The second was a book of letters. I love letters. The good old fashioned hand-written snail mail kind!

As soon as we checked into the hotel, we headed to the pool. I opened Ansel’s autobiography and lost myself in the places we had just visited. I didn’t realize he grew up in the San Francisco area. Many of the very places we had seen this specific trip were mentioned. Even his travels to Carmel through Big Sur. It was a magical read. He spoke of his love for Yosemite with a passion that was contagious. Reading this specific book on this trip was a perfect fit!

Have you ever planned your reading materials based on where you would be traveling? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or connect with us on Facebook.

I have been reading a ton since summer vacation this year. Here is short list of my latest reads.

  1. Your Secret Name by Kary Oberbrunner
  2. Intentional Living by John Maxwell
  3. The Power of Story by Jim Loehr
  4. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins
  5. You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins

*All time favorite book besides the Bible, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I’ve read several of Pressfield’s books and loved them all. Currently on my reading table, more Kary Oberbrunner. I will be polishing off three more of his non-fictions while enjoying his Elixir Project fiction work weekly.

  1. Day Job to Dream Job
  2. Deeper Path
  3. Called

Kary’s book Your Secret Name is right up there with The War of Art. Both have been life changing! Lessons in these books literally changed me. I will be writing a full review on my new website www.BrendaHaire.com coming soon.

Are you sensing a theme?  I am working on some deep me stuff and doing some research for my upcoming book. Who knows maybe someday you will be taking my book on your trip? Would love to know what you are currently reading?

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means that if you click them and buy something we make a commission — at no extra cost to you. This is just one way we are able to keep this blog going. So if you enjoy the blog, appreciate the recommendation and were going to buy this stuff anyway, this is a great way to show your support. And don’t forget: We only recommend products and services that we use and love.

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How to Find a Great House/Pet Sitter

Not all pets travel well.

Can you believe these people travel with their pet pig? We actually saw them on a trail to a waterfall. First we heard the pig squealing, then we saw them. I quickly snapped this picture because I knew no one would believe this! Not all pets travel well. Meet Maggie and Dixie our two Jack Russell Terriers.

Our Jack Russell Terriers
Our Jack Russell Terriers

They aren’t crazy like most people think when they hear we have Jacks but ours don’t travel well. To be honest we just aren’t the kind of people that travel with our pets. So, what do we do?

Well, you have options.

  1. Board you pet at your veterinarian’s office
  2. Board at a pet boarding business
  3. Hire a house/pet sitter

There are pros and cons to all three options. I will share our experiences.

When you board your pet at the vet’s office, most of the time they are kept in a small kennel. Our dogs hated it. We used to have a Schnauzer and he would pout for days after being boarded at the vet’s.

Then we tried a boarding business. It was out in the country. The dogs were kept in a larger area with other dogs. Our Schnauzer came home injured and was never the same. In fact his injury led to his death a few years later.

Finally, we found what works for us. We have a pet/house sitter come to our home. They stay at our house just like we would. If they work, or have plans out, they go out just like we would. They certainly don’t have to sit in our house all day and night with our spoiled pups but every night we know that our pups have been checked on, fed, watered and loved.

House/pet sitters are a huge win for us because not only do our dogs get to keep their regular life, our house is looked after as well. Our sitters bring in our mail and any packages. Having a house/pet sitter is much less traumatizing than boarding on both our pups and us!

So, how do you find a good one you can trust with not only your fur babies but your house too? Here are a few options that have worked for us:

  1. Teachers-they are off during the summer and love making the extra income
  2. College students-we have only used some that we know well (we don’t want a party!)
  3. Friends from out of town-they get to vacation in your house while you vacation somewhere else.

Do you travel with you pets? If not what do you do with them?

 

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Don’t Make This Mistake When Buying Hiking Boots!

Get the right hiking boots.
Pinecone in Sequoia National Park
Does this pinecone make my foot look small?

Size Matters!

The first mistake I made in buying a new pair of hiking boots was buying them in my size. When we first started hiking I didn’t know much about hiking or gear. We went to a local sporting goods store to try on hiking boots. I wanted something cute and comfortable. I knew I wanted high tops for the ankle support. Unfortunately, there wasn’t many cute ones to choose from but I found a pair that was comfy and high top. I purchased a size eight. In dress shoes/boots I normally were a seven and a half. I went up a half size to compensate for the thicker hiking socks.

Out on the trail, I quickly learned that my hiking boots were too small.  When you’re on a flat trail or go up a steep hill they fit just fine but coming back down that incline your feet slide forward in the boots smooshing your toes into the boots. Yes, I said smooshing. I’m from Texas and we say that. Needless to say, my little piggies weren’t very happy with me. No matter how tight I laced them, you can’t beat gravity, and my foot would slide.

I logged plenty of miles in those boots but the next time we went hiking boot shopping we went to a store more equip for selling hiking boots. It had a ramp you could walk up and down when trying on the boots. This time around I purchased a size 10! Much better! No more toe smooshing!

Above all, size is the most important thing to think about when ordering or purchasing hiking boots.

Two reasons to rethink your size:

  1. Downhill
  2. Thick socks

Something else to consider, waterproof boots.  Darren and I both have completely waterproof boots. Not rain boots but waterproof hiking boots. At first, we weren’t sure if we would need waterproof or not but it sure has been nice especially since we are waterfall chasers. We have been able to walk right through shallow streams, right up to waterfalls and even wore them on the rugged beaches of Northern California when the water was freezing our toes were still dry! I personally don’t think the waterproofing makes them hotter than usual, maybe it is the great wicking socks that keep our feel cool.

Purchasing hiking boots is completely optional obviously but I can tell you first hand that my high tops have saved me many times from sprained ankles on rugged or rocky trails. We have seen people in all types of shoes out on the trails. From dress boots, to flip flops and everything in between. I can’t imagine doing that to my feet. I want to enjoy my hike and keep my feet safely blister-free for my next hike!

Our current boots our older models now but are similar to these:

Another option for you may be trail running shoes. My current favorites are pictured below. I am not currently running any trails but the tread on the bottom serves the same purpose when hiking those trails. I love that this shoe comes in cute colors and is very reasonably priced. I just ordered these pink ones from

Trail Shoes
Thick tread!

Amazon. These shoes have outlasted my normal running shoes because of the thicker tread. When we are at home, we walk on a roughly paved road two-four miles every evening. The tread on these can handle it!

Saucony Excursion TR9 Trail Running Shoes
Saucony Trail Running Shoes

Overall things to consider when shopping for hiking boots/shoes:

  1. Size Matters
  2. High top vs. Low  (we recommend high or mid)
  3. Waterproof vs. Mesh
  4. Sock type

 

 

 

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Kayaking in Florida State Park

Crystal Beach, Destin, Florida
Crystal Beach, Destin, Florida

If you’ve connected with us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter you know that we’ve spent a week in Destin, Florida. It’s not our typical hiking vacation but it was a great experience.  Looking for adventure we headed to Rocky Bayou State Park for some kayaking. I had a wonderful time. Darren said he didn’t care much for the type of kayak we had. He said it was too constraining. He felt like he was going to tip it over. I am so thankful he didn’t since we shared one!

We paddled out to where we had seen dolphins from the shore but by the time we got there they were long gone. A storm was brewing so we headed back. My youngest daughter and her friend had fun splashing in the water as we loaded up the kayaks.

Kayaking in Rocky Bayou
Kayaking in Rocky Bayou

For those interested in Rocky Bayou kayaking:

  • If you are in Destin, you will have to cross the toll road. $4 each way.
  • There is a small fee to enter the park.
  • You rent the kayaks at the park office. The same place you pay upon entry.
  • The fee to rent the kayaks is based single, double or canoe.
  • They provide life jackets, paddles and seats for the kayaks.
  • The kayaks are down by the water locked up. They will give you a key.
  • The life jackets, paddles and seats you will have to cart yourself. (good thing we had the truck)
  • There is a restroom close to where you get the kayaks to change.

After turning in the kayaking equipment and key, we headed to one of their trails. It was so nice to be in the woods! Although we didn’t have proper footwear, we enjoyed the sights. Hope you do, too! Happy exploring! Do you prefer the water, or the woods?

Found a trail!
Found a trail!
Bridge at trailhead.
Bridge at trailhead.
View from Bridge
Love all the texture!
Deer Moss
Deer Moss aka Luffa-not really, looked like it!
Deer Moss on stick
No, it didn’t grow on this stick!
Palms
Palms

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13 Things You Should Have in Your Backpack

backpack
Does this backpack make my…

Darren is the backpack carrier. He has lugged too many water bottles to count up the side of the mountain for us. We usually take two or three per person depending on the length of the hike. One for the way up, one for the picnic and one for the way down. While we are cautious of bear, we don’t use a bear proof specific back pack but we do take precautions.

  1. Put all food in ziplock bags, then in a larger ziplock, and then into your pack. Bears have a strong sense of smell.
  2. Do the same with your trash sealing it back in the ziplocks. Pack it in, pack it out! Bears are killed when they get comfortable around people and cause problems. It all starts with us and how we pack.
  3. Don’t leave your pack unattended.

Here is a list of what we usually pack:

  1. Water
  2. Snacks and/or picnic
  3. Whistle-scares bear and helps people find you if you get lost.
  4. Flashlight– it can get dark fast in the mountain. We have this one because it is also a taser!
  5. Rain poncho– storms can come on quickly.
  6. First Aid Kit
  7. Small towel
  8. Pocket knife
  9. Compass
  10. Bug spray
  11. Toilet Paper
  12. I also take chapstick because I don’t leave home without it. Don’t judge me.
  13. Darren also takes gum but don’t spit it on the trail it’s bad for wildlife.

If you want a bear proof bag, here is a suggestion. The backpack linked in the post is the closest I could find to ours. Ours is ten years old! The best thing is to get one that has the water bottle holders on the side and that is water resistant.

Happy trails!

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Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means that if you click them and buy something we make a commission — at no extra cost to you. This is just one way we are able to keep this blog going. So if you enjoy the blog and were going to buy this stuff anyway, this is a great way to show your support. And don’t forget: We only recommend products and services that we use and love.

 

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3 Free Things You Must Do in The Smoky Mountains

There is so much to do and see in the Great Smoky Mountains. In Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge there are plenty of places to spend money. If you are traveling with children or teenagers we suggest giving them a budget so they can decide how they will spend their money. From shopping, shows, miniature golf, go-carts, Ferris wheels, bungee jumping, indoor sky diving, arcades, mountain coasters and more! Set your parameters with the kids ahead of time so the flashy lights and attractions don’t sink you from the start.

We prefer to head to the woods. Don’t get me wrong, we partake in some of the attractions, but we prefer the woods. Here are three motor trails that would only cost you gas and time. Pack a picnic (remember to bear proof it), load the cooler and hit the road. Even if you never step foot out of the car you’d be glad you made these drives. Each one is packed with things to see and do. Plan ahead if you want to do some hiking, swimming or hammocking.

Fall in the Smoky Mountains
Fall in the Smoky Mountains
  1. Roaring Fork Motor Trail: from the Parkway (441) in Gatlinburg coming from Pigeon Forge the traffic lights are numbered. Take a left at #8 Historic Motor Trail Road. Follow the road until it forks to the right. At first, the road will be two lanes but once you get into the actual 5.5 mile motor trail it  narrows to a ONE WAY loop. It is paved but buses, trailers, and motor homes are not permitted on the motor nature trail.  Leave plenty of time to stop at the pull-outs for great pictures or to explore the old cabins. There are several great hiking trails along the motor trail but you should prepare/plan ahead of time. Do your homework! The only easy family friendly, spur of the moment, “hey, get out of the car and come see!” is the Bud Ogle Trail. It is a short loop less than a mile. It is easy and mostly flat. There is an old mill beside a beautiful mountain stream that everyone will love. The huge moss covered boulders are gorgeous. There are several more stops along the Motor Trail. Enjoy, watch for bear, snakes and wildlife and leave nothing behind. Plan 2-4 hours depending on how much you get out to explore and traffic.

    Bear in Cades Cove
    Mama and Cub in Cades Cove
  2. Cades Cove: from the Parkway (441) in Gatlinburg head South toward Cherokee (our through Gatlinburg if your coming from the Pigeon Forge side, you can also take the Gatlinburg Bypass). You will see signs for the Sugarland Visitor’s Center. Take a right onto Fighting Creek Gap Road. It’s the second street outside of Gatlinburg. You might want to stop for a potty break at the visitor’s center because you’ve got 27 miles of a beautiful winding road all next to a stream. If your from Texas don’t think 27 miles equals 27 minutes. This is a twisted road and the speed limit is between 20-35mph. USE pull-offs if cars are stacking up behind you or if you want to stop for pictures. This drive alone is scenic with waterfalls, the stream and tunnels. Make note of Laurel Falls, you’ll want to come back to this or stop on the way. It’s a paved 2.5 mile round trip hike to an always beautiful waterfall. This is where the road changes to Little River Road. There are also four other falls, Upper Meigs at the Sinks, Spruce Flats in the Tremont area, and Abrams and Crooked Arm Cascades in Cades Cove you may want to do along this road so plan to see which one fits your level or which ones you want to come back to. The Sinks is a nice stop. This thunderous cascade is worth it. After leaving the sinks, keep an eye out for Meigs Falls. There will be a pull out on the side of the road. Worth the stop! Both the Sinks and Meigs Falls is a quick in and out of the car or you can linger at the Sinks. There are also several camp grounds to explore along the way. Once you get to Cades Cove follow the signs to the restroom before you hit the loop. Traffic is slow going and if you hit a bear jam you could be there for a while. We have spotted bear here every trip except one. There are several old churches to stop at and a visitors center, restroom and working old mill about half way around the loop. Please be courteous and use pull offs! The loop is only 11 miles but can get backed up if drivers don’t pull off for every picture. Up for a swim? You can splash in the cold river where Little River Road intersects Laurel Creek Road just before the Townsend turn off after leaving the cove. If you’ve had a full day and want to get back to town quicker, cut through Townsend. Look for the signs after leaving the cove. You will take a left on E. Lamar Alexander Parkway. Then take a right on 73/321/Wears Valley Road this will bring you out across from The Island in Pigeon Forge. Important note: Cades Cove is closed to motor vehicles until 10am on Saturday and Wednesdays so bicyclists can use the loop safely. You can rent bikes! Plan for a full day. Pack a picnic and bring a cooler. There is so much to do and see!

    Elk by Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC
    Elk by Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cherokee, NC
  3. New Found Gap: from Gatlinburg take 441 South toward Cherokee. This road has the Sugarland Visitor Center on the Tennessee side and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side. Plenty to see when you stop in the middle! 360 degree views! Appalachian Trail entrance is right by the restrooms, check it out.  Again, not in Texas anymore this 32 mile trek will take you over an hour during heavy tourism. Don’t ride your brakes! It smells bad and well, you might need them later. Learn how to drive in lower gears. You will be going up the mountain to the state line and then down the mountain either back to Tennessee or into North Carolina. Again, there is plenty to see along the way and hikes to make note of are Alum Cave, Chimney Tops and Clingman’s Dome. All of these are hikes and should be planned. While Clingman’s Dome is paved, it is the highest elevation in the park at 6,643 feet and you feel it walking up the little paved road. It’s worth it! Plus, it’s one more place you can step onto the Appalachian Trail. If you decide to go into Cherokee, you might see Elk herds in the grassy area by the Oconlauftee Visitor Center. Definitely go all the way to the dead end on 441 until you get to 19. Take a left and you will see nice shopping centers on the right and left. There is plenty to do in Cherokee as well. Free things, chase more waterfalls in the Cherokee-Deep Creek area, find Mingo Falls, and Soco Falls which is just a windy way down 19. Soco is a nice little pull off with an over look or you can climb down to the falls. Both Mingo and Soco are good falls for little effort. Paid things include shopping, eating at unique places, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino (no children), and to really get a feel for the culture check out Unto These Hills. Plan a day if you are going over into Cherokee, depending on if you are hiking or how many pull-offs you stop at. Don’t rush it as there is so much to see and there will be others enjoying the beauty as well.

Okay, so I said three free things but as you can see the GSMNP is full of free things to do and see. We’ve been at least once a year for the past ten years and haven’t seen or done it all. We love it! My best advice would be to always have some snacks and water on hand so if you get side tracked you’ll be prepared. For more information on what to have in your backpack click here.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what free things you like to do in GSMNP or if this will be your first visit, let us know if this was helpful.

Happy Travels!

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