On our last day in the Smoky Mountains we had a big day of hiking planned. The night before I wanted to get a lot of carbs in my body to have the energy for the day so we chose a place in downtown Gatlinburg that could fuel us for the next day, Blaine’s Grill & Bar. I went with their chicken parmesan, which, oddly enough, had marinara AND alfredo sauce in it. It was a surprisingly good combo.
The next morning for breakfast we went to Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. It had a nice, rustic feel to it like some place you would see in a western film. I decided to have the giant things shown below.
They were advertised as pancakes but were more like cake. They were so huge I could only eat one and part of the other. But, at least I had plenty of fuel for the day ahead.
After breakfast we headed out to the park with the intention of wandering around Cade’s Cove. On they way there, though, we noticed signs saying that it did not open until 10am. Le sigh. Undeterred, we marched ahead anyway and found a parking spot near the shop before the entrance to the cove and wandered around that for a little bit. Finally, we came to the realization that there were probably hundreds of cars waiting to get inside (it was a Saturday) and that we were better off skipping the Cove and starting our hike. That turned out to be a great decision.
Fortunately, the starting point for our hike was not too far away. Though that could be because we planned it like that. 🙂 Our first trail was a short one, the Lead Cove Trail.
There were some pretty flowers at the beginning of the trail. We also heard a stream that was quite close, but could never get a good look at it. The trail itself was in mostly good shape.
The next trail, Bote Mountain, according the map from the park, was a horse trail, but it looked like people used the Lead Cove Trail for their horses too, if you know what I mean. We had to dodge a fair amount of horse presents on the way up.
As you can see with Andrea, we came prepared for our long journey. I had a backpack too. Both of us brought along plenty of water and snacks for the day, probably too many snacks, but it was better to be over prepared than under prepared, don’t you think?
The Bote Mountain Trail was quite wide. We could see why it was good for the horses. From the above picture we were headed left towards the famed Appalachian Trail only 2.9 miles away! At some point in my life I would like to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, but you kind of need a minimum of six months of free time to do that. Work has to get in the way of all of the fun things!
About halfway through the Bote Mountain trail we came across this cute little girl.
There was a huge opening in the trail and she was just minding her own business and eating. At least until we scared her away while walking by.
After over two hours of hiking we were finally to the Appalachian Trail portion of our hike. We would only end up hiking just under two miles of the trail. If you don’t know anything about it, the trail stretches from Georgia all the way to Maine and is about 2,180 miles long. So we only have 2,178 miles left to go!
The AT, as it is called, was not like any other trail we had been on in the Smoky Mountains park. It was thin, only wide enough for one person to walk on. And there was a lot more growth near the trail than at other places with grass, trees, and bushes encroaching on us.
But there were some fantastic views of the mountains from the balds.
And some pretty flora too.
Finally, after about three hours and six miles of hiking up the mountains, we made it to our first destination, Rocky Top. Rocky Top was the inspiration for the University of Tennessee’s school/fight song. Personally, I hate the song. But, if you want to hurt your ears, feel free to look it up. An added bit of trivia is that Rocky Top also straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina just like the entire stretch of the Appalachian Trail that we were hiking.
As you can see, the mountain lives up to its’ moniker. There were some other people at the top too. They had talked about seeing a momma bear and her cubs earlier that day. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we did not get to see any bears out on the trails. Maybe next time!
As we were only .6 miles away from the next mountain top, Thunderhead Mountain, we made the (comparatively) short jaunt over there. For the first time all day we were able to walk downhill too! It was quite the relief. But, when we made it to the top, there was not much to see due to all of the surrounding vegetation.
At 5,527 feet we were at our highest point for the day. The way back to Rocky Top had some good views though.
And an even better view of Andrea!
From here it was, mercifully, all downhill. As you can see below, we were able to shave off 40 minutes from our ascending time.
And check out these stats for the day. An insane 461 floors! Not to mention just over 45,000 steps! Both of these are feats that I do not plan on toping anytime soon.
We put a decent amount of prep work into this trip. As mentioned before, we bought new hiking boots (since we didn’t have any to begin with) and put in extra work at the gym to beef up our legs. We also brought along backpacks to carry plenty of water and snacks for the hikes. I even went as far as bringing along a towel and an extra shirt for our long hike on Saturday.
With that said, we did not anticipate needing to take a lot of additional clothing. After both days of hiking we went back to the hotel room, showered, and then went into Gatlinburg to eat. I’ll just say that if you ever plan on doing a day hiking trip like we did, bring along extra everything clothing: shirts, underwear, socks, shorts/pants, whatever. Bring more than you think you will need. Both us had to reuse shirts and shorts. We didn’t anticipate sweating profusely while hiking and suffered the consequences.
Also, do your research. It is true that the park guides will help you with whatever questions you may have while you are at any of the many visitor centers, but you should still look at where you want to go to in the park, what trails you may want to hike and then map out how long it will take to get to them. I used my Google maps app to get an idea of not only how long it would take to drive to the trailheads but also how long it could possibly take to hike the trails. And, for the most part, the estimated time to walk the trails was pretty accurate. Doing this let us know that it was possible to hike the long 6.7 mile trail that we did on Saturday.
We went on a weekend in the middle of June. The temperature in Gatlinburg most of the weekend was in the high 80’s, but since we were in the mountains the majority of the time, at a much higher elevation, it was much cooler. Friday there was not a cloud in the sky and most of the day Saturday it was only partially cloudy. You could say we hit the weather lottery for sure. In short, it was a great weekend to go hiking! We enjoyed the outdoors immensely and the park is set up really well for day hikers and, from what I read, people who want to camp and hike through the park. Would we go again? Totally! There are miles and miles of trails that we did not get to walk not to mention all of the waterfalls and other geological formations there are to see in the park. And we missed out on a couple of the visitor centers.
As we were getting back to the hotel on our last night one of our fellow patrons pointed this little guy out to us. We saw him from street level at first, no more than 30 feet away from us, but quickly decided to get a better view from the balcony above.
Most of the time he was behind the garbage dumpster chomping away at something. We watched him actually start to dig into the opening (yes, he was that big!) before a car came into the parking lot and scared him off.
Well, we hope you enjoyed this installment of our adventures. Next time we will begin to regale you with tales from our trip to California back in April of this year!