Inside the Great Smoky Mountains

17425027_10101681141406413_7205767337921029150_nMy whole life I have enjoyed travel. I yearn for adventure. For the serenity of a forest. For the peaceful sounds of the woods, and my feet getting swept away on a trail. Taking me somewhere new. Somewhere beautiful. Somewhere fresh. Somewhere where I am likely to stand there staring for a while, lost in awe. Letting nature suck away my worries. There is such a paradox in the forest. Because I feel small, but filled with potential at the same time. Nature’s beauty (especially mountains, for me personally), is humbling. The world is so vast. So breathtaking. So in need of our respect. How can I be sucked up in sadness or depression or worries, when I am surrounded by such perfect creations? It fills me with the: There’s so much more to life than this, mindset.

Surrender. Let go. 

This is why I travel. Why I seek adventure. To breathe. To let peace and serenity calm my body and soul. To let bliss wash over me. To tilt my head back. To look around and really see. For a fresh perspective. To minimize my struggles, and reconnect with my purpose. I feel most like myself in these moments. I don’t feel society and others opinions weighing down on me. I feel light, buoyant.

17308876_10101681141266693_2837190037945190149_nThis is my first travel blog and I am so geeked. National Parks is kind of my husband Zach and I’s thing. Our bedroom walls are covered with National Park maps and one Big US map with traces of our travels (together & separately) For years I traveled by myself. Yosemite and the Northwest being my favorite areas I have ever been. I patiently waited for my travel companion, for my life companion. And Zach fits into my life more than I could have ever dreamed. How in sync we are with our desires and goals. Last year we traveled to over 10 National Parks on a whirlwind 2 week trip, during which he proposed to me under the stars in Arches National Park. 

I love him because last month we were talking bills and he said, “I am not going to bust my ass to just pay bills, we are going to live.” And we make it happen. Make it work. We are efficient travels and we keep refining our system. But life is such a gift. Such a blessing. And this life is filled with so much beauty, not to go out and seek it. To explore.

If you want to travel make it a priority. Start planning. Start saving. No matter how small. Start a travel jar. But don’t get sucked into the would, should, coulds that you limit your view of the world. That you never go for your dreams or see the world.

Our recent visit was to the Great Smoky Mountains. Here is some of what I learned and recommend:

  • Enter through the South if you can. Gaitlinburg is too touristy and crowded for my liking. We came from Chattanooga, so we took a scenic by-way through North Carolina to enter. ANYTIME you can take a scenic by-way, not just in this instance, do it. Some of the best landscapes we saw last year were on scenic by-ways (Bearstooth entering Yellowstone and Grand Escalante in Utah), there is usually less traffic, as well.
  • 17424926_10101681141346533_7054777469692463879_nIf you are entering from the North I would take the Foothills Parkway. This whole drive had us in open-mouthed awe. You have sweeping view, after sweeping view of the Smoky’s. Stunning.
  • Take the Foothills Parkway into Cades Cove. It’s a nice little loop. Granted if you go in the summer, keep in mind this is the most visited park, so we always start early to beat the crowds. You have stunning views of the mountains. Delightful colors. And there are cabins to stop at along the way.
  • The drive to the Cove? Gorgeous. Take a moment, get out and check out the river winding along side the road. Enjoy the little tunnels.
  • 17424985_10101681143806603_3621140875501255765_nDrive all the way through the park. Remember the fire from last year, some trails are closed, so get really get into the park. At the Pass you can stop and fulfill your A Walk to Remember moment and be in two places at once. Here you can be in Tennessee and North Carolina at the same time. The Appalachian Trail runs through this section too, so you may be able to sneak a peak at ta hiker, or jump on and do a little hiking on it yourself.
  • Clingerman’s Dome. This is the highest point, however it is closed in the winter, so we were unable to go. But again, if you go in the summer when it’s packed and you want to go, go early.
  • IMAG3421Smokemont Campground. We got a little sight here, and there was the most gorgeous little trail a few feet from the campground, with tree bridges to cross. So set up camp (book early during the busy season) and do a little exploring.
  • Sunset or sunrise. You have to experience one. There are tons of turnouts between the south entrance and the Pass, pull into ones and watch. It will take your breath away. And remember they are called the Smokies, they really have that smoky quality and you will experience lots of weather changes and the sun playing pick-a-boo.
  • IMAG3469Wildlife. Before sunset, the south entrance field fills with elk. Check them out. Also keep in mind there are bears in the park. Be smart about storing food in your cars and in campgrounds. And be aware on trails. When we were in the Cove there was one about 200 yards off the road that everyone was checking out. We also learned that it doesn’t really get cold enough there for them to hibernate like I envisioned and they said males, especially will come out and roam. Be smart and respectful of animals, whose home you are walking through.
  • Do NOT take your pet. We haven’t taken our dog on a trip yet, and we learned why. He wasn’t allowed on any of the trails of backcountry (he was permitted in the campground however). This did limit us, however, I am an avid researcher. The spot I most wanted to hike to was Ramsey’s Cascades. I read and looked at them, and Zach’s house director Brian confirmed it was his favorite spot in the park. There are LOTS of waterfalls in the park, however. Interestingly I learned that dogs are allowed in the National Forest (which generally surround the National Parks), and they don’t even need a leash if it appears they are under verbal command. If you can’t get into a campground in the park, camping in the forests is free, so long as you are 30 feet off the road. No fires are permitted, which is reasonable.
  • Give yourself plenty of time for driving and exploring.
  • 17309517_10101681143906403_738781796743354128_nTake a hammock, relax and enjoy!

Alright travel blog #1 is in the books! I hope this was informational and helpful to you. Get out and explore this crazy beautiful world.

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