Great Smoky Mountains

Friday, January 12, 2024

Ah, the Great Smoky Mountains. Where you breath in the crisp mountain air, watch sunrises over the layered mountains that you are happy to wake up early for, hike the many trails that may leave you out of breath but the beauty of nature surrounds you and makes it all worth it. 

We made the eight hour drive to Tennessee for our yearly family vacation. Our vacation rental was located in Sevierville and had amazing views of the mountains in the distance. I thoroughly enjoyed waking up before everyone (who am I?) to experience the amazing sunrises from the deck of the house. 

We spent the first full day riding all the coasters Dollywood had to offer. It was recommended to us to download the park's app to access wait times for each ride. Lucky for us, we did not have long wait times for any of the rides and were able to ride multiple times. It may have been due to the extreme heat or the time of year since many schools were back in session. 

Located in Gaitlinburg, Anakeesta is an outdoor adventure park consisting of treetop skywalks, ziplines, mountain coasters, and much more for kids and adults to enjoy. There is also a bar and restaurant with picturesque views of the Smoky Mountains. You have the option to take a chairlift or gondola to the top. Jer and I made the mistake and also rode the Gaitlinburg Skylift thinking it was the chairlift to Anakeesta. Costly mistake. My fear of heights seemed to be heightened on the chairlifts. I death gripped the bars of the lift while my body completely tensed up. If you're afraid of heights, I would recommend the gondola ride even though the wait is much longer. 

Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing
With record breaking temperatures reaching the high 90s it was time to cool off. Tubing was the perfect reprieve from the heat that we needed. It took about two hours to complete. The rental company picks you up at the exit point, which is clearly marked, and takes you back to the parking lot. Would suggest to wear river shoes (we had to purchase), bring a dry box or wet bag, and enjoy the relaxing time on the river. 

Alum Cave Trail
I had the brilliant idea to wake early and make our way to the trail so we could try and catch the sunrise over the Smoky Mountains. Many alarms had gone off and just as quickly, turned off. Only two others would brave the early morning wake up call. Jeremy, my sister, and I made it to the trailhead around 6am. It was still pitch black outside and we did not have a flashlight. 

Using the flashlight on our phones, we started the trek. We stopped to read the warning signs at the beginning of the trailhead that stated, "DANGER!! Bears are active in this area. DO NOT APPROACH THEM! Attacks on humans have occurred inflicting serious injuries and death." Just what you want to read as you make your way into the darkness unable to see 2 feet in front of you. But, we proceeded. 

We could hear the rushing water along side of us and could see the shadows of the trees in the distance. My sister kept saying that she did not think this was such a great idea. She clung on for dear life, knowing that if we stumbled upon a bear she would thrust me forward. Every man for themselves.  About a mile into the hike, Jer shined his flashlight upon a tree and I could see what looked like a shadow of a bear hanging on the tree. I made the announcement, "A bear!" My sister asked, "Where?" I pointed to the tree and she said, "OMG, it is! Let's go!" We both turned and started walking briskly back to the parking lot. All the while, Jer kept stating that it was not a bear and that we were both crazy. In the distance, we could see head lamps walking towards us and decided to wait for fellow hikers. 

As they came upon us, we told them what happened. They sort of laughed and raised their arms making what seemed to be fake bear noises and continued on with their hike. We decided to turn around and follow the newly met comedians since safety is better in numbers. We did our best to keep up but they obviously did this often as they sprinted up the mountain. They did not have any intention on waiting for the scaredy pants in the back. 

Light started shining through the trees, nerves started to dissipate, and we started to uncover the beauty around us. We made it to the top, missed the sunrise, but the views were amazing. Worth it, in my book. 

Laurel Falls Trail
One of the more popular trails, Laurel Falls Trail is a paved trail (not my favorite) that takes about 2 hours roundtrip. The kids, minus one who preferred to stay home and watch people playing video games on YouTube (priorities), were excited for the hike. With minimal complaints it was a nice family friendly hike.

Scenic Drives