Autumn At “The Appy”

Autumn At “The Appy”

Gatlinburg, TN has been known for years as a hot spot for tourists hoping to enjoy some family fun and explore the country’s most visited National Park – The Great Smoky Mountains. Many Gatlinburg guests have said “Yes!’ and just as many have said, “I do.”  while in town.. And well, for as long as most can remember, the city has been a place of pure happiness… 

However, the city has seen its share of heartbreak as well..

In 2016, tragically, a portion of the city was filled with fire, areas of the national park were burnt and even more tragically lives were lost. Yet, the people of Smokies – rose up gracefully and beautifully from the ashes. The city has made a comeback beyond measure! Gatlinburg has truly shown America what it means to be resilient Appalachian Americans. Over the past 2 years, the city and its residents have found transformation in the ruins. They have, like the first settlers of the area, taken moments that would have broken many and turned them into opportunities and a chance to show their strength. 

And now, a new addition to the city – The Appalachian Lodge or also known as The Appy, has brought a place of Appalachian history and love to the main strip of the city.

Located on the Pigeon Forge end of the parkway, The Appy is the most unique hotel in Gatlinburg… It is a hotel, a museum and a cozy like home place to spend a night, a weekend or even a week. 

The Appy is fully based on America’s treasure, the Appalachian Trail. Lining the halls are facts, photographs, and history from the trails. In the guest rooms are a beautiful paintings by local artist, Robert Tino, as well as other local art that can be found throughout the lodge. Guest rooms are based on shelters found along the AT and even the pool is named after the Stratton Pond that can be found on the AT in Vermont. 

Click on the link below to check out The Appy, and then…

Read over some ideas of how you can enjoy your time in the Smokies during your stay! 

Make a reservation at The Appy: The Appy Lodge

5 Ways to Enjoy An Autumn Stay at The Appy

 

Take A Hike! 

Roam the halls of The Appy and read about the Appalachian Trail, study the photographs of those that poured their soul into a trail that over time would save the spirits of so very many – by bringing a much-needed connection to the mountains and nature to them during their journeys on the AT… Then, take a hike on the AT yourself… Catch a sunrise or sunset at Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Hike out to Charlie’s Bunion and soak up the views. Not ready for a higher elevation AT hike? Not a problem! Take a stroll down the Little River Trail, or another low elevation trail, under a canopy of Autumn colors. When you’re finished, head back to your place at The Appy… Shower, grab a cup of coffee, one of the many books available, a blanket and hang out by the fire pit and laugh with friends and family about the day’s adventure.

 

 

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Autumn is one of the most beautiful times to get to know the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

 

 

Take A Scenic Drive 

Hiking isn’t for everyone, but nature is… Wake up early, grab breakfast at the lodge. Then, take a drive around the Roaring Fork Motor Trail – located 15 minutes from The Appy. Take a drive through the park to Cades Cove, leaving extra time to stop in at the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center and to explore stops along the way. Drive over to Cherokee and see the Smokies from the top and even spot some elk in the Oconaluftee area.

The possibilities are endless!

 

 

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A Smokies sunrise from the Oconoluftee Overlook on Newfound Gap Road.

 

 

Get To Know The Locals 

Gatlinburg is filled with artists and local business owners that rely on the visitors of the area to not only feed their families but also to feed their dreams of doing what they love for the rest of their lives or until they retire. They love meeting new people, they love providing their services and goods to those passing through town. They love the support of others that purchase their art and crafts – but even more so, they love that visitors take a little piece of Appalachia home with them. Just 3 miles from downtown you’ll find the Arts and Crafts Community, with over 100 artists. From carvers, weavers, potters, painters and more – it is filled with Appalachian soul. Looking to hike with a local? Check out hiking tours with locally owned A Walk In The Woods. Need a shuttle? They can help with that as well! If you check in and fall in love with one of the many Robert A. Tino paintings, look him up and take one home with you! Check out Bike The Smokies if you’re looking to take a ride, instead of hike. Hungry after your hike? Grab a bite to eat the Hungry Bear BBQ or one of the many other locally owned restaurants.

Regardless of what you’re seeking, you’ll find a local that can help you find it!

 

 

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Take time to relax around a fire pit at The Appy after an autumn day of hiking or shopping. 

 

Spend Time With The Kids or Just Be A Kid Again

In Gatlinburg, you won’t find a shortage of mountains, souvenirs or ways to be a kid and enjoy being a kid with your own children. The city is packed full of family fun and the mountains are filled with unlimited opportunities for kid-friendly adventures. Take the kiddos for a tour of The Appy, beyond the room or suite where you’re staying. After, you’ve sparked their attention – head to the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center inside the Great Smoky National Park and check out ways for them to experience being a part of the Junior Ranger Program. Join a ranger for a walk in the woods, a salamander hunt, to learn about our Islands In The Sky, for some Tree Tales, a campfire or for their History of the White Blaze program. Crazy weather during your stay or just looking to spend time in the city? The choices are open and abundant! From multiple Ripley’s locations(including Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf next door to The Appy) to mountain coasters, playing in the snow at Ober or the amazing Anakeesta experience, you’ll find non-stop fun during the length of your stay.

 

Fall In Love

If I hadn’t been intrigued by a story of two hikers thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail on their honeymoon in the 1980’s, you wouldn’t be reading these words today. It’s a long story, but exactly how my writing about the mountains that I love came to be. Autumn at The Appy is the perfect time to fall in love, or at least even more in love with your sweetheart… Take hikes in the mountain, hold hands by the fire, in late Autumn – go skiing or play in the Smoky Mountain snow. Browse the local shops, find the perfect dining spot, take a winery or distillery tour. Who knows… By the time your visit is over, you may even find yourself in one of the many local wedding chapels saying your “I do’s” or renewing your vows. But, one this is for sure – love is always in the Smokies air.

 

3 Adventure Weekends in the Southern Appalachians

The majority of Americans spend their weekdays running the rat race…

Working their 9-5’s, running errands, cheering their kids on at soccer practice, paying bills, mowing their lawns and counting down the minutes until Friday rolls back around. As we all know, Monday returns far too soon…

It is said that “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you.” ….

And well, the truth is – it will.

It’s exactly why a good portion of the people mentioned above are simply unhappy, are in failing marriages, fighting addictions, wake up every morning miserable and medicate their depression so they can trudge on. It’s why suicide rates are climbing daily and why our local jails sit filled with those that are simply empty shells of who they once were. We, as Americans, have allowed our focus to be put on living the “American Dream” but we fail to see that the current idea of the American dream is one that has slowly but surely been slipped into our minds from those seeking profits from our chase. It’s why we’re drowning in debt as a country, constantly seeking the newest model of car or iPhone, building cookie cutter neighborhoods and killing ourselves to make another dollar.

Yet, the further we chase that dream, the more distance we place between us and the greatest human need of all.

Time in nature, a connection to something so much more, food for our spirits, peacefulness for our souls, and tranquility for our stress-filled minds. 

That’s where I come in… Making this connection, going to the mountains, shifting my focus to a more simplistic life – has absolutely changed my entire world. It’s the root of why I do what I do, because all that I found – I want to share with you. I want you to find the inner peace, the sense of awe and wonder and the overwhelming love of a basic life that I’ve found while roaming the hills and valleys of the Appalachians. 

First, I want to acknowledge that I’m completely aware of the fact that taking off into the wilderness isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t have to be. You can connect to nature with a walk in your neighborhood, at your local nature center, by watching the sunset or leaving early for work – grabbing a coffee, and watching the sunrise before you clock in at work. 

If you’re looking for something more, but still not ready to take off on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail… Then I may have what you’re looking for… Below, you’ll find 3 weekend adventures that I’ve put together for you… They’re all a balance of mountains, places to stay, eat, play, soak up the view and take steps towards enjoying the beauty that surrounds us and the nature that we will forever be connected to. 

Pick an adventure and escape for a weekend! 

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An Appalachian Road Trip:

This adventure is great for anyone but it is perfect for those that only want to do short hikes and take in some of the best views on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting on the Gatlinburg end of the Smokies, rise up far before sunrise and hit the road.  Arrive at the Oconaluftee Overlook by the first light of the day and wait to greet the day. Once the sun has risen, take in more views as you continue on Newfound Gap Road to the Oconoluftee area. Explore the Mingus Mill, stop in at the visitors center and take a moment to see if you can spot in any elk. Once you’re done, grab some breakfast in Cherokee and fill up on gas if you need to – if you’re not in a rush, hop over to Mingo Falls. Then – to the Blue Ridge Parkway! Once on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll have the following options of places to explore in the following order:

  • Soco Falls – a bit off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, this waterfall is beautiful and roadside. You’ll find a short trail down to a viewing platform.
  • Waterrock Knob – Elevation 6,292ft, great views and easily accessible
  • Cowee Mountain Overlook – One of the most stunning views on the Parkway.
  • Devil’s Courthouse – A short but steep hike to panoramic views.
  • Graveyard Fields – A restroom stop with a view of Graveyard Fields and hiking options.
  • Looking Glass Rock Overlook – A stunning view of Looking Glass Rock.
  • Skinny Dip Falls – A waterfall hike that’s located across the road from the Looking Glass Rock Overlook. Definitely worth exploring and a great opportunity to stretch your legs.
  • Pounding Mill Overlook – More of those infamous Appalachian views.
  • Pisgah Inn – The adventure stop spot. Grab a bite to eat, stay the night – during open season, or take in the views from the rocking chairs that line the hillside.
  • Pisgah Campground – Located across the BRP from the Pisgah Inn, the Pisgah campground is a great spot to set up camp for the weekend.

Link for Gatlinburg to Graveyard Fields

Link for Graveyard Fields to the Pisgah Inn

This stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is like all of the other miles of beauty – it is filled with endless options for views and hiking. The spots listed above are just to get you started!

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An Appalachian Trail Experience: 

If you’ve already taken in the never-ending views of the Blue Ridge Parkway, or if you’re looking for more of “feet on the trail” weekend – but not ready to sleep out in the wild… This may be the weekend for you! Start with playing hooky on a Friday, after all – 3 day weekends are the best! Check in at Gatlinburg‘s newest hotel The Appy Lodge. The hotel is based on the Appalachian Trail and has some really unique features that will make you feel right at home during your stay, as well as help you to see why the mountains in their backyard are so such an amazing gift – just as the 2,100+ mile trail is to so many. Once you’re settled in, pick your adventure and get started: 

  • Catch sunrise on Clingmans Dome and hike back down to Newfound Gap. To keep this hike at 7.5 miles, you’ll want to take two cars with you and leave one at Newfound Gap. If you’re up for a longer hike and want to double that by hiking back up, then, by all means – go for it. Doing this hike will give you a taste of the high elevation sections of the trail – Clingmans is not only the highest point in the Smokies, but also the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Keep in mind for this adventure that the temps up top can easily be 20+ degrees cooler than lower elevation spots. It’s not uncommon to arrive at Clingmans and find yourself inside of a cloud as well, but even then – the area is beautiful! Also, Clingmans Dome Road is closed to vehicles from December 1st until March 31st. However, park visitors are still welcome to walk the road, bike it or even ski if snow is present. And, of course – the Appalachian Trail is open year round, as long as Newfound Gap Road is open to access that portion of the trail. If you’re catching the sunrise, be sure to arrive by first light to catch all the magic.
  • Take a hike out to Charlie’s Bunion. A 8-mile round-trip hike from Newfound Gap, this is one of the best and most popular hikes in the area. Hiking out to the Bunion will leave you wanting more of the Appalachian Trail in your life… Who knows, you may even decide to hike the 1,972 miles the rest of the way to the summit of Katahdin in Maine. If you have some extra time on your hike, consider checking out the Jump Off – you’ll see signs on your way, but look up the details before you go.

Know before you go, check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s road conditions and closures before heading out for your hike.

Twitter: Great Smoky Mountains National Park – road conditions and closures.

 

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Early morning on Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

 

An Appalachian Escape Weekend:

On this weekend adventure, you will have an opportunity to get a taste of it all… Below is a basic itinerary to help you plan on your Appalachian escape. 

  • Check into a Roan Mountain State Park cabin or campsite on Friday evening.
  • Head up to Round Bald to take in the sunset.
  • Wake up early on Saturday morning and take 19E up to Damascus, Va. Once in Damascus, grab a bite to eat at Mojos Cafe. Then hop over next door to Sundog Outfitters for a scheduled bike ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail . I recommend making reservations, especially during autumn and other busy times. The outfitter will take you up to White Top, where you’ll be dropped off and then spend your afternoon cruising back down – coming to the halfway point of the Creeper and right up to the door of Sundog. Once you’re finished with your bike ride, take a few minutes to explore this quaint and charming AT trail town.
  • On your trip back to Roan Mountain State Park, stop off at Watauga Lake for a few minutes… In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful lakes in Tennessee.
  • Rest and relax Saturday night by the fireplace or a campfire, chill in your hammock or just hit the sack early…
  • Sunday sunrise… Get up and moving on Sunday and head up the Carver’s Gap in Roan Mountain State Park. Your adventure for the day? Catch the sunrise from the balds and hike out to Grassy Ridge Bald. This section of the Appalachian Trail is the longest stretch of balds in on the AT. It’s a very popular area in June when the rhododendrons are in bloom, but the area is absolutely stunning year around. Be prepared during the winter months for sketchy roads and extreme winter weather.
  • Sunday evening, on your way out of town – swing in and have dinner at the White Duck Taco’s Johnson City location. Their website describes it being in “the historic & newly fancied Tweetsie Railroad Depot; adjoining the Yee-Haw Brewing Taproom, the JC Duck comes with skeeball, bocce ball, and plenty of outdoor seating.” And well, I don’t know about you – but that sounds to me like the best way possible to wrap up a weekend of Appalachian fun.

 

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Appalachian Trail and forest at Carver’s Gap.

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Sunset at Carver’s Gap on Roan Mountain.

So…. There you go! Now… Get on your way!

Safe travels and happy trails to you! – Kristi

*** Prints of images can be purchased in my Etsy Shop, Blue Ridge Reflections, if you see an image here, on my Instagram account or on Facebook that you would like to purchase a print of – feel free to message me and request that it be added to the Etsy Shop.

 

An Southern Appalachian Summer

I was just 5 days old the first time I was blessed by it… The first sliver of summer sun that rose up in the Tennessee sky. I’m almost certain that it was love at first sight, because every since that day when autumn returns, my heart whispers the sweetest of goodbyes. Today, I paid closer attention to the warmth of the sun on my skin, the greenest of green, the blooms of flowers and how deeply i’ll miss the smell of summertime showers… Then, I thought of my summer in the hills that I love so very much. I am excited and filled with the anticipation of watching the beauty unfold as the seasons change.. But, first… I want to reflect on the moments I was blessed with during another southern Appalachian summer.. And, to make it even more of a blessing – I get to share my reflections with you. 

Below, you’ll find just a sliver of the images that I had the honor to capture this summer. My hope is that, they will inspire you to not only go outside and play – but to seek simplicity, light and beauty in each and every day.

Visit my Etsy Shop to purchase prints of images or to make requests for your favorite images to be added to the shop!

Click here to purchase prints: Blue Ridge Reflections on Etsy

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“Reflection is found in stillness. Be still. Seek the light. Reflect, and find beauty in what is often overlooked.”

 

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” They say that just before we die a reel of our memories will flash before our eyes… I don’t know if that’s true or not.. But, I do know that I plan on living a life focused on beauty and love… And, that I will do my best to capture, for my last film, moments that i’m convinced were sent from up above. Moment that I will also leave here as I depart this earth – with the wings of an ethereal dove… My spirit overflowering with peace, hope and love.”

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“I wanna be your forever… Your by my side, riding shot gun.. Your reason to climb mountains and to chase the sun… Your favorite color – spreading across the Appalachian sky, your rain cloud when the days are hot and dry… Yeah, I can’t lie… I wanna be your secret spot, your once in a lifetime jackpot… Your muse and most treasured gem that you hope to never lose. Your ocean breeze and autumn trees. I wanna be yours, and you be mine… Every day – You’ll be my valentine… My poem that doesn’t rhyme, my Key West lime, my good-good time. My partner in love, my partner in crime… Don’t need a reason, or a season.. Just a little Blue Ridge sunshine.”

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“Stay out of the forest!”, my mother would scream… “It is filled with all kinds of wild things. Wild things that will give you crazy, ridiculous dreams… It is not somewhere that you ever need to be.” But, what my mother failed to see… Was that I had to go there, because the wild and the dreams had forever been a part of me.”

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“All that i’m mean for, I will flow to… Around obstacles, over humps and bumps, through the smallest of crevices and off the highest of cliffs… I will flow… I will grow… I will welcome each season filled with faith, not fear. I will travel with both purpose and passion – on journeys far and near. I will face the darkness, knowing that His light that shines within me, can never be eclipsed. Always – hope and love will flow from my lips. I will forever flow with the rhythm of the mountains… I will breathe deep with the breezes on the peaks. I will focus. I will anchor down with my roots… Yet, spread my wings with the butterflies.. And, when knocked down, I will always rise. I will soak up the earth and allow it to nuture me… Then, like the wildflowers in the spring – I will grow. Yes… Here, in these hills… I will forever flow.”

 

Want to see more?

Let’s connect! Blue Ridge Reflections by Kristi Parsons on Instagram

Thank you so much for stopping in! Best wishes for a blessed and beautiful day! – Kristi

Streams of The Great Smoky Mountains

 

Streams of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

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The Tremont area of the Smoky Mountains is filled with tranquility. 

It is said that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. 
 
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will find almost 3,000 miles of streams and rivers to step into. If you have spent a decent amount of time in the park, then you are well aware of the fact that the best way to really enjoy all that the Smokies has to offer is to step away from the paved roads…
To take time within the hills and valleys to truly feel the mountains..
To truly connect with them…
To walk out of the Smoky Mountains a different man(or woman)… 
Is to step onto the trails…
To stand on the summits…
To explore, to wander…
To step into the streams…
Swim in the rivers…
Take time to feel the water and connect with the flow of the mountains. 
Do just that… And you will step out of the mountains after each visit a different person…
A better person… A more fulfilled spirit.
You will find happiness, energy, motivation, relaxation and a more complete version of yourself – with each step, each trail and each stream.
Go. Go explore. Get lost in the beauty and find all that you are meant to be.
 
 Waterfall Chasing 
Those that have truly roamed the hills and valleys of the Smokies, know that the most breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls lie hidden – off the trail. However, the park maintains plenty of trails that will give you a glimpse into the hidden water world of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the paved trail to Laurel Falls to a difficult 8 mile round trip trek to Ramsey Cascades. A day spent hiking the trails of the GSMNP to any of the multiple falls in the park is a perfect way to spend a summer day.
A few of the best waterfalls in the park that need to be on the list:
– Ramsey Cascades (Greenbrier)
– Grotto Falls (Roaring Fork Motor Trail area, Trillium Gap Trail)
– Rainbow Falls (Roaring Fork Motor Trail area, Rainbow Falls Trail)
– Spruce Flats Falls (Tremont)
– Indian Flats Falls (Tremont, Middle Prong Trail)
– Abrams Falls (Cades Cove)
– Mingo Falls (Cherokee) * at 120ft Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the Southern Appalachian Mountains
– Mouse Creek Falls (Big Creek, Big Creek Trail)
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Grotto Falls is located on the Trillium Gap Trail in the Roaring Fork area of the Smokies. 

                                   
 Fishing 
From 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a fisherman and anglers paradise. Never ending scenery, tranquility, miles of streams and wild trout just waiting to be caught… Make the park an ideal location for your next escape to the wild. The Smokies allows fishing year around in the park, however, there are requirements and regulations required to fish the pristine waters.
Once you’re familiar with the best ways to be a steward of the streams, plan your trip!
Escape the crowds in Abrams Creek, be surrounded by gorgeous greens in Tremont or find solitude in one of the prongs of the Little River.
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Tom Branch Falls, in the Deep Creek area,  is an excellent spot to cast your worries away. 

Kayaking
The rains have returned to the streams of the Smokies and they’re waiting for you to become one with them…
Just getting started? Check out the Elbow to the Townsend Wye for a Class II run. Head into Tremont to do a couple runs, flyfish for a few and then head down to Campsite 18 and sleep next to the West Prong.  Stay in the Elkmont Campground, take a hike up a few miles and ride the river back down to Elkmont. Are you experienced and looking for your next fix? Do a Class V run on the West Prong of the Pigeon River or when the Ramsey Cascades Trail reopens – hike up and come back down on Class V run surrounded by Old Growth Forest. Maybe you’re looking for a calm and chill day?
Take off to Fontana and flat water paddle the insanely beautiful Fontana Lake. Whatever water experience you’re craving, the Smokies has something for you… And for every visit after the next…
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Float or Dip
 
Spring and summer are amazing times to be in the park. However, during the warmer months, the temps do rise at the lower elevations and the humidity can be unbearable at times. Perfect solution? Take a trip and a float or a dip… The best swimming holes don’t have names… They’re tucked away on or off of your favorite trail. Explore this summer and find a place to call your own, away from the crowds.
However, if you’re feeling a little extra social – here are a few spots that you might enjoy!
– The Townsend WYE: You can’t miss it or the sunbathers and dippers… They’ll be there, just inside the park and a mile or so from Townsend.
– Midnight Hole: Located on the Big Creek Trail, the Midnight Hole is beautiful and you’ll know immediately why this is one of the top swimming holes on the North Carolina side of the mountains.
– Deep Creek: 3 waterfalls, freshwater springs feeding the water, Bryson City just down the road… Tubing and relaxing. What could possibly go wrong with that mixture? Deep Creek is a picture of summer perfection
– Abrams Falls: Abrams is located in Cades Cove on a 5-mile round trip out and back hike. It’s a favorite among locals and tourists. Always respect the power of the water here – there have been multiple drownings. Know your abilities and that the water can be very tricky near the falls.
Take a trip and a float or a drip in any of the Smoky Mountain Streams – always with safety first and foremost on the priority list.
Regardless of the length of your visit to the Smoky Mountains or the purpose..
Take a moment to play in the stream, lie in the hammock beside the river, look for salamanders, fish, dip your feet in or take a swim..
After all, water is the source of all life – and connecting with it, will absolutely make you feel alive. 
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The Big Creek area of the Smokies is filled with roaring cascades and opportunities to soak up the serenity that can be found in the park. 

 

 

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The Place of a Thousand Drips is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail and is best viewed after heavy rains.

 

 

 

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Indian Flats Falls is one of the numerous waterfalls in the Smokies that can be acccessed by hiking. This gem is tucked away off of the Middle Prong Trail in the Tremont section of the park. 

 

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Home Is Where The Heart Is..

 

We live in a world where everyone is searching for something… Something to fill the void on the inside.. Something to make them feel peaceful, happy, loved, hopeful, inspired, energetic, happy, healthy and complete..

Or maybe even just something to simply make them feel..

But the thing is, too few have realized that what there searching for in this world.. Is our world.. It’s the beauty that surrounds us every day.. The beauty that too often we’re blinded to – because we’re focused on the negatives of this place that we call home..

Home.. Home is meant to be a place that is filled with hope, love, comfort and beauty.

But for a moment today, pause and look around you. Home isn’t the house that we live in. Home is in the hugs of our family, the laughter of our friends, the colors of the sunrise and the dew dripping off of the flowers. Home is in the memories of a childhood where we ran wild and free.

Home is here.

Home is in the mountains, in the sea, the valleys and across the plains of this gorgeous place that we can never return to again.

One trip is all we get.. Fill it with the positives and the beauty that is ours to borrow for a short time.

This weekend… Go outside. Relax. Play. Just enjoy your day. Connect to something more.

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Smoky Mountain Sunrise

 

A View From The Top..

A few years ago..

Before I ever stepped foot onto the trails again. I woke up at 4am one morning, in the midst of a midnight in my life.. I couldn’t sleep, my world was crumbling around me and I just needed to breathe. I got in my car, alone and started to drive.. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for or what I would find, but I had an overwhelming need to see the Smoky Mountains.

I had driven the Cades Cove loop a few times since the storm of a century had began in my life.. I had kept going back, after the first time, because every time I made it to the park boundary, everything that was breaking my heart disappeared. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountains that I just didn’t care about the rest of it, if even for a moment.. 

That magic.. Is what led me to driving to the Foothills Parkway at 4am that morning. I wanted to see the mountains and I wanted to watch the sun rise. I needed to watch it rise. I needed to watch it rise because I knew that I too had to rise.. To rise above the hills, the valleys and the darkness. 

I can’t explain in words my experience that morning.. But, I do know that sitting there.. In the dark, the silence, the peacefulness.. Then seeing the first light starting to glow over the mountains, followed by more light spreading out into the darkness.. Revealing what was hidden in the night, in the shadows.. To finally seeing the sun, our star.. Rise above the ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and shine it’s light, it’s warmth over everything that had been dark and cold.. Absolutely changed my life. I knew then that I had to rise above it all, but not only did I have to rise – I needed to do my best to be a light as well… 

And that is why I do what I do.. That’s why I have a never ending thirst for our mountains, for nature, for chasing the light, for striving to build my life around the mountains and around sharing my experiences with you. I share my photos and my words to hopefully inspire and encourage everyone that views them to find the fire that I have found in the mountains. The peace, the strength, the hope, the freedom.. It’s all there.. But, you must seek it. Love the mountains and they will love you back.. 

The Fire… 

Since that morning on the Parkway, i’ve had a fire inside of me. A fire to chase the light, the sun, the fog, the clouds, the magic and the view from the top..  In this entry.. I’m sharing with you some of my favorite “View From The Top” spots, photos and where to experience the magic yourself.

The Chase.. 

Mount Mitchell: 

Mount Mitchell, standing at 6,684ft, is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi.. Located in Burnsville, NC.. You’ll find the Mount Mitchel State Park just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s an easily accessible summit, but is still breathtaking and surrounded by beautiful trails to explore. On the summit, you will also find the tomb of Elisha Mitchell, a professor from the University of North Carolina. The mountain is named after Dr.Mitchell due to his exploration of the mountain determining it to be the highest in the east. Mitchell fell to his death at Mitchell Falls in 1857 and now calls this beautiful mountain summit his finally resting place.

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Craggy Gardens: 

Craggy Gardens is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Asheville, NC and is filled with never-ending views year around. If you stop by, be sure to hike the short trail up to the Craggy Pinnacle. At the top, you’ll find plenty of spots to soak up take in the 360 degree view. Once your finished hiked out to Craggy Gardens and relax. Visit in June an July and you’ll find the rhododendrons in bloom..

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Max Patch:

Max Patch is also a breathtaking “View From The Top” spot in North Carolina.. If you’re looking for an incredible day of hiking, picnicking, kite flying, relaxing and even camping. This is one of the top spots in the area! However, Max Patch is very moody.. It can be clear and blue in Asheville and Max Patch will be fogged in.. Winds, weather and view can change easily by the minute – so be prepared. If things get crazy, you’ll find your car just at the base of bald.. So don’t let it stop you from hopefully snagging the ultimate Max Patch experience.

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Gooseberry Knob @ The Swag and Hemphill Bald: 

You’ll find these two fabulous spots also tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. You can hike in from multiple trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Gooseberry Knob, property of The Swag, you’ll find never ending views, picnic tables, chairs to relax in and even a hammock.. On Hemphill Bald, property of the Cataloochee Ranch, you’ll find a Flintstone style picnic table, horses and one of the most unique views in the Southern Appalachian mountains.

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Roan Mountain: 

If there’s one place that you visit this year.. Make it Roan Mountain.. Take the 5 mile round-trip hike up to Grassy Ridge Bald.. You’ll start at Carvers Gap and follow the Appalachian Trail up to Round Bald, Jane Bald and then leave the AT – heading right and up to the top of Grassy.. And.. Well.. You’ll never be the same again. Looking for the full experience? Pick and bald.. Pitch a tent.. Watch the sun go down and wake up in heaven.

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Newfound Gap Road: 

Newfound Gap road is by far the most scenic ways to get from Tennessee to North Carolina.. Most people know of the road, most have been on it… It is filled with trailheads and pull offs.. However, to experience the trip along Newfound Gap Road at sunrise, sunset or even after a storm is the most perfect way to truly see the magic that occurs.. Tennessee is home for me.. But, I love North Carolina just as much.. And the Smoky Mountains have my heart.. So, maybe i’m a little partial to this being the way for all of my loves to connect.

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Clingmans Dome: 

Although it’s closed during the winter, you’ll find Clingmans Dome Road on Newfound Gap Road – just at the state line. Clingmans is the highest point of the Smoky Mountains. And yes, there’s a tower for you to observe the mountains from.. However, you won’t find any photo below of the tower.. Simply because to me, the most amazing views lie around the tower and from the trails and areas that hold up the highest point of our Smokies.. The views from Andrews Bald, the Appalachian Trail and other trails are much more tranquil and spirit filled.. At least for me.

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Foothills Parkway and Look Rock: 

This is the spot where my fire started.. The spot that I return to often. Any time i’m heading to the Smokies for a hike and i’m going in on the Townsend side – I always catch the sunrise first.. Always. The magic is still fresh, the energy is still strong and my love for the view is only growing with time.

 

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Charlies Bunion: 

4 miles away from the Newfound Gap Parking lot.. Along the Appalachian Trail.. You will find one of the most epic spots in the park to take in the massiveness of our mountains. One photo is all that’s needed to show you why you need to experience it for yourself.. That speck, on the left.. Yes, it’s a person… And yes, that speck can be you!

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Mount LeConte:

Mount Leconte.. The 3rd highest point of the Smoky Mountains. Only accessible by hiking trails .. Mount LeConte is the most amazing experience with a “View From The Top” that you’ll find in the Smokies.. From the people, to the views, to the energy and the feelings that being on LeConte will leave with you. Once. Go.. Just once.. And you’ll always feel the itch to be back… Back and on top of the world.

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Other Views From The Top Spots:

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7 Waterfall Wonders of Tennessee

Tucked away in the hills of Tennessee, you’ll find over 500 waterfalls. The majority of
the waterfalls are nestled in the Appalachian mountains, eastern portion of the state and
in the Cumberland Plateau area. Each waterfall is beautiful in it’s own way, however
some stand out above others. The areas that surround those select waterfalls are
sections of Tennessee that are filled with unique features and interesting history. Sure,
you could explore them without knowing the wonder behind them – but.. To hike the
trails, to know the legends, the history and to slow down and notice all of the
characteristics that place them in the top 7 Waterfall Wonders of Tennesssee – is the
only way to truly feel their enchantment.

Foster Falls:

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Foster Falls, located in Sequatchie, drops 60ft into a tranquil pool of perfection. Foster Falls is on my list of Waterfall Wonders, not only for it’s beauty but also for it’s connection to the Fiery Gizzard Trail. The first thing you’ll notice when arriving is the sandstone overlook. Due to its geological features – the Foster Falls area is one of the premier climbing destinations in the south. The short, but steep and rocky trail leading to the base will only take you deeper into what will soon feel like a fairytale. The area is filled hemlocks, mountain laurel and azaleas as well. However, the charming suspension bridge with the base of the waterfall to the right – will be what makes you believe in love at first sight. My first trip to the base was on a rainy winter day – with just the perfect amount of fog.. I felt like I had stumbled onto the page of my favorite children’s book. And, yes, I felt 5 again. Not only is that a reason for you to visit, but it’s also the perfect example of why you should never let the weather determine your adventure. And.. Speaking of determining your adventure – after exploring the base of the falls, you can continue and finish up with a 1.6 mile loop.. Or, you can choose to explore the 12.5miles(one way) Fiery Gizzard Trail. You’re probably thinking, “Well, that’s a crazy name for a trail.”.. And, it is.. However, all crazy names come with a history. One legend behind the name is from the days of Davy Crockett.. It is said that Davy was sitting at his camp, eating a turkey, when he burned his tongue on a gizzard and spit it into the gorge… So, today, it’s the Fiery Gizzard Trail. This may also explain why the Fiery Gizzard Trail was also once voted by Backpacker Magazine, to be one of the top 25 hiking trails in the United States, as well as a top 12 Amazing Fall Foliage Destination. Because, well… Who wouldn’t want to walk where the King Of The Wild Frontier has walked?

Laurel-Snow State Natural Area:

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4 Waterfalls, 1 area.. So, it counts as one! 3 are just bonus falls.. Laurel-Snow State Natural Area is located in Dayton – famous for the Scopes Monkey Trail of 1925. Tucked away, just outside of Dayton, lies 2,259 acres of a natural area to explore.You’ll find natural features, such as : overlooks, waterfalls, virgin timber, steep gorges, wildflowers and many geological features. However, you’ll quickly notice man made features as well, like the remains of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when logging and mining took place in the area. Just after starting on the trail, you’ll see a large coke oven built into the rock that still includes the retaining walls. The mine to your right is the Richland Mine, one of many in the area. Several tragic mine explosions occurred over the years, the first being in December of 1895 – in the Richland Mine. However, in March of 1902, an explosion in the Nelson mine nearby(on private property) killed over 20 men. Men that were working to put food on the tables of their families. Today, the area is the perfect place to take your family.. Explore and go an adventure. Take your children, teach them about the history of the area and the life of the Appalachians that worked and died there. Honor those lost by respecting the beauty of the nature that the trails are filled with. Go alone, listen and find solitude. Grab some friends – it’s a perfect spot for backcountry camping, hiking, swimming, climbing and is also a Class III-IV whitewater run. Laurel Snow was the first National Recreation Trail designated in Tennessee, the first of what will hopefully be many.

Greeter Falls:

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Greeter Falls is named after the Greeter family that sold the land to the state and is made up of both Upper and Lower levels. The amphitheater of Greeter and it’s extraordinary geological features have helped to toss it into the Waterfall Wonders mix. On the 1.6 mile loop, you’ll also view Boardtree Falls and an opportunity to explore the Greeter family homesite. A fun and unique feature as well is the metal spiral staircase that leads you down to Lower Greeter Falls. Lower Greeter Falls drops 50ft into a large plunge pool and is a very popular swimming hole in the summer months, along with Blue Hole, also in the area. Greeter Falls is also a part of the 15,590-acre state natural area known as Savage Gulf. This location also opens up a visit to the falls being a day of exploring many other local wonders as well, such as Stone Door.

Great Falls: 

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Great Falls is located in Rock Island State Park and is one of the most unique waterfalls in the state. It is a large horseshoe shaped waterfall that cascades over a 30ft drop. The waterfall is located below a 19th century textile mill that it helped to power over 100 years ago. Past the falls lies the Caney Fork River Gorge and is an mindblowing area to explore. The reach the base of Great Falls can access the gorge by taking the Old Mill Trail near the overlook, if parking is full, hikers can also reach the gorge via the Upstream Trail near the Twin Falls Overlook. Once in the gorge, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a different world or have wandered onto a tropical island paradise. You’ll be surrounded by waterfalls on the walls of the gorge, rock islands to hop around on and of course – you’ll get to experience Great Falls, face to face. Just a bit down the gorge you’ll spot Twin Falls – a mysterious and breathtaking waterfall. Twin Falls is rarely ever low on water due to the fact that the water is being pushed underground and through the walls, instead of over, from the Collins River. The area is perfect for exploring, swimming, fishing, kayaking and more.

Lost Creek Falls:

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Lost Creek Falls in Sparta is probably one of the easiest accessible waterfalls in Tennessee, yet also of the most enchanting. I’m not the only one that thinks it’s a scene out of a story book.. Just ask Disney, the charm of the area is what convinced them to film scenes of the Jungle Book there in 1994. Lost Creek is a two for one deal as well – you’ll find Lost Creek Falls and Lost Creek Cave, on just opposite sides of the sink from each other. The waterfall stands mysteriously in a dark corner where water comes from the Dog Cove area, goes into a large spring then comes out – drops 40ft and then immediately disappears underground. The area is covered in moss, ferns, boulders, wildflowers and a mix of hardwoods. Lost Creek cave, just feet away, is one of the larger caves in the state and has 5 entrances. Although it is popular for recreational use, keep in mind that it is home to several rare species of bats. For this reason, a free permit for entry should be picked up from the Nature Center at Falls Creek Falls – the state park that manages the site. As you leave this area of our state, that is like no other.. Be sure to whisper a quiet thank you to the late Mr.James Rylander. Mr. Rylander, graciously left this area of property in his will to the state – so that the area would be protected and enjoyed by the public. Show your gratitude for his generosity by treating it with respect and practicing Leave No Trace ethics during your visit.

Virgin Falls:

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Looking for a spot with multiple waterfalls, overlooks, caves and backcountry camping… Next to the waterfalls? If you are, Virgin Falls State Natural Area in Sparta is the place you need to be. The area is named for Virgin Falls, the big sister of Lost Creek Falls, due to them being very similar. Virgin also emerges from a cave above the falls, drops 100ft and disappears into a cave. Virgin Fall is a beauty and a beast all rolled into one.. She will, without a doubt, take your breath away. On your 9 mile round-trip hike to the main falls, you’ll have the opportunity to explore several caves and waterfalls as well as Martha’s Pretty Point – an overlook with views of Scott’s Gulf and Caney Fork River. Big Laurel Falls is worth a visit as well – a perfectly perfect waterfall with a large limestone cave to explore behind it. You’ll find campsites in multiple spots, but also directly in front of Big Laurel Falls and Virgin Falls – two ideal spots to sleep like a baby under the stars. Overnight explorers can use the self-registration book located at the trailhead. Planning to day hike it? Start early so you’ll have plenty of time to explore.

Margarette Falls:

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Margarette Falls is a part of the Cherokee National Forest and is located in Greeneville. The falls, named after Margaret Doak, is a 60ft fan shaped waterfall. Pulling into the trailhead, you’ll feel as if you’re in the middle of nothing.. However, the area was once a booming logging camp. The largest logging operation in Greene County that sent logs from the forest 12 miles away to Greeneville. The trail to Margarette Falls is a moderate 2.7 miles round-trip. You’ll pass at least 3 smaller waterfalls on your way up, numerous cascades, cliffs and boulders. At 1.36th of a mile, you’ll pass Cathedral Rock. Once to Margarette Falls…you’ll find a nice open area to rest, picnic and take photos.. Before returning to the trailhead. But not before thinking of Bailey Falls, a well known, yet off trail waterfall in the area. One of the most fascinating waterfalls that i’ve ever seen. The waterfall is tucked away in a very narrow ravine, is two-tiered and by far one of the most amazing Waterfall Wonders in Tennessee.. I could give you directions to Bailey Falls, but..
That wouldn’t leave you anything to “wonder” about..

Bailey Falls: 

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