Taking a break from our series of Irish adventure stories, it's October, which means it's time for my annual trip to the Smoky Mountains to check out the changing leaves and hike in the mountains. This year it was me and 3 other friends. We packed up the truck and headed north to the mountains! We decided to camp in Smokemont campgrounds which is right inside the Smoky Mountain National Park on the Cherokee, NC side.
About an hour from Asheville on I-26, we came to a complete stop. Waze changed our time til arrival from one hour to two. I put the truck in park at one point waiting for the traffic to move. The 3 miles to the next exit were brutal. I didn't really care what the exit was I was sure it would save us time. We pulled off and let Waze direct us the rest of the way, it saved us about an hour, maybe more. The other thing it did was save my sanity. I'd much rather have a trip take a little longer as long as I'm actually moving. Sitting on the interstate isn't fun. Winding our way through back roads would become a theme of the trip, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in my opinion.
We entered Great Smoky Mountain National Park and saw a large sign warning us to be cautious due to elk. We figured the odds of actually seeing an elk were low until we saw 10 or so cars pulled over. There in the field were two large elk, one female and one male. We quickly pulled over and snapped a couple pics.
As we neared the campsite the temperature dropped considerably and the rain rolled in. Arriving at Smokemont in the dark and light rain made for a fun campsite setup. Thankfully, we got the campfire going quickly and I had my tent setup in a few minutes. Immediately after the last of our group had thrown on their rainfly, the rain stopped. We had set up camp and were ready for dinner...until we realized something. We had forgotten something very important at home...chairs!
It was already just after 8pm and dark, we headed into Cherokee hoping we would get lucky and find someone selling camp chairs. We stopped by a gas station to ask if they knew anywhere we could by a camping chair nearby. The woman laughed at us... Undeterred we drove around checking tourist shops, pawn shops, and gas stations. No luck anywhere and more than a few laughs and looks. We had given up when we saw one last gas station we hadn't tried yet. No camping chairs but there were pool floaties! Obviously not the most ideal solution but at least we could have a dry butt. The woman working at the store was very confused by us buying pool floaties while wearing sweaters. After explaining we didn't have chairs she looked at us with a large amount of pity.
After dinner we sat around the fire, drank whiskey, ate s'mores, and shared stories. That's always one of my favorite parts of camping. Knowing we had a big day of hiking ahead of us, we hit the hay.
The next morning we packed up and headed to hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our first stop was Waterrock Knob. This short but steep hike rewards you with some incredible views. As we made our climb a bald eagle flew over our heads. One of my favorite things about this hike is that it has a lot of unobstructive views of different valleys as you make your trek up. Reaching the top, you could see miles upon miles of peaks and valleys. I've always been mesmerized by mountains, I can stare at them for hours. Before heading back down, we met a dad celebrating his birthday by camping with his toddler. Apparently, they have a tradition that on his birthday and his son's birthday they go camping in the mountains. This seems like a tradition I may have to adopt.
After Waterrock Knob, we decided we didn't want to be at the campsite tonight without chairs so we made a pitstop at the Waynesville Walmart. We were finally all set for a night of enjoying the campfire. Getting back on the Blue Ridge we drove for a number of miles through incredible yellows, reds, and oranges. We stopped briefly for another short hike at the Devil's Courthouse and another at a random overlook we stopped at for a picture. Our last hike of the day was the longest and steepest. The trail to the top of Mt. Pisgah was beautiful, albeit freezing for us Florida boys. If you've never hiked to the top of Mt. Pisgah, I highly recommend it. At the top was an incredible near 360° view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You'll be in a little bit of pain on the hike but that just makes the top that much more worth it.
Our second night of camping was colder than the first but just made the campfire that much better. We spent the night cracking jokes, drinking more whiskey, and just enjoying the incredible stargazing. I highly recommend checking out the Great Smokys for fall foliage next year. If you see me on the trail, make sure to say hi!
Remember, Adventure is Calling!
October 31st, 2016