sights

How To See Six Waterfalls In One Day!

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." ~Robert Frost Yesterday, we headed out for our first parents only trip in six years. It was hard to leave our sixteen year-old, but she will have a blast with her 29 year-old sister; especially, riding around in sister's new Jeep with the top off! They've got manicures and pedicures on the schedule, as well. Sounds like great sister bonding time!

As usual, Darren planned a wonderful trip. We got out of town yesterday around 3:30pm. We wanted to make it to Memphis to maximize our day today. We did make it to the East side of Memphis which we've found is a nice area right off I-40 to stay with plenty of eating options.

We arrived late so the snacks in the car were our dinner. Which brings me to a few travel tips, pack: •    snacks within reach in the car •    drinks, think about what you'd want to drink with your snacks, water for taking medications and for staying hydrated, and whatever you'd drink for breakfast if you don't drink coffee or juice. (Are we the only rare people that don't drink either?) •    hiking boots in a plastic tote and take a pair of flip flops/crocs/slides for swapping out after a hike. The tote will keep the dirt/mud contained and makes for easy clean up. We leave the tote with the dirty boots in the car and change into and out of our boots at the car. Keeps the hotel/cabin cleaner too! •    a gallon size ziplock bag to collect all your hotel soaps. (We are collecting this time for my daughter's mission trip to Brazil this summer.) •    an old towel and some wipes to clean any mud off your legs (I usually kick myself and get mud right above my boot. Maybe I just need to learn how to walk.)

We didn't have a room reserved for the night so I drove while Darren did his magic on TripAdvisor. We stayed at a nice Hyatt Place Hotel. It had one of the best hotel free breakfasts we've ever had. Well, besides the one in San Antonio that had a breakfast taco bar. All South Texans would agree, breakfast tacos rock!

After breakfast we snagged a couple apples for our hike and loaded up for our next stop...Greeter Falls in Monteagle, Tennessee. Last summer we did this hike. Little did we know there had been a drought and it was a trickle!

When we first left Memphis headed east, the speed limit was only 65mph on the interstate. It was a nice speed trap with cops everywhere. I don't recall it being like this before but just beware if you are doing that way. Even after the speed limit changed to 70mph, the cops were still out until at least Jackson. Maybe that's why I -40 in Tennessee is better than in Arkansas? They can afford to fix the roads! Haha!

Stopped for lunch at one of our favorites, Whitts Barbecue. Doesn't look like much from the outside but the food is always great.

Free Maps!

We always like to stop at the ranger station or park headquarters before we set out on hikes. They can tell you water levels, and if there are any hazards to look out for on the trails. They usually have great maps and even a visual small scale mountain map…I am sure that has a fancy name but it escapes me at this moment. It’s 10:35pm, I hiked to six waterfalls at this point and I am beyond pooped so help me out…

When we stopped for the info, we were reminded of all the many falls that were in this area. We intended on only hiking to two that were pretty short. We decided to take on the Grundy Forest Day Loop with the extra 1.2 miles for Sycamore Falls. The water was high and the falls were full. In fact, we entered the loop to the right and passed several mini falls and cascades along the way. The trail is nice, ups, downs and flats. Don’t be fooled by the sign like the couple was that passed us on the trail. They thought the Sycamore Falls sign said 6 miles when it said .6 miles. You cross over a nice bridge to get to that trail and it is a stunning hike. A few narrow points but other than that it was great. We finished out the loop in a hurry as we wanted to make it to Greeter Falls before dark.

Again, the ranger gave us great directions along with addresses that we could put in our GPS so getting from one fall to another was a piece of cake. Greeter is in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area. The trail was muddy so we knew it would have water in the fall. It didn’t disappoint! It was worth the trek down the spiral staircase and other stairs.

Greeter Falls

After, we climbed out with shaky legs, we decided to go ahead to Boardtree Falls. That short little hike revealed my favorite of the day. The last time we were here it was completely dry. Not even a trickle. Today was amazing! Such a beautiful cascading fall.

See Darren at the bottom of Boardtree Falls!

We ended our day arriving at Fall Creek Falls State Park. We’ve been here before too. Enjoyed a nice dinner in their lodge. I had the salmon and Darren had the buffet. We are settled in for the night and will hike the falls in this park in the morning before heading on to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

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3 Free Things You Must Do in The Smoky Mountains

There is so much to do and see in the Great Smoky Mountains. In Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge there are plenty of places to spend money. If you are traveling with children or teenagers we suggest giving them a budget so they can decide how they will spend their money. From shopping, shows, miniature golf, go-carts, Ferris wheels, bungee jumping, indoor sky diving, arcades, mountain coasters and more! Set your parameters with the kids ahead of time so the flashy lights and attractions don't sink you from the start. We prefer to head to the woods. Don't get me wrong, we partake in some of the attractions, but we prefer the woods. Here are three motor trails that would only cost you gas and time. Pack a picnic (remember to bear proof it), load the cooler and hit the road. Even if you never step foot out of the car you'd be glad you made these drives. Each one is packed with things to see and do. Plan ahead if you want to do some hiking, swimming or hammocking.

Fall in the Smoky Mountains

  1. Roaring Fork Motor Trail: from the Parkway (441) in Gatlinburg coming from Pigeon Forge the traffic lights are numbered. Take a left at #8 Historic Motor Trail Road. Follow the road until it forks to the right. At first, the road will be two lanes but once you get into the actual 5.5 mile motor trail it  narrows to a ONE WAY loop. It is paved but buses, trailers, and motor homes are not permitted on the motor nature trail.  Leave plenty of time to stop at the pull-outs for great pictures or to explore the old cabins. There are several great hiking trails along the motor trail but you should prepare/plan ahead of time. Do your homework! The only easy family friendly, spur of the moment, "hey, get out of the car and come see!" is the Bud Ogle Trail. It is a short loop less than a mile. It is easy and mostly flat. There is an old mill beside a beautiful mountain stream that everyone will love. The huge moss covered boulders are gorgeous. There are several more stops along the Motor Trail. Enjoy, watch for bear, snakes and wildlife and leave nothing behind. Plan 2-4 hours depending on how much you get out to explore and traffic.

    Bear in Cades Cove

  2. Cades Cove: from the Parkway (441) in Gatlinburg head South toward Cherokee (our through Gatlinburg if your coming from the Pigeon Forge side, you can also take the Gatlinburg Bypass). You will see signs for the Sugarland Visitor's Center. Take a right onto Fighting Creek Gap Road. It's the second street outside of Gatlinburg. You might want to stop for a potty break at the visitor's center because you've got 27 miles of a beautiful winding road all next to a stream. If your from Texas don't think 27 miles equals 27 minutes. This is a twisted road and the speed limit is between 20-35mph. USE pull-offs if cars are stacking up behind you or if you want to stop for pictures. This drive alone is scenic with waterfalls, the stream and tunnels. Make note of Laurel Falls, you'll want to come back to this or stop on the way. It's a paved 2.5 mile round trip hike to an always beautiful waterfall. This is where the road changes to Little River Road. There are also four other falls, Upper Meigs at the Sinks, Spruce Flats in the Tremont area, and Abrams and Crooked Arm Cascades in Cades Cove you may want to do along this road so plan to see which one fits your level or which ones you want to come back to. The Sinks is a nice stop. This thunderous cascade is worth it. After leaving the sinks, keep an eye out for Meigs Falls. There will be a pull out on the side of the road. Worth the stop! Both the Sinks and Meigs Falls is a quick in and out of the car or you can linger at the Sinks. There are also several camp grounds to explore along the way. Once you get to Cades Cove follow the signs to the restroom before you hit the loop. Traffic is slow going and if you hit a bear jam you could be there for a while. We have spotted bear here every trip except one. There are several old churches to stop at and a visitors center, restroom and working old mill about half way around the loop. Please be courteous and use pull offs! The loop is only 11 miles but can get backed up if drivers don't pull off for every picture. Up for a swim? You can splash in the cold river where Little River Road intersects Laurel Creek Road just before the Townsend turn off after leaving the cove. If you've had a full day and want to get back to town quicker, cut through Townsend. Look for the signs after leaving the cove. You will take a left on E. Lamar Alexander Parkway. Then take a right on 73/321/Wears Valley Road this will bring you out across from The Island in Pigeon Forge. Important note: Cades Cove is closed to motor vehicles until 10am on Saturday and Wednesdays so bicyclists can use the loop safely. You can rent bikes! Plan for a full day. Pack a picnic and bring a cooler. There is so much to do and see!

    Elk by Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC

  3. New Found Gap: from Gatlinburg take 441 South toward Cherokee. This road has the Sugarland Visitor Center on the Tennessee side and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side. Plenty to see when you stop in the middle! 360 degree views! Appalachian Trail entrance is right by the restrooms, check it out.  Again, not in Texas anymore this 32 mile trek will take you over an hour during heavy tourism. Don't ride your brakes! It smells bad and well, you might need them later. Learn how to drive in lower gears. You will be going up the mountain to the state line and then down the mountain either back to Tennessee or into North Carolina. Again, there is plenty to see along the way and hikes to make note of are Alum Cave, Chimney Tops and Clingman's Dome. All of these are hikes and should be planned. While Clingman's Dome is paved, it is the highest elevation in the park at 6,643 feet and you feel it walking up the little paved road. It's worth it! Plus, it's one more place you can step onto the Appalachian Trail. If you decide to go into Cherokee, you might see Elk herds in the grassy area by the Oconlauftee Visitor Center. Definitely go all the way to the dead end on 441 until you get to 19. Take a left and you will see nice shopping centers on the right and left. There is plenty to do in Cherokee as well. Free things, chase more waterfalls in the Cherokee-Deep Creek area, find Mingo Falls, and Soco Falls which is just a windy way down 19. Soco is a nice little pull off with an over look or you can climb down to the falls. Both Mingo and Soco are good falls for little effort. Paid things include shopping, eating at unique places, Harrah's Cherokee Casino (no children), and to really get a feel for the culture check out Unto These Hills. Plan a day if you are going over into Cherokee, depending on if you are hiking or how many pull-offs you stop at. Don't rush it as there is so much to see and there will be others enjoying the beauty as well.

Okay, so I said three free things but as you can see the GSMNP is full of free things to do and see. We've been at least once a year for the past ten years and haven't seen or done it all. We love it! My best advice would be to always have some snacks and water on hand so if you get side tracked you'll be prepared. For more information on what to have in your backpack click here.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what free things you like to do in GSMNP or if this will be your first visit, let us know if this was helpful.

Happy Travels!

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How to chase waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains

Best book for chasing waterfalls! The easiest way to navigate the waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains is to buy this little book. We purchased one on our first trip and had a blast chasing waterfalls. This little gem is small enough to carry on the trail but full of all the information you need:

-Pictures of the waterfalls (is it worth the hike)

-Elevation gain

-Round trip mileage (nothing worse than thinking it's a four miler when it is really an eight miler)

-Directions to the trailhead

-Directions to the falls themselves

We love this book so much, one year we couldn't find it so we bought another! We write the dates we hiked each one on the page along with any other important details we might want to remember.

Get your copy now and start planning and training if need by for those elevation gains!

 

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Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means that if you click them and buy something we make a commission — at no extra cost to you. This is just one way we are able to keep this blog going. So if you enjoy the blog and were going to buy this stuff anyway, this is a great way to show your support. And don’t forget: We only recommend products and services that we use and love.

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