“Live a life of quiet inspiration.”
There’s an old saying “The mountains are calling, and I must go” attributed to John Muir who spent his life advocating for wilderness preservation. I would like to think John Muir’s words were instrumental to my trek back up to the Smoky mountains and Gatlinburg in particular.
My true inspiration to get back in the mountains came from an August 2019 NBC Nightly News special on a new Gatlinburg attraction, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America: https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/take-a-trip-to-the-longest-pedestrian-suspension-bridge-in-north-america-67497029583
- Requested my 2019 Gatlinburg Vacation Guide when the news went off
I’ve been in the Smokey mountains and Gatlinburg years ago but seeing the suspension bridge on TV got me excited to go back to the mountains and explore. Finally, just decided to head up in mid-November before the weather got too cold and snow covered the mountain roads. I’m good driving in the mountains but didn’t want to fight ice and snow as I made my way through the winding roads. Got lucky with sunny weather and high temps in the low 50s. Turned out to be ideal hiking weather and didn’t have to wear too many layers of clothes to stay warm. Started peeling off layers about an hour into my first hike.
Hiking the Smokey Mountains
So, this is where I apologize to all my friends who have been avid hikers over the years. I didn’t fully get the concept of hiking because I’m always looking for my next training run. Texted a few of them to admit my error while I was out on my first hike of the day. I fully get hiking now—it was an amazing experience and can’t wait to do it again!
Started the hiking adventure on the Trails in the Sugarland Area which is the first Smokey mountain hiking area leaving Gatlinburg. Decided this would be a nice warm up trail to get me out and exploring. Got a map and quick briefing at the Welcome Center and then I was off on the trails. Didn’t know what I would see on this trail but was excited to begin the adventure.
Well, to my surprise almost got run over by a deer and while trying to take a picture of the buck, saw a flock of turkeys coming up behind me—this was the first 5 minutes of my hike! LOL. Believe this episode is where I decided hiking is the greatest thing ever—this flurry of wildlife activity got me ready to see more. Didn’t get a picture of the deer since I was trying to keep the turkeys in range to take a picture of them.
Continued the trails to see what else was ahead and came to the John Ownby cabin. The structure was in decent shape and highlights how early mountain folks lived. This was also a good place to take a break and take in everything I had experienced in a short period of time. This is also the spot I texted my friends to say I get hiking now! 😊 Left the cabin and got on the next trail head and made it over to Cataract Falls. Thought this was going to be a larger area but was happy with the scenic beauty I saw hiking over to the falls. Only saw a few hikers out but everyone was friendly. Got a chance to take pictures at the falls and sit awhile to admire the surroundings. Very peaceful, quiet and refreshing time sitting at the falls. Covered about 3 miles on this hiking segment. Wanted to explore a bit more in this area but decided to move on after the tour buses started dropping groups off—the trail heads got crowded quickly!
Moved further into the Smokey mountains and made my way to the Sugarland Parks Trail. Similar name as the first adventure but this was a .5-mile paved trail. Not much wildlife to see on this trail but had great water views and river scenery. Didn’t spend a lot of time here because it was a short, one loop trail.
Decided to venture further up the mountain to see what other adventures were waiting. Saw several stop points on the way and pulled over at the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook. No trails here but the view of the mountains was tremendous! Had this area to myself so took advantage of the photo opportunity while it lasted.
Next stop was the Gatlinburg trail which had a little bit of everything. Trails, rivers, bridges, climbs, drops and wildlife. Spent quite a bit of time exploring on this trail just enjoying the experience and nature. Covered 10 miles total hiking on the different trails during my Smoky mountain adventures.
Got a quick lunch after my hiking adventures and headed to the main reason for my visit, the Gatlinburg Skybridge. Gatlinburg has always had a Sky Lift Park to haul people up the mountain to get a higher view of the area.
The Skybridge is a new addition to Sky Lift Park and has become the main attraction for most people to see when visiting Gatlinburg. It did not disappoint! It’s a suspension bridge so it moves while walking on it—it really moves with a lot of people walking on it! There were several folks on the bridge who didn’t look so happy with their decision to make the walk across. The Skybridge is an excellent way to view Gatlinburg, see the surrounding mountains tops and people watch. The pass for Sky Lift Park is good for the entire day so I was able to come back once it got dark to experience the ride up and the bridge at night. Didn’t stay as long the second time up because it started getting cold when the sun went down.
The Gatlinburg Vacation guide was an excellent resource to help plan out my activities. Discovered Gatlinburg has several distilleries and wineries right downtown. I’ve toured rum and whiskey distilleries in the past but never a moonshine tour. Researched the moonshine distilleries and decided to visit multiple since they were so close to each other and walkable. My first stop was the Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery because of the variety of flavors they make. $5 gets you a taste of every moonshine flavor/proof in the store.
These range from 128 proof down to 40 proof with different flavors: https://olesmoky.com/collections/moonshine.
Made sure I ate before touring the moonshine distilleries—good thing because moonshine has a kick to it. 😊
Next, made my way down the street to visit Sugarlands Distilling Company to see what they had: https://www.sugarlands.com/moonshine/.
They had some unique moonshine flavors and names but gave several of them a try during my tasting tour. FYI, moonshine really warms you up, didn’t feel the cold after my sipping tour of moonshine distilleries.
Decided to head back to Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery and went right to the top of the moonshine proof levels—got the Blue Flame (128 proof). Will probably be sipping on this jar of moonshine for months—not for heavy consumption.
Freedom to travel
2019 has been an adventurous year for me to explore. I’ve been blessed to have the ability to pick places to visit and then make my way there. I’ve explored places I’ve always wanted to visit and some of my favorite places again. Looking forward to seeing where 2020 takes me! I plan to keep Walking into the Future with no return date! 😊
- Never drive in the Smoky mountains at night— (1) it’s scary and (2) you miss the scenic beauty of the mountains
- North Carolina / East Tennessee BBQ sauce is vinegar based; I don’t like vinegar in my BBQ sauce
- Hiking is a fantastic pastime! Will find other areas to explore this new hobby! 😊
- I like moonshine! It mixes great with fruit punch
- Gatlinburg has a walkable downtown area—find a place to park and walk around to enjoy the attractions
Thanks for walking with me!
Where have you always wanted to visit? How much hiking do you plan to do in 2020?