“Live a life of quiet inspiration.”
Let us go ahead and admit it—2020 has been a tough year for us all!
COVID-19 has adjusted how and who we interact with these days. Not a complaint but a simple fact that has become necessary in 2020. A major adjustment for me has been the concept of travel. I got a kick out of labeling myself a running tourist, but this has been almost nonexistent in 2020.
I decided to make another trip to the Great Smoky Mountains for a quick and physical distanced getaway prior to Thanksgiving. I enjoyed myself so much when I hiked in 2019 so wanted to come back to the mountains and find the peace and fresh air again. Happy to report the Smoky Mountains, fresh air and peacefulness are still there—love the ability to get there and just escape for a bit.
My 2019 Smoky Mountains experience and talking with friends allowed me to do more research and plan out my hikes this year. I just rode around and then stopped when I saw something interesting in 2019. I felt like a seasoned hiker in 2020 and made plans for which trails I made a trek on and the order. Felt like I had a better understanding of the hiking process this year and this allowed me to make all the hikes I planned with minimal issues.
Hiking the Smoky Mountains
The weather was fantastic again this year. The morning temperatures started around 45 degrees and warmed up to the low 60s while I was in the mountains. Perfect hiking weather for me—I layered up and was able to shed layers as the day got warmer. I also carried a small backpack this year to carry my water bottles and put my extra layers in when needed.
Discussed trails in the Smoky Mountains with one of my friends who is an avid hiker. She provided me with additional inspiration to get back out in nature and enjoy the process.
Found the following site that describes trails by location, features, distance, and difficulty:
Used this information to make my hiking experience better this year. 😊
Started my 2020 hiking adventure on the Gatlinburg Trail which has a trail head right on the edge of downtown Gatlinburg. I hiked the Gatlinburg Trail in 2019 but it was more of a warmup type hike for me this year. Wanted to fully explore the Gatlinburg Trail and take it from the trailhead all the way to the end which is about 2 miles.
The end of the Gatlinburg Trail runs directly into the Sugarland Welcome Center and the Sugarland Trails. I hiked this area in 2019 but decided to adjust my route and the distance in 2020. There were a lot more people out on this trail and my goal was to make my way to Cataract falls and get some good pictures. Cataract falls is a major attraction in the Sugarland Trails area, so everyone wants to stop and get pictures there—only spent a few minutes at the falls before it was time to move on down the trail. Bumped into a couple from Wisconsin who decided to ask me for trail directions—I helped them as much as possible but explained to them I live in Florida and I am just out walking in the woods. Guess it is a good thing they felt comfortable enough to stop and ask me for direction. People are friendly when in the mountains. 😊
Decided to head further up into the mountains to tackle my next adventure. Research shows the Clingman Dome as the highest elevation in the Smoky mountains. I did not feel comfortable making the trek in 2019 but put it firmly on my 2020 adventure list. Thought of it more as a challenge and wanted to get to the highest point in the Smokies to get some great shots.
The drive up was nice—I wanted to stop and take pictures but decided to get up the mountain and take pictures on the way down. The cloud cover or smoke in the mountains got thicker the higher up I drove. That is when I realize how far up the mountain I had traveled because I was in the clouds on the ascent. Amazing experience and one I will repeat as often as possible. There is peace in the mountains! The area attracted a large group of visitors, but everyone was friendly and gave each other space for pictures and the trek up to the Dome. Please note, the trek up to Clingman’s Dome is paved but the incline is extreme, and the elevation is over 6,600 feet. This was the first time I noticed hikers taking breaks on their way up the mountain. I soon realized the altitude and incline would impact me as well. I did not stop moving but my pace was a lot slower than it was when I started the climb up. I also realized I left my water bottles back in my vehicle but did not stop climbing higher.
I will report the climb up to the Clingman Dome was well worth the pain! The views were covered in smoke (clouds) but you could still see the peaks and valleys below. The wind whipping the clouds around sounded like the clouds were singing—amazing being so high up in the Smoky mountains. The Clingman Dome borders right on the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines. I crossed over into North Carolina on this portion of my hike.
I took a quick detour on my descent from the Clingman Dome and ventured onto a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Decided it was worth the trip since I was already high up in the mountains. I did not go far on the Appalachian Trail because this portion was very rocky, and I wanted to save my legs for my next trail adventure I had mapped out.
My last trail was the Chimney Tops Trail, and it was well worth the hike. The trail description identifies the difficulty as moderate which it may be, but this was my fourth trail of the day and my legs were screaming all the way up the trail. I would recommend doing this trail first if you visit the Smoky mountains or do it on a separate day. The hike up the mountain is very scenic and offers multiple opportunities to take some great pictures. The terrain changes multiple times on the ascent but it is an exciting hike. I had to stop and take breaks multiple times on the Chimney Tops Trail. This was due to the fact I had been hiking multiple trails and probably should have deferred this trail for the next day after getting some rest. Discovered a new mental toughness as I slowly made my way up to see the views I had read about.
I almost gave up on making it to the top but a fellow hiker who was coming back down gave me a little extra inspiration to make it to the top. He casually said to me, “You are only 4 minutes away from the top”. I think we both knew he was lying to me to keep me going forward but surprisingly it worked because I put a smile on my face and kept going. I made it to the top about 15 minutes after encountering my hiking friend and was extremely happy I did not give up. The views and the feeling of accomplishment were well worth the leg pains I endured to make it up the Chimney Tops Trail. Mind over matter came into play while making this hike and I am happy I made it to the top. We can accomplish anything we put effort into, and the Chimney Tops Trail become my Mount Everest! Pun intended! 😊
The descent down from Chimney Tops was just as beautiful as going up. My legs were in better shape to walk down the mountain after I took about 30 minutes to just sit still at the top and admire the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. I recommend you visit it if you have not been there because of the peacefulness the mountains bring. The hikes are a great distraction and provides an opportunity to get out and get some exercise at the same time.
Decided not to do the Gatlinburg Skybridge this year because the lines were too long, and people were not practicing physical distancing while standing in line. I will try the Skybridge again on my next adventure back into the mountains.
Yes, I made it back to the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery to get more moonshine. They have added a few new flavors this year and I got a chance to taste them all. Some I liked and others were not that great—not a huge fan of the flavored moonshine (Sour Apple, etc.). I was shocked they were out of my favorite moonshine, Blue Flame which is 128 proof. They replaced it with a 10th Anniversary edition which is the Ole Smoky Moonshine 153. Yes, that is 153 proof moonshine! It has a kick to it, but I played it safe and got my tried and true White Lightning which is ONLY 100 proof. 😊 Will make the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery a regular stop each time I am back in Gatlinburg.
Got all of this done the weekend before Thanksgiving and still was able to enjoy time with my family as we gave thanks for 2020. It has been a tough year but there are still things to be thankful for.
Thanks to you for reading my words and following my adventures! Here is to a great end of the 2020 year and a better 2021—let’s make it happen!
4 thoughts on “Back to the Great Smoky Mountains”
Beautiful photography, Dr. Williams! Sounds like a good idea to keep doing this trip… Mother Nature welcomes you back each time with gorgeous scenery and some nice distillation! 😉
Thank you Don! It was great adventure–can’t wait to head back to the mountains!
Sounds like a great picture. Nice pictures confirm the beauty of the area.
Great area and happy I discovered the peace in the mountains. Plan to make this a yearly trek. 🙂