Smoky Mountains 2021

Gatlinburg1

You knew it was coming, didn’t you? 😊

Yes, I made my annual pilgrimage back to the Smoky Mountains right before Thanksgiving.  This was my third year in a row Walking into the Future with the Tennessee mountains as my backdrop.  I plan to continue this tradition as long as possible to live life on my terms.  Never envisioned the Smoky Mountains being part of my life journey but happy I found the mountains for the peace and joy I feel there.

My drive up this year was uneventful.  Decided to bypass all the outlet malls except one as I made my way north.  It took me an extra two hours to drive up in 2020 because there were so many outlet malls on the way.  My friends know I love outlet malls so for me to bypass several is a major growth step for me.  I made a quick outlet mall stop in Georgia and got some new running gear for my 2022 races—always looking for running gear.

My drive up this year was pleasant—not much traffic to fight through.  I arrived in Gatlinburg early in the evening on a Saturday night and decided to venture out and see some familiar sights. 

The Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery is always on my list of places to visit while in Gatlinburg.  Decided to get my moonshine tasting in early and figured the moonshine would help me warm up since the temperature was 25 degrees when I arrived in Tennessee.  Happy to report the folks at the Ole Smokey distillery were still conducting tasting tours.  They added a bunch of new flavors to the rotation this year.  My goal for visiting this year was to restock with Blue Flame moonshine which is 123-proof alcohol.  They did not have Blue Flame in 2020 because they were highlighting a special 150-proof blend.  I was able to get my preferred Blue Flame this year.  Note:  most of the other blends are available in Publix, Walmart and Winn-Dixie liquor stores and the prices are less than what I would pay at the Ole Smokey Distillery.

Moonshine

A new adventure for me in Gatlinburg was a visit to the Ole Smokey Whiskey Distillery.  I have walked past this store multiple times but never ventured in since my focus was always on moonshine.  They have a similar tasting tour in this distillery as well.  Pay $5 dollars to get a taste of each whiskey flavor and get a $5 credit towards your purchase.  Not a bad deal!  The whiskey flavors were all good, but I decided to get a Strawberry/Lemonade blend which the folks in the store identified would go great with Publix lemonade.  I have tried it as suggested and it is good!  Not a bad first day back in the Smoky mountains.

I mapped out several hikes for Day 2.  Decided to warm up with the Gatlinburg trail again to get myself moving and prep for the bigger trails I wanted to tackle on this trip.  The Gatlinburg trail is scenic and allows hikers an excellent way to explore the Smoky mountains without taking too much energy.  There are a few spots with elevation, but the trail allows hikers to experience the best of the mountains.  Took this trail out to the Sugarland area before turning around and retracing my steps back to the trail head on the outskirts of Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg2

This was my warmup for the real reason I was back in the Smoky mountains—the Chimney Top trail. 

This trail beat me down in 2020 and I decided to tackle it again earlier this time.  I did not want to have tired legs as I made my way up to the top this year.  Happy to report I was able to handle Chimney Top this year without having to stop as much as I did last year. 

This trail has it all—elevation, tough terrain, rocks, water, and amazing views once you make it to the top.  I was able to help other hikers keep going this year by providing them with the encouragement I needed last year.  It was a great experience when several hikers finally made it to the top and thanked me for not letting them give up before making it to the top.  Turns out there were a lot of people on the top this year enjoying the views.  This sounds like a great thing, but I did not hike to the top of a trail in the Smoky mountains to have a bunch of folks around me talking about work.  Decided to make my way back down the trail and discover other areas of the mountains.

I left the Chimney Top area and drove further up into the mountains looking for adventures.  The colors in the mountains this year were fantastic.  Made multiple stops so I could capture the views and colors in pictures.  The smoke (clouds) on the mountains made for some great pictures.  A new aspect to my Smoky Mountain adventures in 2021 was the fact there were black bears out.  Yes, black bears are normally hibernating in November but for some reason they were out and about this year. 

The first one I saw was in a tree as I was driving down the mountain heading back to Gatlinburg.  I could not figure out why there was so much traffic, but cars were stopping to get a picture of the bear.  This Bear Jam (traffic) was unexpected but seeing a black bear in the wild seemed to energize everyone as they took pictures while still in their vehicles.  Seeing the bear in the tree made me reassess my next hikes and pick trails with better visibility. 

Smokey Bear

Day 3 adventures centered around the Gatlinburg Skybridge Park and finding waterfalls. 

I discovered prior to driving up to Tennessee the Skybridge Park added a new feature:  The Sky Trail.  They were building the Sky Trail last year, but I had no idea what it was at the time.  This added feature allows for amazing views of downtown Gatlinburg and the mountain tops.  Decided to begin my day in Skybridge Park and enjoy the views and new features.  The Christmas lights were already hanging on the Skybridge and made for a festive walk across.  Grabbed some lunch after spending a few hours on top of the mountain and mapped out the next adventure.

I made my way to view smaller waterfalls on my previous Smoky Mountain adventures but wanted to hike to one of the larger falls this year.  Laurel Falls was recommended by a lot of folks I spoke with, so I decided it was the next stop on my trip.  Turns out Laurel Falls was about 15 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, so it was a quick trip getting there.  It took me a little time to find a parking spot since this was a popular destination.  I almost turned around due to the number of cars parked at the trailhead.  Glad I decided to make the trek up the mountain.

This trail was paved so this made it a bit easier to get up the mountain.  There were a lot more people on the trail than I normally see in the mountains, but everyone was friendly going up and coming back down.  The inclines grew gradually but you could tell we were walking up the mountain.  The views were amazing and there were multiple spots with steep drop-offs.  Please note, I saw bear #2 at the bottom of one of these steep drops.  It was a cub getting some sun and mama bear was close by.  We were safely out of range, so I continued my trek up the mountain to view the falls.  Again, there were people everywhere but finally getting to the falls was well worth the traffic on the trail.  I was able to get several good pictures of the fall and surrounding area, glad I didn’t let a crowded parking area keep me from this trail.

My walk back allowed me to get some great pictures of the mountains and the fall colors.  Took in as much of the scenery as possible before heading back to Gatlinburg.  I recommend Laurel Falls if you make it to the Smoky Mountains.

Made my way to Ole Red after my mountain adventures to get some food and listen to live music.  I have seen this place before but never made my way in.  This is a place to add to your dining experience when you visit Gatlinburg.  I decided to get the meatloaf wrapped in bacon and mashed potatoes.  It was as good as it sounds. 😊

The mountains were good to me again this year.  Can’t wait to visit again in 2022!

Irie!

Walking and enjoying the Square Grouper (Ft. Pierce)

Square Grouper1

“It is life, I think, to watch the water.  A man can learn so many things”.

(Nicholas Sparks)

My Walk into the Future continues to look more like My Walk with COVID-19.

That would not be as catchy of a blog title so will stick with Walk into the Future! 😊  Again, the pandemic has slowed down the adventures but has not completely shut them off.  I remain careful when I venture out and take precautions to ensure I am not exposing myself to undue risks.

Most of my adventures center around the beach and shopping excursions.  These have proved to be safe and gets me out of the house for fresh air.  Will continue to find new beaches to sit on and enjoy the views on the Treasure Coast.  Still do not know why it is called the Treasure Coast, guess that will have to be a future blog article when I find out.

A favorite spot for the locals is Square Grouper.  Thought it was a clever name when I first heard it but Googled the definition to make sure I understood how the place got the name.  Turns out it is a clever hook and attracts a lot of people based on the name and meaning.  Yes, you should Google it to understand what it means. LOL.

My attraction to Square Grouper is it is close to Jetty Park and sits right on the Fort Pierce Inlet.  The location is at the mouth of the inlet before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a great location to catch sunsets that seem to plunge directly into the inlet.  The Square Grouper is 95% an outdoor venue with two bars, a tiki hut stage, and a large outdoor seating area.  The plastic chairs are not comfortable but serve a purpose as you can move them around as needed.

Square Grouper2

The outdoor venue has been great to practice physical distancing while also enjoying some live music.  Most of the bands are local and only play for two hours—cannot say the bands have been memorable but they have been good enough to make a few people get up and dance.  There has never been a large crowd when I visited but everyone seems to enjoy the atmosphere.  I spoke with one of the bartenders and he let me know they typically got around 600 people nightly before COVID-19 impacted the world.  The crowds are a lot less than that now—the most I have seen there is around 50 people spread out around the outdoor seating areas.  A few brave folks will sit at the bar but not very many.  Face masks are still required to enter but do not know how long that will last since the governor has relaxed statewide restrictions.

A surprising aspect of visiting the Square Grouper is the food.  Typical bar staples but they use fresh ingredients and fantastic seasonings.  I have tried multiple items on the menu and have not been disappointed yet.  I have been a bit adventurous and explored menu items I would not normally get. Both bars are fully stocked but the signature drink is the Rum Runner.  Never had one prior to my visit to Square Grouper but now it is my go-to drink when I am there—try it frozen if you make it there.

Hoping the band lineup starts to improve since I enjoy live music.  Will continue to leverage the Square Grouper as part of my Walk into the Future.

https://squaregrouper.net/

What locations are on your adventure list?  What makes it a place you want to visit?  Thanks!

“On the beach, you can live in bliss”.

(Dennis Wilson)

 

Walking and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)

My adventure in the Smoky Mountains!

Smokey Mountains hue

“Live a life of quiet inspiration.”

(William Britten)

Why Gatlinburg?

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.

 Campbell Overlook

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.

Skybridge

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.

https://www.gatlinburgskylift.com/skybridge

Moonshine tasting

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! 😊

Lessons learned

  • 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?

 

 

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