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.
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.
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.
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!