Great Smoky Mountains
Even though I had been to the adjacent town of Cherokee, NC several times for work, I had never ventured over to see the Smoky Mountains until our thru-hike on the AT. Clingman’s Dome hosts the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, the joke being that once you climb the summit then it is all downhill from there! Hah! My experience with the Smoky’s is limited to the AT and seeing it via the road down into Cherokee where Chris and I took a zero day with his mom and step-dad while we were hiking. To ease usage of the natural areas around the shelters, it is required for hikers to stay in the shelters versus camping, and those hiking in from other places in the park had first choice of staying in the shelter compared to thru-hikers, who could tent if shelters were full. I know there were a lot of permit requirements that were added in recent years due to the increase in hiking traffic in the park so thru-hiking rules have even changed. I recall that at the time we hiked the ‘bathroom areas’ were hideous and privies were desperately needed at some of the shelters. Otherwise, our traverse of the Smoky’s was incredibly beautiful. I hesitate to pick a favorite section but I think the portions north of Newfound Gap, especially around Mt. Guyot, were spectacular. I would love to return to this park someday and hike the many other trails the park has to offer!
Fontana Dam and Lake
Hiking to the top of Texas is a must when visiting this park! Texas’ tallest mountain, Guadalupe Peak, is the prime attraction for visiting this park but don’t let that stop your from exploring the rest of the park. McKittrick Canyon is also another highlight to a visit here, though next time I would prefer to go down it versus up! We hiked here Thanksgiving 2011 with our friends Patrice and Justin. They were freshly off the Appalachian Trail and we had been trail dormant since March when we got off the Florida Trail and altitude dormant for over a year, post AT. They were in much more trail shape than we were at the time. Chris and I saw quite a lot of the park while we were hiking and I know we would love to go back some day!
Some posts from the trip: Thanksgiving Morning from the Top of Texas, McKittrick Canyon, Dog Canyon, Pine Top Campsite
Three summers ago Chris and I went for part of a vacation with my parents, brother, SIL, and niece and nephew to Hot Springs where we stayed at a house on Lake Hamilton. For whatever reason we barely touched much of this park, primarily walking around the area that is downtown where the springs are located. There are quite a lot of trails and drives but we did not go on them.
Chris and I went to Washington State four years ago for our 10th anniversary. We spent one night at the Hoh Rainforest campground and did some hiking up to a waterfall along the Hoh River Trail. The following day we hiked to another waterfall and mostly did a lot of scenic driving around the area. We barely dipped our toes into this park and it is definitely on my list to return to someday.
Posts from the Trip: Hoh River Trail, Marymere Falls, Evening Light on the Hall of Mosses Trail, Further Explorations Into the Hall of Mosses, Hall of Mosses Macros
I was lucky enough to go to Denver three times for work training and finally on the last visit I was able to make a trip over to Rocky Mountain NP after a class I was taking ended early. I remember we took the long way around, through Winter Park and Granby and for a long time this route up through and to Estes Park was my favorite scenic drive. That changed when I took the Beartooth Highway to Yellowstone, but more on that shortly. I was fairly enchanted by this national park, mostly because of the gauges at the top of the mountains that marked snow depths during winter.
Another work trip…and this time my dad tagged along for a couple of days to golf while I was in class. I flew to Dallas where, either I had an overnight stay and then dad and I flew on to Tucson or he met me at the airport on a layover and we went on to Tucson. I can’t remember. (Oh, hey, looks like it was a layover. Found some dog and cat photos from my parent’s house in that photo set on Flickr!) Anyway, the afternoon we arrived we drove over to the east section of the national park and popped out at a few sites in the park to scope out the cactus. The next night after my class we took a drive to the west side of the park and found a rental car accessible dirt road to drive down. We had a park map but no GPS or smart phone so it was a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants experience. Ah, the dark ages! After our national park adventure we proceeded to try to find dinner but we were on the north side of town and driving and driving and driving and finally we found a Carrabba’s. Or Macaroni Grill. Again, fuzzy memory there. Short but memorable trip to the park!
My experience with Shenandoah is along the section of the Appalachian Trail called the Shenandoah Highway. It’s where the trail finally reaches that mythical point where everyone tells you Virginia is flat and you can begin cruising the miles away. There’s lot of food stops with all of the waysides the park has, plus plenty of road crossings of Skyline Drive. I loved the park from the vantage point of the AT but again, like other parks, would love to see more of it via the other trails and campgrounds.
Also…lots of bears!
My intention when I arrived in Billings was not to drive to Yellowstone. I had arrived just after lunch and the airport had been plastered with Yellowstone advertisements. When I arrived at my hotel I asked the lady checking me in how far it was to Yellowstone. She said it was at least 2 hours one way but that the sun didn’t set until late, as it was the height of summer. I checked into my room and got online to scope things out. Yep, it looked like a long way but I made a plan to just drive and see how far I got. It appereared that there were a few interesting places to visit before I even arrived there, anyway. First was Red Lodge, a town near the Montana/Wyoming border. And then there was the Beartooth Highway. Photos online showed the highway to be pretty damn scenic so if I didn’t make it to Yellowstone, no big deal. Once I got to the Beartooth Highway I knew I was in for a thrill! I stopped at most pullouts to take in the views. It was freakin’ fantastic! I know this is about national parks but really, the highway was probably the highlight of the trip—except for maybe seeing my first bear ever once I got to Yellowstone. I was still making good time and decided to continue on to the northeast entrance and just see from there. I didn’t know how much it cost to get in muchless if there was a trail nearby or what. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to go very far into the park due to the drive and having to head back to Billings. Ok, it looks like based on a photo of the Trout Lake trailhead, that I went as far as that and turned around. I do remember the roads being very busy with a lot of people pulled over and of course when I saw a throng of people pulled over I stopped too…and found a bear! There were some idiots out in the field getting closer but I stayed at the car and used a long lens to get a few photos. I was definitely spooked about hiking alone so my explorations on foot were not far. I dipped around Trout Lake and then looked at a creek that had a trail that went to The Thunderer but for the most part it was enough for me to just stay in the car and view the scenery that way! It was definitely a long evening and I rolled back into Billings about when it got dark. It was worth it, though!
And that wraps up this week of park service visits! Lots more to see out there!