The majority of Americans spend their weekdays running the rat race…
Working their 9-5’s, running errands, cheering their kids on at soccer practice, paying bills, mowing their lawns and counting down the minutes until Friday rolls back around. As we all know, Monday returns far too soon…
It is said that “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you.” ….
And well, the truth is – it will.
It’s exactly why a good portion of the people mentioned above are simply unhappy, are in failing marriages, fighting addictions, wake up every morning miserable and medicate their depression so they can trudge on. It’s why suicide rates are climbing daily and why our local jails sit filled with those that are simply empty shells of who they once were. We, as Americans, have allowed our focus to be put on living the “American Dream” but we fail to see that the current idea of the American dream is one that has slowly but surely been slipped into our minds from those seeking profits from our chase. It’s why we’re drowning in debt as a country, constantly seeking the newest model of car or iPhone, building cookie cutter neighborhoods and killing ourselves to make another dollar.
Yet, the further we chase that dream, the more distance we place between us and the greatest human need of all.
Time in nature, a connection to something so much more, food for our spirits, peacefulness for our souls, and tranquility for our stress-filled minds.
That’s where I come in… Making this connection, going to the mountains, shifting my focus to a more simplistic life – has absolutely changed my entire world. It’s the root of why I do what I do, because all that I found – I want to share with you. I want you to find the inner peace, the sense of awe and wonder and the overwhelming love of a basic life that I’ve found while roaming the hills and valleys of the Appalachians.
First, I want to acknowledge that I’m completely aware of the fact that taking off into the wilderness isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t have to be. You can connect to nature with a walk in your neighborhood, at your local nature center, by watching the sunset or leaving early for work – grabbing a coffee, and watching the sunrise before you clock in at work.
If you’re looking for something more, but still not ready to take off on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail… Then I may have what you’re looking for… Below, you’ll find 3 weekend adventures that I’ve put together for you… They’re all a balance of mountains, places to stay, eat, play, soak up the view and take steps towards enjoying the beauty that surrounds us and the nature that we will forever be connected to.
Pick an adventure and escape for a weekend!
An Appalachian Road Trip:
This adventure is great for anyone but it is perfect for those that only want to do short hikes and take in some of the best views on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting on the Gatlinburg end of the Smokies, rise up far before sunrise and hit the road. Arrive at the Oconaluftee Overlook by the first light of the day and wait to greet the day. Once the sun has risen, take in more views as you continue on Newfound Gap Road to the Oconoluftee area. Explore the Mingus Mill, stop in at the visitors center and take a moment to see if you can spot in any elk. Once you’re done, grab some breakfast in Cherokee and fill up on gas if you need to – if you’re not in a rush, hop over to Mingo Falls. Then – to the Blue Ridge Parkway! Once on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll have the following options of places to explore in the following order:
Soco Falls – a bit off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, this waterfall is beautiful and roadside. You’ll find a short trail down to a viewing platform.
This stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is like all of the other miles of beauty – it is filled with endless options for views and hiking. The spots listed above are just to get you started!
An Appalachian Trail Experience:
If you’ve already taken in the never-ending views of the Blue Ridge Parkway, or if you’re looking for more of “feet on the trail” weekend – but not ready to sleep out in the wild… This may be the weekend for you! Start with playing hooky on a Friday, after all – 3 day weekends are the best! Check in at Gatlinburg‘s newest hotel The Appy Lodge. The hotel is based on the Appalachian Trail and has some really unique features that will make you feel right at home during your stay, as well as help you to see why the mountains in their backyard are so such an amazing gift – just as the 2,100+ mile trail is to so many. Once you’re settled in, pick your adventure and get started:
Catch sunrise on Clingmans Dome and hike back down to Newfound Gap. To keep this hike at 7.5 miles, you’ll want to take two cars with you and leave one at Newfound Gap. If you’re up for a longer hike and want to double that by hiking back up, then, by all means – go for it. Doing this hike will give you a taste of the high elevation sections of the trail – Clingmans is not only the highest point in the Smokies, but also the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Keep in mind for this adventure that the temps up top can easily be 20+ degrees cooler than lower elevation spots. It’s not uncommon to arrive at Clingmans and find yourself inside of a cloud as well, but even then – the area is beautiful! Also, Clingmans Dome Road is closed to vehicles from December 1st until March 31st. However, park visitors are still welcome to walk the road, bike it or even ski if snow is present. And, of course – the Appalachian Trail is open year round, as long as Newfound Gap Road is open to access that portion of the trail. If you’re catching the sunrise, be sure to arrive by first light to catch all the magic.
Take a hike out to Charlie’s Bunion. A 8-mile round-trip hike from Newfound Gap, this is one of the best and most popular hikes in the area. Hiking out to the Bunion will leave you wanting more of the Appalachian Trail in your life… Who knows, you may even decide to hike the 1,972 miles the rest of the way to the summit of Katahdin in Maine. If you have some extra time on your hike, consider checking out the Jump Off – you’ll see signs on your way, but look up the details before you go.
Know before you go, check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s road conditions and closures before heading out for your hike.
Wake up early on Saturday morning and take 19E up to Damascus, Va. Once in Damascus, grab a bite to eat at Mojos Cafe. Then hop over next door to Sundog Outfitters for a scheduled bike ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail . I recommend making reservations, especially during autumn and other busy times. The outfitter will take you up to White Top, where you’ll be dropped off and then spend your afternoon cruising back down – coming to the halfway point of the Creeper and right up to the door of Sundog. Once you’re finished with your bike ride, take a few minutes to explore this quaint and charming AT trail town.
On your trip back to Roan Mountain State Park, stop off at Watauga Lake for a few minutes… In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful lakes in Tennessee.
Rest and relax Saturday night by the fireplace or a campfire, chill in your hammock or just hit the sack early…
Sunday sunrise… Get up and moving on Sunday and head up the Carver’s Gap in Roan Mountain State Park. Your adventure for the day? Catch the sunrise from the balds and hike out to Grassy Ridge Bald. This section of the Appalachian Trail is the longest stretch of balds in on the AT. It’s a very popular area in June when the rhododendrons are in bloom, but the area is absolutely stunning year around. Be prepared during the winter months for sketchy roads and extreme winter weather.
Sunday evening, on your way out of town – swing in and have dinner at the White Duck Taco’s Johnson City location. Their website describes it being in “the historic & newly fancied Tweetsie Railroad Depot; adjoining the Yee-Haw Brewing Taproom, the JC Duck comes with skeeball, bocce ball, and plenty of outdoor seating.” And well, I don’t know about you – but that sounds to me like the best way possible to wrap up a weekend of Appalachian fun.
Rainy days on Roan.
Sunset from Clingmans Dome
View from the Clingmans Dome observation tower.
Rhodos on Roan Mountain
Rhododendron tunnel on Roan Mountain.
Sunrise from Clingmans Dome.
Appalachian Trail at Carver’s Gap.
You’ll find life and color all along the trails in the Clingman’s area, even if you don’t take a longer hike – take time to explore.
So…. There you go! Now… Get on your way!
Safe travels and happy trails to you! – Kristi
*** Prints of images can be purchased in my Etsy Shop, Blue Ridge Reflections, if you see an image here, on my Instagram account or on Facebook that you would like to purchase a print of – feel free to message me and request that it be added to the Etsy Shop.