A few years ago..
Before I ever stepped foot onto the trails again. I woke up at 4am one morning, in the midst of a midnight in my life.. I couldn’t sleep, my world was crumbling around me and I just needed to breathe. I got in my car, alone and started to drive.. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for or what I would find, but I had an overwhelming need to see the Smoky Mountains.
I had driven the Cades Cove loop a few times since the storm of a century had began in my life.. I had kept going back, after the first time, because every time I made it to the park boundary, everything that was breaking my heart disappeared. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountains that I just didn’t care about the rest of it, if even for a moment..
That magic.. Is what led me to driving to the Foothills Parkway at 4am that morning. I wanted to see the mountains and I wanted to watch the sun rise. I needed to watch it rise. I needed to watch it rise because I knew that I too had to rise.. To rise above the hills, the valleys and the darkness.
I can’t explain in words my experience that morning.. But, I do know that sitting there.. In the dark, the silence, the peacefulness.. Then seeing the first light starting to glow over the mountains, followed by more light spreading out into the darkness.. Revealing what was hidden in the night, in the shadows.. To finally seeing the sun, our star.. Rise above the ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and shine it’s light, it’s warmth over everything that had been dark and cold.. Absolutely changed my life. I knew then that I had to rise above it all, but not only did I have to rise – I needed to do my best to be a light as well…
And that is why I do what I do.. That’s why I have a never ending thirst for our mountains, for nature, for chasing the light, for striving to build my life around the mountains and around sharing my experiences with you. I share my photos and my words to hopefully inspire and encourage everyone that views them to find the fire that I have found in the mountains. The peace, the strength, the hope, the freedom.. It’s all there.. But, you must seek it. Love the mountains and they will love you back..
Since that morning on the Parkway, i’ve had a fire inside of me. A fire to chase the light, the sun, the fog, the clouds, the magic and the view from the top.. In this entry.. I’m sharing with you some of my favorite “View From The Top” spots, photos and where to experience the magic yourself.
Mount Mitchell, standing at 6,684ft, is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi.. Located in Burnsville, NC.. You’ll find the Mount Mitchel State Park just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s an easily accessible summit, but is still breathtaking and surrounded by beautiful trails to explore. On the summit, you will also find the tomb of Elisha Mitchell, a professor from the University of North Carolina. The mountain is named after Dr.Mitchell due to his exploration of the mountain determining it to be the highest in the east. Mitchell fell to his death at Mitchell Falls in 1857 and now calls this beautiful mountain summit his finally resting place.
Craggy Gardens is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Asheville, NC and is filled with never-ending views year around. If you stop by, be sure to hike the short trail up to the Craggy Pinnacle. At the top, you’ll find plenty of spots to soak up take in the 360 degree view. Once your finished hiked out to Craggy Gardens and relax. Visit in June an July and you’ll find the rhododendrons in bloom..
Max Patch is also a breathtaking “View From The Top” spot in North Carolina.. If you’re looking for an incredible day of hiking, picnicking, kite flying, relaxing and even camping. This is one of the top spots in the area! However, Max Patch is very moody.. It can be clear and blue in Asheville and Max Patch will be fogged in.. Winds, weather and view can change easily by the minute – so be prepared. If things get crazy, you’ll find your car just at the base of bald.. So don’t let it stop you from hopefully snagging the ultimate Max Patch experience.
Gooseberry Knob @ The Swag and Hemphill Bald:
You’ll find these two fabulous spots also tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. You can hike in from multiple trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Gooseberry Knob, property of The Swag, you’ll find never ending views, picnic tables, chairs to relax in and even a hammock.. On Hemphill Bald, property of the Cataloochee Ranch, you’ll find a Flintstone style picnic table, horses and one of the most unique views in the Southern Appalachian mountains.
If there’s one place that you visit this year.. Make it Roan Mountain.. Take the 5 mile round-trip hike up to Grassy Ridge Bald.. You’ll start at Carvers Gap and follow the Appalachian Trail up to Round Bald, Jane Bald and then leave the AT – heading right and up to the top of Grassy.. And.. Well.. You’ll never be the same again. Looking for the full experience? Pick and bald.. Pitch a tent.. Watch the sun go down and wake up in heaven.
Newfound Gap Road:
Newfound Gap road is by far the most scenic ways to get from Tennessee to North Carolina.. Most people know of the road, most have been on it… It is filled with trailheads and pull offs.. However, to experience the trip along Newfound Gap Road at sunrise, sunset or even after a storm is the most perfect way to truly see the magic that occurs.. Tennessee is home for me.. But, I love North Carolina just as much.. And the Smoky Mountains have my heart.. So, maybe i’m a little partial to this being the way for all of my loves to connect.
Although it’s closed during the winter, you’ll find Clingmans Dome Road on Newfound Gap Road – just at the state line. Clingmans is the highest point of the Smoky Mountains. And yes, there’s a tower for you to observe the mountains from.. However, you won’t find any photo below of the tower.. Simply because to me, the most amazing views lie around the tower and from the trails and areas that hold up the highest point of our Smokies.. The views from Andrews Bald, the Appalachian Trail and other trails are much more tranquil and spirit filled.. At least for me.
Foothills Parkway and Look Rock:
This is the spot where my fire started.. The spot that I return to often. Any time i’m heading to the Smokies for a hike and i’m going in on the Townsend side – I always catch the sunrise first.. Always. The magic is still fresh, the energy is still strong and my love for the view is only growing with time.
4 miles away from the Newfound Gap Parking lot.. Along the Appalachian Trail.. You will find one of the most epic spots in the park to take in the massiveness of our mountains. One photo is all that’s needed to show you why you need to experience it for yourself.. That speck, on the left.. Yes, it’s a person… And yes, that speck can be you!
Mount Leconte.. The 3rd highest point of the Smoky Mountains. Only accessible by hiking trails .. Mount LeConte is the most amazing experience with a “View From The Top” that you’ll find in the Smokies.. From the people, to the views, to the energy and the feelings that being on LeConte will leave with you. Once. Go.. Just once.. And you’ll always feel the itch to be back… Back and on top of the world.
Other Views From The Top Spots: