Autumn At “The Appy”
Gatlinburg, TN has been known for years as a hot spot for tourists hoping to enjoy some family fun and explore the country’s most visited National Park – The Great Smoky Mountains. Many Gatlinburg guests have said “Yes!’ and just as many have said, “I do.” while in town.. And well, for as long as most can remember, the city has been a place of pure happiness…
However, the city has seen its share of heartbreak as well..
In 2016, tragically, a portion of the city was filled with fire, areas of the national park were burnt and even more tragically lives were lost. Yet, the people of Smokies – rose up gracefully and beautifully from the ashes. The city has made a comeback beyond measure! Gatlinburg has truly shown America what it means to be resilient Appalachian Americans. Over the past 2 years, the city and its residents have found transformation in the ruins. They have, like the first settlers of the area, taken moments that would have broken many and turned them into opportunities and a chance to show their strength.
And now, a new addition to the city – The Appalachian Lodge or also known as The Appy, has brought a place of Appalachian history and love to the main strip of the city.
Located on the Pigeon Forge end of the parkway, The Appy is the most unique hotel in Gatlinburg… It is a hotel, a museum and a cozy like home place to spend a night, a weekend or even a week.
The Appy is fully based on America’s treasure, the Appalachian Trail. Lining the halls are facts, photographs, and history from the trails. In the guest rooms are a beautiful paintings by local artist, Robert Tino, as well as other local art that can be found throughout the lodge. Guest rooms are based on shelters found along the AT and even the pool is named after the Stratton Pond that can be found on the AT in Vermont.
Click on the link below to check out The Appy, and then…
Read over some ideas of how you can enjoy your time in the Smokies during your stay!
Make a reservation at The Appy: The Appy Lodge
5 Ways to Enjoy An Autumn Stay at The Appy
Take A Hike!
Roam the halls of The Appy and read about the Appalachian Trail, study the photographs of those that poured their soul into a trail that over time would save the spirits of so very many – by bringing a much-needed connection to the mountains and nature to them during their journeys on the AT… Then, take a hike on the AT yourself… Catch a sunrise or sunset at Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Hike out to Charlie’s Bunion and soak up the views. Not ready for a higher elevation AT hike? Not a problem! Take a stroll down the Little River Trail, or another low elevation trail, under a canopy of Autumn colors. When you’re finished, head back to your place at The Appy… Shower, grab a cup of coffee, one of the many books available, a blanket and hang out by the fire pit and laugh with friends and family about the day’s adventure.
Take A Scenic Drive
Hiking isn’t for everyone, but nature is… Wake up early, grab breakfast at the lodge. Then, take a drive around the Roaring Fork Motor Trail – located 15 minutes from The Appy. Take a drive through the park to Cades Cove, leaving extra time to stop in at the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center and to explore stops along the way. Drive over to Cherokee and see the Smokies from the top and even spot some elk in the Oconaluftee area.
The possibilities are endless!
Get To Know The Locals
Gatlinburg is filled with artists and local business owners that rely on the visitors of the area to not only feed their families but also to feed their dreams of doing what they love for the rest of their lives or until they retire. They love meeting new people, they love providing their services and goods to those passing through town. They love the support of others that purchase their art and crafts – but even more so, they love that visitors take a little piece of Appalachia home with them. Just 3 miles from downtown you’ll find the Arts and Crafts Community, with over 100 artists. From carvers, weavers, potters, painters and more – it is filled with Appalachian soul. Looking to hike with a local? Check out hiking tours with locally owned A Walk In The Woods. Need a shuttle? They can help with that as well! If you check in and fall in love with one of the many Robert A. Tino paintings, look him up and take one home with you! Check out Bike The Smokies if you’re looking to take a ride, instead of hike. Hungry after your hike? Grab a bite to eat the Hungry Bear BBQ or one of the many other locally owned restaurants.
Regardless of what you’re seeking, you’ll find a local that can help you find it!
Spend Time With The Kids or Just Be A Kid Again
In Gatlinburg, you won’t find a shortage of mountains, souvenirs or ways to be a kid and enjoy being a kid with your own children. The city is packed full of family fun and the mountains are filled with unlimited opportunities for kid-friendly adventures. Take the kiddos for a tour of The Appy, beyond the room or suite where you’re staying. After, you’ve sparked their attention – head to the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center inside the Great Smoky National Park and check out ways for them to experience being a part of the Junior Ranger Program. Join a ranger for a walk in the woods, a salamander hunt, to learn about our Islands In The Sky, for some Tree Tales, a campfire or for their History of the White Blaze program. Crazy weather during your stay or just looking to spend time in the city? The choices are open and abundant! From multiple Ripley’s locations(including Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf next door to The Appy) to mountain coasters, playing in the snow at Ober or the amazing Anakeesta experience, you’ll find non-stop fun during the length of your stay.
Fall In Love
If I hadn’t been intrigued by a story of two hikers thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail on their honeymoon in the 1980’s, you wouldn’t be reading these words today. It’s a long story, but exactly how my writing about the mountains that I love came to be. Autumn at The Appy is the perfect time to fall in love, or at least even more in love with your sweetheart… Take hikes in the mountain, hold hands by the fire, in late Autumn – go skiing or play in the Smoky Mountain snow. Browse the local shops, find the perfect dining spot, take a winery or distillery tour. Who knows… By the time your visit is over, you may even find yourself in one of the many local wedding chapels saying your “I do’s” or renewing your vows. But, one this is for sure – love is always in the Smokies air.
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:
Link for Gatlinburg to Graveyard Fields
Link for Graveyard Fields to the Pisgah Inn
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:
Know before you go, check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s road conditions and closures before heading out for your hike.
An Appalachian Escape Weekend:
On this weekend adventure, you will have an opportunity to get a taste of it all… Below is a basic itinerary to help you plan on your Appalachian escape.
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.
I was just 5 days old the first time I was blessed by it… The first sliver of summer sun that rose up in the Tennessee sky. I’m almost certain that it was love at first sight, because every since that day when autumn returns, my heart whispers the sweetest of goodbyes. Today, I paid closer attention to the warmth of the sun on my skin, the greenest of green, the blooms of flowers and how deeply i’ll miss the smell of summertime showers… Then, I thought of my summer in the hills that I love so very much. I am excited and filled with the anticipation of watching the beauty unfold as the seasons change.. But, first… I want to reflect on the moments I was blessed with during another southern Appalachian summer.. And, to make it even more of a blessing – I get to share my reflections with you.
Below, you’ll find just a sliver of the images that I had the honor to capture this summer. My hope is that, they will inspire you to not only go outside and play – but to seek simplicity, light and beauty in each and every day.
Visit my Etsy Shop to purchase prints of images or to make requests for your favorite images to be added to the shop!
Click here to purchase prints: Blue Ridge Reflections on Etsy
Want to see more?
Let’s connect! Blue Ridge Reflections by Kristi Parsons on Instagram
Thank you so much for stopping in! Best wishes for a blessed and beautiful day! – Kristi
Streams of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
We live in a world where everyone is searching for something… Something to fill the void on the inside.. Something to make them feel peaceful, happy, loved, hopeful, inspired, energetic, happy, healthy and complete..
Or maybe even just something to simply make them feel..
But the thing is, too few have realized that what there searching for in this world.. Is our world.. It’s the beauty that surrounds us every day.. The beauty that too often we’re blinded to – because we’re focused on the negatives of this place that we call home..
Home.. Home is meant to be a place that is filled with hope, love, comfort and beauty.
But for a moment today, pause and look around you. Home isn’t the house that we live in. Home is in the hugs of our family, the laughter of our friends, the colors of the sunrise and the dew dripping off of the flowers. Home is in the memories of a childhood where we ran wild and free.
Home is here.
Home is in the mountains, in the sea, the valleys and across the plains of this gorgeous place that we can never return to again.
One trip is all we get.. Fill it with the positives and the beauty that is ours to borrow for a short time.
This weekend… Go outside. Relax. Play. Just enjoy your day. Connect to something more.
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:
Tucked away in the hills of Tennessee, you’ll find over 500 waterfalls. The majority of
the waterfalls are nestled in the Appalachian mountains, eastern portion of the state and
in the Cumberland Plateau area. Each waterfall is beautiful in it’s own way, however
some stand out above others. The areas that surround those select waterfalls are
sections of Tennessee that are filled with unique features and interesting history. Sure,
you could explore them without knowing the wonder behind them – but.. To hike the
trails, to know the legends, the history and to slow down and notice all of the
characteristics that place them in the top 7 Waterfall Wonders of Tennesssee – is the
only way to truly feel their enchantment.
Foster Falls, located in Sequatchie, drops 60ft into a tranquil pool of perfection. Foster Falls is on my list of Waterfall Wonders, not only for it’s beauty but also for it’s connection to the Fiery Gizzard Trail. The first thing you’ll notice when arriving is the sandstone overlook. Due to its geological features – the Foster Falls area is one of the premier climbing destinations in the south. The short, but steep and rocky trail leading to the base will only take you deeper into what will soon feel like a fairytale. The area is filled hemlocks, mountain laurel and azaleas as well. However, the charming suspension bridge with the base of the waterfall to the right – will be what makes you believe in love at first sight. My first trip to the base was on a rainy winter day – with just the perfect amount of fog.. I felt like I had stumbled onto the page of my favorite children’s book. And, yes, I felt 5 again. Not only is that a reason for you to visit, but it’s also the perfect example of why you should never let the weather determine your adventure. And.. Speaking of determining your adventure – after exploring the base of the falls, you can continue and finish up with a 1.6 mile loop.. Or, you can choose to explore the 12.5miles(one way) Fiery Gizzard Trail. You’re probably thinking, “Well, that’s a crazy name for a trail.”.. And, it is.. However, all crazy names come with a history. One legend behind the name is from the days of Davy Crockett.. It is said that Davy was sitting at his camp, eating a turkey, when he burned his tongue on a gizzard and spit it into the gorge… So, today, it’s the Fiery Gizzard Trail. This may also explain why the Fiery Gizzard Trail was also once voted by Backpacker Magazine, to be one of the top 25 hiking trails in the United States, as well as a top 12 Amazing Fall Foliage Destination. Because, well… Who wouldn’t want to walk where the King Of The Wild Frontier has walked?
Laurel-Snow State Natural Area:
4 Waterfalls, 1 area.. So, it counts as one! 3 are just bonus falls.. Laurel-Snow State Natural Area is located in Dayton – famous for the Scopes Monkey Trail of 1925. Tucked away, just outside of Dayton, lies 2,259 acres of a natural area to explore.You’ll find natural features, such as : overlooks, waterfalls, virgin timber, steep gorges, wildflowers and many geological features. However, you’ll quickly notice man made features as well, like the remains of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when logging and mining took place in the area. Just after starting on the trail, you’ll see a large coke oven built into the rock that still includes the retaining walls. The mine to your right is the Richland Mine, one of many in the area. Several tragic mine explosions occurred over the years, the first being in December of 1895 – in the Richland Mine. However, in March of 1902, an explosion in the Nelson mine nearby(on private property) killed over 20 men. Men that were working to put food on the tables of their families. Today, the area is the perfect place to take your family.. Explore and go an adventure. Take your children, teach them about the history of the area and the life of the Appalachians that worked and died there. Honor those lost by respecting the beauty of the nature that the trails are filled with. Go alone, listen and find solitude. Grab some friends – it’s a perfect spot for backcountry camping, hiking, swimming, climbing and is also a Class III-IV whitewater run. Laurel Snow was the first National Recreation Trail designated in Tennessee, the first of what will hopefully be many.
Greeter Falls is named after the Greeter family that sold the land to the state and is made up of both Upper and Lower levels. The amphitheater of Greeter and it’s extraordinary geological features have helped to toss it into the Waterfall Wonders mix. On the 1.6 mile loop, you’ll also view Boardtree Falls and an opportunity to explore the Greeter family homesite. A fun and unique feature as well is the metal spiral staircase that leads you down to Lower Greeter Falls. Lower Greeter Falls drops 50ft into a large plunge pool and is a very popular swimming hole in the summer months, along with Blue Hole, also in the area. Greeter Falls is also a part of the 15,590-acre state natural area known as Savage Gulf. This location also opens up a visit to the falls being a day of exploring many other local wonders as well, such as Stone Door.
Great Falls is located in Rock Island State Park and is one of the most unique waterfalls in the state. It is a large horseshoe shaped waterfall that cascades over a 30ft drop. The waterfall is located below a 19th century textile mill that it helped to power over 100 years ago. Past the falls lies the Caney Fork River Gorge and is an mindblowing area to explore. The reach the base of Great Falls can access the gorge by taking the Old Mill Trail near the overlook, if parking is full, hikers can also reach the gorge via the Upstream Trail near the Twin Falls Overlook. Once in the gorge, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a different world or have wandered onto a tropical island paradise. You’ll be surrounded by waterfalls on the walls of the gorge, rock islands to hop around on and of course – you’ll get to experience Great Falls, face to face. Just a bit down the gorge you’ll spot Twin Falls – a mysterious and breathtaking waterfall. Twin Falls is rarely ever low on water due to the fact that the water is being pushed underground and through the walls, instead of over, from the Collins River. The area is perfect for exploring, swimming, fishing, kayaking and more.
Lost Creek Falls:
Lost Creek Falls in Sparta is probably one of the easiest accessible waterfalls in Tennessee, yet also of the most enchanting. I’m not the only one that thinks it’s a scene out of a story book.. Just ask Disney, the charm of the area is what convinced them to film scenes of the Jungle Book there in 1994. Lost Creek is a two for one deal as well – you’ll find Lost Creek Falls and Lost Creek Cave, on just opposite sides of the sink from each other. The waterfall stands mysteriously in a dark corner where water comes from the Dog Cove area, goes into a large spring then comes out – drops 40ft and then immediately disappears underground. The area is covered in moss, ferns, boulders, wildflowers and a mix of hardwoods. Lost Creek cave, just feet away, is one of the larger caves in the state and has 5 entrances. Although it is popular for recreational use, keep in mind that it is home to several rare species of bats. For this reason, a free permit for entry should be picked up from the Nature Center at Falls Creek Falls – the state park that manages the site. As you leave this area of our state, that is like no other.. Be sure to whisper a quiet thank you to the late Mr.James Rylander. Mr. Rylander, graciously left this area of property in his will to the state – so that the area would be protected and enjoyed by the public. Show your gratitude for his generosity by treating it with respect and practicing Leave No Trace ethics during your visit.
Looking for a spot with multiple waterfalls, overlooks, caves and backcountry camping… Next to the waterfalls? If you are, Virgin Falls State Natural Area in Sparta is the place you need to be. The area is named for Virgin Falls, the big sister of Lost Creek Falls, due to them being very similar. Virgin also emerges from a cave above the falls, drops 100ft and disappears into a cave. Virgin Fall is a beauty and a beast all rolled into one.. She will, without a doubt, take your breath away. On your 9 mile round-trip hike to the main falls, you’ll have the opportunity to explore several caves and waterfalls as well as Martha’s Pretty Point – an overlook with views of Scott’s Gulf and Caney Fork River. Big Laurel Falls is worth a visit as well – a perfectly perfect waterfall with a large limestone cave to explore behind it. You’ll find campsites in multiple spots, but also directly in front of Big Laurel Falls and Virgin Falls – two ideal spots to sleep like a baby under the stars. Overnight explorers can use the self-registration book located at the trailhead. Planning to day hike it? Start early so you’ll have plenty of time to explore.
Margarette Falls is a part of the Cherokee National Forest and is located in Greeneville. The falls, named after Margaret Doak, is a 60ft fan shaped waterfall. Pulling into the trailhead, you’ll feel as if you’re in the middle of nothing.. However, the area was once a booming logging camp. The largest logging operation in Greene County that sent logs from the forest 12 miles away to Greeneville. The trail to Margarette Falls is a moderate 2.7 miles round-trip. You’ll pass at least 3 smaller waterfalls on your way up, numerous cascades, cliffs and boulders. At 1.36th of a mile, you’ll pass Cathedral Rock. Once to Margarette Falls…you’ll find a nice open area to rest, picnic and take photos.. Before returning to the trailhead. But not before thinking of Bailey Falls, a well known, yet off trail waterfall in the area. One of the most fascinating waterfalls that i’ve ever seen. The waterfall is tucked away in a very narrow ravine, is two-tiered and by far one of the most amazing Waterfall Wonders in Tennessee.. I could give you directions to Bailey Falls, but..
That wouldn’t leave you anything to “wonder” about..
Winter has arrived, the crowds-like most things in nature, are going home to hibernate..
However, not the waterfalls. Most people think of exploring waterfalls during the summer time.Granted a beautiful waterfall is a perfect place to cool off on a hot and humid Tennessee day..But, you haven’t seen the most beautiful moments of our falls – until you’ve experienced them in the winter time. This year – they’re going to be even more breathtaking. This summer we were witness to one of the worst droughts that we’ve ever had.. The lack of rain, the dryness and the thirst that has been building up will only add even more beauty to the rain that is falling from the sky and flowing into our waterfalls. Tennessee has over 500 waterfalls, most of which are located between our Appalachian Mountains and Middle Tennessee.
Why visit as many as possible this winter?
1. No crowds
2. The falls will actually be flowing with breathtakingly amazing amounts of water.
3. Frozen waterfalls, awesome ice formations and if you’re luckily – a sprinkle of snow.
Here are only just a few that you will definitely want to add to your winter exploring bucket list:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Location: Trillium Gap Trail in the Roaring Fork area of the GSMNP
Grotto Falls is located in the Roaring Fork section of the park, near Gatlinburg. Trillium
Gap trail is the pathway to the falls – the only waterfall in the park where the trail actually takes you behind the falls. To go to the falls and back, is just 2.6 miles. Keep going past the waterfall for another 5.6 miles to reach Mount LeConte.
Insider’s Tip: Arrive early to have the falls to yourself. Also, In the warmer months when the
Mount LeConte Lodge is open – the LeConte Llama train can be spotted going underneath the falls.
( Upper section of the Trillium Gap trail , near Mount LeConte, frozen over. )
Location: Rainbow Falls Trail in the Roaring Fork area of the GSMNP
Rainbow Falls trail is also in the same area as Grotto and the two can be combined in one day. Although the Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed during the winter, you can still
access the falls. They’ll be much less crowded than in the summer months as well as most likely partially frozen over. When you’re finished with Rainbow and Grotto Falls – do some extra exploring to discover a little spot called Baskins Creek Falls .. Or head into Gatlinburg and warm up at the Donut Friar, located in The Village. They have some of the most delicious fresh baked pastries and coffee in town! Once you’re warmed up, stop in the Day Hiker – a locally owned shop that is filled with hiking needs, stories and charm. You my even spot a few of the Smokies most notorious hikers.
(Rainbow Falls in the Summer of 2016)
Insider’s Tip: If you’re geared up correctly and the weather is working with you.. Hiking up
Trillium Gap to Mount LeConte and then down Rainbow Falls – back to your car.. Is an amazing way to truly experience the Roaring Fork corner of the Smokies.
Location: Ramsey Cascades Trail in the Greenbrier area of the GSMNP
Ramsey Cascades is closed until a broken bridge can be repaired. One things for sure though, the first freezing cold winter day that it is open – gear up and go. It’s a semi strenuous 8 mile round trip hike, but seeing the Smokies tallest waterfall completely frozen over – will be worth every step!
( Cascade on the way to Ramsey Cascades )
Fern Branch Falls:
Location: Porter’s Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area of the GSMNP
You’ll find Fern Branch Falls just 2 miles up the Porter’s Creek Trail on your left.. Porter’s Creek is an excellent winter trail, due to being at a lower elevation and accessible when Newfound Gap and other park roads are closed. Take a snowy day hike view the waterfall and also soak the beauty of Greenbrier and the history of the area.
( Section of an off trail waterfall in the Greenbrier area )
When you’re finished up in the Greenbrier area and noticed that your belly is growling louder than a Mama Black Bear…. Stop off at the Hungry Bear BBQ spot, just outside the Greenbrier entrance to the park. You’ll fill up on delicious BBQ, support another local business owner and have the chance to check out some really awesome Smokies photos from the past.
Spruce Flats Falls:
Height: 30ft at the main section of the falls, but with multiple tiers
Location: Tremont area of the GSMNP
Looking for a winter wonderland hike and to view one of the parks most amazing waterfalls in the middle of it?? On an extra snowy day in the park, when the roads are closed to vehicles.. Park your car outside of the park gate at the WYE and enjoy a snow covered hike to Tremont – once to the Tremont Institute, you’ll find the 2 mile round trip trail to Spruce Flats Falls. Take some photos, make your friends jealous, soak it up and then head back out to your car.
(Spruce Flats Falls in the Tremont section of the park.)
Indian Flats Falls:
Height: 60ft(over multiple tiers)
Location: 4 miles in on the Middle Prong Trail in Tremont
Looking for a relaxing and beautiful 8 mile hike – filled with history and waterfalls? This is hike for you then.. Located in the Tremont section as well, this waterfall is accessible by the Middle Prong Trail. Middle Prong, and the entire Tremont area, are packed with fun history facts. Once the trail head area was known as Stringtown. Stringtown was developed for the employess of the Little River Lumber Company that owned the area. Complete with a post office and hotel, Stringtown also included tiny houses – before tiny houses were hip! You’ll notice multiple waterfalls and cascades along the trail, then.. 2 miles in, on your right – you’ll see a small side trail. Take that side trail just a bit and over a small hill to find a Cadillac that was left behind by the CCC in the 1930’s. Continue 2 more miles on the trail to the next side trail on your right – tucked away there is one of the most charming waterfalls in Tennessee.. Not to mention the perfect area to escape to from the real world, on a snowy day – it will be an absolutely breathtaking winter wonderland!
( Indian Flats Falls accessible by Middle Prong in Tremont )
Insider’s Tip: Stop in at one of my favorite local coffee shops, the Artistic Bean! They have some of the yummiest lattes on the peaceful side of the Smokies – and some beautiful art to admire from plenty of cozy seating.
Location: Cades Cove
The 5 mile round trip hike to Abrams Falls is probably one of the most hiked trails in the park. Rarely will you ever have the falls to yourself in the summer time. The winter, however, is another story. Head up the gorgeous trail that is filled with pine-oak, rhododendron and hemlocks on a cold winter’s day and you may actually get to soak up the solitude that the residents of Cades Cove once experienced. If it’s a warm winter day, keep an eye out for bears on your way out of the cove! Our bears don’t hibernate, they only go into a deep sleep during the cold periods. However, they love to wander and forge on a warmer day!
(Abrams Falls in Cades Cove – 5 miles RT)
Find a waterfall and go exploring!..
Need a few more reasons to visit our Great Smoky Mountains this winter?..
Here you go!…
Part 2 of Winter Waterfall wandering in Tennessee will be waterfalls of Rhea County and surrounding areas! ..
Looking for a 10 mile Adventure Day in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Well… This could be the perfect adventure for you!
Western North Carolinas “Fairy Tale Trails” :
It doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen.. The day that you stumble upon a hike that makes you feel as if you’ve found your way into a fairy tale. A hike that even begins with a quaint, secluded and mysterious cabin in a beautiful – yet small meadow with apple trees bearing fruit on both sides. A place that will give you the opportunity to be a kid again and take a tree swing for a ride. You’ll find a day of exploring that later takes you to a spot where you can rest in a hammock, kick back and relax. A resting spot with a never ending sea of mountain ridges and shadows ahead of you. Only to continue on your journey, past a mountain inn like no other and then to the best picnic spot in the Smokies. A bald with not only breathtaking views of the intoxicating western North Carolina mountains, but also to have the foreground of those views be beautiful horses. The best part?
You’ll get to experience it all again as you hike back to the parking area. It doesn’t happen every day, but some days it does.. Some days you find a hike like no other and one that you must experience for yourself to truly understand its charm.
How to reach this indescribable place?
You’ll begin this hike at the gate for Purchase Knob on Purchase Road. You’ll reach the gate by turning onto Hemphill Road off of US-276 near Maggie Valley, NC. Hemphill Road will turn into Purchase Road. You can do a Google Maps search for Purchase Knob for exact directions from your beginning location.
Even if the gate is open when you arrive, park at the gate. Due to the gate only being open for scheduled events at the Appalachian Highlands Learning Center, you could very likely be locked inside of the gate when you return from your hike. So… Like all good things, a little extra work must come first. Once you’ve parked at the gate, you’ll need to walk 1.5 miles to reach the trail to the Ferguson Cabin. If you want to soak up the view from Purchase Knob and check out the science center first, you’ll want to continue up the hill for another .5 miles. You will be able to see the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center building from your junction with the Ferguson Cabin Trail to your left. The learning center is located on Purchase Knob, do extra mile to enjoy the views from there as well as the other stops along your journey.
The first thing that I noticed on my first hike here was the gorgeous apple tree, filled with perfect apples and yellow jackets. If you’re allergic, just be cautious. You’ll be able to see the small cabin from the apple tree. It’s small, quaint and charming. The cabin is the highest cabin in the Smoky Mountains, at 4,700ft elevation. It was built in the 1870’s and continued to be called home until around 1900. Think about that for a moment and imagine what life must have been like during that time. Have an fresh apple snack, from an apple tree that was planted in 1900. Then, find the trail to the left of the cabin that directs you to the Cataloochee Divide trail. Take that trail, with a bit of an uphill trek, to the Cataloochee Divide Trail – then take a left. This will put you right on track for going to your next stop, Gooseberry Knob.
( You will see purple paint on some trees to your left as you get closer to Gooseberry Knob, this is private property. The Purple Paint Law allows property owners the opportunity to use dashes of purple paint to say “no trespassing”. Respect their wishes and continue with your journey.)
As your hiking on the Cataloochee Divide Trail, you’ll come to an option to continue on the Cataloochee Trail or to cut over and go to the left of the fence. Hop over to the much wider area on the left side of the fence, this area is on The Swag’s property – a private and luxurious mountain inn that has been voted one of the best getaways in the country. If you visit The Swag as an overnight guest or a dining guest, you can also access all destinations of this hike. Continue on your path up the Swag property, once to the top of the hill you’ll reach Gooseberry Knob. Gooseberry Knob is a bald like no other. Thanks to The Swag, the bald has a hammock for relaxing and chairs to soak up the view in. Show your appreciation of The Swag sharing this area with the public by respecting the area and taking care of all that they share.
So, rest up and carry on..
Take a walk up to The Swag, check it out and then hop back on the trail going towards Hemphill Bald to find the next chapter of your fairy tale story of the day. Signs at The Swag will direct you to Hemphill Bald. You’ll take a left off of the private property and back into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll probably notice that the trails are very well marked in this area. From The Swag, it’s 1 mile to Hemphill Bald. In .2 miles you’ll come to a junction, but continue straight, in .8 miles – you’ll see Hemphill Bald on your left.
It is on Hemphill Bald that you’ll be treated to views of the Cataloochee Ski Area and the amazing mountains of Western North Carolina. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few horses stop by to say hello. Check out the view locator on the Flintstone style picnic table, take a break on the benches and just enjoy your afternoon. Keep in mind also that Hemphill Bald is on Cataloochee Ranch property, however, they too – share it with hikers and explorers from the area. So, again – please respect their property and leave no trace behind, as you should with any destination. Finished up at Hemphill? Retrace your steps back to the parking area.
Bonus: You’ll get to experience all of the gorgeousness a second time on your way back.
Ozone Falls… That’s the waterfall that started it all.. It was the first waterfall that I ever went to, just a few minutes from the town where I grew up. My Dad took me.. And I absolutely fell in love with it.. I returned time after time over the years, then when my Dad passed away – I avoided it for too long. Going back to it, when I did.. Was truly going home. Fast forward a couple of years to 2015 – I had found an insane amount of healing in the outdoors, after a very traumatic time in my life. More specifically – I found peace in my waterfalls.. Sooo… The chase began… And has yet to end..
Below are some of my favorite waterfalls from over the past year and half..
Ozone Falls… The beginning. Above is Ozone in the summer and below is Ozone on the day after Christmas in 2015.
Virgin Falls, by far one of my favorites… She’s a beauty and beast in one! You can find her in Middle TN.
Big Laurel Falls is located in the same area as Virgin Falls.. It’s a beautiful a charming waterfall, with a large cave mouth behind it that you can explore. This waterfall and Virgin Falls also have backcountry campsites beside them…
Fall Creek Falls and Coon Creek Falls (to the right) .. This photo is also from the day after Christmas in 2015..
Piney Creek Falls, also located in the Fall Creek Falls State Park..
Laurel Falls in the Laurel-Snow Area in Dayton, TN… Just a portion of the bottom of the falls but one of my favorite waterfall photos!
Stinging Fork Falls in Spring City Tn.. Small yet beautiful and breathtaking.. A winter waterfall for sure!
Piney Falls in Grandview, TN
Bailey Falls, an off trail waterfall located in Greeneville, TN
A portion of Great Falls that’s located in Rock Island State Park – Tennessee
Indian Flats Falls – a beautiful tucked away Smoky Mountain waterfall, located on a side trail found on Middle Prong Trail
Another waterfall that can be found on the Middle Prong Trail in the Tremont section of the GSMNP.
Spruce Flats Falls is also a GSMNP waterfall and can be found in the Tremont area of the park.
A nice corner waterfall that can be found in the Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia on the Cabin Creek Trail..
A small side waterfall that can be found on the trail going to Ramsey Cascades..
Mouse Creek Falls – Located in the Big Creek section of the GSMNP.. If you visit this one, don’t forget to spot the Midnight Hole as well!
My journey was planned before I ever knew of it… And if there is one single thing that I have learned over the past few years – it is simply that if we let life flow… We will grow.
Flow.. Like the streams in the mountains. Flow fast at times and slow at other times. Flow to places unknown and over bumps and falls. Once we learn to flow with the current of life.. We begin to grow in a way that we never knew possible. Let your life reflect your dreams, never your fears. For everything that we want and more than we can ever imagine is on the other side of our fears.
So…. Here I go.. Again… Allowing myself to flow and grow.
I hope you’ll find your current as well..
Til next time.. Go outside and play.
Looking for a place to play?
Check out one of my adventure destination articles with Rock/Creek :