We began our last morning at the Little Black Cabin like the previous one, with a breakfast of fresh eggs and homemade bread. We packed up the car, bid farewell to the cabin, and set off towards our first destination of the day: Clingman’s Dome.
The drive into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was phenomenal. The winding roads were fun to drive, and offered many breathtaking views of the mountains. While it was an incredible sight, the scars from last year's unfortunate fire were evident, especially on Chimney Top Mountain which was a barren black rock at the top.
When we arrived I was surprised by how many open parking spots there were. Being one of the top destinations in the park I had expected the lot to be full already. After parking we got out to appreciate the view from the tallest mountain in the Smoky Mountains.
The amazing thing was we weren't even at the highest point. To get to the summit we had a short, steep hike, on a paved path. At the top of Clingman’s dome sits an observatory tower, making it the highest point in the park. The height provided us with a 360° view of the mountain range. One of the peaks we could see, Mount LeConte, we would be climbing in a couple days.
On our return, the parking lot was much busier. There were large groups heading up the trail, and a long line of cars searching out a place to park. We decided to free up our spot, and move on to Newfound Gap for lunch.
After our meal of Clif bars, trail mix, and peanut butter we started along the Appalachian Trail towards Charlie’s Bunion. This hike was about twice as far as the hike to Hen Wallow Falls, and it was considerably harder. Nonetheless, it was a popular trail with people of all skill levels taking it on.
Two people we spoke with were on a month long trip along the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail from Damascus, VA to the trails terminus in Ellijay, Ga. They told us it was an exhilarating experience, but it was a challenge the entire way. It was enjoyable talking with them about their adventure and about places we shared familiarity with in Missouri.
Halfway up the trail we passed the Ice Water Spring Shelter, one of many such shelters along the Appalachian trail where hikers can spend the night: as long as they don't mind sharing the bunks with up to 11 other people. We had considered staying here one night, but opted for a third night at Camp G.R.I.T.S.
We filled up our water bottles from the trickle of water that passed for a spring, giving us a chance to test out our new filter. True to its name, the water was cold and refreshing!
We made it to Charlie’s Bunion in the early afternoon, and the sun was out in full force. Just below the mountain’s summit is a bare rocky outcropping that juts out from an otherwise sheer face. Charlie’s Bunion is not one of the highest points in the park, but climbing onto the protruding boulder we felt like we were on top of the world.
Eventually the sun beating down on us became too much, and we started our trek back down. It felt so good to change out of our boots when we finally got back to the car. We had one more night at Camp G.R.I.T.S. ahead of us, and we were looking forward to relaxing.
We stayed in one of their other rentals, a Tipi across the road from where we had been the nights before. It was a really cool setup, with a stream that ran right next to the site. As the sun set we ate dinner, enjoyed the outdoor shower one last time, and turned in for the night.
The Tipi blocked out all light except for a small opening at the very top, so we had no idea what time it was when we woke up. Realizing there was not much time before we had to check out, we hurried to pack the car, grabbed the bread Rosie had left, and got on the road.
We stopped at a Starbucks in Sevierville for coffee and to eat breakfast. A woman sitting next to us asked where we got the bread; she was from Venice and had been searching for some place with good bread like she was used to. We talked with her and her husband for a while, and then drove into the park in hopes of hiking to Grotto Falls.
After an hour drive we arrived at the trailhead, but there was no where to park: The lot was full, the overflow was full, and the road was lined with cars that had pulled over into any available opening. We decided to continue on to the Ramsey Cascade Trailhead.
Another hour later, down a bumpy dirt road, we parked and started getting ready to head out. As we were about to head onto the trail, a group that had just returned warned us of a mama bear that was on the trail and had been snarling and growing more aggressive towards hikers. Disappointed we weren’t able to hike up to the cascades, we instead climbed down to the section of the river near the trailhead.
It was refreshing to dip our feet, and dunk our heads in the cool water. Relaxing on the rocks made up for all the driving without being able to hike. As the afternoon wore on, we began the long drive to Cade’s Cove for our last night in the park.
After setting up camp and having dinner we drove around the Cade’s Cove loop just before sunset. Others had the same idea as us, many of whom stopped in the middle of the road to watch the sun go down, but the beautiful area was worth it. They had an early morning bike ride the next day, and we would like to do that next time!
On our return to the campsite we made a fire, and then slept under the stars. We had one more big hike the next day, and needed our rest.
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You can read more about our trip here