Gatlinburg is just next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The next day, guess where we went?
Yep. You just can’t pass up a national park, of course, and this one is even free (I know, I know, our taxes pay plenty toward it. Still, national parks, like libraries, are one federal expenditure I can’t get too upset over).
We drove a little ways into the park, but it wasn’t long before we’d hit our destination: a trail. Chimney Tops Trail, to be exact.
Okay, okay, yes, the girls (and my husband) are off already. But let’s get a little background first. After our somewhat-recent, although extremely memorable trek at Lake Jenny on a prior trip, I had made a request: no more strenuous trails. I’d discovered on that 10+mile hike that I enjoy nature, but I seem to enjoy it in theory much more than in practice. I just was not up for another “adventure” of that scale.
Okay, that is not too encouraging. But my husband had said that this trail was “only” 3.8 miles roundtrip, even though it was “very steep.” A handout he gave me informed me that “to reach the summit, hikers have to climb more than 960 feet over the course of the last mile!” Yes, that exclamation point was there. Trust me, I did not add it.
So I hiked. There were exposed tree roots all over the place. The kids thought it was great. And I, the grown-up version of the kid who hated gym, just kept walking. I mean, come on. This was walking, after all. This wasn’t making free throws or climbing a rope. All I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other …
Maybe twice, I came across a sign. Neat to see that we weren’t too far from the Appalachian Trail.
To be sure, there were awesome views along the way.
But this printout must have been written by a would-be comedian: “Now the fun begins — that is, if you enjoy hiking up steep terrain.” “The ascent is definitely not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights.” “Many injuries have occurred in this area, so take proper precautions.”
A few observations — as always in a national park, I’m amazed at the things people are doing and not getting hurt. Leaning out over precipices, swaying over ledges with no restraints. In “real life,” there are caution notices and fences up everywhere to protect us from ourselves. But at the Grand Canyon or on the mountaintop, you’re on your own, apparently. Be as stupid as you want to be. And somehow, I’ve never seen anyone get seriously hurt.
Another impressive thing was the number of small kids I saw on the trail. Tikes maybe 4 or 5 hiking up and down the trail. Not in strollers, not slurping down the ubiquitous bottle of juice. I didn’t hear any of them crying, whining, or having a fit of any kind. All I can assume is that the children of physically-fit nature types are a superior breed. It was refreshing to see.
Not so refreshing was emerging from half a bazillion steps up to see this final push to the pinnacle.
Did I want to try to tackle that?
“Mom!” yelled one of the kids. “Why did you wear a SKIRT to climb a MOUNTAIN?”
“It’s not a SKIRT!” I yelled, as I clawed my way up the rock. “It’s CULLOTTES!”
Okay, so apparently “cullottes” are a throwback to the ’80s. Suffice it to say I made it up about half the rock before deciding that it was good enough. Besides, coming down was even worse. And I really focused on looking only at my footholds, and not the wide open valleys a bit farther down and out …
And then I did the whole trail again, but this time going down. You’d think that would be easier, and you’d be right. Except, it’s not really that easy trying to go steeply downhill at a slow pace. By the time I finished the whole thing, about two hours after I’d started, my thighs were feeling pretty jello-y.
I gratefully got into the van.
My husband still wanted to do one more “really short” trail, known as Grotto Falls.
This one wasn’t as bad, thankfully, but it was another 3 mile roundtrip.
As I hiked there, again lagging far behind all other family members, multiple folks making their way back assured me, “It is SO worth it!”
When I finally arrived, here’s what I saw: a “meh” waterfall, and about a million people. Somehow, after hiking this far, I hadn’t expected to run into a crowd comparable to the one waiting to ride Space Mountain.
Be that as it may, I took my turn dodging the masses as I traversed wet stones all the way back to the obligatory view from behind the falls, and then out again.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That was it. I’d visited when I was a child, maybe two or three years old. I thought I’d remembered from that visit going to an outdoor pageant featuring Indians. I mentioned this to my husband, who said, “I don’t think so. You didn’t actually go here.” Hmm.
Have you ever visited Great Smoky Mountains? Gone to an indian show there in the ’60s? Hiked Chimney Tops Trail, or to Grotto Falls, or heaven forbid, the Appalachian Trail? Do share in the comments …