There comes a time in every relationship that you have to put your foot down. For me, it was only 6 months into our marriage. After traveling to the west for the majority of our vacations, I decided that we should cross the Mississippi and travel east for our next vacation. My husband is quite the adventurer. He’s been on some amazing trips and done some pretty impressive things, but he’s always done them in the western part of the US. It took a little bit of convincing but after a few weeks, we reached an agreement on our summer family vacation. We’d spend a week in the Great Smoky Mountains hiking, biking and to Brecken’s delight, hang out at Dollywood for at least a day.
At least that was the plan. And like most plans, they don’t always come to fruition. Life got in the way. We didn’t get the big summer trip that we planned, but last weekend we did get to experience three days in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.
Our home base for this trip was Asheville, NC. We both wanted to see the Biltmore Estate, I wanted to take advantage of the farm-to-table food movement and most importantly, we wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail.
We spent the first day at the Biltmore Estate and Gardens. Sure, it’s a pricey excursion ($65 for adults, $55 if you buy your tickets a week in advance) but it’s one of those things you do one time, you stare at everything in wonder and then you’re good! The house was enormous, over-the-top and a bit too humid for me.
What I enjoyed most about the property were the gardens, and the biking/hiking trails. In my opinion, if you’re visiting the Biltmore, take advantage of the trails, even if it’s for a short walk. The grounds are absolutely amazing and the reason why the Vanderbilt’s built there in the first place. Brecken wasn’t overly impressed with the experience and I don’t blame her. She’s 7, to her it’s just a big house with things she can’t touch.
If only we had known a month earlier the weather was going to be gorgeous on our first day (81 degrees and sunny) and completely the opposite on the second day, I would have never bought tickets for the Biltmore in advance. We woke up to temps in the 40s with 30-40 mph wind gusts. We’re not the type of people who travel that far to spend the day in our hotel rooms, so we layered on the clothing and drove north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Driving on the parkway is sensory overload. The leaf reports said things were a week behind, but we were still pretty impressed with all the colors. Around every corner there was something to stop and look at, some great view that we had to try and capture. It didn’t seem right that Kurt and I had cameras to take pictures, so I let Brecken use my iPhone. Next time, maybe she’ll get her own camera.
After forcing ourselves to drive without stopping, we finally made it to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Normally we would park at a trailhead and hike to the top of the mountain, but the weather was terrible and somebody, to remain nameless, probably didn’t pack as well as they should have. Instead we drove as far as we could, and walked the 200 or so yards to the observation deck.
The weather really was awful. It was cold, windy, and foggy so we couldn’t see anything from the deck. I whined, Brecken whined and I’m sure at some point, Kurt whined because of our whining. After we took our obligatory picture near the Mount Mitchell sign, we started back towards the car but made a detour on a hiking trail. I’m not sure what it was about that trail but it turned things around for all of us. It was still cold and windy, but we hiked 1.5 miles or so and then headed further on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We drove to Crabtree Falls and hiked the 3.5 mile loop around the falls. The trail was popular (it was warmer here) and for the first mile, was rather crowded. It’s a dog-friendly trail and we saw quite a few canines. We even saw one that was being “worn” in a carrier! Most people do the out-and-back part of the trail, so if you do the loop, you’ll have a bit more solitude.
This was my favorite day. After the short hike the day before, I was ready to do some real hiking. Kurt had researched several hikes and we decided to hike to Charlie’s Bunion, which was an 8-mile out and back trip on the Appalachian Trail. We entered at Oconaluftee and drove to the Newfound Gap parking lot, about 16 miles away. It was another day of crappy weather, so we put on every layer that we had and walked to the trailhead, where we had to take an obligatory picture.
We didn’t realize it going out, but the first few miles has a steady elevation gain. Brecken has been hiking with us for a couple of years, but this was definitely the longest, and hardest hike of her short hiking career. We’ve learned over many family hiking trips, that things go better when you have snacks AND you appoint the youngest person in the group the “trip leader.”
Our trip leader entertained herself (and us) by singing songs, trying to explain to us the difference between wants and needs, and finally, by concocting a plan for us to sell everything we have and live in “nature.” We crossed paths with a park ranger who gave Brecken a high five for being the youngest kid on the trail that day and even though she took a couple of spills, she declared it her favorite day of the trip. She had such a great attitude, she was rewarded with hot chocolate, burgers and fries, the perfect trifecta for a 7-year old kid.
We will visit this area again, three days wasn’t enough time. We want to explore downtown Asheville and there are several more trails we want to hike. If we can get the time away, we’d like the hike the 70 mile section of the AT that runs through Smoky Mountain Park (sans Brecken, that might be a bit much for her), and Kurt would like to tear up the local mountain bike trails. I’d like to enjoy more of the local food movement and partake in a brewery tour or two, and Brecken, she wants to sell everything and live in nature. I think she picked a pretty good place to live.