National Park Counter: 9, 10
Ok, so this one actually came before the California trip as well, and I forgot it too! Oops! Anyway this was a road trip my buddy Matthew took with me. He lives in Guam but comes to Florida to visit often. We have been throughout Florida so much, and I have the travel bug so I suggested we take a road trip out of state when he got here. The. plan: leave for Savannah, GA on day one, and stay the night there; get up the next day and drive to Congaree National Park; from there head toward Asheville and make an overnight stop there; get up the next day and go to Great Smoky Mountains National Park; stay the night in Cherokee, NC; travel and stay the day and night in Clayton, GA; return to Florida. In other words: a lot!
Unlike literally EVERY SINGLE OTHER TRIP in this blog, this one had not so good weather. My good weather streak ran out, so things were not ideal. It was not terrible…but not ideal. I had hope to do some more exploring in Savannah, but unfortunately it was pouring so dinner and a quick stop at a brewpub was it. The next morning we stopped at Congaree National Park, SC, home to some of the largest cypress trees in the country, and is some kind of special bottomlands hardwood forest. It was sparsely attended, very serene, very green, and there was not a ton to do aside from a boardwalk hike that turned into a small trail through the immediate area. I understand there is some kayaking and canoeing that one can do on the Congaree River if one desires.
After departing Congaree we decided to stop at a place called Chimney Rock, just outside of Asheville. There was some good hiking around the area and it seemed really neat. But the weather was not great, we ran into a copperhead, and it was ho hum because of all of that. I could see how it would be spectacular in good, non snakey weather though!
My buddy and I made it to Asheville and did some of the same things I did just a year earlier. No pictures or further commentary because I just wrote about that trip a few days ago! So the next morning we drove from Asheville up to Gatlinburg, TN. There was a new Skybridge situation they had built there and it seemed worthy of checking out before going into the Smokies. It took a lift to get up there and unfortunately while we were up there storms moved in and we got stuck for a while. Annoying, but what can you do?
When we finally got down it was time to get into the Smokys. Before I get to further into this and it sounds like a not so good experience: The Park itself is splendid and a real gem – easy to see why it’s the most visited national park! Obviously, this was June, so heavy crowds were to be expected but it was pouring and I was hoping that the silver lining could be less crowded. But, no. It was crowded AND pouring rain. My hiking aspirations went out the window. We drove awhile in the park and managed to get some better weather in the Cades Cove area…and the dumb long line of cars slowly inching their ways through the area. The weather turned annoying again so we basically just finished the drive south through the park and checked into our Airbnb in Cherokee. We found a cool short trail to a neat waterfall before heading to dinner. While at dinner it cleared up and the sun came out! I told my friend: “Hey, let’s go back into the park.” So we did, and it was much nicer experience. We decided to try the drive up Clingman’s Dome at around 7 or 8 o’clock, which was a mistake. The sign said exactly how many miles it was to the summit and I don’t know if I ever watched the tenths of miles click off on the odometer so closely! I couldn’t tell you if the drive was crazy scary and exposed or not. It’s like we were driving through a cloud the entire time! We eventually made it to the top and did the short hike up to the top of the observation deck. I assume from the signs up there that you can see miles and miles, but we could see like 15 feet.
The next day we headed down toward Clayton, GA. I was there just the year prior and it is only an hour or less from Cherokee, so a return was warranted. We hiked Black Rock Mountain, the Tennessee trail, from start to summit, about 2.5 miles or so. The year previous I had just driven up to the top, but the summit was actually off in the woods. We did the Tallulah Gorge hikes which I had already done before we saw goats on top of a country store, and had dinner at the restaurant I had been to the last time. Protip: if ever in Clayton, GA, check out fortify kitchen and try their homemade butter…you can buy a big container of it, and it’s not cheap but OH SO GOOD. After the long trip back to FL, this trip was in the books!
Overall impressions: Pros: Two national parks. Smokys after the crowds and rain cleared out. Clayton, GA (again) Cons: Weather. Smoky’s with the crazy crowds and not so good weather. Congaree is neat, but not much to do there.
The Adventurer Final Word:
4 Stars! It was a cool roadtrip for sure. Had the weather been better if might have been close to 5 stars.