We spent last weekend in a giant tent with a bed, hardwood floors, a shower, and a bathroom next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the children were in a much smaller teepee (called a “hive”) 20 feet away. This was how my bride wished to spend the weekend following her birthday, and no wonder we get along so well.
The road from Atlanta took us to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center as soon as we entered the national park, so the children got junior ranger workbooks, and we watched the elk bathing and drinking in the stream behind the museum there before driving to a short hike at Mingus Mill. We arrived at the Under Canvas site Friday evening, dropped off our backpacks, and had dinner outside with acoustic music from Daniel Donato while the children made s’mores.
The next morning, a basket of coffee greeted us at 8am on our tent’s porch.
Then, we had breakfast, grabbed the sack lunches we’d arranged, and set off for a difficult 6-mile round-trip hike to Rainbow Falls after a brief stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. There was some whining about the heat, the grade, and the length of the hike, but when we got to the top, and the children saw the pools of water full of salamanders (we were in the “Salamander Capital of the World,” after all), they were grateful to have made the trek.
While they chased colorful amphibians, their mom and I made an ilicit climb to the base of the falls.
After lunch, we did an easier 3-mile round-trip hike up to Laurel Falls, stopped at its base, and took off our shoes to enjoy the cold water and tranquil surroundings for a bit before heading back to our campsite for more dinner and live music with Mr. Donato.
Sunday morning, we drove into the park again so we could hike the half mile path up Clingmans Dome — the highest point on the Appalachian Trial (which is paved, but steep!).
We concluded our time in the park by returning to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, so the children could get sworn in as junior rangers before we began the drive back to Atlanta, stopping at Goats on the Roof for ice cream and burgers along the way. That night, my bride and I met friends Jim Bob and Katie to see Jackopierce at City Winery.
Despite this trip’s short duration, it was wonderful way to unplug, spend quality time together in nature, and return to work or school Monday recharged and relaxed. I highly recommend a weekend of hiking and sleeping in tents–as long as said tents have toilets!
The tents were ideal! Nothing to pack in or out, quiet and serene but with people to meet, marshmallows to roast and games to play. So good. And so many waterfalls to chase in the Smokies! Extended birthday weekends are BEST. <3
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