Let’s Go South and Climb Stuff

Welcome to Tents, Trails and Taps: Let’s Go South and Climb Stuff

Make sure to read the intro post to this series here.

If you are new to camping, read what gear you’ll need here.

Road Trip Rating: Moderate. You’ll be driving a little farther and the hikes are gonna be a little harder.

Total driving time: 20 – 25 hours

Days: Just 4! Y’all can do this!

*Some of these hikes would be dangerous for dogs. If you want to bring your dog you will have to research alternative trails so they don’t plummet off the side of a steep mountain.

*All camping sites should be booked in advance during covid. If you don’t book in advance there is a good chance they’ll boot you back onto the road. Also make sure to check the booking websites to see the check in times of your specific camp ground. 

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Oh. Hello there.

Highlights of this itinerary

  • Change your opinion on Kentucky by enjoying an exciting hike in Red River Gorge.
  • Climb up the sides of mountains with extremely steep ladders while savoring a breathtaking view at Grandfather Mountain State Park in North Carolina.
  • Hike a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains (and spot salamanders along the way).
  • Hike to three waterfalls
  • Enjoy some of the most flavorful cider ever created at Gypsy Circus.

*All of these itineraries are going to be written with the assumption that the majority of you have a starting point somewhere in upper Ohio/lower Michigan. If you are reading this right now and that is nowhere near where you will be starting out, I apologize! But you can totally modify this however you would like and just hit up the highlights along the way.

 

Day One

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Your goal today is to get a cute photo of your hiking shoes with this in the background.

-Common sense… but if you start earlier in the day, you’re gonna accomplish a lot more. So drag yourself outta bed and get into your car early. You’re gonna do a fun hike AND a lot of driving AND drink some amazing cider AND set up camp today…. so get out of your house no later than 5 am.

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You’ll find this little cave along the trail of today’s hike.

-Plug in Red River Gorge into your GPS and head in that general direction. That specific link will take you to your hike’s trail head.

Today’s Trail: Indian Staircase (moderate)

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This is the staircase that this trail is known for.

-Now this trail is rated moderate because there is a tiny bit of rock scrambling that everyone freaks out about. It’s not hard to do, it looks scarier than it actually is. Why I think this trail should actually be rated moderate is because the trails are poorly marked and you’ll probably get a tad lost.

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Climbing the Indian Staircase

-If you follow the GPS map in the link above on the AllTrails app you should be golden. Also, ask people along the way if you’re headed in the right direction. We made a couple friends doing so.

-I’m not too sure how to actually end this trail properly, because we just found a very steep drop off half-trail and gently threw our bodies off the cliff and somehow came out of the forest directly next to our car….but there is a proper way to end this hike but I was hungry and needed off the cliff.

However you do this trail, it’ll be an adventure and you’ll have fun.

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You would have no idea that we were completely lost at this point.

-When Danny and I did this road trip, we ended up sleeping in the car this night to save some time. If you don’t want to sleep in the car, then head to Warrior’s Path State Park campground  and set up camp.

-Once camp is set up head to Gypsy Circus Cidery just about 10 minutes away. I am not a huge cider person, but this place impressed us so much! The ciders they have are friggin delicious, and the atmosphere outside reminded both Danny and I of many of the hostels we have stayed at internationally so we both felt very much at home. The staff was great too and really made the whole time there enjoyable.

-Now go to sleep.

Day Two

-You should be under 2 hours away from your park of the day, Grandfather Mountain. You will need to purchase a ticket IN ADVANCE to enter this specific park. They are currently doing timed entries. Try to get there as early as you can so you can avoid any crowds.

-There is a Grandfather Mountain State Park, and then this other park that I want you to go to for the best hikes ever. Make sure you’re going to the right one by following this link to google maps.

-You’ll want to start your time at this park by visiting the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

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The bridge is neat.

-You can take some gorgeous photos after you cross the bridge, the view is amazing.

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-Afterwards you’re gonna want to make sure you’re ready for a bit of a hike. You’ll have to fill out a quick hiking permit before hitting the trails.

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I would have better photos of these ladders if Daniel didn’t just continuously take photos of my ass while climbing these… so while climbing there was a lot of me threatening him.

-These trails are amazing because they have steep ladders to assist you in climbing the peaks. The route we took was Grandfather Mountain Trail to Macrae Peak to Calloway Peak and then we turned around and headed back. These trails make the price of visiting this park 100% worth it.

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I could have pushed him.

-After burning off a lot of calories, go to the fudge shop down the road near the native animal exhibits. Then wander their adorable little zoo that they have on grounds. They have the most beautiful bear exhibit I’ve ever seen.

Okay now you’re hungry and you need beer.

-Head to Boone, NC and get some nutrients at Lost Province Brewing Company or Booneshine Brewing Company. Don’t forget to buy some beer to take back to your campsite tonight.

-Plug in Winngray Family Campground into your GPS and head to your home for the night. This park is more geared for RVs but the tent spots are beautiful and right along the river. The bathrooms were clean and the staff were very accommodating even though we arrived past check in time.

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Loved this campsite.

Day Three

-Congrats. You’re less than an hour away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can basically pick whatever trail you want to do in one day in the Smokies, but I chose a 9 mile section of the Appalachian Trail, because I love the AT. I also have done a large handful of trails in the Smokies at this point…. and this one was on my list of “not done yet”… so that being said, here is a list of trails I have done and I have enjoyed. Pick one (or two if they are short) and enjoy:

Difficult:

Charlie’s Bunion via Appalachian Trail (the one we did this trip)

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Sitting on Charlie’s Bunion.

Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte

Chimney Tops (this one is actually my favorite in the whole park but requires some rock climbing skillz at the very top… this climbing section has been closed recently and the trail isn’t worth doing if you can’t climb up to the very top so check AllTrails periodically to make sure the section is back open before you start this strenuous hike).

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The very tippy top of that tallest peak is the fun rock climbing portion of Chimney Tops. Do this about 2 hours before sunset to enjoy some colors up there once that section opens up. Bring a headlamp.

Easier Options:

Grotto Falls 

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Look for tiny cutie patooties along the way like this Red-Cheeked Salamander (Plethodon jordani)

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

Laurel Falls

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Any trail in the Smokies is pretty much guaranteed to be gorgeous.

-So hike! Keep in mind that you’re about 2 hours or so from your campsite… so keep an eye on your watch. You’ll want to allow yourself time to enjoy your hikes but also time to hit up a brewery before heading to your campsite.

Speaking of breweries… you have options. Check out one of the following before heading to camp:

Smoky Mountain Brewery

Gatlinburg Brewing Company

Yee-Haw Brewing

-Now head to camp… plug in Cove Lake State Park campground into your GPS and head to your cozy abode for the evening.

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Sunset from our campsite at Cove Lake State Park

Day Four

-You’re going to accomplish a lot of driving today, but before doing so, get some hiking in so you don’t go insane.

Today’s Hike: Triple Falls Trail AKA: Little Egypt (moderate)

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-I don’t know why this is, but I think I like waterfalls….? It’s not always on purpose, but I always end up at a waterfall on almost every trip. So here ya go. Enjoy three waterfalls and a cute little climb.

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-There are some other good trails and parks in this area that you can for sure squeeze into the itinerary for funsies… but I promised people a shorter itinerary so I’m sending you all home now.

-You’ll most likely be taking 75 North all the way up to your real-life home… so on the way you’ll be driving through these cities and you should visit some of these breweries:

Lexington, Kentucky: West Sixth Brewing, Country Boy Brewing, Etheral Brewing

Cincinnati, Ohio: Rhinegeist, Braxton Brewing Company (actually in Kentucky but close enough to Cincy that I’m putting it here), Listermann Brewing Company 

Dayton, Ohio: Warped Wing Brewery, Toxic Brew Company, Lock 27 Brewing

-Now get home and take a nap.

Looking for a longer, more challenging road trip? Check this out.

Wanting to go East instead of South? Check this out.

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