Great Smokey Mountains Railroad

As our time here in the Asheville area comes to a close we’re looking to cross the last few things off our must-do list. By the way, if you’re going to visit an area, it’s a great idea to make a list of things you would like to see and do. It keeps you on track so you don’t miss out on anything.

One of the last things on our list? The Great Smokey Mountains Railroad. We picked up the train in Bryson City which is a small, quaint town full of family owned businesses. Native Americans have been hunting and and living in the vicinity that is now Bryson City for nearly 14,000 years.

 

You have your choice of carriages on the train – fully enclosed with air conditioning or heat (with meals) or open air where the sides are fully open. We chose the open air seating and thankfully the weather was perfect for it.

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I didn’t catch his name, but our guide was eccentric yet charming. He used to hike 30 miles a day in his younger years but he has cut back to 15-20 miles a day. Slacker.

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We sat next to this interesting couple. The lady started taking pictures of these stuffed animals. Not just one but two and each had their own bag. I almost let my curiosity get the best of me and frankly I should have just asked but instead I sat and stared with my eyes as big as saucers. Is this a thing? Does anyone know?

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The train ride took us to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The last time I was here was more than 20 years ago when I went with camp mates. You can zip line, mountain bike, go white water rafting or just lounge by the rapids. We saw a few Appalachian Trail through-hikers getting a bite to eat and cleaning up. You could smell them from a mile away. Ewwww.

 

We only had an hour to eat and roam around so we walked around and people watched. I wish we had time to go white water rafting. Le sigh. That has been added to the list.

The bridge you walk over to get over the rapids is actually part of the Appalachian Trail. Cool. So technicallyyyyy, we have walked part of the AT.

 

After a bite to eat and some people watching it was time to head back. The scenery was beautiful, the weather was perfect. An all around great day!

Till next time! Xoxo

Western North Carolina Nature Center

The Western North Carolina Nature Center is listed on many websites as a must do in the Asheville area and because we both love nature and animals, a visit here was a no-brainer! I would highly recommend it for a fun and affordable morning/afternoon out. ($10.95 for adults, $6.95 for kids)

The nice thing about this nature center is that it has 40 acres of habitat so the animals have plenty of space to live and roam around. It didn’t feel like your typical zoo. I didn’t take any pictures of the reptiles (in cages) because, well, I’m a scaredy-cat and didn’t want to hang around those parts for long. I honestly get the chills just thinking about it.

Red Wolf – Our first time around, this guy was tucked away taking a nap so we were unable to see him. We decided to go back and it was definitely worth it.

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Cougar – these two cougars were sleeping most of the time so this is the only angle we were able to get of them. Bummer.

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American Black Bear – these bears were entertaining! There were two in the area and the one below was clearly the larger of the two. He was pretty active which was fun to see. I would not want to see one of these on the trail.

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Take a look at the fence below. Does something look different to you? That would be a snake hanging out on the fence that encloses the bear attraction. He ultimately fell through the fence but the bears were in a different section so this guy went unnoticed by them. It would have been interesting to see what they would have done. Chills!

 

One of our favorites was the river otter. He was so entertaining and always up to something! Can I help you, sir?

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Until next time! Xoxo

Grandfather Mountain

They say French botanist Andre Michaux and John Muir broke into song during their time here. I’m sure they were celebrating the magnificent landscape but a small part of me thinks they were also celebrating the fact that they didn’t meet their demise. After all, this mountain is easy on the eyes but punishing on the body.

That being said, this was the most thrilling hike we’ve done to date. Let me set the stage. The weather? Cold (lower 40s not including windchill) with a side of sporadic ice.

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Before we hit the trail head we walked across the mile high swinging bridge- America’s highest suspension footbridge. The wind was so fierce you could hear it whistling through every crevice.

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At the start of the trail head, there’s a large sign with the bold yellow lettering “this trail is for experienced hikers.” I have to tell you, I pondered their definition of “experienced” for a few minutes. The thoughts went something like  “I think we’re experienced but that term is so subjective. We have all the right gear and a few hikes under our belt, does that mean we’re good? I’m not going to fall off a cliff right? Nah. You sure? Baptism by fire. Yeeep.” You get the point.

 

We had to fill out a required permit (free) so that if you’re not back to your car by 5pm, a search team will be sent out to track you down. Okedokey. We started at noon and with the 5 o’clock deadline in mind we had to keep a decent pace. Ha!

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After about 10 minutes it was clear that this hike was going to be rough, tough, relentless yet exhilarating all at the same time. We used cables to pull ourselves up steep, slippery slopes and ladders to scale the mountainside. Best. Playground. Ever.

There were patches of unexpected ice which kept things interesting. At times we couldn’t use the cables because those sections were totally iced over. Instead we gripped on to the trees, hunkered our derrières down and slid our way through. Hey, whatever it takes right?

 

 

Once we reached Alpine Meadows which was 1.5 miles up, we regrouped and made the decision to head the 1.5 miles back down. It was 2:30 and if we hiked any further we would not have made it back to our car by the 5pm deadline.

 

We are bruised, battered and sore but we made it and would do it again in a heartbeat! Mother Nature is a funny thing. While pushing you to the max it provides such clarity. You don’t know how far you can push yourself until you realize that giving up is not an option  on the table. The absence of options forces you to dig deep within which in turn taps into an intense appreciation for things you take for granted and an inner strength most don’t even know they possess.

There are so many great quotes by John Muir it’s hard to pick just one but this one seems to fit perfectly for this hike.

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

Until next time! Xo

 

 

Looking Glass Rock Trail

Instragram- @raddigitalnomad

For those of you that are in the Asheville area and love a challenging hike, I highly recommend the Looking Glass Rock trail.

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They say it’s 5 miles round trip but that’s a lie. Here is a picture of my health app to give you a better picture of what to expect.

Looking Glass Rock Trail
Looking Glass Rock Trail

From experience, this hike is intense and might prompt some f-bombs, tears and soul searching but if you can push through all of that, the view at the top is specfreakingtacular! Bring some snacks, rest up and enjoy the view.

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I would recommend going with some hiking polls because the terrain can be quite a challenge with large rocks, uneven terrain and unexpected slippery areas. I bought these Black Diamond hiking poles from REI on sale which was a great find. By the way, if you are going to do a lot of hiking, I would recommend getting an REI membership. The two biggest benefits are that you can buy things on sale at their REI garage and REI is a co op which means that if you’re a member, you receive a portion of the cooperative’s profits each year based on a percentage of eligible purchases! It’s amazing.

Looking Glass Rock trail

Did I mention there is a helipad towards the top? That was pretty cool.

Looking Glass Rock helipad

By the way, some websites promise that you will see a waterfall on this trail. Another lie. Not unless you forge your own path which is not recommended. The top is tilted and can be covered with thin layers of ice (which might not be visable) during cooler months so be sure not to walk down too close to the edge. Consider yourself warned.

Looking Glass Rock trail

For more pics/video, find me on Instagram @raddigitalnomad