I am blessed to have two sisters and seven nieces and nephews but sad to say we are spread out throughout the country. Michelle and her family lives in New Orleans and Kristin and her family lives in Fort Lauderdale and as a result, we don’t get to all be together very often. Over the summer we decided to plan a trip where we could all stay together near Smoky Mountains National Park. We rented a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, big enough for all of us and had a great time exploring the beautiful park. One of my favorite memories of the trip was a day hike I took with my nephews and one of my nieces along the Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in both Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Trail. We started our hike with almost our entire group and parked in the lot to take the short walk (about a half mile) along a paved trail up to the observation tower where we were met with beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains. The cylindrical pathway up the dome is a fun walk and the kids loved running up to the top. Moderately crowded, there were lots of other families out enjoying the beautiful summer day.
Once we came back down from the observation tower, seven of the kids and I set off for a hike down the Appalachian Trail for a Clingmans Dome Day Hike while the other adults and Maya (who had gotten stung by a bee and wasn’t in the mood to hike) planned to head back to the cabin. I am embarrassed to admit that in my excitement to hike I forgot that I had the car keys so while we hiked off, half of our group was stuck to sit in the parking lot and wait for us to get back. I did not win any fans for this mistake. Since my first experience on the Appalachian Trail on an overnight backpack trip during a high school summer camp, I have held a great love for the A.T. and was very excited to finally get to hike it with my own family. It was starting to get hot and muggy and beginning to drizzle when we set off down the trail but none of us were bothered and we excitedly hiked along. Our plan was to hike to the Double Spring Gap Shelter which was about 2.6 miles away.
It was a great day to hike and we all had a wonderful time on the trail. We stopped and chatted with a volunteer trail maintenance crew who were out trimming overgrowth and doing a great job keeping the trail in tiptop shape. It was wonderful to spend the day outside in the beautiful Smoky Mountains with not only my kids, but their cousins as well. We saw some gorgeous views, beautiful wildflowers and even a pile of bear poop. The kids are always excited by bear poop!
Before too long we made it to the Double Spring Gap Shelter where we ate a picnic lunch and hung around for a while. The kids loved exploring the shelter and reading the trail journal and they each spent time looking through all the entries written by Appalachian Trail hikers. Some of them are hilarious! We also tried the bear cable system which the kids were all amazed by and each took a turn hoisting our picnic backpack up into the air. Even the privy was interesting to some of our crew…
After a nice break, we headed back up towards Clingmans Dome. All in all we hiked about 6.5 miles that day which was a nice way to spend a beautiful summer afternoon. It’s hard to beat spending time with people you love in the gorgeous Smoky Mountains! I hope I get to hike many more miles with each of these amazing kids.