My first visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park was five years ago, when I stopped by with a friend during my summer-long road trip.
We opted to hike the Two Chimneys Trail, which leads to one of the highest points in the park. The trek covered two miles, but it was quite vertical. Much of the trail was straight up, resulting in an elevation gain of 1,750 feet.
Alas, there was little chance of that happening. This was a very popular trail, and on this day we saw at least 100 other people on it. Black bears are abundant in the Smokies, but they’re not likely to be found on a path with that kind of foot traffic. Very little wildlife was around, in fact.
The final 100 feet of the trail were closed for maintenance, so the only way to get to the summit was to scramble up some rocks. It didn’t seem totally safe, but looking up, I saw a dozen or two other hikers already up there, so I figured I could make it too.
We made it to the top and enjoyed the views. It was early in the summer, so the full blast of green hadn’t blossomed yet; there was still a lot of brown. But the sights were impressive anyway.
I didn’t get to fully enjoy my time at the top, because all I kept thinking was, How in the world are we going to get back down? There were some other folks up there as well, and they decided that the best strategy was to take the trail that was “closed” for maintenance, rather than trying to shimmy down the steep rocks we had just climbed up. So I followed them down the trail, which was much easier to navigate than the rocks.
After the walk back down, it was time to play on the rocks and in the streams. Good times in the Smokies!