Sunday, February 28, 2016

TENNESSEE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park II

Alum Cave - other hikers for scale
Continuing our tour of the Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee is home to many of the more popular attractions and hikes. As we mentioned previously (click here to read Part I),  HikingInTheSmokys was a great resource for us when it came to planning our hikes.

This trail in particular is one of the more popular treks in the Smoky Mountains. It is a great versatile trail that isn't particularly hard and doesn't take more than a few hours to complete even though it is about 6 miles round-trip. We started this hike early cause we knew the parking would be tough, and we suggest you do the same. This hike wasn't open all week due to the volume of crowds and some maintenance along the trail.
We both really enjoyed this hike. While many hikes will lead you to one final viewpoint destination, this trail was full of sights and challenges that were very engaging. Great views and interesting bridges, running water and the final view from the actual Alum Cave, which isn't really a cave more like an overlook that was dug during the civil war for salt deposits. Definitely a hike you don't wanna miss.
along the Alum Cave Trail

View from Inspiration point along the Alum Cave trail
Chimney Tops is another very popular hike in the area. Unfortunately, because we did some major hiking before this we only did about half this trail and turned back. From what we saw, there were lots of streams, bridges and soaring trees. The view from the top of this trail is supposedly amazing. While we can't speak from personal experience about the full hike, what we did see was gorgeous. There is a gradual incline which was a bit too rough on our legs for that day, but we'd like to complete this hike if ever we make it back to the Smoky's.

Laurel Falls is a bit out of the way compared to the other hikes, and very saturated with tourists. The hike to Laurel Falls is an easy mile or so of incline, and to be fair - we feel that the Deep Creek area has a lot more to offer in terms of scenery and solitude. While Laurel Falls is beautiful, there were so many people around it was very difficult to get a good shot of the scenery without including several tourists.

Morton's Overlook is more of a viewpoint while you are driving the main road through the Smokey mountains from NC to TN. We stopped here twice. It is a vast open valley with views as far as the eye can see. We also attempted to see a sunset here but the cloud coverage in the area at that time in the evening was overtaking the sun. It's a beautiful little turn off, and worth stopping for the view.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. You can read our entries about hiking in the park here.

You can read our other entries about Tennessee here

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

NORTH CAROLINA: Asheville | The Riverside Cemetery

We really enjoy the tranquility of a cemetery, and so we made sure to spend some time in the morning at Asheville's historic Riverside Cemetery. This park features more than 87 acres of ground, and while tours are provided, we preferred to wander about on our own. Perhaps it's morbid, but we often make a point to visit local graveyards when travelling - they can often provide a glimpse into the history of the place. 

You can read our other entries about North Carolina here.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

NORTH CAROLINA: Great Smoky Mountains National Park I

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located on the west side of North Carolina and crosses over onto the east side of Tennessee. This park is free to enter, and it can easily be driven through in about 45 minutes or so. It is also located right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is regarded as one of the prettiest drives in North America. We did drive on it for a little while but we didn't have too much time to see all of its beauty. The ideal time for this location seems to be around fall, where the leaves turn and the scenery is incredibly colorful. We visited in late spring, which is somewhat off-season for the park - but it is honestly beautiful year round. HikingInTheSmokys was a great resource for us when it came to planning our hikes.

We opted to stay on the North Carolina side, finding a cozy, secluded cabin in Cherokee, NC. The cabin was a great retreat after a day full of hiking, and we even had some local wildlife visitors. If you prefer isolation, we would recommend Cherokee. However, if you would prefer to be closer to a city, Gatlinburg may be a better destination for your stay in the Smokys.

View from Andrew's Bald
Located near Clingman's Dome, Andrews Bald is a fairly short 3.5 mile round trip hike. This was our first adventure in the Great Smokys. It was a great warm up for the next few days in the area. The trail ends at "Andrews Bald", which is great panoramic view of the area.

Path along Forney Ridge Trail to Andrew's Bald
Clingman's Dome Observation

Clingman's Dome is probably the number one attraction in the park. It is basically an observation deck where you get a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. It is the highest point in the entire Smoky Mountains. The views were full of lush greenery and rolling mountains. Not quite as dramatic as the Cascade Mountain Range on the West Coast but still a very pretty view. The Observation is located directly on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.

View of the mountains from the Clingman's Dome Observation Trail

Indian Creek Falls
The Deep Creek is located on the East side, not far from Cherokee, NC.  The concentration of tourists seems to be around the Gatlinburg area, and so while hiking in this area, we rarely came across others. This area is full of waterfalls, and mild trails that can be walked by a family very easily. It was a nice change of pace from climbing the harder hikes in the area. We took a simple round trip, following the Deep Creek/Indian Falls Loop, which brought us to see Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls. Finally, we made the additional small trek to see the Juney Whank Falls. The area was full of butterflies and wildflowers (we even came across a black water snake). It was a beautiful, peaceful, hike.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. You can read our entries about hiking in the park here.

You can read our other entries about North Carolina here.

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Monday, February 15, 2016


One of our travel goals in the United States is to visit every National Park. The Smokey Mountains is one of the few national parks that is free year round, so we planned a road trip to visit in the spring. To start our adventure we decided to visit some friends in the Raleigh area. While in Raleigh they took us out to a few restaurants and local attractions. We were having such a great time that we completely forgot to take any photos, and so the sources are linked below.

Our first night out we went to downtown Raleigh and got some grub at CalaVera, which is known for their Mexican fusion empanadas and tequila drinks. We had a small dinner - Kaili choosing the vegetarian empanadas along with a spicy pineapple tequila,  and Josh having BBQ pork & chicken mole. The food was excellent, and affordable, at a great location. From there we went out for a few drinks at two different venues.

Apparently speakeasies are the hip place to be seen and drink at when in major cities. For those who are not aware, the origin of the speakeasy goes back to prohibition era America, where alcohol was banned and the only way to get it was to go to private/secret locations that served it - the only way to gain entry was with a password. Kinda ironic for this day and age but its a fun way for current bars to get their name out and to have select clientele.
Due to the liqour laws within North Carolina, many bars require that patrons be a card-carrying member of the bar. This was no exception, which adds to the speakeasy ambiance. This bar is an upscale, novelty, kind of dig where you will find classically dressed "mixologists" creating some intricate designer drinks.  This is a great place for a liquor connoisseur or a fancy date.

Black Flower/Flashpoint was our final destination for the night. In direct contrast to our previous destination, this is much more of a dive where they served beer and mixed drinks. The casual atmosphere here is ideal for a night out with friends, where you can sit and play games and listen to music or dance.

For breakfast we were taken to a venue that is known for their morning grub. After a long wait (this place is apparently pretty popular) we were treated with an indulgent breakfast with some really great biscuits. Honestly, we don't remember much about our respective orders, but the biscuits were great.

Kaili is really into oddity stores and we try to get to any we can find when traveling. They are few and far between so we really had to check this one out. This one was not in the downtown area but on an off street in the suburbs. You really would have to know this was here or else it can be easily missed. This is definitely a great stop for anyone interested in oddities! They had a really great selection with some very reasonable prices.

Another local stop in Raleigh located close to NCSU was a used book store. We really enjoy used book stores and try to find any hidden treasures or books on our GoodReads lists. Never able to resist browsing, we stopped by here and managed to find a few books we had been searching for. Prices are great, and while any used book store is in some state of chaos - it was fairly easy to find our way around this one.

Tylers is the kind of restaurant you go to if you wanna watch a sporting event or have some beers and eat BBQ. This is a great stop for a good meal and a drink.

Overall, we had a great time in Raleigh and tried to see as much as we could within our limited time! If you have a favorite spot, comment below.

You can read our other entries about North Carolina here.

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

NORTH CAROLINA: Asheville Food & Drink

Asheville is a great stop for craft beer lovers - this small city has more breweries per capita than any other US city. Josh being a bit of a beer snob, we made sure to go on a small self guided brewery tour of the city throughout our brief stay. Asheville is surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery and is a perfect stop before heading into the Smoky Mountains - our next destination. 

Mayfel's was our first stop in Asheville. A cute little restaurant in the heart of downtown, we enjoyed some great brunch and good service from a super friendly staff. Their biscuits and jam were to die for and gave us some great carb energy to get out on the town. Our waiter gave us some good recommendations for local shops and breweries to check out.  After our meal, we spent most of our afternoon walking through the city exploring small shops, the occasional thrift store and used book stores. The town itself is great for walking and it wasn't too crowded when we were there.

Once an industrial area, this location is now full of art galleries and breweries. We made a stop at Wedge Brewery, a peaceful rustic spot right along the river. The outdoors seating is surrounded by string lights and industrial artwork. Lots to see and it seems like a great community of beer lovers and arts.  Overall, this was a very peaceful spot to stop for a drink. We both had to try the unique beers and ciders they offered. Josh went with a cherry cider which was delightful. Not the best beer we've had but it was an enjoyable venture.

While we arrived here early, and it was quite empty, I could see how this would be a fun venue. The bar is decorated with oddities and seems like it would be a great place to see some live music. Going to a bar in the middle of the week early is always going to be a drag no matter if the venue is amazing or not. The beer selection here was pretty typical so if you are looking for some local brews this is not the place for you.

This was probably our favorite stop of the breweries we visited. While it is a bit of a drive, the location is gorgeous. Located in Black Mountain which is about a 15-30 minute drive outside Asheville,  the beer here was our favorite. This brewery is huge and they have a large outdoor seating/festival lawn area where they supposedly host large music festivals and acts. This would be a lot of fun to partake in but there wasn't much going on while we were there. Highly recommend this place for the view and if there is a special event going on. Great chocolate stouts aplenty!

We decided to check out this popular pizza joint/brewery for dinner. It was like an adult oddity store/chuckee cheese. They have crazy pop art around the restaurant like Nic Cage on the womans restroom door and weird names for their food as well as a video game arcade and other fun stuff. Supposedly they have a movie theater too. The pizza was decent. Nothing to call home about but not bad at all.

You can read our other entries about North Carolina here.

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