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Vacation Time, September 19-29, 2002--Great Smoky Mountain National Park

We managed to get out of Grand Rapids Thursday evening after Kathy got home from work. She had to work Wednesday and Thursday, so our actual vacation was a little shorter than we had originally hoped. The extra couple of days did give me some time to get a little work done at home, though. We made it to Bowling Green the first night, watching incredible displays of lightening the whole way. The next day we stopped on our way to Tennessee to see Cumberland Falls. It was well worth the short side trip and provided a nice chance to stretch our legs and do a little sightseeing. There are several trails there that warrant another visit in the future. We stayed in Maryville that night, lucky to get a room due to the home football game in Knoxville the next day. Kathy had her whole trip made for her when the waiter carded her—she wanted him to have a big tip!

Saturday we traveled around the southern end of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP). It is a beautiful drive, even in the rain. We stopped to visit a waterfall (which we later learned was further up the trail than where we went) on our way to Fontana Village, a resort community where we were to spend several nights. Seeing as how the rain seemed to have settled in, we drove on to see what Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) was all about. Once we had left about a hundred hunters back in Tennessee, we had pretty much had the place to ourselves, including Fontana Village, but when we got to NOC, the place was packed. Kids were everywhere. The weekends turn out to be very hectic there with busloads of youngsters arriving to raft, kayak and learn outdoor skills at the center. We picked up information on white water rafting trips in case we had free time later in the week (never turned out to be the case), then headed back to explore Fontana Dam, the largest dam east of the Mississippi.

Sunday we headed out on a seven-mile hiking loop in the GSMNP. The trail was to cross water several times, so we didn’t worry much about the persistent rain—we were going to get wet anyway. I found out that sandals were definitely the way to go in wet conditions. It made mud puddles and creek crossing a non-event. I did find that wearing a thin liner sock with them kept the grit under the straps from irritating my feet. We had a blast, and the rain let up about half way through.

Fontana Lake

On Monday the skies were clear, so we headed to Fontana Lake with our kayaks to do some exploring. With the exception of the occasional fisherman, we had the place to ourselves. The water was clear and fairly warm—I swam at every break. We spent two days paddling some 13 miles. The lake is quite large with many branches that extend up into the GSMNP. With the north shore mostly National Park and the south shore National Forest, there is very little development and no traffic. The only unusual thing was that the water level had been drawn several feet in anticipation of fall and winter rains—it left limited spots for rest stops, and some islands had become peninsulas. We camped at the foot of Fontana Dam in between our paddling days.

By Wednesday, hurricane Isadore had sent his remnants our way, and the skies turned cloudy again. Craig, you’ll be happy to know there appears to be plenty of water in the Smokys. We took a meandering route to take advantage of a couple sights on our way to Bryson City, where we found a room for the night. There were several hikes in that area of the park and we took advantage of them. The longest hike of our trip was 13.3 miles on Thursday. We saw some great potential backpacking sites—although Kathy was on constant bear alert, especially after we ate lunch near a very well clawed tree. Thursday night we found a great place to eat—the Fryemont Inn in Bryson City. Apparently it’s quite the award-winning place, and the meal reflected it.

Friday we made our way back across to the Tennessee side of the GSMNP via Newfound Gap road. With the low-hanging clouds, the vistas weren’t very impressive, but the clouds in the mountains are what give the Smoky’s their name. We caught up with Mom, Dad and Granny at a Bluegrass festival in Townsend. They were right where we expected them—front row. We had a good visit and dinner with them. Saturday we toured Cade’s Cove and hiked the five-mile trip to see Abram’s Falls before heading out of town. A family of otters entertained us at the falls for quite awhile. We got home Sunday having had a great vacation.

Total hiking mileage: 35

Total kayak mileage: 13

Go to Kayaking Fontana Lake

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