Today’s blog begins with a money saving travel tip I teased at the end of the last blog. Other than the first night, we don’t often arrange where we will stay on subsequent days of our hiking vacations. We never know how long we’ll want to stay in an area; we may learn of a new hike and want to stay longer. Weather may change our plans.
While spending the night at a Comfort Inn in Sylva, NC near Asheville, I search the Expedia.com site for a room for the next night near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Hardly believing a $64 price for a room at the Chestnut Tree Inn in Cherokee, NC with a queen bed, flat screen TV, and a hot breakfast, I am intrigued. I especially want to understand what they mean by a “hot breakfast.” You see, to save time on our hiking mornings and to get plenty of fuel (food), we look for motels that serve a full hot breakfast, not just a “continental” breakfast with mini-muffins from BJs and mini-boxes of cold cereal.
Loving the price, I call the Chestnut Tree Inn directly to find out the reality behind the come on of a “hot breakfast.” With home fries, oatmeal, an egg dish, and pancakes, the breakfast rocks and will indeed set us up for our hiking Wednesday. But here’s the interesting part, when I ask about a room for the night, she offers us one for $105. To which I say I saw one for $64 on the Internet. The desk clerk at the Chestnut Tree Inn responds, We can’t touch that price and you might as well go for it. And we do. The Internet has its bargains.
The next morning leaving Cherokee on US 74 Hannah and I drive to Bryson City ten miles away for some waterfall hiking. Surrounded on all sides by mountains, Bryson City with 1400 residents is another gateway city to the GSMNP.
At 10A during the first week of October, the Carolina foliage hints that it is ready to burst out in oranges, reds, and yellows. Not surprisingly this morning, we find a parking lot bustling with seniors and couples pushing strollers ready to commune with nature. Taking the level, gravelly Deep Creek Trail, we have a riverside path ready to be enjoyed by walkers and hikers of all descriptions. Being deep in Appalachia, the trails are not so mobbed as they have been at the base of Multnomah Falls in Oregon or yesterday at Clingman’s Dome here in the GSMNP.
Before we head into the interior along the Deep Creek we take a 0.6 mile loop to Juney Whank Falls. It’s a steady climb on a well-maintained fire road until we jag right, down to the very modest falls themselves. The falls are fine, just not under “spectacular” in the dictionary.
A narrow five feet deep trench is our steep egress back to the trail. Tree-covered, the trail offers none of the Vitamin D Hannah is looking for.
Once back on the wide Deep Creek Trail we walk within a few feet of the river heading to the Tom Branch Falls. In shorts and tee-shirts on a day going to 80F, we have our October paradise in North Carolina.
Soon there is a junction for a nearly three mile loop trail. Before we do that, we take a brief side right turn for 200 feet to our third and final falls, the Indian Creek Falls. The 20 second video captures the falling water of Indian Creek.
The loop trail continues along the Deep Creek for another 0.7 of a mile. At this point we have three options. First to our left is a trail with a sign saying “not for horses” that appears to climb steeply into the forest. Across the river is a second choice that heads further into the interior along the Deep Creek to Wind Gap. And third, we can cross the Deep Creek and return to the trailhead through the mountains to complete the three mile loop.
Since all we have been doing is walking a wide fire road with no elevation gain, I think the “not for horses” trail would be an invigorating, challenging choice. Doubtful, Hannah reluctantly follows me up the very steep trail, unfriendly to her surgically repaired left knee and covered with wet dead leaves; a trail that it appears no one has hiked this century. After two hundred yards, Hannah looks at me with a “Really!” look. Bright enough to read these visual cues, I agree to turn around to see what is behind door number two.
Still looking for an extra mile or two of hiking we take the trail inland along the Deep Creek. It gives us our first bit of mountain hiking into the forest now that the fog has burned off. We stone hop over small rivulets heading into Deep Creek. Hannah’s new hiking boots continue to give her trouble; so after bandaging her ankles once again, we head back to the trailhead for choice #3, the Deep Creek Loop Trail.
The loop trail has us steadily climbing for a half mile far above Deep Creek. It’s a workout as we hike so far from the river that we can no longer hear the gurgling waters of this mountain stream.
Uncomfortable wearing a backpack, I prefer to hike with a fanny pack our daughter Molly gave me for hiking in Utah nearly ten years ago. Holding two water bottles with three front pouches for energy bars, fruit, sandwiches, Band-Aids, gauze pads, and car keys, it’s a fantastic hiking choice.
Far from Deep Creek the trail descends for nearly a mile through the rhododendrons and pines of southwestern North Carolina. Few are on this trail as we successfully reach our goal of three hours of hiking in the North Carolina woods, so far from home. On a hiking vacation full of daily surprises and wondering what’s around the next corner, we have the trails of the Tarheel State as a compliment to our indeed most fortunate life in Maine.