As the weekend approached my husband and I hurriedly came up with some ideas of where locally to adventure. I desperately wanted to see some leaf color and made the suggestion of Gatlinburg and the general Smokey Mountains region. We searched on our handy dandy little app called, “RV Parks,” looking for state parks and National Forest Parks. (When we camp with our RV we tend to appreciate these more so than the RV resorts. We prefer to be in nature than to go to places that have meeting rooms, game rooms, or pools.) As we searched we realized that these parks were already booked up, most likely with like-minded adventurers seeking out fall foliage.
My husband recommended a spot we might want to try called Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This place is known for having one of the last stands of virgin forest and large trees on the east coast, some are 20 feet in diameter. I asked, “will there be color or will it be like last weekend when we were in the forest and we were surrounded by trees in South Carolina but there wasn’t any color?” He said, “It’s near the mountains so we should anticipate color along the way there and way home.” Hearing that there would be color I immediately said, “Let’s do it!”
The drive took us nearly 4 hours to get there and we stayed overnight in a park along side the forest called the Cheoah Point Recreation area. This was not the planned campground but at ten o’clock at night a pull over behind any building was sounding good so we opted for this campground if a spot was open. We luckily found an empty spot and pulled in and turned in for the night as quick as possible after walking our little papillon, Shy. As we drove up our last visible sightings were that of the sun setting. I looked forward to the morning to see whether or not we would be surrounded with colorful fall foliage or not.
We woke early to my internal alarm telling me I had enough sleep; it was barely after six. We opened up our shades and prepared for the day ahead. We took our little fur ball out for a walk noticing the fall colors on the trees surrounding us. We dressed for the day and decided to drive to our anticipated camp ground and have breakfast there. Our phone’s GPS no longer had range and I hadn’t moved our other GPS into the new RV so we drove in what we hoped was the right direction, fingers crossed. We turned onto a road that was called Joyce Kilmer. I thought surely this will take us to the other camp ground-finger crossed. We stopped on the bridge and took a picture of the river surrounded by beautiful fall foliage. The color was spectacular.
We drove on and saw more color surrounding the Lake Santeelah and stopped to photograph it. We continued on taking in the scenery and soon we arrived to our camp ground, Horse Cove, we drove around hoping for a nice spot. We found one along the river and set up the Traveling Peach RV. We were boon docking so we just leveled her out and we were set up. My husband, the master chef, put together some lovely blueberry pancakes and after inhaling (remember I am a teacher and don’t know the meaning of eat slowly) we were ready to explore Joyce Kilmer.
We threw on our packs and put our fierce hiking companion, Shy, on her leash and headed up the road toward the entrance to Joyce Kilmer Memorail Forest. Once we got there to our immediate right began a trail climbing steeply up. We opted to wait on this trail and continued to the main trail further back. We decided to take the trail to the memorial. We crossed a bridge over a small river and headed up the trail which was a loop trail.The trail was full of trees, mostly tulip poplars and other trees as well as ferns and rhododendron. Once we were at the Memorial another loop trail began from there, we decided to take this trail as to ensure we wouldn’t miss anything.
This trail was one not to miss, the trees were much larger than those on the lower loop. We stopped to take a picture in front on one particular tree. I had my husband stand in front of it, to help gauge the enormous size of the tree. Unknown to me I had directed him to stand right at the entrance of an angry yellow jacket nest. I told him lets hurry to get away from the buzzing yellow jackets but just as I said it, a little booger stung my husband. I felt bad because I was pretty much twisting his arm and forcing him to stand in front of the tree, I am sure he thought it was planned. “Here honey stand right here, don’t move…..that’s perfect.” We moved away from the tree and I took out my first aid kit and gave him some after bite gel. I really believe if his feet weren’t so smelly he wouldn’t have gotten stung. Harsh, right? Well the guy working at Wasali-Yi (crossroads on the Appalachian Trail) gave him the trail name, Stank Foot, when we had to come in there to buy bite ointment once after Nathan got bitten twice on the same ankle. The nickname stuck. He is now and forever, Stank Foot!
We continued down the trail gazing at the magnificent trees and taking more pictures. There wasn’t a lot of changing colors in the actual forest as there was in the surrounding area, but it was still incredible to see these huge trees. We finished the top loop and came back down to the lower loop and continued in it. As we finished the trail we saw another trail to the left heading to Jenkins Meadow Trail. We decided to go.
Okay the other two trails were not intense and were very easy going trails but this trail was a beast hiking up. It was relentless in the fact that it just continued to climb. We were on this trail heading up for a couple of hours. I checked my phone and luckily we had wifi. The description was that it was a continuous, steep incline (no kidding!) that used to go to a meadow that was now overgrown. I wondered, did we pass a meadow that once was, and where are we now? I looked at the GPS and it showed that we were almost to the Tennessee border. We decided to head back. Going down is always so much easier than up. We got back down in an hour. We decided to call it a day and by adding up the trails we had gone at least 8 miles.
We made it back to the RV and our feet were barking, our lil papillon was a champ she had done so well. She did however need some assistance jumping over trees she normally wouldn’t have. We all got back and downed a lot of water and opened another cool refreshing beverage. We sat outside listening to the river babbling by. The cool air was refreshing and the sounds around us were soothing. Just when we thought we all were tired and worn out, Shy started barking at us to play “ball” using an acorn. So after 8 miles this 5 lb dog was still wanting to play and run around. She turns ten this month and is still so energetic. What a great hiking dog!
We warmed up some gourmet camping food, ate dinner, and then crashed early. We were well worn out. It was a great experience and I recommend it.