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Tennessee and Georgia Road Trip

Tennessee and Georgia Road Trip

I’ll take about any excuse I have to travel. When my childhood friend invited me to her wedding by Atlanta, Georgia, we decided to road trip down through Tennessee and Georgia. If I had it my way, we would have spent four days in the Smokey Mountains hiking and maybe doing some white water rafting. Donovan, however, was coming too and he loves exploring new cities. So we compromised, two days hiking, two days in the city.

Click on the links to read more about each adventure!

Day 1: Waterfall Chasing in Central Tennessee

We drove from Southern Illinois to an area just East of Nashville that features several waterfalls. You could easily spend a few days here. Not only are there several state parks featuring waterfalls, there are also several featuring caves and caverns! We spent our time at Cummins Falls State Park and Fall Creek Falls State Park.

The extra perk about hiking vacation days: all you have to pay for is a place to sleep, gas, and food. The entertainment is free!

Day 2: Smokey Mountains

This was our day actually in the Smokey Mountains. Although I had planned on going to Grotto Falls and Chimney Tops, the travel time took longer than we thought and we only did Chimney Tops. This trail, however, killed us, so it was really for the best. Chimney Trails is only 4 miles round trip, but it’s 2 miles straight up and 2 miles straight down. One of the more difficult trails I’ve done and our legs were burning the next day!

The views when you’re literally on top of a mountain are SO worth it. The last part of the trail, you are actually climbing the rocky summit and no longer on a trail. If heights scare you, don’t do this trail! I don’t think it would have been worth it without that final climb.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were pretty much exactly as I imagined them, over priced and extremely touristy. Maybe if I had a week in the area, I’d come down from the mountains for a dinner show, but nature is definitely my priority. There was also an Apple Barn winery that looked delicious. Just gives us something to go back for!

Day 3: Helen, Georgia and Little Five Points, Atlanta

On our way to Atlanta, we stopped by Helen, Georgia. This city is a replica of a Bavarian alpine town. It was a little touristy and most of the other visitors were older couples, but a fun stop that wasn’t too far out of the way. We ate some German food, walked around, went into a fudge shop and a jerky shop (something for me… something for Donovan!). Donovan lived in Germany several years back, so he was a great tour guide. 🙂

We stayed in Roswell, Georgia where the wedding was going to be. It was a half hour drive to Downtown Atlanta, when you aren’t battling rush hour traffic.

Our first evening in Atlanta we explored the off-beat neighborhood Little Five Points and ate pierogies at Joystick Gamebar.

Day 4: Atlanta, Georgia

I really wanted to visit a farmers market, one of my favorite things to do in cities, but many of them were only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We did find the Atlanta State Farmers Market, which may have Farmers Market in the name, but was really more of a distribution center for farms across the state and nation! The Mexican restaurant, Don Burrito Grill, was very fresh and delicious.

We also explored Westside Provisions District, Oakland Cemetery, some local game/comic shops, ate dinner at the Fickle Pickle, Donovan played Magic the Gathering at a card shop in Atlanta. A great perk about exploring neighborhoods is you get a feel for the city, not just the touristy parts and window shopping is free!

Finally, we picked up my best friend Kathleen and her boyfriend Matt from the airport, and stuffed ourselves with cheese fries at The Varsity. It was a full day.

Day 5: Aquarium and High Museum, Atlanta

This was wedding day! But the ceremony didn’t start until 6 PM and it was Kathleen & Matt’s only day in Atlanta, so we made the most of it! The morning was spent at High Museum of Arts, lunch was served up at the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market, and the afternoon was spent under the sea at the Georgia Aquarium!

Our evening was spent watching my wonderful friends, Olivia, marry her dream guy. It was a beautiful ceremony at the Founders Hall in Roswell, Georgia.

Day 6:

All too soon, we dropped Kathleen and Matt off at the airport, and made the 6.5 hour drive home. It was a great trip, but as always too short for me! I’m already planning our next adventures.

Chimney Tops Tennessee

Chimney Tops Tennessee

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The Smokey Mountains have been on my to-see list for quite a while now. They’re just far enough away that I haven’t made it there. Our road trip through Tennessee and Georgia only included one day in the Gatlinburg area, but the Smokeys definitely left an impression!

There are so many different trails in the Smokey Mountains that choosing was difficult. When it came down to it, I decided I wanted a hike with a view, since we had seen several waterfalls the day before. Chimney Tops did not disappoint!

 

Even the drive up to the trail was beautiful. There are many areas to pull off and take in the view. We stopped at quite a few! Build in a little extra time to your day for this.

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The round trip length for Chimney Tops is only 3.8 miles, but the difference in elevation is 1487 feet! That means hiking straight up on the way there & straight down on the way back. My legs were shaking by the end!

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The first part of the trail meanders through woods, following Road Prong Creek and crossing it on several occasions via bridges. The creek is really beautiful and I loved constantly hearing the roar of the water.

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Then the “fun” begins. There are stairs cut into the trail with wooden beams and stones to help, but it’s difficult either way as you climb up, up, up.

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Once you’ve been hiking for 1.5 hours (we stopped a lot for rests and pictures), you start to see beautiful views of the other mountain tops.

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Finally, you reach the end of the trail. This is NOT a hike I would recommend for anyone with a fear of heights. Beyond the trail head 50 feet is the mountain summit. To reach the summit, you actually climb hands and feet up the rock face. The website warns that there have been injuries and you are climbing at your own risk. While it wasn’t quite narrow enough or steep enough for me to feel like I was going to fall to my death at any second, it definitely got my heart pounding. I stopped maybe 40 feet up, because the final 10 feet were a little to steep for me.

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The website says the rock climbing summit part is optional and that you still get decent views with out it. I suppose it’s true, but you can bet that since I climbed 1437 feet, I was going to try for the final 50. If you aren’t going to attempt the final bit, I would say pick another hike. The views are OK without it, but not worth that amount of vertical hiking to me.

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The trip down was quicker at about 45 minutes. Round trip we spent about 3 hours on the trail. My legs were sore for two days after this hike. With these views though, I never once had to ask myself if it was worth it.

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Calla Lily Valley is an area on top of bluffs along Highway 1 in Big Sur.

Big Sur doesn’t have the best cell phone reception and therefore following our phone’s GPS was somewhat difficult. I had printed information and maps on “Calla Lily Valley” that included the highway marker, but we still drove up and down this area of the coast not finding it. It didn’t help that we were visiting in 2016, in the height of the California drought. There were no calla lily’s to be seen. We eventually gave up and decided to get out at a place that looked pretty and had flowers.

We started out hiking a trail that was cut in the brush/flowers/grasses. It soon narrowed, but we still blindly followed it. Even though Donovan said “uh Lindsay, this isn’t a trail. This is just from water run-off.”

   

     

 I’m SO glad we did. We ended up on the edge of the cliff and could see the coast stretching out in both directions. The water crashed below us and there were greenery, succulents and flowers everywhere. The cliffside was covered in these tiny white and purple flowers, perhaps a type of wild morning glory?

      

    

  

If you’re looking for the actual Calla Lily Valley, here’s some articles by people who made it there.

Back Country Cow

Adventurer of the West

Limekiln State Park

Limekiln State Park

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Limekiln State Park is just south of Lucia, California on scenic coast Highway 1. It was the only stop on our Big Sur road trip that we paid for and it was worth it! There is a $10 per vehicle fee to enter the park. There are three trails in Limekiln and I would rate them moderate. Although not great in length, there are quite a few creek crossings where you balance on logs. Although we were visiting California during the intense drought, this state park remained cool and green. Each trail has a different feature, but all three wander among redwoods, through ferns and clovers, and along side creeks.

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One trail is approximately 0.7 miles down and back to the Limekiln Falls waterfall. Limekiln Falls is about 100 feet tall and when we visited was split into two smaller trickles. Perhaps, before the drought, it flowed together as one. We asked a couple who arrived shortly before us to take our photo and the guy really got into with multiple shots and angles. He said “I mean it’s a waterfall! How often do you get to see this?” When I said “Oh we go waterfall hunting as often as we can!,” he was confused until I explained we were not from California!

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A second trail goes to the kilns. This one is about a mile down and back. Four large old kilns are tucked back in the forest. These were used to extract the lime from the stones in the area from 1887-1890.

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The third trail is about .9 miles down and back. Hare Creek Trail wanders back into the redwoods following the creek. There’s no big attraction at the end and we decided to skip this one as we only had one day in Big Sur!

On the other side of the park, under the Highway 1 bridge, is a beach. This area had sand, large stones, and bluffs.

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Limekiln also features around 40 camping spots, some among the redwoods and some by the beach. If I make it that way again, I would love to camp here! It was so peaceful back in the redwoods. I could see kids (and adults!) exploring the creek, forest, and beach in between seeing the rest of Big Sur. This was the exact kind of spot I would have loved to play in as a kid!

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Big Sur Road Trip

Big Sur Road Trip

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We spent one full day exploring the Big Sur Coast during our recent trip to the LA area. The area known as Big Sur is several hours North of LA, especially with LA’s traffic. We got a hotel room in Morro Bay for the night on either side of our Big Sur road trip, so we could have a full day exploring the coast.

Driving straight through from Morro Bay to Monterey, which encompasses all the area known as Big Sur plus other wonderful stretches of the coast, on Highway 1 takes about 3 hours. The roads are very windy and narrow, so you have to go fairly slow. If anyone can drive without stopping, they have a lot more self control than I do. Our plan was to drive the route North and then come slowly back down the coast making all our stops. The thought process was we’d have a better idea where things are and wanted to beat the crowds to the big attractions, like McWay Falls on the Northern end. We definitely made some stops on the way North. We could not resist those rocky ocean coastlines. But for the bigger attractions, I do think it worked well.

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Before you go…

  • Big Sur has almost no cell phone recpetion. I printed off a dozen google maps before we went and did a lot of research on where our stops were. It’s also lacking signage in some areas, so those notes and maps really came in handy!
  • Everything is very expensive in Big Sur. Fill up on gas before you go.

Calla Lily Valley

We didn’t stop at the “right” path. In fact what we traveled down was not technically a path. I said “Let’s follow this trail!” Donovan said “That’s not a trail. That’s a path water runs down.” I said “Well I’m going to follow it anyways.” We ended up on a beautiful point along the coast all alone. The wind was strong, the flowers were pretty, the views were gorgeous, and I felt on top of the world. Lesson: Follow the path less traveled, even if it’s not technically a path.

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Bixby Bridge

This is a very popular stop and it was crowded. Not the best view in Big Sur, but it’s worth a quick stop. I read a tip on this blog to pull off on a dirt road to the Northeast of the bridge and it made a big difference! Almost no one else was there and it was a better view.

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The crown jewel of Big Sur for a good reason. Parking in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park costs $10 per vehicle, but there is plenty of parking along side the road. If the road is covered in cars going both ways, you’ve found McWay Falls. Make sure your car is not touching any of the white lines; they are serious about ticketing. We saw cops ticketing other cars. The path is short, slowly revealing the cove to you until you can see the Falls. It’s a beautiful pristine area, because there is no access to the beach by the falls. McWay Falls drops 80 feet from a granite cliff into the ocean.

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Hermitage

The drive up to this Camaldolese Benedictine monastery is one of a kind. The drive to the top is basically a one lane road full of switch backs and breathtaking views. We didn’t go inside the monastery, but the drive up was worth it.

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Limekiln State Park

Limekiln deserves its own post. It was beautiful and green even in the drought. I loved being back among the redwoods and the park has giant kilns, a waterfall, and beach access. This is the only stop we paid $10 to park and it was worth it. We love hiking and this was the perfect side trip to stretch our legs.

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Willow Creek

We were actually looking for Jade Cove when we ended up here. The views from the top parking lot are fantastic and you can drive down to walk along the beach.

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Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

This area features dozens if not hundreds of elephant seals. Humans can observe from the boardwalk.

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There are a handful of places to eat in Big Sur and they’re all pricey. We stumbled upon the Big Sur Deli and were very happy. The sandwiches were giant and made quickly. We took ours and found a turn off along the coast to sit and eat. Great food and an ocean view for a small fraction of what you’d pay somewhere like Nepenthe.

We spent the night at 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites in Morro Bay. The hotel was clean, the complimentary br eakfast had good variety, plus our room had views of the harbor. We even got a veterans discount booking on their website! I would stay here again.

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If we had multiple days in the area, I would also want to check out: Highbridge Falls, Jade Cove, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (beyond McWay Falls), Pfeiffer Falls Trail, Point Lobos State Park, Salmon Creek Falls, and Sand Dollar Beach to name a few.

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