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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.

Chasing Waterfalls in Central Tennessee

Chasing Waterfalls in Central Tennessee

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The area East of Nashville has quite a few waterfalls to offer the adventurer passing through. Before our trip I looked into, Cummins Falls State Park, Burgess Falls State Park, Virgin Falls State Natural Area, and Fall Creek Falls State Park. All four feature beautiful waterfalls and landscapes. Unfortunately, Burgess Falls had several of their main trails closed due to heavy rainfall damaging their stairs. Virgin Falls was stunning, but a 10 mile hike that lots of people choose to do overnight. Sleeping in a tent next to a waterfall… sign me up! But we only had one day in our road trip scheduled for this area, so Virgin Falls was cut from the list as well. That left us with Cummins Falls and Fall Creek Falls to explore on our day in Central Tennessee.

Cummins Falls is a 211 acre park with it’s main feature being a 75 feet high waterfall. There are several paths to hike and views of the falls. We decided to do the route directly to the bottom of the falls and back and it did not disappoint!

According to the website, it was about a 3 mile round trip hike. On the map we followed Overlook Trail, Shortcut Trail, Downstream Trail, and followed the gorge bottom to the falls. We spent about 2.5 hours visiting Cummins Falls. 1 hour hiking to the falls, due to how many times we stopped to take pictures and enjoy the area. 1 hour exploring at the falls and half an hour to hike back with fewer stops.

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The trail to the waterfall is a bit rugged. They don’t recommend flip flops, although I saw some others making the trip in them. I wouldn’t recommend it. We, however, often chose the most difficult path, rock hopping and crossing the river on stones to get pictures and explore. The trail back was easier as we stayed on the river bank more. There is one part where you have to cross the river via rock hopping and we had some difficulty with it.

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The views along the river and completely worth doing this trail. Plus, seeing the waterfall from the bottom is stunning!

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Cummins Falls is the 8th largest Tennessee waterfall in volume. The water pooled at the bottom of the falls goes up to about the chest of an average adult female. If you do want to stay a while and swim, bring a suit! The state park has a line of safety jackets for younger swimmers.

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Cummins Falls is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure to explore. I would definitely recommend this hike if you’re in the area!

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We arrived at Fall Creek Falls at about 5 PM. Knowing we didn’t have a lot of sunlight left, we chose to visit the waterfall overlooks instead of hiking to the bottom of the falls.

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According to the website, Fall Creek Falls is Tennessee’s largest and most visited State Park at 26,000 acres. There are four falls in the park: Fall Creek Falls is the tallest at 256 ft, Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades. See the map here.

Then we drove along the Gorge Scenic Drive stopping at some view points to see the beautiful tree covered mountains.

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Finally, we did two quite short trails by Piney Creek Falls. One was the overlook path. The falls were a little hidden behind the trees, so this would definitely be one to hike to the bottom of if you have time.

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The second short trail we did led to a suspension bridge, but didn’t feature any views of the falls.

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We saw lots of people with bikes for their bike trail, canoes, and fishing gear. There’s also an adventure area with a zip line and other aerial obstacles, tennis courts, a golf course, and stables. I can see why this area is so popular. It offers a lot to do, very beautiful views, but isn’t too rustic. For those who want a more rustic visit, there is a long overnight trail as well.

We ate dinner and spent the night at the lodge on the State Park. Overall, it was clean and edible, but didn’t impress us in any way. If you’re going to spend some time here, I would camp if you have the gear.

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Both these areas I’m sure are packed during the summer and weekends. We visited on a Tuesday afternoon/evening in mid September and the crowds were very light.