For a few weeks, I had been looking forward to this trip, which was a first for me. I made plans to rent a T@B travel trailer and tow vehicle from Road Adventures in Columbus, Ohio.  www.roadadventures.com. They are partnered with AAA travel, and I had a 6 day course mapped out for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park crossing over to Ashville and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The day finally came and I was rolling down the highway with coffee in my travel mug and the sunrise greeting me. On road trips, I often keep the radio off and enjoy being in the moment, just me and the road with the scenery passing by and all my cares and the city fading quickly behind me. As a child going on summer vacations, I vividly remember being in the station wagon with mountains and trees whizzing by, picnic lunches along the way and the sense of familiar day to day life being left behind and something new and unseen waiting. Those memories and feelings have never left and the road has always called me back.

I had never been to the Smoky Mountains, and had always been taken with the T@B campers, so this truly was a grand adventure! They allow pets, and I found myself thinking if Maggie were still here she would be such a happy road trip dog! There are always interesting sights or photo ops along the way and I’m always stopping to take them in. In Corbin Kentucky, I stopped to grab a bite at Harland Sanders Café and Museum where Colonel Sanders began his business. www.roadsideamerica.com/story/11449 Oh, memories of summer picnics with the Colonel! By days end I had pulled into Camp Leconte Luxury Outdoor Resort at Gatlinburg Tennessee. www.campleconte.com/  It was a great location near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I discovered they had a heated salt water pool and that was just what I needed after a long day driving! I took note of the trolley that conveniently stopped right at the campground for a trip into Gatlinburg.

I had two days to spend here, so I was up at the crack of dawn. I made coffee and breakfast in the kitchen space of my T@B camper. Coffee always seems better away from home! Then, I grabbed my camera bag and day pack, and headed to Cades Cove for a day of photographing, being in the beauty of nature and hiking. I’m glad I got to Cades early as I had heard that the best times for wildlife viewing are in the early morning and later in the evening. I was not disappointed. There were several black bears, a variety of birds and quite a few wild turkeys. It was a wonderful day spent in the wide open surrounded by the beauty of nature and amazing views and scenery. There were lots of photo ops and I took in a hike to Abrams Falls on the Cades Cove loop. There was so much beauty to be seen and history, it was a good day!  www.cadescove.net/ That evening I treated myself to a dinner out and took in Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede and Dinner Show in Pigeon Forge. www.dixiestampede.com/. I was pleased to see they had Gluten free and Vegetarian options. The food was delicious and it was a fun show in a family friendly atmosphere. I was out like a light once I got back to my camper.

On Day three I decided to head out for some day hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/  On my list were Charlies Bunion and Baskin Creek Falls. There is so much beauty in this magnificent national park! Charlie’s Bunion is a 4 mile hike one way and I was glad I brought water and sack lunch. The hike and views were unbelievable and I can only imagine what it would look like in the fall. Baskin Creek Falls was a great trail but a workout and not for everyone! It is a moderate difficulty trail but a great hike.

Once back at the camper, I made dinner and changed to head out to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. www.titanicpigeonforge.com/  It was so authentic and interesting, a wonderful glimpse into history. I’ve always been fascinated with the Titanic.

On day four, I packed up early, and headed out toward Ashville. Along the way I stopped at Oconaluftee Indian Village at Cherokee North Carolina, which is a Cherokee “living museum” operated by the Cherokee Historical Association. It was an informative and educational tour on the Cherokee culture and ceremonies. www.cherokeesmokies.com/oconaluftee_village.html  I continued on the beautiful drive to Asheville and the Biltmore Estate. I had been to Biltmore one Christmas but was looking forward to seeing the estate in full bloom and able to wander the grounds. I was glad my little T@b camper could fit easily into a spot in the parking lot. The architecture and history of Biltmore captivate me. The audio devices available are the way to go as they let you tour at your own pace. I spent most of the day wandering the gardens and grounds photographing and appreciating the lovely views. www.biltmore.com/. Since it was late when I left Biltmore, I stopped at Curate in Asheville for dinner before heading to my campground. The fare was delicious and beautiful in its presentation. I know why it receives raves! http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60742-d2032063-Reviews-Curate-Asheville_North_Carolina.html.   I continued on to my “home” for the next 3 nights, Mama Gertie’s Hideaway and Campground in Swannanoa, NC. www.mamagerties.com/. The setting was quiet and beautiful and an adventure in itself getting up the hill! A friend had stayed here before and had nothing but good reviews.

The morning of Day 5, I enjoyed a leisurely coffee and breakfast at my camper and met some of the “neighbors”. They were curious about my T@B so I let them have a look inside. They loved the set up, and invited me to a dinner cookout at their place next door. The T@B is a great conversation starter. My plan for the day was to explore the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I packed a lunch and set out to explore. I spent a lot of time at Craggy Gardens just being in the moment and soaking in the incredible scenery. I had lunch on top of the world, it certainly seemed that way! I wanted to have some down time before dinner, so I headed back to the camper and just enjoyed a bit of leisurely time reading outside in my camp chair and going through my photographs. www.blueridgeparkway.org/. My little camper was really feeling like home! Dinner that evening around the campfire was so nice; good food, good conversation and a million stars twinkling overhead.

My last day had arrived. I enjoyed my breakfast outside the camper in the serenity of the early morning. A friend had told me about a beautiful park he had been to, Mt Mitchell State Park with the highest point east of the Mississippi, so that was my agenda. The drive there was stunning and scary at the same time with hairpin curves and mountains that spread as far as the eye could see. Of course I only took my eyes off the road for a split second! The drive was unforgettable. I stopped at turnouts along the way to photograph and just take in the vistas. Mt Mitchell was all my friend had described and I spent the day hiking and enjoying nature. www.romanticasheville.com/mtmitchell.htm.  I worked up an appetite, so I grabbed a bite at the restaurant at the park.

Meals always seem extraordinarily tasty after hiking! Then it was time to head back to my camper. The week went so quickly, but it was an adventure to remember. That evening I had s’mores around the campfire with the “neighbors”. Nirvana.

And now the adventure was wrapping up. I had my coffee and was packing up to head home. It was a week of making great memories, meeting new friends and recharging. On the drive home I thought about all the magic moments and beautiful scenery. I was already entertaining thoughts of my next Road Adventure! www.roadadventures.com.


©Olivia Joy StClaire 2016

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