There are not many things that put me in the camping mood more than the cool, crisp mornings this time of year. My first time camping at Smokemont Campground was a wonderful experience.
Smokemont Campground is on the North Carolina side of the Smokies. It is approximately 3.2 miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Highway 441 near Cherokee. Located inside Great Smoky Mountain National Park, there are certain regulations, especially those regarding pets and firewood. Complete rules and regulations can be found on the park’s website.
I set my tent up in a campsite near Bradley Fork, a tributary for the Oconaluftee River, and waited for my friends to arrive.
The next morning our group of ladies left the campground on the Bradley Fork Trail and, at the trail junction, took the Chasteen Creek Trail. We hiked a total of 1.9 miles to Chasteen Creek Cascades. It was beautiful. There was not much elevation gain at all on this hike. The plan was to return the way we came for a total of 3.8 miles.
On the way back to the junction with Bradley Fork, I got the bright idea to take Bradley Fork 0.5 more miles on to connect with Smokemont Loop Trail which was 3.9 miles back to the campground. By doing this, I could mark off Smokemont Loop Trail, and when I came back to finish up my map of this section, I could take the Bradley Fork trail down for a shorter, flatter way down. One other lady decided to go with me instead of returning with the group. In my mind, it would only be another 4.4 miles on this day. That shouldn’t be too hard.
We started climbing and climbing and climbed some more. Once we reached a certain height, we were always hoping around each bend in the trail would be the summit so we could start our descent. On this trail I realized what our parents and grandparents meant when they said they walked to school uphill both ways. We were both thrilled when we finally reached the true summit to finally start the descent.
I found out once I got back to the campsite and checked my book, the elevation gain was approximately 1,400 feet. We also made it back to the campsite in time for supper after a total of 7 miles. Supper consisted of baked potatoes, vegetables, and garlic toast, all fixed on the campfire. It was delicious. Hiker hunger is real!
The temperature was in the upper 60s during the days and the lowest I saw at night was 41° at about three in the morning when I got up to use the restroom. I stepped into a clearing as I was walking back to my tent. With everyone else asleep in their tents, I just stood there for the longest time looking up into the sky. I was standing there by myself, in the darkness of the middle of the night, admiring the beauty of maybe a million stars so clear and brilliant. It was a spectacular moment. I probably could have stood there longer had I not started getting cold. It sure was a wonderful feeling to crawl back into a warm sleeping bag.
The next morning, I woke up early and drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to try to catch the sunrise. Clouds were not cooperating for the sunrise, but I was able to catch a remarkable cloud inversion. On the way back to the campsite, I passed two young bull elks that were sparring out in the foggy clearing near the visitor center.
As I sat around the campfire on the last night with this group of ladies, it was peaceful and relaxing and everyone was laughing and having a good time. I sat back and realized how blessed I am to be able to experience these extraordinary adventures in nature. I hope you get to do the same. Until next time, be safe, have fun, and I’ll see you on the trail!