​Cataloochee Campground, Smokey Mountains National Park, North Carolina

We made it to the Smokey Mountains. The drive wasn’t too bad except for the road into to campground, which consisted of a 5 mile long dirt road with switch backs (my butt is clenched pretty tight on drives like that). We made it and got a beautiful camp spot right next to the creek. There were no hookups at this campground so we needed to relay on our golf cart battery to power our lights and the propane tanks to cook and keep the refrigerator cool. Overall we had no problems and it was a nice test for when we want to do more boondocking out west. We didn’t use the shower because filling the tanks with water and then heating it up with the propane would have wasted propane and weighed down the camper with all the water, and with nowhere to dump it we decided it was best not to take showers in the camper. (we paid $5 at a local campsite to use their hot showers, & it was totally worth it.)

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The road into our campground. EEk!

After setting up camp we meet our neighbors who were fly fishermen and offered to take Paul out fishing with them later in the week. We drove about a mile down into the valley to look for some Elk before sunset, we found plenty grazing in the fields and even saw a bear walking along the tree line. Elk were reintroduced to the park in 2001 and have been thriving since. They like to stay low in the valley and because our campsite was in the most secluded part of the park the wildlife was abundant.

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Sunset at the Campground.

Day 1- We drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to one of the parks visitor centers and explored the nearby farm museum. The farm museum consisted of old buildings that had previously been on property before it became a National Park. After talking with a park ranger we decided to explore the city of Cherokee, an Indian reservation that reminds me more of the Jersey shore. There were tons of tourist shops, mini golf, amusement rides, ice cream shops, mining for gems stands, and tons of other Cherokee themed shops. We checked out the Cherokee museum which was very well put together and super interesting, local members of the Cherokee tribe work at the museum and are happy to answer any questions. After our stop in Cherokee we headed to Bryson City, not much of a city but a really cool little town with lots of shops and cafes. Bryson City also has a train that you can ride through the Smokey Mountains. Paul found a fly shop, got his fishing license and they even had a small fly fishing museum in town (boring).
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Day 2- It rained the entire night before and on and off for most of our second day in the park. We got a late start but decided to stay close to camp and do some hiking and fishing. The camper still held up well with our battery life and propane. We ran one light at a time at night when we needed it and only used the propane to keep the refrigerator cool and do some cooking. Boondocking for us isn’t going to be a problem.

Before bed we decided to take a drive to see if the elk were out, they like grazing at sunrise and sunset. We stopped to look at a herd grazing on the side of the road and it wasn’t long until they were surrounding the truck. As cool as it was to see these animals up close, it’s unfortunate that they’ve developed these behaviors because of people feeding them from their cars.

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Day 3- We spent our third day in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a cool little music and arts town with tons of breweries and some amazing restaurants. We walked in and out of the stores and spent some time using the Wi-Fi in a local pub to pay bills, upload pictures and do all of the stuff we didn’t miss doing.

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Day 4- Our last day in the park we drove up to Clingman’s Dome, an observation deck on top of the highest point in the park. On a good day you have 360 degree views and can see for 25 miles, we weren’t so lucky. As we drove up the mountains the fog got thicker and thicker and visibility was nonexistent. Once you get to the parking lot of Clingman’s Dome we still had a 1/2 mile hike up hill. We did the hike, stood in the fog and rain for a few minutes and then headed back down. At the bottom of the hill there was a gift shop where Paul decided to do a good deed for the day and give some AT thru hikers a ride. (*Note to self: always ask where they’re going first). The 3 hikers were looking to go to Gatlinburg, we found this out on our way down the mountain, and although we had no intention of going to Gatlinburg we thought it was a good excuse to see the town. Once we got into Gatlinburg we realized seeing it was all we needed to do. We dropped the hikers off at an outdoor store and drove right through the town. It was busy and crowded with lots of chain restaurants, shops, and touristy stands.

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Top of the mountains

 

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bottom of the mountains

 

 

 

 

Assateague, Maryland

After having an amazing night in Ocean City, New Jersey at our friend’s wedding, Paul and I decided we needed a quiet night to unwind and relax. So, Saturday morning we made our way down to Assateague National Seashore in Maryland to camp for the night.

Getting to Assateague was quick and easy, we took the Cape May car ferry to Delaware and then drove the last hour down to Assateague island. When we got to the park I realized that I had mistakenly booked a campsite in the state park which is also on the island, instead of in the neighboring national park. After checking out the sites in the state park, and not being satisfied (it’s set up for large RVs), Paul and I both agreed to go take a look at the national park. After looking at the map we decided to camp in the national park and we were lucky enough to have a park ranger give us a list of available camp sites to pick from! Paul and I drove around the park checking out the different sites to decide where we wanted to set up camp. To some people the idea of scoping out the camp site might be crazy, but we take our spots seriously. Assateague National Park offers a few different camping experiences, with sites designed for RVs and campers, sites situated on the bay, some on the ocean, others you can drive right up to, and then some you had to walk to. Assateague also has back country camping for those into backpacking. While we would have loved to back country camp, we wouldn’t have had the time and ended up choosing a site that we had to walk to. Before setting up camp we drove over to the bayside of the island to watch the sunset. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets but this was one I won’t forget, it was beautiful.

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After taking in the sunset we headed to our site to set up camp. Our spot was located on the other side of the island in the middle of beach dunes close to the ocean. The campsites are outfitted with fire rings and picnic tables to make for a comfortable camping experience. There were others camping around us, but the dunes sheltered us from any noise and light that might have been coming from their sites. As we sat by the fire that night we could hear the waves crashing against the shore. We woke up early the next morning to watch the sunrise from the beach. I can say that I haven’t been to too many places where you can see not only a breathtaking sunrise over the water but a sunset too.

Assateague offers its campers beaches and trails, but it is most famous for the wild horses that roam the island. As soon as we crossed the bridge onto the island we came across horses grazing on the side of the road. The horses on the island are very unique, having little to no human contact for their entire lives. These horses have adapted to survive on this island through hot summers and brutal winters. Most campgrounds have short barn fencing surrounding all of the sites to keep the horses from coming in and stealing your food at night. The horses are docile and keep to themselves but are a unique aspect that no other national park has to offer. In the summer months the horses escape the heat and the bugs by spending their days on the beach. As the weather cools the horses make their way to the bayside of the island to protect themselves from the harsh winds coming off the ocean.

I’m bummed we were only able to spend one night in Assateague, but now I know in the future that it is definitely worth another trip down there.