Our adventure begins this morning in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we meet up with our guides and fellow travelers. Our guides provide an orientation, pack check and distribution of group gear, along with a demonstration of how to properly pack your backpack. After orientation, we shuttle over to the trailhead to begin our exploration of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We begin our hike along an old logging road, continuing past an emerald-green swimming hole and a waterfall cascading into the creek below. The Midnight Hole is one of the most beautiful natural swimming holes in the Blue Ridge Mountains and its water is crisp and refreshing. When we get to camp our guides show us how to set up a basecamp, including how to pitch a tent. This evening we enjoy dinner, recount the day's adventure, and drift off to sleep under a blanket of stars. Dinner included.
Backpacking: 5.1 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,469’ / -203’
After a peaceful night's sleep, we wake to hot coffee and a hearty breakfast before donning our light daypacks for another full day of adventure. Our first mile is a gradual climb to over 1,000’ followed by a descent on a small side trail to a deep blue pool with its own cascade, surrounded by colorful eastern hardwoods. It's a great lunch spot and the perfect chance for an invigorating swim. Today our guides show us how to make water crossings and read trail signs, teaching us about the area's plants and animals along the way. Our hike continues downhill gradually until we arrive back at basecamp, where we'll have time to relax and bask in the beauty enveloping us in the Great Smoky Mountains. After dinner we enjoy a campfire, some games and dessert! Breakfast and dinner included.
Hiking: 5.9 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,010’ / -1,010'
Today our guides show us the proper way to break down camp according to Leave No Trace principles. Slightly more challenging than the day before, our hike today takes us up to 1,500’ of elevation gain over 2.5 miles, granting us the opportunity set foot on the famous Appalachian Trail. Here we see the landscape change from cove hardwood forest—found only in Southern Appalachia—to a northern hardwood forest. Our guides teach us about the geological history of these mountains, including the greater Appalachian Mountain range. Here we can take a quick optional detour to see an AT shelter designed for thru-hikers making the 2,200-mile trek along the trail. Back at the trailhead, our shuttle awaits, and we make our way back to Gatlinburg. Breakfast included.
Backpacking: 5.6 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,443’ / -2,119’; Optional hike to AT shelter: 1.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 581’