South Carolina Bucket List

Since we’re based in central South Carolina, we’re always looking for new and interesting places to visit in the Palmetto State. After some crowd sourcing, I created a bucket list of 25 “must dos” in South Carolina.

(All photos were taken by us on our travels.)

  1. Drive Horse Pasture Road to Jumping Off Rock Overlook – Sunset, SC
    We drove Horse Pasture Road to Jumping Off Rock Overlook in July 2020, and it’s my favorite place that we’ve visited in South Carolina so far. Check out our post from that trip to learn more.
    (Read our blog post about exploring the SC Upstate.)

  2. Stand at the top of Sassafras Mountain – Sunset, SC
    We haven’t been to Sassafras Mountain yet, but we plan to go soon. Sassafras Mountain is South Carolina’s highest point at 3,553 feet above sea level. An easily accessible observation tower officially opened to the public on April 22, 2019.


  3. Stroll through the synchronous fireflies at Congaree National Park – Hopkins, SC
    This is another one we haven’t done, but hope to catch next year! Each year for a few weeks in May or June a variety of fireflies (or lightning bugs) that light in unison arrive at Congaree National Park.


  4. Climb to the top of the Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse – Hunting Island, SC
    We fell in love with Hunting Island State Park when we visited in February 2020, but we didn’t climb the lighthouse, which is the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina since the boys weren’t tall enough. Children must be at least 44” inches to climb the lighthouses 167 stairs. I’ve heard the view is well worth the wait though!
    (Read our blog post about camping at Hunting Island State Park.)


  5. Relax under the Angel Oak – John’s Island, SC
    The Angel Oak is second only to Jumping Off Rock on my list of favorite places in South Carolina. The majestic tree is considered to be the largest Live Oak Tree east of the Mississippi estimating to be 300 to 400 years old.
    (Read our blog post about visting the Angel Oak Tree.)


  6. Kayak through the spider lilies at Landsford Canal State Park – Catawaba, SC
    In 2019, I saw an article on the SC State Parks site about the spider lilies at Landsford Canal State Park, and I knew we had to check them out. The park is home to the world’s largest population of Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies, which bloom in late May. There is an easy trail that leads to an observation deck, but I’d love to go back and kayak down the river for an even better view of the gorgeous blooms.
    (Read our blog post about going to see the spider lilies at Landsford Canal.)

  7. See Campbell’s Covered Bridge in Landrum, SC
    I was unfamiliar with Campbell’s Covered Bridge until I started asking for ideas for this list and it was suggested multiple times. The bridge was constructed in 1909, and is the only remaining covered bridge in the State of South Carolina.

  8. Watch the sun rise over the mountains at Pretty Place – Cleveland, SC
    Symmes Chapel, also known as “Pretty Place,” is located at the YMCA Camp Greenville and offers panoramic views from the top of Standing Stone Mountain. Admission is free, and the chapel is open from sunrise to sunset, unless there is a private event.



  9. Visit Stumphouse Park to see Stumphouse Tunnel and Isaqueena Falls – Walhalla, SC
    Stumphouse Park is home to two interesting sights – Stumphouse Tunnel and Isaqueena Falls. Both are easily accessible and have a storied history. We enjoyed a quick visit before getting rained out in July 2020. 
    (Read our blog post about exploring the SC Upstate.)

  10. Hike to Rainbow Falls at Jones Gap State Park – Marietta, SC
    This is another one that wasn’t really on my radar, but I can’t wait to check it out! It looks to be an easy hike down to the falls.

  11. Take a boat tour of Lake Jocassee – Salem, SC
    I’ve seen the bird’s eye view of Lake Jocassee, but I’m itching to go back and get on the water. The lake features crystal clear water and has a number of waterfalls along its bank, but most are only accessible by boat or kayak. The lake is accessible from Devil’s Fork State Park in Salem, SC.



  12. Walk around the UofSC Horseshoe – Columbia, SC I might be a bit bias on this one, as a graduate and employee of the University of South Carolina, but the historic downtown campus is beautiful! When you step through the brick walls, it’s easy to forget you surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the capitol city.



  13. Explore Historic Charleston – Charleston, SC
    Charleston is full of history! You can walk through the market, stroll down rainbow row, or watch dolphins splash in the harbor from the battery. You also can get some amazing seafood. I still think about the barbecue shrimp and grits at the Charleston Crab House.



  14. Search for megalodon teeth at Edisto Beach – Edisto, SC
    Our oldest son is obsessed with all thing prehistoric, so he always wants to dig for dinosaur bones or hunt for shark teeth. The South Carolina coast is home to a wealth of marine fossils, including teeth from massive prehistoric megalodons.
    (Read our blog post about visiting Edisto Beach State Park.)

  15. Hike 40 Acre Rock Heritage Preserve – Kershaw, SC
    I haven’t been to 40 Acre Rock since college, but I remember being fascinated by the huge granite outcrop. Unfortunately, the rock has been vandalized in the past and has a very delicate ecosystem, so it isn’t typically promoted. If you decide to go, take a trash bag and help clean up any litter you find along the path.

  16. Visit the Boneyard Beach at Bulls Island at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge – Bull Island, SC
    The name Boneyard Beach provokes images of a secret pirate rendezvous, but in reality the beach is home to significant amounts of driftwood. The remote barrier island is also said to be a great destination for shelling and wildlife viewing. It’s only reachable by ferry.



  17. Go back in time at Colonial Dorchester – Summerville, SC
    The Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site is home to the ruins of a town that dates back to 1697. You’ll feel like you’re being transported back in time as you explore the fort walls made out of oyster shells and the still intact bell church bell tower.

  18. Tour Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie – Charleston, SC/Sullivan’s Island, SC
    South Carolina played a significant role in the Revolution War and the Civil War, Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie give a glimpse into those eras. Both forts are located near Charleston and are open to tour.



  19. Watch the sunset over Lake Strom Thurmond – Modoc, SC  
    At 71,000 acres the Lake J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir (also known as Clark’s Hill Lake) is the third-largest artificial lake East of the Mississippi. The lake borders Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Broad, and Little Rivers. It is home to a number of local, state, and federal parks and campgrounds.
    (Read our blog post about camping at Modoc Campground on Lake Strom Thurmond.)

  20. Hunt for the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp – Bishopville, SC
    Since the 1980s there have been rumors about a creature living in the swamps near Bishopville, SC. Even if you don’t believe in the Lizard Man, the black water and swampland in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina is a great place to explore.


  21. Go birding at Dreher Island State Park – Prosperity, SC
    Dreher Island State Park is located on Lake Murray, just outside of Columbia, SC. The 50,000-acre, man-made lake is home to an impressive array of birds, many of which can be seen from Dreher Island. The park also has two campgrounds, boat ramps, and hiking trails.
    (Read our blog post about Dreher Island State Park.)

  22. Hike to the top of Table Rock – Pickens, SC
    I visited Table Rock State Park once while I was in college, but I didn’t get the opportunity to hike to the top. The hike is rated as very strenuous and is a 7-mile loop, so I may need to work up to it, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.



  23. Explore Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve – Lexington, SC
    Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve provides a look back in time to prehistoric times when the Midlands of South Carolina where under water. The layered limestone formations feature fossils of ancient marine creatures. The park also is home to a small waterfall and miles of great hiking trails.  

  24. Tour Botany Bay – Edisto, SC
    Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island offers undeveloped pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands and a barrier island with almost three miles of beachfront. The preserve also includes several colonial area structures.

  25. See the Sheldon Church Ruins – Yemassee, SC
    Sheldon Church, located near Beaufort, SC, dates back to 1757. The church was set on fire during both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but the walls refused to fall. The ruins are located on private property owned by St. Helena’s Church, but can be visited as long as proper guidelines are followed.

Unintended Consequences: Crooked River State Park (Georgia)


Skip to the bottom for a review of Crooked River State Park in St. Marys, Georgia


When Steven first started talking about buying a camper a few years ago, I wasn’t sold on the idea. I was pregnant with our youngest at the time, and I was already anxious about how we’d adjust to being a family of four.

So, we agreed to hold off on adding anything else new into the mix for a few months.

Then, when Jase was a few months old, we found a good deal on a lightly used “starter camper,” and I agreed to give it a try. Everything didn’t always go smoothly, but we still fell in love with camping. Not only has camping brought us closer within our own family, but I also feel like it has given the boys the chance to build stronger relationships with their grandparents.

I lost my own Grandma to COVID a few weeks ago, so I have been thinking a lot about the importance of spending time with our extended family. After my Grandma passed, one of my cousins shared a beautiful tribute to her on Facebook. The post detailed her favorite memories of Grandma. I smiled reading through some of the memories that reminded me of my own visits to Grandma’s house, but I also teared up reading through some of the experiences that I missed out on.

I grew up hundreds of miles from most of my extended family. My parents always made an effort to get us together at holidays or for summer trips, but as I got older it was harder to keep in touch. Now that I have lost three of my four grandparents, I wish I would have spent more time making memories with them. And though it’s largely too late for me, there is still what I hope is plenty of time for my boys to form lifelong bonds with their grandparents.

In fact, being closer to our families was the main reason I wanted to move from Texas to South Carolina after our oldest son was born. Luckily, we live within miles of Steven’s parents and extended family. Unfortunately, my family is a bit more spread out.

But that’s why I’m thankful for camping. All of our parents have campers now, and we typically do a trip or two with each of them every year.

My Dad and his girlfriend, who live in Indiana, upgraded from a pop-up camper to a travel trailer soon after we got our first camper, and we’ve been able to meet-up with them for a couple trips. In fact, one of our first trips was with them in Gatlinburg. Then, a few months ago, my Mom and Step-Dad, who live in Florida, decided to get in on the camping too. This past weekend we met up with them at Crooked River State Park in South Georgia. During these strange times, it’s nice to have an escape that allows us to still spend time with our loved ones.

Unfortunately, with the ongoing COVID crisis, we weren’t able to attend my Grandma’s services last weekend. Grandma was always happiest when she was surrounded by her sons and her grandchildren, and often lamented that we didn’t all live closer. So, I knew Grandma would have been happy to see my boys spending time with their own Grandma, who also wishes her kids and grandkids weren’t so far away.

I wouldn’t have ever imagined buying a tin can on wheels would have led to a greater connection with my parents, but I am very thankful for unintended consequences! I can’t wait for us to all meet somewhere down the road again real soon!

About Crooked River State Park, St. Marys, Ga.

We chose Crooked River State park because it was centrally located between our home in South Carolina and my Mom and Step-Dad’s home in central Florida. The park is easy to access of I-95 near the Kings Bay Naval Base in Kingsland, Ga. There’s a Dollar General, Walmart,  and several other stores within a few miles of the park.

The park itself was very peaceful. The sites were large and well maintained. We stayed on site 11, which was a huge pull through with a gorgeous view of the river. My Mom was on site 39, another large pull through site. Site 11 did not have full hook-up. Site 39 was full hook-up, but the sewer hook-up was on the side that faced the woods/river, which meant the living area faced the road. That was only a minor inconvenience though since there was very little traffic and the park was very quiet.

We were a bit surprised to discover the campground was surrounded by steep cliffs down to the river, which meant we couldn’t access the water for fishing or wading from the site. However, after a quick post on the Georgia RV Camping Group, I discovered there was water access from the river trail near the cabins. We spent time exploring the river bank on Friday, and then Steven and my Step-Dad Tim spent several hours fishing from the bank on Saturday.

The campground is near the coast, but the closest beach is the Cumberland National Seashore, which can only be accessed by ferry or private boat. We decided to save the trip over to the island for another trip, and instead went to explore Jeckyll Island, which was about 45 minutes north. The beach was clean and had parking and facilities. Fernandina Beach near Jacksonville is another option from Crooked River, and is about 45 minutes south of the campground.

The park also had several nice playgrounds, which my boys had to themselves, since we saw very few other kids. Near the playground by the cabins we discovered the park was home to several gopher tortoises, who we enjoyed watching. The park also had a number of trails, a nature center, a bait shop, a boat ramp, and even an outdoor gym.

The only negative was the bugs, which we’d been warned about. If you stay on top of using your bug spray and take your thermacell, you’ll be fine, but don’t forget or you’ll be a tasty snack for the park’s resident no-see-ums and mosquitoes. But I’ll trade a few bug bites for some beautiful sunsets and relaxing time with family.

A North Carolina (and Tennessee) adventure to remember

Instead of waiting God knows how long for me (Alyssa) to write a post about our most recent adventure, Steven decided to take things into his own hands this time. Below is his first blog post, and I must say, he did a great job! I’m excited for us to share the writing duties going forward!


I’ve always had a sense of adventure. I’ve always seemed to pick a job or career that would keep me staring out of a windshield in one way or another. I could never stand office work where I was only allowed to step outside for a quick 15-minute break once a day. So, when it came to picking my partner in life I wanted someone with just as much of a free spirit. A woman who wanted to see beautiful places.

Which finally brings me to the most recent adventure in the series we call “Life.” Alyssa and I recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and wanted to have a little getaway to celebrate. After some thorough searching (entirely on her part), we decided on Hot Springs, North Carolina. Hot Springs is a small town located in northwest North Carolina just south of the Tennessee state line. The town sits on the famed Appalachian Trail (no actually the side walk is the trail) and is a welcome sight for hikers who need to resupply or for an adventurous, slightly out-of-shape, youngish couple with two kids who want to enjoy a long weekend in the mountains.

Now I must digress for a moment. The argument still persists today as to the definition and application of just what overlanding is and means. Here at EASYRunner we don’t care what you drive, where you go, or where you stay. Don’t have a 4-wheel drive? Solution: see beautiful places and don’t drive off road. Don’t like tent camping? Solution: buy a camper or caravan, base camp and travel around during the day doing fun activities in nature. Stay in a hotel for that matter. The point I’m trying to get at is overlanding to us is traveling, by land, and seeing beautiful things along the way. Don’t let anything stop you from getting out in nature.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

After much deliberation we decided that since this would be a solo venture sans kiddos we would forego the camper, and instead rent a cabin on the outskirts of Hot Springs, overlooking the French Broad River. It came well stocked with beautiful views of the mountains complete with a hot tub on the back porch and a fire pit in the yard. I know, we were really roughing it this time. After a scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains on Saturday we arrived late in the afternoon.

We had stopped in Marshall, North Carolina, about 30-minutes away to get supplies for dinner and some firewood. So, when we arrived I cooked a wonderful, home cooked anniversary dinner. Then we spent the evening enjoying the intoxicating sound of a crackling fire and the rushing river, the most relaxing sounds you could ever imagine.

The weather over the weekend was perfect. So, after a dip in the hot tub to wake-up, we headed into town for brunch on Sunday. Our noses led us to Iron Horse Station in town, which had wonderful food and good prices. Just be warned that Hot Springs is a small town and finding certain things open on a Sunday can be a chore. We found this out later that night when we were confronted with dinner options (or a lack thereof). We chose to go back to the Iron Horse, but were pleasantly surprised by a totally different dinner menu. It was delicious and did not disappoint.

After lunch on Sunday we traveled north of town up an array of Forest Service roads to Max Patch. This short hike varies in difficulty depending on the path you take, but leads to an absolutely breathtaking 360 degree view. If you’re a novice hiker, like us, the trek up to the summit of Max Patch will leave you with a sense of accomplishment.

After working our way back to the truck via a short stretch of the Appalachian Trail, we decide to head back to town for some dinner. Not wanting to retrace our steps we decided to head further north on Max Patch Road, which eventually led us to what we’d later discover was Tennessee State Route 107. The road is very well maintained, but is very windy with steep drop-offs, so caution should be taken. The road back was beautiful; however, during the 30-second window where we had a phone signal, we discovered that we had travelled far west and were actually well into Tennessee. Despite our meandering route, we eventually made it back to town. We spent our last night at the cabin sitting by the fire holding hands like we were dating again, and listening to the sound of the river in the background.

When Monday morning came, we reluctantly left our wonderful little getaway. On the drive home we detoured to Fireside Restaurant and Pancake Inn in Hendersonville, a little breakfast joint that had the best biscuits and gravy I have ever eaten. After eating far too much we detoured once again, and took a short, but scenic drive to Saluda to knock one last activity off the list.

Alyssa has been talking about hiking to see a waterfall for some time. And while we were in the area she picked one with a small hike, due to our enormous breakfast, which was close by. Pearson falls lies on private property and there is a small $5 fee for entry. There is parking and restrooms available at the trail head and a short .25 mile hike to the falls. Though not a strenuous hike at all I would recommend good footwear as the path had many slick rocks and roots. The waterfall itself is 90-foot tall and was a wonderful end to our trip. It really must be seen in person, as photos just cannot capture its beauty.

With that checked off our list, it was then we realized we must head south back to our lives. Our beautiful children and jobs awaited us. Until next time North Carolina (and Tennessee, I guess)… Get outside and travel on.

Landsford Canal State Park: Blood, Sweat, Tears and FUN!

Our unwritten camping rule (so far) has been to avoid camping two weekends in a row. This allows us time to get things done at home and recoup between trips.

So, since we had our Gatlinburg trip last week, this was an “off” weekend. But even when we aren’t camping we still like to get out and explore.

Typically, on the “off” weeks we do a day trip to a state park. So, on Saturday I started researching parks we hadn’t visited and happened upon Landsford Canal State Park.

I discovered Landsford Canal is home to the world’s largest population of spider lilies, which happen to bloom between mid-May and mid-June. And our agenda was set!

The trip to the park was about 80 miles, mostly on interstate 77. We arrived around lunchtime and enjoyed a picnic overlooking the Catawba River. Then after a quick stop at the playground, we set-off down the Canal Trail to find the spider lilies.

Once again the toddler’s “feet hurt,” so we trekked down the trail with Everett on Steven’s shoulders and the baby strapped to my chest.

Since the heat index was in the triple digits today and we were both carrying extra weight, the 3/4 mile trail seemed a lot longer! Luckily, the trail was shaded and there was a bit of a breeze to help make the South Carolina heat tolerable.

The lilies are only found on one rocky shoal in the middle of the Catawba, so there were times we started to worry we’d missed the season or we’d get to the end of the trail only to find a single patch of lilies.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case!

Soon the trail began to rise up to a scenic overlook, the view when we arrived made the short hike on a hot day more than worth it! The clusters of snow white lilies stretched as far as the eyes could see.

We snapped some pictures, had a snack, and just enjoyed the view.

This is where the tears portion of the “blood, sweat and tears” comes in. A nice couple (Patsy and Scott) asked if we could take their picture in front of the lilies. So, I asked Everett to move out of their picture. He didn’t like that. Tears ensued. So, now the aforementioned couple has several pictures that include our dirty toddler.

After the crisis was averted we headed back down the the trail, reluctant to leave the beauty of the lily patch. Along the way we decided to cool off in the crisp waters of the Catawba. We found a shallow pool where we splashed around and did some rock hunting.

Invigorated by the water, we set back down the trail. We made a quick detour to the park office to get our Ultimate Outsider book stamped, then headed back to the 4Runner. When we got to the truck, we realized Steven had picked up an unwanted hitchhiker, a leach, while playing in the river (thus, the blood portion of the story). He did some quick first aid and we were back on the road.

At only 448 acres, Landsford Canal State Park might not look like much at first glance, but it’s truly a hidden gem! In addition to the spider lilies, the park also is a nesting site for eagles and home to the remains of the canal system built in the early 1800s to make the river commercially navigable. The area also was significant during the Revolutionary war and there are several historic markers along the route in and out of the park.

After a great first visit, we can’t wait to go back. We’d love to return with a kayak or canoe to get an even better view of the spider lilies.

We continue to be amazed by the beauty in our state and we can’t wait to see what we discover next.

Rocky Top: Our Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains

After our excursion to Cook’s Mountain a few weeks ago, we were ready to spend some time in the actual mountains. Luckily, we already had a long weekend planned in the Smokies.

It was a pretty big adventure since we’d never even taken our camper on the interstate yet, let alone into the mountains. We had been pretty nervous about towing up (and down) Saluda Mountain and Green River Gorge, but the ‘ole family truckster did amazing. In fact, we were really surprised at just how well the 4runner pulled in the mountains.

It took us about six hours to get to Gatlinburg from Lexington, S.C., including bathroom breaks, baby feeding breaks, and a lunch stop. We’d been warned to avoid the Foothills Parkway on our way into Gatlinburg, so we stayed on 321 through Cosby and didn’t encounter any treacherous roads.

We stayed at Greenbrier Campground about five miles east of Gatlinburg, and right across from the Greenbrier entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park. Our site was in the newly developed section of the campground. The site itself was amazing. It backed right up to the Little Pigeon River and was perfectly level. The sites were fairly close to the road, but we didn’t have any issues with road noise. The older part of the grounds was being renovated and featured a nice, modern bathhouse and a well maintained playground.

Our only complaint was the lack of the advertised amenities in the new section. We were excited there would be a playground right across our site to entertain our toddler, but when we arrived we discovered an empty field where the online map had shown the playground. The bath house in the new section also was still under construction. When we mentioned our disappointment about the playground to the front office, they brushed it off and said a lot of people had been disappointed. If that was the case, then it seems like they would put a disclaimer on their website about construction being behind. Thankfully, the beauty of site itself made up for the elusive playground.

We spent our first evening relaxing at the campground. Steven found a nice grocery store about 3 miles from the campground and grabbed some items to make a great dinner. He did mention prices did seem to include a bit of a tourist tax, so keep that in mind when planning.

Day 2: Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Greenbrier and Roaring Forks)

The next day we set out to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Well, at least some of it, since it covers 522,419 acres or 816.28 square miles. We drove the trials through the Greenbrier section of the park first. And holy butterflies! As we drove 1,000s of brightly colored butterflies fluttered over and around the truck. After following the river deep into the park and enjoying the pristine scenery, we made our way back toward the entrance. We decided to pull off at a parking area right before the entrance to do some exploration on foot. The boys (and mom) quickly stripped off our shoes to dip our toes in the cool water, which was particularly nice since the mercury was starting to rise.

Next, after a lunch break, we drove through downtown Gatlinburg to enter the park further west and do the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail, a one-way, 6-mile, scenic loop. Roaring Forks was a fun drive filled with lots of twists and turns. There were several trailheads tucked into the trail, some roaring (thus the name of the area) rapids, small waterfalls, and a couple of scenic overlooks. The end of the trail put us back out on the eastern side of Gatlinburg near our camp, so we went back to the campground to enjoy dinner and a campfire.

Day 3: Sky Bridge and Clingman’s Dome

In the weeks leading up to our trip we’d seen several stories about the new Gatlinburg SkyBridge. The attraction, which just officially opened on May 17th, is the longest suspension bridge in North America at 680 ft. across. Excited by the opportunity to be among the first to cross the bridge, we decided to give it a try on Sunday.

After finding a parking spot ($10), we stood in line for the chair lift up to the bridge. Tickets for the experience are $19.95 for adults (12-64) with discounts for kids age 4-11 and seniors 65+. Children 3 and under are free. The line moved quickly and we were soon being shepherded onto the SkyLife (aka chair lift). The view from the SkyLift was beautiful, but there are no seatbelts, so be prepared to hold on tight to any small children.

Just before we boarded the SkyLift we heard an announcement that they were going to pause ticket sales because of high winds on the SkyDeck. We didn’t give much thought to the announcement other than to be thankful we got our tickets when we did. However, once we got to the top, we realized the high winds meant the SkyBridge also was temporarily, but indefinitely closed. Employees suggested we get back in line to head back down the mountain because there was a chance the SkyLift could also be closed. We decided to take a closer look at the SkyBridge and SkyDeck while the line died down. What a view!

After milling around for a few more minutes, we accepted defeat, and made our way back to the SkyLift. But wait! Seconds before climbing onto the lift, I turned around and saw people pouring onto the SkyBridge. It was open! We made a beeline back to the entrance of the bridge, not wanting to miss our opportunity to cross before more wind rolled in. We stepped out onto the wooden planks and slowly began to cross. The bridge had a bit of the bounce and sway you’d expect from a suspension bridge, but overall felt very sturdy. The middle of the bridge features three glass panels that allow you to look down on the 100 feet tall trees below: a truly special experience!

After conquering the bridge (with two kids in tow), we made our way back down to street level. We ate an early lunch and did some window shopping at that Nantahala Outdoor Center. Then we headed to Clingman’s Dome. The highest point in Tennessee at 6,600+ feet. From Gatlinburg it’s a 20-mile drive to the top of the mountain, but it takes about 45 minutes to drive, luckily it’s a beautiful drive. Once you reach the end of the road, there’s a trail that takes you the last half mile to the highest elevation.

We were exploring with my Dad and his girlfriend, who were in town from Indiana for the week, and they assured us it wasn’t a bad climb; however, we were still nervous about hiking with a toddler and infant. So, when both kids fell asleep on the ride up the mountain, we decided to take turns trekking up to the observation deck. I headed up first. Everyone who had told me it was an easy climb, clearly didn’t take my life at sea level or lack of regular cardio into consideration. After more than a couple stops at benches the park had thankfully provided, I made it to the top.

When I was able to breathe again, we started back down the trail. I told my Dad I was glad we decided not to try bringing the kids up, since we’d surely have ended up having to carry the toddler. At about that time, I saw a crazy man trudging up the mountain with a baby strapped to his chest and a toddler riding on his shoulders. Then I realized that crazy man was my husband and those were my kids! Apparently, the kids had woken up and wanted Mommy, so he loaded them up and started up the trail. The toddler made it through the parking lot to the trailhead before he said his feet hurt and requested to be carried. I offered to lighten Steven’s load and took the baby back down the mountain, while he and Everett went up to the observation deck.

Finally, everyone (except the baby) having summited Clingman’s Dome, we loaded up to head back to camp. We had another relaxing (other than the occasional tired toddler meltdown) evening listening to the rapids and enjoying the campfire.

Day 4: Santa Claus-et and Home

Since checkout was at 11 a.m., most of day four was packing up camp and getting ready to head home. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our quick trip to Santa Claus-et since it was our son’s favorite activity of the weekend!

We had planned to visit the Christmas-themed store on our way back to camp after Clingman’s Dome, but, unfortunately, it was already closed for the day and wouldn’t reopen until 9:30 a.m. So, after breakfast we made a quick stop. I’m a sucker for a year-round Christmas store because they just make you immediately feel the cheer of the holidays. I also like them because we collect Christmas ornaments on our travels. Our toddler also LOVES Christmas. He also LOVED that Santa Claus-et had a toy room. When I picked him up from daycare on Tuesday and asked him if he told his friends about our trip, he said “yes, I told them I went to the Ho Ho store.” So, it clearly left an impression.

Even if you don’t have kids or a particular affinity for Christmas décor, Santa Claus-et also had their own line of butters and jams, a whole wall of camper flags, and a lot of other fun items.

We left Santa Claus-et with our pockets a little lighter and went back to the campground to finish packing up. It sure was tough to hook-up the camper and say goodbye to Gatlinburg. There was so much more to do! We can’t wait to go back. In fact, I have a feeling this trip was just the beginning of an annual trip to the Great Smoky Mountains!