Monday, September 20, 2010

Laurel Falls Hike - Smoky Mountain Vacation

Laurel Falls, a 2.6 round trip hike to a 75 foot waterfall, seems like a beautiful hike, but at Smoky Mountain National Park in July and with two 4 year olds, it can be a bit stressful at times. I'm very glad we went, and we had an awesome time hiking down to the bottom of the falls where we avoided the crowds, but the journey there was hot, sweaty, and nerve-wracking.

At several points along the side of the cliff, the drop off went down at least fifty feet or so. When you have kids wanting to run ahead, well, lets just say, you're not paying too much attention to the scenery anymore. Steve and I would have had a relaxing time by ourselves, but watching out for the kids took extra effort.

Still, we were glad when we arrived at the top, scurried away from the horrendous crowds at the top of the falls, and found a quiet place for a picnic lunch. Then we worked our way down the side of the falls until we reached the bottom. Of the hundreds of people at the top, only ten or so followed us down.

The kids favorite thing about this hike? Throwing stones at the bottom of the falls, of course.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Clingman's Dome

At 6,643 feet, Clingman's Dome is the highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. Naturally, we wanted to see this record-breaking site. However, we didn't consider how it would be walking up to the top (it's only a .05 mile hike from where you park your car, but it's all UPHILL and that can be a lot if you have a kid that wants to be carried.).

On the drive up I was able to snap some pretty, scenic pictures, and a kind woman offered to take a picture of the whole family as well.

Like I said before, we parked near the top and then walked the rest of the half mile to the top. We finally saw some barren pines, so unlike the rest of the Smokies rich vegetation.

It took a lot of encouragement to get Jared to walk to the top (I don't even think we had to carry Alexa at all), unless there was something to climb. Jared's always up for climbing.

There's a small lookout tower at the very top, which we climbed up to, but it was so cloudy that the scenery really didn't look any different than what we had seen climbing up.

Wouldn't you know it, but as we were halfway down to the car, the sun started to peek out.

It was pretty tiring for all of us, but I guess we can now say we made it to the top. I love this picture of Jared asleep on the way home. He couldn't even spare the effort to pry the juice box from his lips!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ripley's Aquarium

I highly recommend going to Ripley's Aquarium if you're going to visit Gatlinberg, Tennessee. This was probably one of the best days we had with the kids.

They have a 340 foot-long guide path as you wind your way through a shark lagoon tunnel. Besides sharks you'll also encounter giant stingrays, snappers, saw fish, grunts and a green sea turtle.

They had a ton of hands-on things to do in the Discovery Center including touching horseshoe crabs and getting in the middle of a fish tank.

Another cool feature is the Penguin Playhouse. Kids can crawl through a tunnel under the penguin exhibit, and then pop up inside the tank to watch the penguins being fed. I have horrible pictures of the experience, and the place was terrible crowded so we didn't stay long, so be sure to visit off-season if you can.