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Adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains

New adventures abound here at the Barefoot Homestead, including a 5-day trek to (and thru) Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Have you ever been? It’s gorgeous!

Each year, instead of hosting parties, we each choose a special adventure for our birthday. Mine happens to fall right after a holiday, so I usually get the benefit of a “long” (4 or 5 day) trip. So we packed up our pop-up camper and headed for the mountains of North Carolina.

The view from near our campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

We spent several days in the park, driving along the Blueridge Parkway and exploring nearby waterfalls, adding in a hike or two as we were able. Of course, traveling with a toddler is it’s own adventure. We made a lot of space in our expectations for this.

She falls asleep unexpectedly? Pass by that trailhead and try another one.

She needs to get some serious wiggles out? Explore a roadside waterfall.

She’s hungry at 10am? Find a popular local spot to eat (and hide under their outdoor umbrellas while it rains!).

You get the picture. Go with it, be flexible, keep margins, make room. If our plan had been rigid or our expectations high, we probably would have called this trip a failure. But they weren’t.

Soco Falls along the roadside

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The Details


We camped in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at Cataloochee Campground. When I read in the description that the road is steep, winding, unpaved, and impassable for large RVs (plus the campground only has 27 campsites), we knew it was the place for us. We love a quiet campground. Indeed, it was all that we had hoped. Quiet, small, and difficult to reach! Tip: Arrive in the daylight in order to make it up those winding roads the first time.

Eating by lantern light at our campsite

Playing at our campsite


Waterfalls are the name of the game in Great Smoky Mountains NP. One loop hike we did included three waterfalls: Juney Whank Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Tom Branch Falls. A roadside stop gave us a great view of Soco Falls.

Soco Falls North Carolina

Toddler in field of ferns

Another fun hike we did, Caldwell Fork Trail, included a lot of unique walking bridges over waterways, each cut from a single log! We eventually turned back, though, because stream crossings became stream fordings, and we have personally made the call that we’re not comfortable fording waterways with Fiona in a pack. We did let Fiona get down to wade in the smaller mountain creeks. The water was icy cold!

Creek crossing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hiking with a toddler

Hiking with kids

Playing in the stream on our hike


We also went on several driving tours, which were all amazing and beautiful, with many overlooks if you’re in the mood to stop frequently. One day, we entered the park at Cherokee, N.C., and drove the Newfound Gap Road across the entire park, ending up in Gatlinburg, Tenn. (which was a crazy busy town and way too touristy for us, so we turned around and went back to the park, but to each his own).

Exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park

From there, we took the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which was lovely. There were some great trail heads that we wanted to explore, but parking was limited and crowded, especially for Rainbow Falls, so we kept driving. There were several historic buildings that were part of the Noah “Bud” Ogle farmstead that we found interesting and that gave Fiona the chance to get out and run around. Note: The road is narrow and one-way, so once you get started, there’s no turning back!

Visiting historical sites in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

And we visited several small towns outside of the park limits too: Maggie Valley, Cherokee, Oconoluftee, and Soco Gap.

We’ll Be Back

When Fiona is a little older, we plan to come back to this area in order to tube down Deep Creek. It looked amazing! And there are campsites right along the creek. They’re not as private or quiet, but worth it if you’re coming specifically for the tubing.

Stone steps along one hike

Crossing a stream

Asheville: The Details

We spent one day away from the park, in the city of Asheville. The goal here was to get some good food, explore a but of local culture, and visit the much-anticipated Chocolate Lounge!

Father daughter

West Asheville

Starting out in West Asheville, we found a great little community of artsy shops and small independent restaurants. We went to White Duck Taco Shop for lunch, where we ordered a variety of tacos: black bean, jerk chicken, Thai peanut chicken, and Korean beef bulgogi. The food was good, not amazing, but good. And it was a bit crowded, very obvious that the locals like it here. We ate outside on picnic tables under umbrellas, dodging a sudden afternoon rain storm. Fiona dug in with both hands.

Toddler eating tacos at White Duck in Asheville

Baby led weaning makes for easy toddler travel

West End Bakery & Cafe provided us with breakfast pastries for the next day (it was toward the end of the afternoon and they were almost sold out, so we got what was left). And we grabbed coffee and chai tea from Bean Werks Coffee & Tea.

We went to Carrier Park looking for a playground for Fiona to get some energy out. We didn’t find a playground, but we did find some great walking trails along the French Broad River, so we enjoyed it.

At Carrier Park in Asheville

Per our usual, we popped into a few outfitters while we were there, most notably the Frugal Backpacker and Second Gear (and the local REI).

Downtown Asheville

Over to downtown, we found parking and walked to French Broad Chocolate Lounge. This was the highlight of my birthday wish: to eat ALL THE CHOCOLATE. The lounge is a hopping place, but we snagged a table and sat down to enjoy our fare. We got coffee, a pot of black tea, and hot milk chocolate, and we ordered a chocolate pots de crème, a peanut butter chocolate layered mousse, and chocolate dipped shortbread. It was delicious. Definitely go.

Layered chocolate peanut butter mousse

Toddler covered in chocolate

I also visited a cute little vintage clothing shop called Lost & Found and bought an adorable and comfy dress by She + Sky.

Are you going to Asheville or Great Smoky Mountain National Park anytime soon? Have any questions for us? Leave a note in the comments!

Family photo at Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains

By BarefootMama, July 25, 2018
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