We decided that we needed to take a "tune-up trip" where we did as much hiking and walking as possible. We reached this decision because we are headed back to Europe in September 2018, where we expect to be doing a serious amount of walking, hiking and climbing stairs.
Our game plan was to visit Tallulah Gorge State Park north of Atlanta, then drive on to the Asheville, NC area so we could visit the city as well as Catawba Falls. From there we would visit Big Meadows Lodge in the Shenandoah National Park, VA. Each of these parks offered interesting hiking as well as beautiful geography & vistas. Better yet was the fact that we had never been to any of these places before and that our explorations would end at Lake Anna, VA where we have a cabin.
To view the details of how we plan trips, click here.
Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia
Our first day of travel was occupied by the drive from Sarasota, FL to Amicalola Falls, GA.
This Park & Lodge is an 829-acre Georgia state park located between Ellijay and Dahlonega in Dawsonville, Georgia. The park's name is derived from a Cherokee language word meaning "tumbling waters". The 429 foot high Falls are the tallest in Georgia
The Southern entrance to the Appalachian Trail can be reached here via the Appalachian Approach Trail an 8 mile trail starting near the Park Visitor Center. It is possible to drive to the Appalachian Trail starting point, but it is all dirt roads, seriously uphill and has very little parking.
Demonstrates how good it felt to not be driving any further, and how comfortable the temperature was that day.
The stream that was immediately behind our cabin, is a very picturesque setting and the sound the stream made all night long was very relaxing.
The Amicalola Falls Park Lodge is located near the top of the falls, and this is the view from the rear of the building. The Maple Restaurant is located on the left side of the building, and as you can see, the view of the valley from the restaurant is great.
You can see how steep the stairs are, but that is where you have to go to reach the top of the falls.
Talulah Gorge Falls State Park, Georgia
Talulah Gorge Falls State Park contains one of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern U.S., Tallulah Gorge is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. Visitors can hike rim trails to several overlooks, or they can obtain a permit to hike to the gorge floor (100 per day, not available during water releases). A suspension bridge sways 80 feet above the rocky bottom, providing spectacular views of the river and waterfalls.
We picked this as our next stop, because it is obviously pretty and it is on the way to Asheville, NC - our next "stay over" location.
We picked Asheville, NC as our next stop because it is not only a pretty city, but it is located in a very pretty area of North Carolina.
Some analysis of the Asheville area, showed us that we would be able to find some nice hiking here.
The rental we had in Cheshire Village, NC just north of Asheville. The people who we rented this from, were extremely nice, and if you are looking for a comfortable place to stay, you can find this rental on VRBO.
After we checked in to our rental, we drove to downtown Asheville to do some exploring and have dinner. We found this little French Restaurant and decided that moules et frites would be great.
Catawba Falls, NC
Catawba Falls, just before you reach the pool near the "top of the falls" area. Very rocky, but good footing.
The pool area at the base of Catawba Falls, everyone is enjoying the view! Or maybe they are glad to have reached their goal?
By arriving here early, we were able to not only get a great parking spot, we did not have to wade through any crowds and the temperature was perfect for a hike into the woods. You can easily see in image # 3 that the crowd did continue to grow the longer we were there, and by the time we walked back to the parking lot, people were parking all the way down the entrance road.
Chimney Rock, NC
We had just arrived at the entrance to Chimney Rock, and are walking up to the elevator area from the bus stop. You can see Chimney Rock in the top left of this picture.
The entrance to the elevator, and as you can see, the entrance shaft was hacked out of granite, as was the elevator shaft to the top.
Hickory Nut Falls Trail at Chimney Rock
Hickory Nut Falls Trail three quarters of a mile from the Chimney Rock area, and up a constantly ascending trail to the second highest waterfall east of the Mississippi (404 feet). Some of the scenes from the movie "The Last of the Mohicans" were filmed here.
Big Meadows area in Shenandoah National Park, VA
This is not in chronological order, as we went to our cabin at Lake Anna, VA and then drove up to Big Meadows. But this is such a great area to hike in, so we decided to stay overnight in one of their pet friendly cabins.
The Shenandoah Valley from one of the many scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This was taken on the way to Big Meadows Lodge. The entire parkway is a series of beautiful vistas looking into the valleys below, with dozens of hiking trails traversing the park, including the Appalachian Trail.
We decided to hike the Lewis Falls Trail, because it was not yet check in time for our lodge. We had not gone very far down the trail, came around a corner and there was a bear. He did not pay us much attention, as he crossed the trail in front of us and went into the woods looking for food. It obviously stopped us dead in our tracks and we debated whether or not to continue further along the trail, as it appeared that the bear was going in the same direction as we were! We finally realized that the bear had moved off into the trees away from the trail, so we continued to hike.
The Lewis Falls Trail brings you to an observation area where the Falls is just below you. It may not look like it, but the Falls are over 80 feet in height. It was a warm day and even though we were sure that a dip in the water would have felt great, we could not see a safe way to descend down to the bottom of the falls.
On the way back from the Falls, we stopped to take some pics. Our dog is having a great time exploring, and you can see that this part of the trail is not difficult. She does not let us get far away, she seems to recognize that this is not her backyard!
We had let our dog climb most of the trail off leash, but because we were now approaching the area where we had seen the bear earlier, we decided that it would be best to keep her on leash until we got back to the lodge. Quadripeds have a serious advantage when it comes climbing a steep trail like this one.
Lake Anna, VA
Lake Anna is our "get-a-way spot" and has been since 1995. This is a really great area in many ways.
I-95 from Lake Anna, VA to Sarasota, FL
Anyone reading this who has travelled this route, are aware some of the good & bad of this route, but we thought we would add a few selected comments that perhaps might be of use to some of you.
- At 899 miles door to door, we have driven it "straight through" and we have split up the trip by staying overnight along I-95. There is no "perfect way" to drive 900 miles. Obviously, we would recommend that you bring a small cooler with drinks for you & your pet.
- If you are travelling with a pet (and we always bring our dog), use the Bring Fido website to locate hotels & motels that are pet friendly.
- I-95 is not as good through the South Carolina area, always two lanes and traffic tends to "clump" together making it difficult to get past. It is almost always better to time your trip to get through South Carolina at night, when the traffic is less congested.
- Not to pick on South Carolina, but the larger towns are mostly further apart than elsewhere, which complicates pit-stops for gasoline, coffee or snacks.
- Going through Jacksonville, FL and not being slowed by an accident, is difficult at best. We generally go around Jacksonville by taking I-10 east and then going southern on US Route 301 and eventually back onto I-75. The problem with that route is that it brings you through many small Florida towns, many of which operate "speed traps".
- If you stay on I-95 and go through Orlando on I-4, the traffic in the Orlando area can be brutal, especially during the fall tourist season. As Orlando has grown, traffic has continued to increase no matter the time of day, or the time of year. You are better off if you can drive through Orlando on a weekday either early or late in the day.
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