For Spring Break, Jeremy and I ventured down to Asheville, North Carolina. First we stopped outside Charlotte to visit some family. Then we headed into the Smoky Mountains for a night of camping before exploring the city.
We spent the night at the Cataloochee campground, part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What is really great about camping in the national park is that you don’t have all the “attractions” of a typical campgound and RV park. There weren’t electrical and sewer hook-ups for the RVs and campers. There was no “snack shop” or pool or mini-golf – just the wilderness. Thankfully though, there were flush toilets and a pump for fresh drinking water.
The Cataloochee campground is in a valley. To get there, you have to pass over a mountain. The mountain road winds up one side of the mountain and then back down the other side into the valley. Above is the best photo I could safely get while Jeremy was driving the winding roads. At the base of both side of the mountain, the road was paved, but as you approached the top it was a gravel and packed dirt road. Thankfully our little car handled it well, and Jeremy is a great driver.
We selected and reserved our campsite through recreation.gov. It was the same process as booking a hotel online – we could see the available dates and spaces. We booked the spot online, and it gave us a confirmation number. When we arrived at the campground, there is sort of a self check-in. There was an information board with a map of the campsites, and check-in cards to be placed on the numbered post of your campsite. There was no park ranger to check us in, we just put of name and confirmation number on the card and posted it. Later in the evening, two rangers came by and checked everyone’s cards.
This is the view of our campsite from the tent. The space is plenty large, and complete with a picnic table and fit pit. To the right of our car you can see the big, brown, bear-proof trashcans. Thankfully, there were no bear sightings, although we did see some elk.
Okay, so as you can see from our campsite photos, there was a level gravel bed for the tent, and then a large gravel area with the picnic table, fire pit and parking. Beyond our car you can see other campers. The campground had an outer loop and a group of campsites on the middle. We were on the outer loop.
That’s what it looked like behind our campsite. You can see the little creek that eventually winds around the campground and empties into a much larger creek. The larger creek could be heard from our campsite, and at night it sounded like the ocean. It was beautiful.
Eventually we got our fire going (thanks to some assistance from the campers next door) and roasted some vegan hot dogs. We snacked on some Girl Scout cookies and ended up turning in early, mostly in an effort to keep warm.
The tent is supposed to be a 3 person tent, but I don’t see how another person would fit. Our sleeping bags are Coleman brand, and they kept us plenty warm through the night. I have a camping mat, and was reasonably padded and comfortable. Jeremy slept on top of the gravel. He is going to get a mat before our next camping trip.
When we awoke the next morning, we ate a quick breakfast of granola bars and clementines, packed up our campsite and headed down the road to the hiking trails. It was 35 degrees.
We parked our car at the head of the trail, and started heading up into the mountains. We passed the horse camp and a mile later reached this sign. I think we accomplished Little Cataloochee, but after this sign there weren’t any more.
The trail followed along side the creek, so sometimes the trail looked like this. Jeremy was wearing waterproof boots and was able to traverse these sections easily. I was just wearing my sneakers, so I tried to creatively cross the water without getting too wet. Most of the time there were large rocks or logs that I could step on to safely cross.
We had fun hiking in the mountains, we probably traversed 8 miles in total. After we finished our walk through the woods we headed back over the mountains and into downtown Asheville. Overall, it was a good night of camping. It was our first time pitching a tent alone. We made some mistakes (no flashlight, campfire troubles, etc) but definitely want to give it another try. Once it gets warmer we want to camp a few nights at a national park closer to home.
Anyone else have good camping advice and experience? Details of our downtown Asheville experience coming soon!