Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Journal of the Smokies: Hiking Cade's Cove

I'm no stranger to Cade's Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After I'd heard about Andrew's experience, I immediately knew I wanted to hike the 11 mile loop one day, too. After all, I'm a little sister and if we're good at anything it's wanting to do what big brothers do.

The first time I walked Cade's Cove was in November of 2012. I had just gotten through a traumatizing work experience and was still in emotional shambles over the ordeal. I needed a long walk to clear my head and get my body moving. A nice, serene hike around the 11 mile loop seemed to be a great idea, and although it took me 5 hours to complete and I was so sore that I ended up sleeping the rest of the day, it was just what my soul needed.

I knew I wanted to hike Cade's Cove again for my birthday trip to the Smokies. The first morning we were there, I was ready to tackle the loop once again. Originally, I had planned on running the first three miles and then walking the rest of the way with our other brother, Travis (who was persuaded last minute to join the trip to the National Park).

The park closes the road until 10:00 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays during busy season so bikers and hikers have a chance to hit the pavement first. However, it was not quite "in season" yet, and so I had to be extra vigilant not to be ran over by a stray car whose passengers were busy looking at deer.

The run started off pretty well, although I haven't ran consistently since my Half Marathon in November, but then I started to feel some pain in my right knee on the side. I'm not sure what the deal with it is, since it only pops up occasionally, but I decided to run only when it didn't hurt. It took me about 40 minutes to reach my goal of the Methodist Church around the Loop. Cade's Cove, you see, was a well-settled area by Europeans by 1818 and many of the attractions of the loop are sites of old settlements, including three churches. Before the pioneer settlements, the Cherokee had been using the Cove for hunting.

It was a beautiful morning but quickly turned overcast by the time I met up with Travis. The only wildlife out in abundance was deer, and Travis and I passed the time musing about the crowded cars passing us by. During spring and summer, a variety of wildlife can be found in the Cove, including black bears. Next time, bears. Next time.

Halfway through the Loop is a visitor's center with a little village and mill. During peak season the village is alive with demonstrations, interpreters, and all sorts of sights and smells and sounds. Right now it was a pretty good place for a bathroom break and an obligatory look around the gift shop. We met up with Andrew and devised a plan should the rain reach us. While I don't mind hiking in the rain for the most part, I do mind my brand new camera getting wet. Travis and I were making great time, though, and we felt that we'd more than likely make it around the Loop before any substantial weather reached us.

The second half of the loop is primarily forest, with rhododendron lining the road. I'd like to be able to say off the top of my head what sort of forest is in Cade's Cove, but unfortunately my botany skills are not up to par. Here, many of the settlements are found.

Travis and I were getting tuckered, but we kept pace. By the time we had reached the parking lot of the loop, back where we had started (well, I had anyway), we had finished in four hours.

Next time I go back, I'd like to be able to run the loop. Shoot, I'd like to be able to say I've hiked the trails around the Cove, but I haven't (like Andrew, I've hiked an embarrassingly few amount of trails in the Park) Even though I've seen the Cove in a way few people do, I still have plenty of exploring left to do.

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