OUR CROSS COUNTRY ROAD TRIP
APRIL 2 THRU APRIL 16
ADDISON, NY TO MONTEREY, CA
DAY 1 MON 04.02.2018
Monday marked day 1 of the trip. We spent the last couple days in Addison, NY visiting with Leslie’s family and picking up the new van, of course! Boy, does it look good. The plan for Monday was to head down to Richmond, VA to spend some time with Leslie's sisters. We were able to leave by 730am and got in around 2pm. We enjoyed a nice relaxing evening walking along the Virginia Capital Trail and having dinner at Conche Republic.
Here are a couple photos from the day...
Photos From Day 1
After a night sleep at Lauren's apartment (that's Leslie's sister), we are planning to leave Richmond about noon and head to Shenandoah National Park. It's about an hour and a half drive from Richmond and our original plan is listed below. Our itinerary may end up being slightly different because I found out my cousins from New Jersey are in. I will update the page again within a couple days (WiFi dependent)
Tuesday starts the explorations back on our own.
DAY 2 TUES 04.03.2018
After a night sleep at Lauren's apartment (that's Leslie's sister), we left Richmond at 12:30 and headed to Shenandoah National Park. It's about an hour and a half drive from Richmond and our original plan is listed below (plus actual plan) is listed below. Our itinerary ended up changing slightly because I found out my cousins from New Jersey are at the park at the same time as we are!
Enter via Swift Run Gap Entrance
Head North to South River Falls Hike
Swift Run Overlook
Bottom Something Overlook
Jones Run Falls Trailhead [3.5mi out & back hike]
Blackrock Summit [1 mi easy overlook]
Horsehead Mountain Overlook
Moorman’s River Overlook
Crimora River Overlook
We chose to drive up to the Swift Run Gap Entrance so we could start there and head south. We replaced the Jones Run Falls Trail with the South River Falls Hike so we could meet up with the family, however, if you head to the Swift Run Gap Entrance and head South, you will be able to do everything minus the South River Falls Hike. There are a ton of overlooks on the drive. I did some research in advance and chose the ones we stopped at based on pictures online and the distance of how they were spaced out on the map. They are fairly easy to see from the car, so it’s not difficult to choose which ones to stop at as you go!
South River Falls Hike: We met up with Chriselle, Mike, Zoe, and Max for this hike. We parked at the South River Falls Trailhead and from there it was a 2.2 mi out and back hike to the overlook. The hike can be stretched to about 4.5 miles or so if you take the loop. The out and back starts downhill and of course ends uphill. It's so woodsy and there is a nice river flow along the way to the waterfall overlook.
The Overlooks: There are a ton of overlooks on the drive. I did some research in advance and chose the ones we stopped at based on pictures online and the distance of how they were spaced out on the map. They are fairly easy to see from the car, so it’s not difficult to choose which ones to stop at as you go! Below are photos of each one we went to.
Swift Run Overlook
Blackrock Summit: This one is a 1 mile RT hike to the overlook. This was perfect because we wanted to do a hike but didn't have a long time to spend in the park. This one gets you an amazing view but doesn't take much time. It's a pretty flat trail.
Horsehead Mountain Overlook
Moorman's River Overlook: It was about 6pm and we were ready for dinner. This looked like the perfect pull-off for that...
Crimora River Overlook: The sun FINALLY started shining and gave us this beautiful sunset to enjoy at this last overlook we stopped at!
There are of course plenty of other hikes to do, however, the plans above were selected based on the fact that we allowed ourselves about a half a day at the park. I really wanted to do at least 1 waterfall hike and 1 hike that leads to a scenic overlook.
Lodging: I called the VA DOT to confirm overnight parking is allowed at rest areas. We drove 2.5 hours to the Radford Rest Area and spent the night there. It was really not so bad, especially having the van. We took advantage of our memberships at Anytime Fitness for showers in Salem, VA along the way!
ANYTIME FITNESS: 35 Spartan Dr, Salem, VA (on the way to rest stop #3)
LODGING: Radford Rest Area [37.099291, -80.519943] (2.25 hr S of Shenandoah)
DAY 3 WED 04.04.2018
It was time to switch National Parks. Off to Great Smoky Mountains. *TIP: If you are going at this time of year, call or check their twitter page for current road conditions/closures. After making a big list of potential things we could do Wednesday, here’s what we ended up with...
Lunch: BBQ in Gatlinburg
Get a spot at Elkmont Campground
2 lookouts – check map
Laurel Falls Hike [2.6 mi RT]
Lodging: Elkmont CG
By the time we knew we were taking cross-country road trip, all campground reservations were full for any campground we were interested in reserving at Great Smoky. Each site does have several first-come first serve spots so we were hoping we’d be able to get a spot and our first choice was Elkmont. Since we were able to get one, we planned to do one big hike (Charlie’s Bunion) on Thursday before heading to Nashville.
Delauder's BBQ: Everything about this place worked out perfectly. We arrived in Gatlinburg just as lunchtime approached. As we arrived, there was one parking spot (no trouble for the van) and the place was in this quaint little shopping area. Mr. Delauder was there smoking his meat and is super friendly. The food is amazing. The prices are very reasonable. The portion sizes were perfect. I went with the 2 meat platter that comes with 2 sides, and a roll (ribs, pulled pork, fried mac & cheese, and baked beans). I would absolutely recommend the ribs and pulled pork. The baked beans were incredible. The mac n cheese was awesome as well. Another reason this worked out so perfectly was because it was still about 5-10 minutes outside of the touristy part of Gatlinburg which was as busy as NYC on NYE. It was insane and I couldn’t believe it. We never would have found parking for the van. If you come to Gatlinburg, Delauder's BBQ is a must!
Elkmont Campground: I had my eye on this campground because it was the most centralized. I had a list of potential: things we could do Wednesday afternoon and this would allow us to be closer to many things. We ended up driving to a couple of lookouts and more excitingly, hiked to Laurel Falls. The campground itself was just like any typical campground and it costs $21. *TIP: When the ranger left the station, she put up the “Campground Full” sign but I can vouch for the fact that the campground was not full. So if you’re looking for a spot, maybe check even if that sign is up.
Lookouts: These photos were from a couple of the pull-offs along the roads. [Photos to be added soon]
Laurel Falls: This made the cut of my original plans. It was also the most convenient hike that we wanted to do that was near the campground. It’s a 2.6 mi RT out & back hike that features a gradual uphill climb on the way out. The waterfall at the end is pretty rewarding and you can scramble down toward the lower part and check out the other drop below. There are 2 small parking lots. They were full but parking on the side of the road is allowed (in designated areas – avoid part of the road that specifically says no parking).
It was about 7pm when we finished the hike and it just begun to get pretty cold. After that we just headed back toward the campground, and stayed inside with the doors closed to keep the cold air out. We made some venison hot dogs & sausages and went to bed!
DAY 4 THURS 04.05.2018
Things did change in terms of our original Thursday plans. The overnight temperatures reached the 20s and since we had to fly to NY to pick up the van, we did not bring any of our cold weather gear. We wore pretty much all the clothes we brought and each had a blanket to use. I was freezing. I woke up in the middle of the night and was so happy to find out it was 5am and that we at least made it through the night without being too cold. We turned the van on and headed up toward Newfound Gap Overlook (where the Charlie’s Bunion hike begins). Here’s what we ended up doing on Thursday...
Newfound Gap Overlook
Cades Cove Loop
(Drive to Nashville)
Dinner @ Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
Broadway Street (live music at Nudies)
Lodging: Cracker Barrel Inn
Newfound Gap Overlook: We woke up and it was freezing. I started the van to get the heat going. We went to the bathroom and took off for the Newfound Gap Overlook before sunrise. After about a 40 minute drive from Elkmont, we arrived to Newfound Gap just as the sun was starting to come up (elevation ~ 5,000’ & temperature 26 deg F). The plan was to make some tea and breakfast here (while letting the van warm up on the drive). As the sun began to rise, I saw several photographers setting up and I realized we just accidentally got to this spot that is a gem for a photo! I set up next to another photographer and got the shot below.
After we ate our eggs and the sun had come up, the thermometer still only read 27 degrees and that’s when we decided to bail on the hike. We did not have the gear with us to be comfortable hiking up to 6,600 feet in weather that cold. I was pumped we got to experience the view at Newfound Gap and with tons of other stuff to do at the park, we decided to head over to the Cades Cove Loop (to hopefully see bears).
Cades Cove Loop: This is an 11-mile one-way loop. There are places to cut off midway through if you don’t want to do the whole 11 miles. The brochure describes this as a great place to see wildlife. We saw a bunch of deer and turkeys. We were hoping to see bears (a lady the night before said she had seen 10 bears since Monday in that area) but we didn’t. The loop offered great valley views with the mountains in the background. There are several stops along the way for hiking and lookouts. There was 1 waterfall hike of 5.5 miles about halfway through, however, we did not want to make time for that based on how the day had been going.
Picnic Lunch: After we finished the Cades Cove Loop, we exited the park and started our drive toward Nashville. About 20 minutes outside the park we found a picnic area across from Cades Cove Cellars where we cooked more venison and veggies before continuing the drive to Nashville.