Smoky Mountain River Rapids, Big Trees and a Family Vacation

It’s that time of year again! We visit the Bryson City area in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains every year around this time, although this year we went a little earlier in the season and caught the tail end of the summer weather. And since it was a little warmer than usual, we tried a few new things! This year we went tubing, white water rafting, fishing and visited the local aquarium and the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

Smoky Mountain view in Bryson City
The famous “smoke” of the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains

We could really see where the mountains get their name from this year, with the abundance of foggy mist every morning that would rise up over the valley and completely white out our view. This is the most foggy I’ve ever seen it! I’m guessing it’s not as dramatic during the cool crisp fall months when we are usually here. You could even see a light mist rolling through town in Bryson City, and sitting on top of the river when we went rafting.

Besides the beautiful view, we always get to see some mountain wildlife since hunting is not allowed on Baines Mountain. We saw at least eight dear gathered one morning, lots of wild turkeys, a few bats and one little brown bunny.

From Catching Fish to Visiting Fish

We gave fishing a try at Bryson City Island Park, though we didn’t have any luck. It’s a small park on a little island, with pretty flowers and scenery. It was fun just being out there, and my son had a pretty good time throwing rocks . He’s actually thrown rocks all over the world from Ireland to Costa Rica. Because when there’s nothing else to do, you can always throw rocks.

Since fishing was a bust, we decided to visit the local aquarium. At the Appalachian Rivers Aquarium, we got to see alllll the kinds of fish we could have caught, but did not! Fish like trout and bass, plus salamanders and frogs. They had a neat Hellbender exhibit where you can crawl under the tank for a view from the bottom. A Hellbender is a giant salamander, that’s actually quite harmless, but looks a bit scary!

Tubing and White Water Rafting

Our next adventure was tubing at Nantahala, and then river rafting the next day. I did not bring my phone tubing, and I’m very glad I did not, because it was not the relaxing tubing down the river type experience we have here in Florida. It was more like, “Oh God, I’m going to smash into a rock, I could die, Oh this is nice, OK about to die again,” the whole way down. There was a lot of getting stuck on rocks, smashing into rocks and getting slammed in the butt by rocks. Did I mention there was a lot of Very Large Rocks? And my son flipped his tube, which scared him so bad he wanted to ride in my lap half the way down, so overall tubing was a bit stressful.

Rafting went WAY better! We went with Wildwater Rafting in Nantahala and had a great (and less stressful) time rafting down the river with our guide Grace. She expertly guided us through the rapids, calling out instructions like “Two forward!” or “Lean in!” keeping us all rowing in unison and NOT flipping over or getting stuck on rocks. And I was happy that there were some tranquil moments when you could just relax and take in the beauty of the mountains and river.

Lovely Trees at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Joyce Kilmer wrote the famous poem “Trees” and the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest was dedicated in memorial after he was was killed in action in France during World War I. It’s a unique old growth forest with 100 tree species, many over 400-years-old, and some more than 20 feet in circumference and 100 feet tall. We hiked the upper loop because the lower loop was closed due to heavy rains. It’s a pretty good two mile hike, with a lot of rocks and roots and one big tree down where you have to climb around it, or under it.

The scenery certainly is beautiful! And the giant 20 ft wide trees were neat to see. They weren’t as big as the redwoods in California, but they were big! We did the full loop and ran into one scary thing – a giant rattlesnake. It was right off the side of the trail and the rattle noise was really loud. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to a rattler in the wild, and not something I’d like to see again. It was at least 6 ft and thicker than my arm. I kept thinking about that rattler when I had to pee in the woods, lol. The bathrooms were closed and the stench from the porta potties made them unusable. But other than that, it was a beautiful place for a hike.

“I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree”

Joyce Kilmer

And that wraps up another family vacation to the Smoky Mountains! If you want to see what else there is to do in the area, check out my other posts from our visits and read about Gem Mining and visit to the Pumpkin Patch, and then one year we stopped at the Sierra Nevada Brewery, visited a field of sunflowers and went apple picking.

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