3 national parks in four days

After leaving Washington DC and the Arlington cemetery behind, we got on the road and headed east, towards Shenandoah National Park. The drive wasn't too long, and soon we hit the winding roads up through the mountains. We stopped for lunch, before continuing on into the mountains some more, and headed to the trailhead of the Stony Man Trail.  This was our first hike in the States, and we were unprepared - who needs hiking boots and poles? For a first hike, it was hard, steep and uphill and in the sun for about a mile but the view was more than worth it in the end.

We stayed at the top of the hill for at least an hour, watching everyone scramble rocks down the front of the hill mountain, whilst enjoying the view of the surrounding mountains. After we'd relaxed and cooled down and enjoyed the view we then had to attempt the long, steep walk down with a lure of an ice cream at the bottom. After finishing up with the ice cream, we were back on the road, and off to the campsite. We set up camp, started a fire, and settled down for the night.

The following morning, we were up early, and back on the road - that seemed to be the major theme for the two weeks on Trek. We had a 320km drive from our campsite in Broadway, Virginia, to the Adventures on the Gorge in Lansing, West Virginia. We managed to bag an amazing sport for lunch looking out over the Gorge and the river, before everyone else in the Trek group headed out for white water rafting. The idea of white water rafting didn't appeal to me, and instead, I chose to hike - who am I?

We were trying to find a trailhead that our tour leader had been told about and ended up taking one small wrong turn and we ended up going from the top of the gorge to almost all the way down to the river. It was tough, and the hike back definitely took twice as long as the way down. I was exhausted by the time I got back to the top, but it was almost empowering - the whole way down I was questioning how I was going to manage to get back to the top - and I made it!  The hike took longer than we thought, and by the time we got back to camp, everyone else had finished white water rafting.

We just about had enough time to have a quick shower, freshen up and then we headed out to grab sandwiches for dinner and found the actual Beauty Mountain trail we were after beforehand. And the name didn't lie! It was the greatest place to stop and have dinner. I think we all sat there in awe for a while, unbelieving that this place was actually real - it wasn't the type of views you'd expect whilst you're in America.

The next morning we were up early and headed out on the long drive to the Great Smoky Mountains, and all that eastern Tennessee had to offer. The drive was incredible, winding through the mountains and narrowly avoiding Dollywood.  We arrived at the campsite, and set up home for the next two nights, right next to a rushing river.  After a quick dinner, we headed out in search of a sunset spot. We drove up into the mountains, until it felt like we’d run out of road, hiked a mile up a steep hill, and then climbed to the top of a lookout tower - and felt as if we were on top of the mountains.  The views were incredible, and the sunset was just as insane. As we got chatting to the other people there, we realised we were in for a treat - there was going to be a moonrise too.

Now I’d never thought much about the moon rising - how incredible could it really be? - but it was honestly one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen. The moon rose incredibly fast and we also got to witness shooting stars and even satellites, and even other planets! It ended up being probably the best night of the trip. 

The next morning we were up early and started the drive through the park to the trailhead. It was long and winding, and we were heading deeper and deeper into the park. There had been a bit of miscommunication - some of us thought the hike was short and would only be about a mile long, the others knew its true length - it ended up being a seven-mile round trip, over the top of a mini-mountain. But once we got to the end and we saw the waterfall, it was more than worth it, no matter how unprepared we were. 

We must have spent an hour or two, swimming in and exploring the waterfalls, before we had to start the long walk back to the car park. The walk was stunning, and really showed the different levels of other hikers - some had gone all out, in hiking boots with poles, other carrying babies, us in trainers. We did score a jackpot on the drive back to the campsite - we got to see a mother black bear with her two cubs! They were just scavenging for food, completely unaware of the cars pulled over and people following their every move.

We ended the night with a campfire and s'mores, because what more would you want! Those four days were in the parks were just amazing, and a well-needed escape from bustling cities, wifi and the realities of life.


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