Rafting, Waterfalls, and Bears, Oh My!

Trip Start Jun 07, 2013
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Trip End Jun 16, 2013

Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wednesday morning we got up bright and early to hike 1.3 miles (one way) to Laurel Falls. The guides said it was an easy, flat trail. Apparently the people of Tennessee have a different definition of flat than I do, because this trail was ALL up hill. It was a paved trail though, so it was relatively easy going.

About half way there, people we saw on the way back down the trail started telling us there was a bear further up ahead. So we tried to get the kids to step up the pace; easier said than done. I'm pretty sure I was the most excited one in our little troup about the possibility of seeing a bear. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later we came across a young female bear up in a tree eating berries. There was a ranger nearby (how do they always know where the wildlife is?!) and he said she'd been up there about an hour. Other than all the leaves being in the way it was a great picture taking spot. We were on a trail about 4' wide on the side of a mountain, so there was a sheer drop on one side and a steep wall of trees and shrubs up the other. This means that although the bear was high up in a tree, she was about level with the trail, and only maybe 40' out from it.

We stayed for about 10 minutes watching her and taking pictures before she climbed down and went on her way back into the forest. At one point the ranger said that when she decided to come out of the tree, if she hit the trail, we'd all have to scatter. As I mentioned before, it was sheer drop off on one side of the trail and steep climb up the other, so I'm not sure where he thought we were going to go. Running off down the trail with a bear on my heels didn't sound too appealing, since it dead-ended into the waterfall on the side of the trail I was on. 75' drop over the waterfall or hungry bear; choices, choices.

Laurel Falls had water coming from up above (yes, that should be obvious, I know), then there was a flat part (this is where the trail came out), and then it continued down below that. So there was a bridge so you could cross the water fall; it wasn't high, just enough to be above the water, as I'm sure some idiots tried to cross over the rocks and plummeted to their deaths, so a bridge was put in. But once over the bridge you could walk right up to the edge of the waterfall, and actually stand in the water if you wanted to. There were two signs pounded right into the rocks warning of the possible danger of going over, but people were wandering up there for pictures.

One lady actually had a stroller, the big kind not an umbrella stroller, and had parked it maybe 10' off the edge. Well, she grabbed it to start walking back up towards the bridge, slipped on some wet rock and fell, and the stroller started pulling her down. Luckily it stopped right away, but it was quite the scare. Kaeleigh, of course, wanted to go close to the edge and when Bill said no, her response was that "dad is like a rock in my life, he keeps me down".

After the waterfall, we stopped off for a picnic in the park then headed to our whitewater rafting trip. This was the perfect day for rafting as the temps hit 93*, but felt like 100*. You were supposed to arrive 1 hour prior to the start of your raft trip, but we had to change and sunscreen up, so we arrived 1 1/2 hours prior. Well, apparently since we checked in so early they changed us to the 1:30 trip (we were booked for 2:30) but didn't bother to tell us. So we missed them calling us and were sitting there and sitting there. Finally, Bill checked at the office again and they smushed us on a raft with another family, for our original, confirmed raft trip. I wasn't pleased with the way this organization was run; organized chaos.

We could only go on the lower river trip, because it had level 1 and 2 rapids (the upper trip had 3 and 4 level rapids) and they won't let kids under 70 pounds on the crazier rapids. Even though they said the water was a little high from the recent rains, it was like floating down the lazy river with a couple bumps along the way. Even Kaeleigh said it was boring. The kids did get to get out and "swim" for about 10 feet during a non-rocky portion of the ride. Overall, the kids had fun getting out and on the river, and it was a different way to see some of the mountain scenery.

We went to dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge and I would highly recommend it, but get there early as it's very busy. The food was so good, BIll actually wants to go back before we head home. The portions are huge, the side dishes are family style, and a yummy dessert is included. The fritters they serve before dinner are to die for, mmm, mmm!

This morning we took our time getting up since the only real plans we had were to hike to another waterfall. This time we were making the 1.5 mile (one way) hike to Grotto Falls, where you actually can go behind the falls. The hike was mostly uphill, through rocky, tree root terrain with several streams to cross. It was a pretty, but hot, buggy walk. We didn't see any critters this time, but we did see lots of critter poo along the way. The kids found this very entertaining.

Once we got to the falls, it was crowded, so it was hard to take good pictures. It was pretty neat to walk behind the falls though. The kids even took off their shoes and played in the cold water for a bit. The drive to/from this falls was very scenic. There was a rocky river all along the way and old wood homesteads to stop at and explore.

We headed back into Gatlinburg for lunch; Bill made us eat at The Hard Rock Cafe. It was raining when we finished so we went to Ripley's Aquarium. We spent about 2 hours there. It's expensive, but it has a couple of touch pools, an underwater walkway, a stingray bay and a penguin play house, so the kids really enjoyed it. They also have "shows" going on every half hour, this includes a shark dive, feeding the penguins and stuff like that. Then it was back to the cabin for dinner and laundry. Just like home!
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