Over the past weekend, my boyfriend and I took a somewhat spontaneous hiking trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, and now that I’m back home in the busy city of Columbus, I’m already planning our next trip! We spent three days in the mountains, and above everything else that made it so monumental, I loved the opportunity to relax and clear my mind.

Instead of staying at an expensive resort by the Smoky Mountains, I decided to try an Airbnb for the first time. I admit, I was somewhat nervous to stay in someone else’s home, but now that I’ve tried it, I can confidently say I would do it again! My Airbnb was in the tiny town of Maggie Valley, North Carolina. The town had many tourist-oriented shops, but after further exploration, we found that the people and the local restaurants were what made Maggie Valley so wonderful.

To get to our Airbnb, we drove up a pretty steep road that led us to a perfect cabin situated next to a creek and a private pond. We stayed in the lower level of the owner’s home, but it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Each night after we got back from exploring, we enjoyed grilling out on a deck and relaxing in a hot tub right next to our back door. I’ve tried relaxing in the past [and somehow always fail] but it was impossible to feel anything but calm while listening to the sounds of the creek, with no cell service for miles. 

Another highlight of our trip was our full day of hiking. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has so many trails, but I would recommend Clingmans Dome and Chimney Tops Trail. Clingman’s Dome is actually the highest point, at over 6,000 feet, in the Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee! We left to walk this trail early in the morning to beat traffic, and it was well worth it. The climb was decently steep, but easily manageable [there were many resting points]. This trail was amazing because we got so high that we were literally surrounded by clouds, standing on a lookout that was easily 10 degrees cooler than the point at which we started. It was unreal to see the park from so high off the ground! 

Despite having sore legs, we went to our next trail about an hour away. Chimney Tops trail seemed like the perfect addition to our day, afterall, it is only 3.3 miles. However, we couldn’t have been more wrong about what that would entail. The distance is short, but the climb was incredibly steep. After climbing for about an hour, we were relieved to see a sign for the overlook, only 0.8 miles away, but we would be climbing over 900 feet to get there. The hike was insanely challenging for both of us, but we had fun supporting each other and stopping to take in the incredible views along the way. It was difficult, but I would do it again! 

After spending our day hiking, nothing sounded better than a shower and a nap. That night, we were completely spent, and decided to relieve our muscles in the hot tub, before going to bed around 10 [the earliest I’ve gone to sleep in about 5 months; it was awesome!]. Because we only spent Saturday evening through Monday morning there, we had to pack up and leave early the next day. On Monday morning, we decided to stop for breakfast at a local restaurant called Joey’s Pancake House. If you’re ever in North Carolina, I totally recommend getting breakfast here. My boyfriend and I both loved the small-town vibes and had fun observing how social and friendly everyone was! 

Instead of immediately going home, we decided to make a quick stop at Ripley’s Aquarium of The Smokies to see the 340-foot shark tunnel, pet the stingrays and watch the penguins. Tickets to the aquarium are pricey, but it was well worth it. There were so many types of sea creatures we would never have imagined existing, and I had never seen them at any other aquarium! 

Driving home from our trip was bittersweet, but we both know we will be back in the Smokies sooner rather than later. I loved exploring a new place with such a great travel buddy, relaxing and catching up on some much needed sleep. The best part about this vacation was that the entire trip was less than $200! If you’re looking for a quick getaway, take a trip to the Smokies! 

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