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The Cumberland Plateau

This is the one where the family heads to the mountains…to recreate, not hide.

Christmas saw my family driving north to Tennessee. Earlier in the year, my father had an itch to visit Chattanooga…and so we headed toward the Appalachian Mountains for a holiday away.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the majority of my life in the lowlands and coastal regions of the South, but the mountains seem magical and slightly unearthly. They’re a foreign landscape with amazingly different ecological rules, weather habits, and new smells. So I’m an easy sell when any trip to the Appalachians is suggested.

Our arrival was cloaked in heavy fog from a weather system rolling through the region. At no other moment during our trip did the moniker of “Smoky Mountains” ring more true.

We stayed at Lil’ Bear Cabin in Monteagle. It’s around 45 minutes west of Chattanooga and while the name suggests spectacular run-ins with large creatures, the only life we encountered was the neighborhood cat. The poor thing mistook us for the previous family and wrongly assumed that his loud protests would drive us to let him into the cabin. He was persistent but to no avail.

On Christmas day, my family opened gifts and then enjoyed a deliciously southern buffet at Jim Oliver’s Smoke House. There was more fried chicken and homemade biscuits than we could imagine. Following lunch, we headed to a local hiking site at South Cumberland State Park.

Our prerogative was merely to visit Foster Falls. Had we been more adventurous, or better said, prepared, there was also the option of the Fiery Gizzard Trail. It stretches for 12.5 miles from Foster Falls to the Grundy Forest.

The descent to the falls from the parking area involves several “flights of stairs”. The storm from the day previous had left the area damp and slippery, so the rocks and wood in question were a little precarious to scale.

I wish we had more time and supplies to follow the trail to its completion. The first part that we saw was beautiful.

At every large monument or natural outcrop, my sisters stopped to announce the discovery and lay claim. If you ever visit Foster Falls, please know that my sisters have nominated themselves rulers over several small and random locations. Feel free to trespass. They’ll never know.

The large and impressive bluffs along the trail are a popular location for climbers. At several points, we found groupings of carabiners secured into the rocky overhangs.

You can see that we took our time.

At one point, there was a small scuffle regarding ownership of a walking stick…or possibly about modeling…I’m not sure.

There was also a point when my sister went all Gandalf on my mother at the bridge and announced lack of passage. It was short-lived as my mother could strike fear into the heart of even the most terrifying balrog.

We made it back to our cabin right at sunset.

And come morning, the view had been drastically altered. With fair weather on our side, we headed southeast to Chattanooga.

We began our walk through the city at the Walnut Street Bridge. It’s a pedestrian bridge and provides uninterrupted views of the city and river. We spent a little time milling about the shops of the North Shore and then made our way to Coolidge Park that sits along the riverside.

There is a carousel in the park along with short walking trails, fountains, and more.

We ended the day with a short trip to Lookout Mountain. This infamous location will be announced to visitors by hundreds of billboards, flyers, and pamphlets. Please do not be oversold. The views are amazing, but the total cost for the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls, and Rock City are unwarranted. Better views and natural wonders are to be found in the surrounding mountains.

But we did enjoy our ride on the Incline Railway. It heads straight up the side of the mountain and at one point achieves an incline of 72.7%…so it’s one of the steepest in the world. It will take your breath away as the railcar hangs off the platform at the summit.

(Truly, the best part about the visit is the role this location plays in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. It’s a hotspot for tourists and the location of the battle of the Old and New Gods.)

But isn’t that the nature of traveling? There are the touristy, loud, and bright attractions and then there are the quieter gems hidden away. While the gems might require more effort and discomfort to find, they are the better stories in the end.

But that’s me. You do you.