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Winter Weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains

Ever since I moved to Nashville, I have been wanting to explore The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. A few friends and I finally made it happen and spent a weekend in a cabin surrounded by the glorious Smokies. The essentials for a winter cabin in the Smoky Mountains are, a fireplace, a hot tub and a view. We found a little cabin on airbnb that had the essentials. Our time was short and we never had the chance to get our wood burning fireplace going, but we definitely enjoyed the hot tub and the view. I won’t post much about the airbnb because I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. It was a good price, but old and all the appliances were very old and falling apart. It was located on a very steep hill and hard to get in and out of to park. But, the perks of this cabin were the gorgeous view, the deck and hot tub. We brought food and did all our meals at the cabin.

The first day, everyone arrived and we just hung out at the cabin that evening and enjoyed the hot tub. The next day, after a nice breakfast in the cabin, we hit the trail for a full day hiking adventure. We drove about 50 minutes from our Gatlinburg cabin, to our hike, Charlie’s Bunion, in the Great Smoky Mountain National park.

The view from our cabin


Location: The Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Newfound Gap Parking Area, Bryson City, NC 28713

Length: 8.6 miles

Route: Out and Back

Elevation: 1981 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

See more on AllTrails

History: The rock formation, known as Charlies Bunion, was formed by a fire in 1925, which was followed by a flood in 1929. Charlies Bunion was named in 1929 after hiker Charlie Connor, who found a bunion on his foot while hiking with Horace Kephart. Kephart was an advocate for the mountains and one of the main campaigners to creating what we now know as, The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Click here for more.

About: The trailhead for this hike is located at the Newfoundland Gap Parking area. The trailhead is where The Great Smoky Mountains cross North Carolina into Tennessee. Charlies Bunion is a part of the Appalachian Trail. There is not a sign leading to Charlies Bunion. Follow the signs for the Appalachian Trail and Icewater Spring. Once you hit Icewater Spring, there will be a shelter and a sign directing you to Charlies Bunion. Charlies Bunion is about 1 mile past the shelter. Just keep walking and you can’t miss it!

I wanted to find the best winter hike in the Smokies and came across Charlie’s Bunion. It was a beautiful day as we set out for the trail! The trail started out with an easy climb when not far in, we came across a long, icy patch. We did not have spikes or crampons, so it made the journey a little more tricky. It was definitely an exciting adventure...and funny to watch as we navigated the path, hopping from dirt patch to rock and trying not to slip on the slick ice. Unexpected obstacles are what memories are made of and make great stories to tell. Just when we thought we were in the clear from ice, we came across more icy patches. This happened multiple times throughout our hike. Without spikes, this definitely slowed our progress on the trail. It was a lot of baby steps. We saw some other hikers, most of them, like us, did not have spikes. There were a few people who told us there was more ice ahead and they decided to turn around, while there were other hikers who informed us there are more icy patches, but said to take them slow and they are manageable and the view is so worth it. So we ventured on!

The scenery was stunning and as we continued to climb, the fog got thicker. The fog weaving through the trees gave a dreamy storybook feeling. It felt like we were walking through a fairytale. Since our pace was slower than anticipated, when we reached the shelter at Icewater Spring the group was getting hungry. There were benches and a table so we decided to stop and eat our lunches there. Once we were refueled, we packed up and embarked once again for the final mile to to our destination.

We were moving and grooving with no ice patches until we came across one that looked long and slightly sketchy. Not long before, we came across some hikers, who said there is one final icy patch and the rest is smooth sailing. Most of the group was feeling uncertain, so Kaiti and I scoped out the path and discovered it looked more challenging than it actually was. But the rest of the group was still unsure and hesitant. We decided to split up. Kaiti and I finished the last mile and the rest turned back and met us at the parking lot. There are times when it’s beneficial to push your limits, but it is also important to know your limits, especially when it comes to adventurous activities. At the end of the day, if someone does not feel comfortable or safe, then it's important to respect that.

So we parted ways and Kaiti and I completed what I found to be my favorite section of the hike. Since the fog was thick, we were not sure we would even see a view at the bunion. The trail was gorgeous and as we headed towards the bunion, the trail narrowed, the fog cleared, and the view came into sight. We were ecstatic to find that we could see the view and were in awe as we watched the fog roll in and out. I am thankful to have made it to the top and for a group who all respected each other and our individual limits and allowed each other to split up, so we could all do what we felt comfortable doing. But let me tell you, the view here is stunning. The clearing showing off the peaks and valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains, left me mesmerized. The fog engulfing the view and fading in and out, made it evident why these mountains got their name. They lived up to the smoky in Smoky Mountains! I would love to come back for a sunrise and with all the vibrant colors in the fall.

After soaking in the scenery as long as we could, Kaiti and I made good time on our way back. We were moving fast and at one point were confused because we had not hit an ice patch. In the short couple of hours we were on the trail, the ice had melted, leaving only 1 or 2 patches for us to navigate! Our climb filled with many baby steps turned into a descent of long, easy strides.

This got me thinking, life is often that way. There are times the climb is hard, filled with obstacles and fog obscuring our view. Sometimes, all we can take is baby steps and it feels like we are getting nowhere. But when we take the time to stop and look, we see how far we have come. When we arrive at the top, we can take a breath and see how our hard work paid off. It's in that moment, we see clearly that each baby step mattered. Each painful step that was filled with doubt, fear, uncertainty took us to something beautiful and that only happened because we kept moving forward. We did not back down. And after all that, we were able to soak in the beauty and our baby steps turn into long strides. Life is made of more slow, baby steps than long, easy strides, but those seasons of baby steps and obstacles sure make me thankful for the seasons of long strides and an easy path. But in each season, the hard and the easy, there is still beauty all around if only you take a moment to stop, look, and appreciate it!

Safety Tips: Winter

  • Check the weather (and check it right before you leave -- Tennessee weather can change fast) and plan accordingly.

  • Stay on the trail!

  • Layer up!

  • Let someone know your plans and an estimate of when you should be back.

  • Hike with a buddy, but if you are solo hiking, make sure someone knows where you are going and have a GPS you can use when there is no service.

  • Pack a first aid kit.

  • Pack extra snacks and bring plenty of water. Don’t drink water from streams unless you have a water filter.

  • Keep your distance from wildlife. Know what wildlife is popular in your area and what precautions to take if you encounter them.

  • Bring spikes, crampons, trekking poles -- especially in the winter and cold weather when there’s potential for ice.


The next day was our last day in the mountains. We had a slow morning in the cabin, hanging out and getting packed up. We couldn’t leave without one more adventure, so in the spirit of hikes with medical issue names, we headed over to Cataract Falls! ;) This was supposed to be a short 1.1 mile round trip hike, but we went to the wrong trailhead and it was an even shorter 0.2 mile round trip hike. This was a heavily populated area, but fun to still get out and see one of the many beautiful waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains!

On our way home we made a pit stop in Knoxville to get coffee and lunch from a recommended coffee shop, K Brew. It was a fun setting and they had a section with swinging hammock chairs, which was really cool!

If you stay in Gatlinburg, downtown Gatlinburg has lots of entertainment and food. The strip is very touristy and packed with shops and restaurants. As one of my friends described it, downtown Gatlinburg is “mountain town redneck Las Vegas”. I’d say it’s a hilarious, yet accurate description! I highly recommend heading to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park for some winter mountain adventures!

Hop on the "kara-van" and let’s take the adventurous route,

~ Kara Renee’



Hey friend! Thanks for stopping by!

I'm Kara! I'm just a directionally challenged girl, who loves adventure! What most people call getting lost, I call taking the adventurous route! So jump on the "kara-van" and let's take the adventerous route!

Let's get lost together!​​



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