We traveled from Northern Virginia to have a week of camping leisure. This is a 9-10 hour drive in case you are interested. We reserved our site well in advance as we heard it filled up quickly. We arrived on a Thursday to find the camp 95 % full. Our site was 68, in the back loop. It was a beautiful site covered by pines and rhododendron. The gravel pad was level and dry. The site hosted a large firepit with grate and a concrete picnic table. Potable water is 2 sites down and the trash is directly in front of this site. The bathhouses in loop 5 are not new. The other loops have very nice new bathhouses. The walk to the bathhouse was a little difficult, since we were at the top of a hill. We often just drove to use the facilities in the new bathhouses. As night fell, the temperature dropped significantly, 80 degrees to 50 degrees. It was very pleasant, but pack warmer clothes. No biting bugs to be seen. But at night, the bugs started sounding around 8pm. It was a wonderful sound, the humming was very relaxing. In the middle of the night, a pack of coyotes began howling. It was a strange but beautiful sound.
Bears wander this campground frequently, as we were told by the camp store owner. We were told to lock our coolers and all food in our car. Nothing at all should be left out or in your tent. We willingly followed these instructions.
The first night, we were too exhausted to hear anything other than the drunken southern campers, enjoying their weekend get away. I swear more than one had packed up their entire kitchen and set it up in a portable garage they brought in their big diesel trucks. The peace and quiet we sought was absent these first few nights. Loud music, loud talking and yelling. The position of our site seemed to echo every metal sound or loud voice. But, we tolerated this well as the site is beautiful.
Night two : The thunks and snorts started. BEARS ! I woke up to hear a bear rubbing at the trash cans. I could hear foot steps in the gravel in the parking space. I could hear what sounded like something trying to lift the handle of the car doors. The growls started. I held my breath and woke my husband. We turned on the flash lights and were able to scare off the bear by sounding the car alarm. Slowly, site by site down the hill, all did the same. It sounded like a parking lot in the city.
Several times we heard voices yelling "GIT BEAR" . No actual encounter but enough to keep you up at night.
Day Four: While cooking breakfast at 8:30am, we hear our neighbor yell "BEAR". Sure enough, it was walking down to our site. It followed the creek behind our site and planted itself for a stare down about 20 feet from us. We yelled and waived our hands. He paused for a minute.... a long minute... and then wandered off. We looked at each other and in our sleep deprived state decided it was time to move on. Every little sound we heard at night kept us awake and prevented us from being able to sleep.
We ended up traveling to Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire mine for the day. It is a wonderful place. By far the best in our opinion. It is a true mine, not salted. The owners are wonderful and very helpful. The stones we found were beautiful. We had several cut at the Cowee Lipidary. The owner is a unique fellow, give him time to warm up. While driving to the mine, we noticed a sign for Bates Cabins. We called the number and spoke to Mr. Bates. He was very helpful and offered us Cabin #1 for a few nights. We were thrilled when we got to our cabin. A Five bedroom log cabin. There was a flume and mine right on the property, ours to use for free. We had a great time sifting through the dirt and pulling out small rubies and sapphires. The cabin was wonderfully stocked. It was decorated with lots of hand carved furniture and many rockers on the covered porch for relaxing. We will return here again !
Other interesing places: Travel route 64 to the Highlands and it's waterfalls. This road is not for the faint of heart. Continue past Highlands a few miles and visit the Carolina BBQ for true home cooking. Stameys Cafe in Franklin (the best cheap eats for breakfast) Blueridge Roadhouse for great steaks. Cowee Lipidary for gem identification. Sunset Cafe for a quick country dinner. Antique shops in Franklin. The visitor center in Franklin should be your first stop.... very helpful.
This was a wonderful trip with our surpise ending. Beautiful country.... despite the beasts. We will return again.