Bryson City, North Carolina has been on our list of “top places” to see for quite sometime. I remember us talking about visiting years ago being drawn in by the history of Fontana Lake and reading about this town in Our State Magazine solidified the plan to go.
As a family on a budget, we search for the most affordable places but also centered around awesome things to do that doesn’t rip the money straight from of your wallet. Typically you can find campgrounds close to a body of moving water for a decent price. These places tend to be “no-frills” campgrounds. We have found several of these over the course of camping for 8 years. These very campgrounds typically do not require a deposit on your site and simply ask for your name. This time we found Grumpy Bear Campground. It was right on the Tuckasegee river. Our kids had a river-stone beach and we spent many hours picking up river glass and flat stones that will end up our shower floor. Standing on this beach we could see the metal from the cars sticking out of the water that were placed along the banks to prevent erosion. I hear Oaklee say, “Look mama a car!”. Waking up to fog filled mountains and hearing the river rush over the rocks was exactly how I wanted to start my day
We were just a few minutes from town. The cutest town ever… Fishing shops, microbreweries, cafe, book store, small restaurants (that were ALWAYS full) with front porch seating, unique mountain shops, ice cream shops, and of course outdoor gear shop (Bryson City Outdoors which also had a taproom). We had conversations with almost every worker in The BOC and everyone was so friendly even Lager the store pup gave the kids ‘hello’ kisses.
Shopping isn’t really my thing but I do appreciate a good stroll though a pretty town and seeing what it has to offer. But if you’re like me and would rather go on a hike or see wildlife and read about history you’re in luck because Bryson City has all of that. Right outside of town you have one entrance to the Great Smoky National Park which leads to a trailhead splitting off into a few different trails and you can continue on the pavement to The Road To Nowhere. This was probably my favorite part of Bryson City. We left our campsite due to it pouring down rain. We were standing under our Kodiak Canvas awning and decided to drive to the national park just to look around and we ended up at the venue that was meant for Day 2 (and yes we always have an itinerary). It was perfect and meant to be because we pulled into an empty parking lot.
We pushed through eerie fog and rain escaping it all within the black tunnel of The Road To Nowhere. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t exactly want to walk through this tunnel. I didn’t at all. Except our three-year-old begged us to walk through it. So we did and so did she… she walked the entire way through and back not scared at all. Just a few yards in a bat collides with my head. I really didn’t want to go now. With the light from just my Nikon we walked snapping pictures to make sure nothing and no-one was ahead of us. We could see a foggy silhouette of the exit on other side. Or was it? This place was spooky and gave us a good thrill. Whether the story, storm or the fight against darkness it gave a good rush. The walls had been dipped in graffiti and one part seemed to stand out more than the rest reading, “Have less. Be more”.
As we started walking back through we heard a group of people at the entrance that were also reluctant to walk The Road To Nowhere. The storm has passed at this point. We hear them yell to hear their echo and we returned the favor with a good “ooo”. They laugh unsurely saying “There’s someone in there!” and decided to walk through. As we pass we exchange hellos and keep walking. This tunnel echoed like nothing I had ever experienced. This place is a true gem and a great [free activity] to add to your list when visiting Bryson City. You seriously shouldn’t go home without doing this.
You can continue driving through town passing through “tubing town” to end in another entrance to The Great Smoky National Park finding trails to hike, tubing, public bathrooms, places for picnics, and waterfalls. This place was awesome and I had never seen so many people taking advantage of a park. It was humbling seeing thousands of people opting outside. We parked and had a secluded picnic and then decided to take a hike. It was more of a stroll. With a wide open trail and with minimal effort we were able to push our jogging stroller to two waterfalls. Perfect. [free activity]
Our last day in Bryson City and the kids needed a nap we just decided to drive and see where the road took us. We started seeing signs for the Nantahala National Forest. At this point I may have begged to go, I’m not sure. Another place we had wanted to see, so we did. We drove and took turns getting out and feeling the water, walking across swinging bridges, and breathing the crisp mountain air all while the kids slept. There is just something about the mountains and water that we’re drawn to… we just can’t help it. When I was younger I always wanted to go to the beach but the mountains is just a special special place to me and that’s where I want to be.
Camping has become very popular over the past few years as it is a cheaper way to vacation (per night I’ll add). The initial cost of your gear can be pricey and it takes planning and hard work. But to be sitting outside by a fire or laying in a hammock under the stars listening to natures third-shift is so worth all of the effort and money that is invested. You meet like-minded people who may develop into new friendships, have conversations that are forever held to your heart, and learn about yourself and each other more-so than you would if staying in a hotel room in-front of a tv. Being outdoors changes you all for the greater good. Everyone becomes involved whether it be for collecting firewood or for getting dinner ready and soon that translates into home life becoming how everyone works, together.
If you’re interested in opting outside for your next vacation you’re going to need to think of a few things to make your trip smooth.
I’m going to list a few ideas but certainly aren’t limited to just these. These few things have helped our camping trips (if you know us then you know we travel frequently) and hopefully if you’re already into camping or maybe just starting out they can help you too.
So when thinking of camping you may ask:
How am I going to prepare our meals?
— We often take our baby weber and cook on charcoal, sometimes we take our Coleman propane stove and Baking Steel, and others we take our compact jet stove. Each one has its pros. Consider your packing space and what you can allow. And even plan out your meals ahead of time. This will help you decide what cooking appliances you will need and hopefully not forget something. When we take our Coleman camping stove and Baking Steel we sacrifice little space and everything packs together nicely. Our Baking Steel fits perfectly on both eyes and we are able to maximize our cooking surface cooking multiple things at once, which I absolutely love. When using our charcoal grill we tend to have less dishes to clean. You can prepare foil packet meals and throw them right onto the grill. With aluminum foil acting as your plate, all you have to do is toss it and wash your fork. Let me clarify– you can also do this on your Baking Steel. AND the Coleman and Baking Steel pack together tighter and smaller. We really love our Baking Steel and is the main surface I cook on at home. This trip to Bryson City we took our weber and jet stove. Weber for food and jet stove for coffee. The jet stove has a pitcher of water ready in just a few minutes. I’m really not one to want to wait for coffee when I wake up. So if you’re like me you will appreciate this!
How will I keep my items cold?
— We purchased a Coleman Marine cooler off of Amazon that does the job! It’s a fair price in comparison to other coolers at that size and is made in USA. When we buy bagged ice we have to “re-up” every 3 days or so. But we recently switched to freezing our LeBleu water bottles to act as our ice. Allowing us to skip on paying for ice, we’re not dealing with a ton of water in our cooler seeping into our other items, we have bottled drinking water as they thaw and we can reuse the bottles again next time. Just fill them up and toss them into the freezer for your next camping trip.
Where will we sleep?
— You’ll need a tent or a hammock. There are so many options so do your research and read reviews. Thats the biggest tip I can give. Read about other peoples experiences with the product and company. We use a Kodiak Canvas tent and have waited out a lot of rain and even storms and we have never gotten wet. It is seriously the best tent that we have ever used. It’s also a breeze to set up and take down. We purchased our hammocks off Amazon. They come with a mosquito net built-in and are a fraction of the price of an Eno.
What will be our sleeping arrangements?
–We have spent many nights sleeping on the ground only wrapped in a sleeping bag. Doable for sure but investing in a sleeping mat will make your night’s rest just that, rest. You’re going to sleep well and be charged and ready to tackle your day come morning. When camping for long trips it will serve your body way better than the ground or your typical air mattress. We use a KingCamp Deluxe self inflating camping mat and its super comfortable. Once your tent is up, throw your mat into your tent and untwist the caps, walk away and continue getting things set up. It will inflate itself and all you have to do is tighten the caps back up once you’re finished setting up. You can even top the air off by blowing into the valves before you secure them. This item is well worth the purchase and you’ll be happy that you did!
What if it rains? Where will we hangout?
It’s a real bummer being rained on in the middle of the day and being cooped up in the tent. Especially for multiple days. Having a tarp to throw over a guyline and secure around some trees will make your rainy days dryer and more enjoyable and give you relief during those super hot and sunny days too. Our Kelty Noah tarp has been such a game changer for our trips. I wouldn’t go camping without it.
These are just a few things that have made our trips easier and more enjoyable. If you’re new to camping but kinda clueless on where to start this should help you get going in the right direction. I’ve had several people mention to me how they would like to start camping but didn’t have the first idea on what they needed which is what prompted this post. I will continue to make posts about exploring/camping and giving tips that we have learned on the way. Sometime soon I will make a post on some of my go-to camping meals.
To make things even easier, I have provided links to products that we love and confide in.