What happens when social media followers select where to send two park adventurers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? The couple enjoys an awesome itinerary — one you might want to replicate someday.
To celebrate National Park Week in late April, NPCA sent two seasoned park goers to Great Smoky Mountains National Park — with a weekend itinerary designed by our members. Our audience cast a whopping 3,000 votes deciding where Sam and Justine Goldon would hike and explore, what they would eat and learn about, and even where they’d make a pit stop on the way back to Asheville, North Carolina.
“Losing some of the control around planning and letting others take the reins was a little out of our comfort zone,” they posted on Instagram. “But like so often in nature, you gotta go with the flow!”
The trip was part of NPCA’s 2023 theme for National Park Week, “National Park Expansion Pack.” Referencing video game culture, the “expansion pack” mindset encouraged audiences to enhance their mainstream national park experience with new activities, locations and other add-ons. The Goldons gamely took on our “Multiplayer Expansion Pack,” which invited our Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and email audiences to vote on their activities and add to a collaborative Spotify playlist — the soundtrack to National Park Week, if you will.
“The outdoors is for everyone. …when people have these experiences in nature and fall in love with it, they’re more likely to act to protect it.”
The Goldons documented their travels, as they have with plenty of other trips, on their Instagram account, @wanderfulwives. They collaborate often with NPCA to talk about diverse representation and LGBTQ+ visibility in the national parks.
While exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which straddles North Carolina and Tennessee, they saw license plates from all over the country, from Alaska to Florida. “It made us think, how cool is it that we collectively have these national parks to provide accessible experiences for anyone and everyone?” they said.
Check out a recap of their trip, and feel free to steal their itinerary below!
Make the hour and 15-minute drive from Asheville to Cosby Campground for a remote, “in-the-thick-of-the-woods” experience in the northeast corner of the park.
The campground is tents-only, and you can access a section of the Appalachian Trail straight from the campsite!
The dinner chosen by voters requires minimal clean up but packs maximum flavor: campfire nachos. The couple pre-chopped their veggies and broke out the cheddar, which smoked to perfection in the fire.
Our followers voted on breakfast burritos as the Goldons’ Saturday adventure fuel, utilizing many of the same ingredients as the previous night’s dinner. The couple wrote on Instagram, “Pro tip: crack your eggs into mason jars before you leave home so you don’t have to dispose of shells in the park!”
Drive a one-way loop through an old-growth forest on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and stop to wander the lush trails. Then, hike the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte clifftops viewpoint — it’s 11 miles roundtrip with a significant change in elevation. The couple took in the views from the summit with their lunch of pita wraps, also an NPCA voter choice.
If you’re still looking for more great views, you can take a short, paved walk uphill to Clingmans Dome Lookout, the highest point in the park and all of Tennessee. Our followers voted on Clingmans Dome as a sunrise or sunset hike, but in classic Smokies fashion the mist took over — which made for mystical photos.
Camp at Smokemont Campground to be ready for Sunday’s activities. “With the popularity of the park, depending on when you book your campsite you might need to stay in two different locations, but it worked well for us given what we had planned for the weekend!” they wrote.
If you’re ready to level up from s’mores, try making doughboys for dessert: the Goldons brought crescent rolls, apple butter and two different kinds of chocolate to roast over the fire. When it came to entertainment, the voters chose a classic game of MASH to playfully predict the couple’s future.
Take a morning stroll on the Nature Trail right off Smokemont Campground to enjoy morning bird sounds and dewy moss. There are a variety of guided activities available in the park, and our followers overwhelming voted to send the Goldons horseback riding.
After breakfast, pop over to the Smokemont Riding Stables for a scenic horseback ride. There are several options available depending on how long you want to ride and what you want to see.
Finally, our followers voted on which pit stop the Goldons should hit on their way home. Just outside the park boundary in North Carolina, they visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a certified site along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Here, you can learn about the original inhabitants of the land and their relationship to it.
Know before you go
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park requires parking permits, not just your traditional park pass — you can get them ahead of time online or at a visitor center.
- Make campsite reservations ahead of time — this park is, by far, the most popular national park in the country.
- Get to trailheads early to find a parking space. And remember to pack your patience!
- Make sure to use firewood that has been heat-treated to prevent the spread of unwanted insects. It will have the USDA seal and is available at local businesses and some park campgrounds.
“The voters helped us shape a truly unforgettable weekend — and it was all that more special knowing our community was such a huge part of it,” the couple wrote on their Instagram account.
“The outdoors is for everyone. And making it accessible is so important! Because when people have these experiences in nature and fall in love with it, they’re more likely to act to protect it.”
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About the author
Vanessa Pius Social Media Manager
As Social Media Manager, Vanessa advances NPCA’s mission through creative storytelling and engaging the organization’s online community.