A Wintry Wine Tour in Traverse City

A benefit of working in the automotive industry is we get all sorts of weird holidays off… It has something to do with union negotiations (even though engineers don’t have a union, we still get all their holidays off. Pretty sweet deal!)

So we all get MLK day off, which means three day weekend, which means a visit to wine capital of Michigan! Yea, you heard that right. When you think wine, you think France, California, Italy, but not Michigan. Well let me show you what a wine tour looks like in the mitten state.

P.S. I will not be commenting on how the wine actually tastes because it all pretty much tastes like grapes, alcohol, and maybe oak if I’m smelling really hard.

Winery #1: Bonobo Winery

Our first stop was Bonobo winery, and probably my favorite of them all. We rented a bus to drive us to the different wineries (don’t drink and drive!), and our amazing driver set us up to have a room all to ourselves (about 14 of us in total). We were taken to this beautiful white room with huge windows overlooking the vineyard. Our waitress brought us a tasting menu with explanations of all the wines, and we got to tasting. The full tasting cost about $10, and we got to sample about 5 different wines.

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Cheers! Our first tasting of the tour.

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Bonobo winery had a piano in the main room, so Corinn played us a song!

Winery #2: Chateau Grand Traverse

I think we must have come on a bad day. There was an event going on, called Winter Warmup I believe. This meant there were A TON of people trying wine, and we weren’t able to do a tasting with such a large group. However, they opened up the patio for us (which was covered thank goodness!!), and we were able to order a glass out there and enjoy the sunshine and snow while covered in some snuggly blankets.

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Cheesin’ because we have this patio all to ourselves!

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Here’s me warming up with a good glass of wine and a warm blanket.

 

Winery #3: Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery

This wasn’t our last stop, but this is the last one I clearly remember so it’ll be the last for this post. We went to Brys, and they were also participating in the Winter Warmup event so they were incredibly crowded. The crowds were handled a bit better. In order to do the tasting, you had to walk in line around the winery to different stations. It felt like waiting in line at an amusement park. We were able to see some barrels and how the wine is fermented, but the waiting in line kind of dampened the experience. Still a cute place though!

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Some wine barrels at Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery.

 

All in all, it was a fun day with friends. To rent a bus with ~14 people, it cost $40/person. At each winery I spent about $10 on glasses/tastings. It’s a great way to see some popular wineries in Traverse City, and I’m sure you could ask the driver to go elsewhere if you had other wineries in mind. My only recommendation is to not go when they are having large events. I think I enjoyed Bonobo Winery so much more because they were the only place not participating. I can’t wait to visit Traverse City again in the summer, and to try some more wine!

-Nina

NYC Vegan Food Tour

I recently went to NYC for the weekend to visit some friends. What’s a girl to do with a couple days in the big apple? Eat all the amazing vegan food, obviously!

(Please excuse the terrible photos. I forgot my camera all day and restaurant lighting is dark and terrible).

Restaurant #1 – Yum Yum Too

We arrived late and were STARVING. Luckily, my vegan friend who I was staying with new just the place a few blocks from her apartment (which is in Hell’s Kitchen). I had the mock duck. It was FANTASTIC.

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Rad Prik Tamarind with Mock Duck – Yum Yum Too

Restaurant #2 – La Palapa Cocina Mexicana

We spent the night drinking, and it was time for boozy brunch. Chosen by another friend, we made our to The Village to take advantage of their amazing brunch special. The food was alright, but we got a meal, side of fruit, tea, and a margarita for $20! A steal in the city.

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Molletes without Cheese – La Palapa Cocina Mexicana

Restaurant #3 – Meske Ethiopian Restaurant

It was now time for first dinner. I had reservations at another place at 10pm, so first dinner took place around 6pm. I hadn’t had Ethiopian food in a while, so I started to crave the spongy bread. We ventured out to Meske, in Hell’s Kitchen. I shared a vegetarian plate with my vegan friend, it was alright. Ethiopian never quite hits the spot like Asian food does.

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Vegetarian Plate – Meske Ethiopian Restaurant

Restaurant #4 – Ivan Ramen

This was the restaurant I was waiting for! Ivan (head chef at Ivan Ramen), had a Chef’s Table episode about him. Apparently he moved to Japan, became the best ramen shop in the country, and then moved to the States because he “experienced Japan.” What a badass. You don’t need reservations weeks in advance, just make them a few days ahead of time. This guy is the king of umami! Such good vegan ramen! He put roasted tomatoes in it! Amazing! *slurp slurp*

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Vegetarian Ramen – Ivan Ramen

 

Restaurant #5 – Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen

We went out in Brooklyn after the ramen, and it was now time for brunch again. I got my friends up and made them go to Blank Slate because I saw some pretty photos on instagram (yes, yes I am the worst I’m sorry). Too bad it was actually pretty good! I was hella basic and had avocado toast, but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the best avocado test I’ve ever had. I also got a chai latte. It was delicious.

 

Restaurant #6 – Blank Slate Tea

Okay, so this isn’t really a restaurant. It’s a tea shop, directly adjacent to Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen. I had an earl grey lavender latte. It was very pretty, and the shop was all pink. Perfect pick me up before some more exploring!

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Earl Grey Latte with Lavender – Blank Slate Tea

Restaurant #7 – Kazunori: The Original Hand Roll Bar

Last stop of the weekend! We grabbed a few hand rolls before heading back to my friend’s apartment to watch the Super Bowl. Even though I don’t eat fish, the cucumber hand rolls were a perfect light snack before I gorged myself on vegan nachos and guac.

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Cucumber Hand Roll – Kazunori

‘Twas a good weekend filled with wonderful friends and amazing food. Thankfully we did so much walking, I only gained a pound or two! Shout out to the best hosts, who look so happy to see me!DSC_0603.jpg

-Nina

Sand Dunes at Silver Lake State Park

Nestled in between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan on the Western side of Michigan, lies a landscape that is otherworldly. We started off in Hart, Michigan, where our cute Airbnb was located. Driving towards the beaches on Silver Lake, we started to notice all sorts of dusty jeeps and SUV’s driving around with an orange flag swinging around on the front of the car. There was no rhyme or reason as to why these trucks where chosen. All-wheel drive seemed to be the only prerequisite for the homemade dune buggies.¬†We followed the line of trucks, and were quickly greeted with a sand dune that soared over our heads. The beach was just over that dune, we just had to climb it.

Climbing dunes isn’t so easy, but it’s oh-so worth it. You slide back half a step every time you walk up, and the sand burns the bottom of your toes. It takes all four limbs to make it to the top of these behemoths, but when you make it to the top, it’s sand and lakes for miles.

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Racing up sand dunes! Humans for scale.

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So close to the top…

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Made it to the top! This is the view of Silver Lake.

Spending the day along Silver Lake is a perfect beach day. There’s tons of shoreline and opportunities to rent pontoon boats and party on the lake. We didn’t rent a boat, but instead opted to claim a piece of the shore for ourselves. Beers in hand and with perfectly chilled water, we spent the day running up and down the dunes, burying each other in sand, and trying to make a human pyramid.

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Success!

As the day progressed, we got hungry and decided to make our way back to the Airbnb. We booked a place with 12 beds and 1 bathroom, so showers for everyone was an hours-long process.

After everyone was good to go, we decided to go out to Kristi’s Pour House, the local bar in Hart. They had a live band playing and $1 cans of beer! It was a wild night of dancing and singing.

The next day we decided to check out the Lake Michigan Side of the beach for a little bit. The waves were surprisingly large for a lake! We stayed for a bit on the public access portion, and then decided to walk down the shore towards the lighthouse.

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The squad hanging out on Lake Michigan. You can’t even see the other side!!

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Lighthouse in the state park.

Apparently $5 buys you entrance into the lighthouse so you can get to the top. We didn’t do it, but it definitely looked like a sweet time!

It was a short weekend at Silver Lake State Park, but it was a good weekend. It’s definitely been my favorite state park in Michigan thus far. I can’t wait to go back!

-nina

Icefields Parkway Road Trip

After we had our fill of Banff (okay not our fill, but we figured we should make it up to Jasper at some point), we took the Icefields Parkway up to Canada’s largest national park. The Icefields Parkway is a road that will take you from Banff all the way to the town of Jasper (which is in Jasper national park… yes, it’s all very confusing). It also happens to be one of the most beautiful roads in the world. There’s tons of place to stop along the way, so definitely make a day out of it. You can take some hikes, look at icefields, admire mountains, and even jump into some freezing lakes. For our trip down the parkway, we took the following stops.

Herbert Lake

Distance from Banff: 62.4 km

Distance from Jasper: 226 km

This is the first stop along the parkway. Lonely Planet said you would be able to see the reflection of some mountain in it if the water is still enough. Unfortunately, the water was not still enough. Fortunately, there were bathrooms there so we could begin the never-ending stream of people saying they needed to pee.

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You can kind of see the reflection of the mountain!

Crowfoot Glacier

Distance from Banff: 91 km

Distance from Jasper: 198 km

After having just learned what a glacier was, I was intrigued in finding one that looked like the foot of a crow. The book said it was actually a two-toed crow because one of the glaciers had already melted (very sad, very sad). It was a nice stop off on the road, but we had to hurry back before the tour buses caught up and forced us to sit behind a caravan of cars desperately trying to pass.

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You can see the remnants of the third toe that melted away.

Bow Lake

Distance from Banff: 93.6 km

Distance from Jasper: 194 km

We knew bow lake would be amazing because there were approximately 6,087 tour buses parked alongside it. We wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. Turns out, the light mist we passed through made a rainbow right over the lake! We snapped a few pictures, but didn’t make it out before the tour buses. Fortunately, our next stop wasn’t too far away, so we could endure the slow pace of the buses as we went on the Peyto Summit.

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We had some amazing luck to see this rainbow! It only lasted for a few minutes.

Bow Lake / Peyto Summit

Distance from Banff: ~94 km

Distance from Jasper: 195 km

The summit was a short uphill walk from the parking lot (which was so full). It was a nice chance to stretch our legs. It was fairly steep, and I was pretty excited to see what was on top. The pictures mentioned beautiful mountains, but what I got was a sea of selfie sticks. Sure, if you can manage to find a higher vantage point, the view is absolutely amazing, but honestly it was just too crowded. There were people in the dirt part under the platform, so we ventured down there to get some space. A few minutes later, a park ranger yelled at everyone saying there were signs saying to not go off the main path. Woops (I really didn’t see any signs I swear!). We meandered back to the car, and someone pee’d in the bushes because it had been 10 minutes and that is apparently the theme of our trip.

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The view is absolutely amazing. Not pictured: A sea of selfie sticks.

Parker Ridge

Distance from Banff: 173.4 km

Distance from Jasper: 115 km

Parker Ridge is a hike off the side of the parkway. It takes around 2 hours, and has an elevation gain of 250m. It’s definitely a great way to stretch your legs after a long day in the car. When we went, it was sort of drizzling by the parking lot. It wasn’t too bad, so we decided to zip up our raincoats and go for it, in the hopes of finding the dramatic glacier views we were promised.

Luck was not with us that day. The higher we went, the colder it got. It started to snow! The fog rolled in and we saw some hints of a glacier. Oh well, at least I burned off some of those granola bars I was eating in the car…

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You can see a hint of glacier behind me…

Horseshoe Lake

Distance from Banff: 260 km

Distance from Jasper: 28 km

Okay, so we actually went here on the way back down to Banff from Jasper, but I just had to mention it. Horseshoe lake is full with beautiful blue/green/clear water. The sign for it isn’t too big, and many people just drive right by it. We stopped in, and decided to take a walk before making our way back. Much to our surprise, we saw some kids cliff jumping! I had never cliff jumped before, so couldn’t say no to the opportunity. I quickly changed into my bathing suit, stood on the edge, and dove right in. The water was FREEZING. Like knock the breath out of you freezing (it’s glacier water, this totally makes sense). It was a struggle to swim back, but absolutely worth it.

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You can see people lined up along the cliff edge, ready to jump into the ice water.

The ice fields parkway is something you definitely want to take a day to explore. This is one of those things that feels more about the journey than the destination. There are so many amazing stops to make. It makes it so difficult to choose just a few!

-nina

 

 

A day at Moraine lake

We spent our first day in Banff exploring the Moraine Lake area. This lake is one of Banff’s top attractions – for good reason. The ice blue water is part of the natural melting/freezing cycle of the glaciers, and the ten peaks surrounding the lake offer grand views that can make anyone feel tiny in comparison. Although smaller in comparison to its sister – Lake Louise, it offers beautiful (and difficult) hikes in the surrounding area that offer a bit of solitude, and the most astounding mountain views you’ll ever see.

To see the lake sans massive crowds and tour buses, and to also guarantee a parking spot, I suggest arriving very early in the morning. I arrived at around 6:30am to a half empty parking lot. There were only about ten others around the lake, and plenty of room to explore. When we walked by the lake as we were leaving, it was swarmed with tourists trying to take pictures of themselves in front of the water.

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If you arrive early, it’s incredibly quiet around Moraine lake. Definitely worth it to avoid the shuttle and all the tour buses!

After beating the tour buses and shuttles and getting your crowd-less fill of the lake, you have the opportunity to hike on various trails in the surrounding area. One of my favorite hikes of the entire trip was the Larch Valley / Sentinel Pass trail. The trail head is right along Moraine lake. As you walk up the fairly steep incline, you start to get some electric blue peaking in through the trees. Going higher, you begin to see the treeline thin out, and suddenly the ten peaks make an appearance within the Larch Valley. There’s no sign to indicate that you made it, but don’t worry. You’ll know.

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The ten peaks made an appearance! You can tell I’m really happy to see mountains!

This is a great place to stop and take a break, or in my case, eat an entire box of Wheat Thins. The climb to this point is strenuous, and your legs could definitely use the break (and you’re tummy could use the snack!). If you decide to continue onward, you’ll be faced with some incredibly steep and thin switchbacks to take you up the Sentinel Pass. It’s pretty daunting to look at, but the views are so so so worth it. It’s not uncommon for snowfields to cover parts of the trail, making climbing the pass technically challenging. Move slowly, and when you arrive, take in the amazing mountain and valley views to both sides of you.

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The ten peaks as seen from the top of the sentinel pass!

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The other side of the sentinel pass. Literally, mountains everywhere!

Getting down was a little tricky. The switchbacks are only wide enough for one person to go at a time, and the snowfields proved pretty daunting to go on downhill. We opted to slide down the gravel all the way to the bottom instead of taking the snow route again.

As you hike your way back down, there is a trail that splits off about halfway through that leads to Eiffel Lake. This trail is very long (5.4km one way), but if you walk about 20 minutes along the trail, you’ll be rewarded with some clear, birds-eye views of Moraine Lake. This trail is on the ridge, and offers dramatic views of the ten peaks as well. We made it about 45 minutes along what we thought was a short trail (it’s not, it’s 5.4km one way!), before admitting defeat and turning back (we didn’t do much research, haha). Tired, we trudged back, only to be surprised with this view!

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I’m not entirely sure how we missed this on the way out…

After you make your way back, make sure to take a seat and grab a cup of tea from the cafe near the lake. Your quads will feel like jello, and your knees will be exhausted from all the downhill walking. Revel in the fact that you just hiked about 10km and gained 750m in elevation. Those views were definitely worth it!

-nina

South Higgins Lake State Park

If you’re looking for a party campground, you’ve found the right place! South Higgins Lake State Park is complete with campsites stacked almost on top of each other, fire pits, open container laws, and picnic tables. Many people pull up their RV’s, plug in their space heaters, and enjoy the comforts of home while surrounded by nature (kind of).

Camping at this state park isn’t a bad time. If you go with friends, food, and plenty of beer, you’ll have a great time. The scenery is also quite stunning. The first night we arrived, we were surprised with an absolutely beautiful sunset.

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Sunset on Higgins lake.

Many of my friends decided to swim, but I was put off by the freezing cold water and the abundant signs warning of swimmers itch. Those who went in seemed to have an excellent time, though!

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Some of the guys debating whether they should go into the water.

For those uninterested in taking a dip, there were some hiking trails across the road. If you’re looking for any solitude here, take a hike! There are 1, 3, and 5 miles loops that you can take around another lake in the area. There is minimal elevation gain, and tons of trees!

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There are few easy trails around the state park for those who want to get away from the crowds.

When taking these trails, make sure to bring plenty of bug spray! We were attacked by mosquitos, and had to cut the walk short. You should also bring some waterproof shoes. There was tons of mud!

The majority of the weekend consisted of cooking, hiking, and drinking beer. It wasn’t a solitary weekend in the woods, but it was fun nonetheless! Definitely a way to get away from the same bars in the same towns with your friends for the weekend!

-nina

P.S. Before you head out, make sure your car has a Michigan recreation passport. It’s a little sticker that goes on your windshield. If you don’t have one, you can purchase one at the campground for $16 that is valid for a year!

Kayaking in Port Crescent State Park

I woke up bright and early Sunday morning to go explore the thumb of Michigan. My first thought was to go kayaking around Turnip Rock, which is right up at the tip of the thumb, in Port Austin. We set out on the 2.5 hour car ride up M53 at around 8:30am. Not quite early enough, but given that the trail takes around 4 hours, we thought we had plenty of time.

We were wrong. After we arrived at the kayak rental place, they said that they would stop renting kayaks to Turnip Rock at 10am (we got there around 11:30am soo….). I had been wanting to do this for a while, so was pretty bummed about not being able to go. These feelings didn’t last long because we were able to rent kayaks to use around Port Crescent State Park, which is also in the tip of the thumb.

With a double kayak in tow, we set off into the river, on our way to Lake Huron!

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Gus doesn’t seem too excited about my lack of paddling

The kayaking trail was gorgeous! It was a beautiful day out (it was also 100 degrees outside, but oh well). Along the trail we saw swans, turtles, and tons of birds!

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We found a swan on the river!

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Such a beautiful river! And so peaceful too.

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I couldn’t stop taking pictures haha

The river led to a beach that was right on Lake Huron. These great lakes always amaze me. You’d think they were an ocean! The beach was really nice. It was long, so you could take a long walk along it. It is also only accessible by boat, so it wasn’t too crowded, and you could see all the kayaks and canoes lined up along the shore. A lot of people brought their lunch along. Gus and I opted for a nap in the sun.

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The beach along Lake Huron. Being only accessible by boat means there’s basically no crowds!

We hung out on the beach for a little while, and then walked back to our kayaks. The trip only took about an hour each way, and you were able to go at a pretty leisurely pace. You can rent the kayaks from Tip-A-Thumb Canoe and Kayak Rental. Our double kayak only cost $30 for the entire day. They continue to rent out kayaks until 4pm, and all boats must be back by 6pm!

After we returned our kayaks, we started to make the drive back down to Royal Oak. On the way down, we noticed signs for the Pioneer Log Village and Historical Museum in Bad Axe. We decided to stop by, as it was right on our way home. We were not disappointed! This Log Village is exactly what it sounds like. They are old log cabins, filled to the brim with historical antiques from around Huron county. They have an old one-room classroom, a house, a general store, and blacksmith room, and a barn. They’re only open from 2-4pm on Sundays, which was incredibly lucky because we showed up at 3pm. Members of the Bad Axe historical society showed us around and gave us some context about what happened. Walking around took 30 minutes, and was well worth the time!

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Pioneer Log Village in Bad Axe, Michigan

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A look inside the log cabin!

Overall, going up the thumb was a great way to spend a Sunday. Although we didn’t make it to turnip rock, we got to explore one of Michigan’s many state parks, and learned a little bit about historic Huron county. Now, I’m on a mission to visit the rest of Michigan’s state parks! I’ll keep you all updated!

-Nina

 

Smokey Mountains Getaway

As memorial day approached, the weather FINALLY started to get nicer. This has been the longest winter ever. Although pretty snow and skiing and winter wonderlands are beautiful, I was about ready to pack up my parka and bring out my hiking boots and tank tops. With a three-day weekend approaching, I thought this was the perfect time to make the drive down to the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee.

Nine hours of driving seemed way shorter than it actually was. It also seemed shorter when you weren’t leaving after a full day of work, but oh well. Leaving Detroit at 3:30pm on a Friday meant getting in to Tennessee at 1am. Who needs sleep when there’s beautiful mountains to see in the morning?

The lack of sleep didn’t deter us from waking up bright and early to have a full day of hiking ahead. We showed up to the ranger station, and said we wanted VIEWS. Beautiful mountain views. That’s all I wanted, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned!

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Believe it or not, I did make it to the top of the mountain. Surrounded by fog!

The ranger suggested doing the hike to Charlie’s Bunion. I could only imagine how beautiful the mountains would look, but unfortunately we were in a cloud. It was white everywhere. Oh well, it had it’s own type of beauty. It kind of felt like we were on the edge of the world.

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Feeling like I’m on the edge of the world!

After a full day of hiking, we ventured into Gatlinburg. Everyone I knew said they hated it there. I must say, it was an incredibly touristy town. However, how could you not have fun going through mirror mazes and playing mini golf? I had a mediocre dinner of french fries and lettuce (yay, veganism in the South!), and walked around town. The sun started to peak out, so Gus thought it would be a great idea to rent some little zippy convertible car and drive around. In theory, it sounded great, but the weather in the Smokey’s is unpredictable. The start of the drive was really fun (for him, I thought I was going to die. It accelerated a bit faster than my Chevy Cruze haha). As we went further into the mountains, it started TO POUR. Now, I don’t mind the rain too much, but when it’s hitting you at 60mph, then it really starts to hurt! Not as much fun. You live and you learn, and it’s pretty funny to look back on.

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The amazing mirror maze!

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It’s soooo trippy in here.

The next day, we headed back to the same ranger station (Sugarlands visitor center if you’re curious). The forecast said rain was expected by 11am, so we had planned to do two shorter hikes so we wouldn’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere as it started pouring. We started off with another hike meant to produce views, so started the walk to the LeConte lodge. It’s this cute little lodge that you have to hike 5 miles up to, and ugh don’t I wish we had stayed there. The initial plan was to stop halfway, but the sun was shining so bright and we were finally seeing mountains, that we decided to go all the way up! Fast forward like four hours, and we finally made it to the peak! The peak was again, covered in white. We had apparently walked up too far and entered the cloud. The trail itself though was amazing. It made the foot pain and 6 hours of walking totally worth it (although I was pretty done about a mile from the end).

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This was just along the trail to the top. It was a beautiful hike!

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We walked all the way up to the clouds.

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Feeling some serious Lord of the Rings vibes up here.

With 10 miles of hiking and enough elevation to take us up into the clouds, we thought a few beers were very well deserved. Smoky Mountain Brewery in Gatlinburg was perfect for the occasion. We both got flights and tried basically every beer they brewed in house. They also had vegetarian/vegan options! It was a fantastic restaurant (especially compared to wherever else we were eating). It was a great way to end our short trip, and prepare for the long drive the next day.

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A well-deserved flight of beer from Smoky Mountain Brewery!

Our trip consisted of 18 miles of hiking, 18 hours in the car, and tons of memories. Was it worth the distance? Absolutely! I definitely can’t wait to go back!