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Appalachian Trail Newfound Gap and Cherokee, NC

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The Appalachian Trail is somewhat well known, especially in the eco-sports realm. But although many of us have heard of it, few have hiked it, and an even more select few have through hiked it from start to finish. Now I can’t claim that honor yet, although it is on the bucket list! I have however spent many nights and days on several segments of the trail during our travels. One of my favorite sections of the trail is the section from Newfound Gap to the Icewater Spring shelter. This section of the trail, while short, has a lot of vertical gain and loss, so you will be covering some steep ground. Fear not though, this short section is only 7.5 miles round trip and you will see some of the best sights on the entire AT.
An added bonus of this section is that you can drive to the Newfound Gap parking area, and have easy access to the trail. Now even though this section has some steep grades it is manageable, enough so that I took my sons on it several times when they were 6 and 9 respectively. The parking area is large and can accommodate rigs of most sizes if you are comfortable driving your rig up the steep and winding road to get there. When you get to the top of the gap, park at the back of the parking area with the rest of the hikers. There are vault toilets, and several viewing areas in this parking lot. You will notice a lot of traffic on the trail in the beginning, but most of the incidental traffic dwindles by the end of the first mile due to the two steep grades along the way. If you decide to push on you will be rewarded with spectacular views, and dramatic terrain features. Through this section the trail essentially winds its way along the crest of the mountains and keeps you working to see the next great vista. At the turn around point there is a nice shelter that through and section hikers use to camp during their hike. Making your way back to the parking area is slightly easier that the trip out.
After stretching your legs and working up a sweat I recommend you travel down the North Carolina side of Newfound gap and stop in Cherokee. You will have surely worked up a sweat and what better way to cool off than a relaxing float down the Oconaluftee River. We chose Cherokee Rapids Tube and Kayak rentals and were dropped several miles upstream on the river. It is a fun ride through some minor rapids and many deep swimming holes, all the while the gorgeous terrain around you slips on by. Your trip will end right back where you parked.
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After heating up on the trail, and cooling down on the river there are endless shops and tourist traps to entertain you. During warm weather there are several native dance and music performers which attract large crowds.
One of our favorite spots was the Gold Nugget Mining Co which sells bags or buckets of dirt from their mining property. After buying a bag or bucket make your way to the sluicing table and try your hand at panning for gold. This area of North Carolina is known for its gold deposits and precious stones. If you are lucky enough to find a stone worth keeping the company will clean it, cut it, and place it in a piece of jewelry if you wish.
There are enough sites in Cherokee to keep you busy for several days, but if you get bored with the street level entertainment keep in mind the Cherokee Casino is just down the road.
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