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Vacation Local (Loco!)

Sunset over Tennessee RiverGas prices are up, atmospheric carbon is mounting, schedules are tight and budgets are tighter. Add in the fact that airport security is a pain and that now you have to pay to check your bags, its no wonder why many have decided to forgo the 2008 summer vacation season altogether. Vacations have become a strain. But they shouldn’t be, nor do they have to be. The key is to look local.
Sure, there is a certain status associated with long distance travel. When you live east of the Mississippi, its all about heading west. Climb the Rockies, surf California, hike the Redwoods, mountain bike Utah. When you live out west its all about leaving the country. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe there is certain inherent value in experiencing every thing this country and the planet has to offer (I spent many years vagabonding on a soul search for that value) but to only have grand views of far distances is, paradoxically, near sighted.
Its amazing to me how many people who are so well traveled are limited in what they know about local opportunities for adventure and personal growth. This is especially true here in the southeast where opportunities for outdoor vacation and recreation are plenty. We live in the county’s hotbed for natural diversity, a diversity that is only matched by the world’s most tropical rain forests. Dedicated rock climbers come from all over the world to test their skills on southeastern rock. Miles of hiking trails, underground caverns and navigable rivers add to the lure of the region.
We’ve all seen a similar tend in the food market. People have been advocating eating local foods and buying local goods for years now. The products are healthier, they support the local economy, they have less of a environmental footprint and they reconnect people to their immediate surroundings. With four dollar a gallon gas prices and astronomical fees on airline tickets, its time to take the this local philosophy one step further, its time to start advocating local vacations.

Save some gas (and some carbon)

DPP_0067What hurts most about long distance road trips? Is it the $4.00 a gallon gas that empties your pocket faster than it fills up your tank, or is it the knowledge that each mile driven compounds a growing global problem. For me its a little of both. Air travel, though necessary in many cases, is particularly bad for global climate change. It has been estimated that nearly half a pound of carbon per passenger per mile is emitted during a flight. Doesn’t sound like much but it does add up when you consider how many miles the average flight is and how many passengers are packed into each plane. Whatever your perspective, you benefit from driving less to your destination. I’ve crunched a few numbers and have come up with a few “one-tank” trips. These are valuable vacation opportunities that require only one tank of gas for a round trip drive. Since Rock/Creek is headquartered in Chattanooga, the city will be my origin for all of the listed trips. If you don’t live in Chattanooga, no problem. There is plenty of fun to have right outside your back door. Get out a map and compass, do a little research and I guarantee you will find some enticing trips that will have you packing your bags in no time. Who knows, you may even find that the money you save on airfare might just be enough for that new play boat you’ve been eying.
On average cars and trucks in the sold in the United States get 300-350 miles per fill up. Since your going on vacation and weighing the car with gear, dogs and kids I’ll go with the lower of the two estimates. So if you live in Chattanooga where does that 300 miles get you? All of these trip will get you there AND back on one tank of gas…if you decide to come back that is!
Chattanooga to Great Smokey Mountain National park (133-153 miles): Ah the smokies, no area in the United States has a more dense and diverse population of flora and fauna. Its a meca for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiast of all kinds. There are plenty of activities including bike touring, fishing, hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing and camping. The area will certainly keep you busy and, since it is so close you will have plenty of opportunity to return time and time again.
From Chattanooga the Gatlinburg Entrance, 153 miles. The Townsend entrance is 133 from Chattanooga. You’ll want the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps’ Great Smokey Mountain National Park map to plan your trip. Also, Hiking Trails of the Smokies is a comprehensive guide to the official trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, covering 149 trails with detailed narratives. Includes a full color, all-park trip planning map plus 165 trail profile charts.

South Cumberland State Park (70 miles)
: One of America’s oldest state parks, the Cumberland State Park received its prized designation way back in 1938. Inside the park there are plenty of opportunities for both land and water activities. Camp and hike; canoe, fish or swim. Paddle boats and other equipment can be rented at the the park and there are excursions for both large families and solo travelers. Trails vary by degree of difficulty and duration, so you’re sure to find something that will work for everyone in your group. Falcon Guide’s Hiking Tennessee has a section dedicated to hiking in the state park. The area is also nationally known as one of the best rock climbing sites in the US. The Dixie Cragger’s Atlas will help you plan if your heading into the park to climb. If you need a break from outdoor recreation, be sure to check out the Homestead Museum which documents the life of the 250 families that were the original homesteaders of the land.
Ocoee River (75-100 miles): When the summer Olympics came to the southeast in 1996, the Olympic committee had many choices when they were deciding where to hold the whitewater kayaking events. Ultimately the decision was made to hold the events on the Ocoee river. The river is a mecca for all levels of paddlers. For those who are not into the rush of bombing down rough rapids, there is the option of watching the excitement from the safety of the river bank. There are also plenty of hiking and camping options in the area. A quick google search turns up many cabin renting options as well.
Lost Sea, Sweetwater, Tenn (74 miles): Hey got a few young ones you need to keep safe and entertained. Only 74 miles from Chattanooga, The Lost Sea is America’s largest underground lake. A glass bottom, naturalist led boat ride offers visitors a unique tour of the lake. Also available are guided caving tours. Kids can pan for gold and gemstones. Leave your Sunday best at home, you will get down and dirty in the caves. Quick drying warm clothing is your best bet. North Face has a great line of durable technical clothing for the whole family.
Those that need a little reprise from the wilderness after a long and active outdoor vacation can stop by any one of areas major southern cities. Visit cities such as Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta, Huntsville and Birmingham to get a jolt of southern big city life at its finest. Each City is unique but all offer good music, southern style food, and great night life.
And if your not from here (or even if you are), DON’T FORGET CHATTANOOGA. Disney rated the city one of the 50 best for family vacation fun. CBS featured Chattanooga as one of 4 top “Green vacations” (a list that included the Galapagos Islands) and in 2001 Outside Magazine named Chattanooga one of the 10 best outdoor cities in the country.
Recently more accolades have come Chattanooga’s way. Outside again placed Chattanooga high on its list of best outdoor cities and Rock & Ice named the city the nation’s number one for rock climbing.
Part of the outdoor allure of the city is the hundreds of miles of trail running possibilities throughout the area. Miles and miles of trails zig-zag and traverse the 3 mountains that surround the city. If you’re a trail runner and thinking about heading to town, be sure to join one of the 9 races that make up the Rock/Creek trail series. In partnership with the Boonies Wilderness Trail Running Association and other local businesses, the trail series is dedicated to raising money for trail building, maintenance and other forms of low impact outdoor access. Whether your a beginning trail runner or a long-distance veteran there is a race in the series for you. Complete scheduling for the series can be found on RockCreek.com.
Next steps:
Regardless of where you plan to go the key to a good trip is education and preparation. Be sure to get yourself a guide book and maps for the region you are visiting. Need some more info? A great place to start is by contacting your local tourist information resource. Here in Chattanooga that’s the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. If your vacation goals include outdoor fun and adventure we would love to recommend a few great places for you. Stop by one of our stores or visit us online at www.rockcreek.com. We will do what we can to prepare you for your epic vacation. Don’t feel silly if you don’t know of a particular gem in an area that you have lived your whole life. No one can possibly know all the opportunities that exist in any region, particular one as rich as ours.