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After a year of no three-day weekends or breaks, my friends and I are taking full advantage of our upcoming fall break at the end of October. It can be difficult to decide where to go for trips, but the Great Smoky Mountains are the perfect place to go in the fall, especially for those who love the outdoors. Not only do the Smokies have many mountain towns with well-known attractions, but the fall foliage in the mountains is scenery like no other. Seeing the leaves change color on campus is beautiful, but the colors in the mountains are incredible. There are plenty of things to do including hiking, driving the scenic routes and taking a break from school to enjoy being in nature. Here are the most important things to consider while planning a trip to the Smokies. 

Lodging

As a college student, price is an important factor to consider when traveling. That’s why my friends and I have decided to camp during our trip, because it is significantly cheaper than staying in hotels or Airbnbs.  Campsites in the Smokies normally cost around $25 per night for up to eight people through the National Park Service. There are basics for camping, but they can be very expensive, so, borrowing gear is a great option. Also, if you are a member of WAC, the Wilderness Adventure Club at SLU, they have camping gear that you can use for weekend trips if you pay the small membership fee. We’re borrowing tents, sleeping bags, mattress pads, hiking gear, cooking supplies and other miscellaneous camping essentials from friends and family. 

Transportation

Luckily, two of my friends have cars so we will be driving 8 hours to the Smokies. Although buying gas for two cars can add up, driving is the best way to get to the Smokies from St. Louis, especially with camping equipment. Plus, having cars will help with transportation inside the park. Most of the trails are spaced throughout the park, so it can easily take up to an hour to get from point A to point B. 

Activities

Although the Smokies are surrounded by touristy towns, the best way to spend a weekend there is on the trails. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a hiking trail for different levels of experience, distances and varying scenery. Some trails feature waterfalls, while others lead to panoramic views of the mountains. We are planning on hiking every day to get the most out of our trip. We are planning to do one to two longer and more challenging hikes, and then a few easier hikes to fill the afternoons. Finally, the park also has great scenic drives for those who don’t have a ton of hiking experience. These drives can span from 30 minutes to a few hours and feature plenty of overlooks and pullouts to stop and take pictures. 

Food

Food is easily one of the most important things when taking a trip with college friends. Eating out every meal can quickly become the biggest expense on the trip, which is why we are planning to make meals at the campsite or on the road. If you’re planning to camp, I highly recommend investing in a propane stove. This will allow you to make a wide variety of meals that would otherwise be difficult to make if cooking over a fire. For breakfast, cooking banana bread or pumpkin bread ahead of time is always a great option because it is easy to store on the road. Also, I recommend buying cereal and bananas for mornings in the car. For lunch, lunch meat and PB&J sandwiches are a must. Although these aren’t the fanciest options, they will save you time and money in the long run. For dinner, grilled cheese, soup, hamburgers, hotdogs and ramen are all affordable and easy options to make with the propane stove. Lastly, when camping, s’mores are a necessity. Be sure to buy marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate for a perfect snack to have around the campfire.  

I can’t wait to explore the different hikes the Smokies have to offer with a great group of people. Even if you can’t make it to the Smoky Mountains this year, add this to your college bucket list, because it will be a trip like no other.

Sarah Gardner, originally from Kansas City, Missouri, is a sophomore at SLU studying International Studies and Spanish on the pre-med track. When she isn't studying, she can be found listening to Ed Sheeran's new album, reading, and catching up with all things St. Louis Cardinals.
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