Jesse and I gave ourselves until July to start potty training the trio (again). We filled the month of June with day trips and overnight trips as a last hurrah. Of course we hope to take more trips later this summer, but I predict they will be filled with multiple potty breaks and accidents. Over the next week, I hope to blog about our multiple trips, starting with our mountain trip in the Asheville area last week.
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When I created my list of summer trips, I included Asheville so we could visit the NC Arboretum and the Western NC Nature Center, both of which are free with our zoo membership. Our trips are most always planned the day before, since we pick dates based on weather and schedules. I stayed up until 1 a.m. the night before, planning our mountain adventure. As always, the goal is to spend as little money as possible and plan fun, age appropriate activities specific to where we are visiting.
We left around 6 a.m. on Wednesday. I always prefer to leave early to try and preserve the kids' sleep schedules. (They sleep in the van when they would naturally be sleeping, as opposed to letting them sleep until 8, then forcing them to be trapped in a vehicle for two hours.) Jesse and I have a system now where he carries all sleeping kids to the van and I load luggage and pack snacks. Jesse and the kids slept the majority of the way while I drove.
Our first stop was Mount Mitchell, aka the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Even though I was driving, I felt so nauseous going around the hairpin turns. Motion sickness and anxiety is a rough combination! James had quite the upset tummy and was very clingy when we finally got out of the van, though I don't think he was carsick.
Mount Mitchell was anticlimactic. I had read that it's often 20-30 degrees colder than surrounding areas and there's an 80% chance of clouds at the peak. I packed pants and long sleeve shirts for everyone and planned our visit around the weather. Still, it was cold and cloudy.
We were there so early, we practically had the mountain to ourselves. The funniest moment was when Jackson erupted in laughter as soon as Jesse read the names of the mountains to him.
The view from the picnic shelters was stunning. We ate our packed breakfast and went for a very brief hike. The kids wrapped themselves up in blankets.
I volunteered to do the driving this trip since I get carsick. We loaded back into the van and drove south on the Parkway for a half hour. The next planned stop was Craggy Garden Visitor Center. The Pinnacle Trail is the more popular, steeper hike with a 360 degree view of mountains. We elected to take a shorter, family friendly trail. There was a beautifully shaded rock path. The kids did a fantastic job hiking. The trail ended at the top with a meadow, reminiscent of Mary Poppins.
I was really proud of the kids. No one whined or refused to walk, though we frequently carried toddlers when they slowed down.
There was a picnic area another mile down the parkway that was the perfect spot for lunch. We ate our packed lunch and continued driving another half hour to the Western NC Nature Center. All but Maddie fell asleep, so it was a rocky start getting everyone inside the nature center. Before long they were all crowded around terrariums, watching snakes swallowing mice whole. Ominous clouds loomed overhead, though we avoided any rain. We watched the black bears, chickens, turkeys, foxes, cougars, etc. The kids were exhausted, but they hopped out of the wagon and ran around each play area.
After a very busy day, we checked into our hotel for some much needed downtime, then drove to nearby CiCi's for dinner (kids under 3 eat free). We stayed in a standard room with two double beds and requested two pack-n-plays. Jackson and I shared one bed and Amelia and Jesse shared the other bed. James and Maddie slept in the pack-n-plays. It always takes longer for the kids to fall asleep in hotel rooms, but they succumbed to exhaustion fairly quickly.
We made the most of our hotel by eating a delicious continental breakfast, then playing in the pool. The pool didn't open until 10 and check out was at 11. We packed everything except a change of clothes in the van so we could have a solid 45 minutes in the pool. We were the only family there most of the time.
After checkout we drove twenty minutes south to the NC Arboretum. The only cost is $12 to park, but that fee was waived because of our NC Zoo membership. I researched ahead of time things to do at the arboretum. We requested to go geocaching, an activity that none of us had ever done before. It was quite a learning curve to figure out the GPS device they gave us. Jesse tried to install and use the Geocaching app on his phone, but we had no signal. After abandoning the wagon and getting semi-lost, we found our first geocache. Clearly I should have done more research since I didn't bring any "treasure" to trade. Jesse and I were digging through the wagon and pockets, exchanging key chains and beads for stickers and toy cars. We found two geocaches while we were there.
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit the arboretum is to see the bonsai trees exhibit. Jesse has a big appreciation for bonsai trees. He said it was his favorite part of the entire mountain getaway.
Our final destination was DuPont Forest, which was another 40 minute drive south. (Our total trip from Mount Mitchell to DuPont Forest was almost two hours south down the Blue Ridge Parkway.) I planned our trip around the most accessible waterfalls. Once again, James and Amelia had fallen asleep and were total grumps trying to get them to walk. We planned on walking straight to the falls but Jesse ran back to the van halfway along the trail to get the wagon. Hooker Falls proved to be as fun and refreshing as I had read. We all enjoyed wading in the cold mountain water.
Feeling optimistic, we continued our hike to the Triple Falls. A passerby told us it was a gradual incline, then a steep hill up to the falls. Since the kids had already had a long day, we decided we would pull the wagon until we couldn't any further. Oh. My. Word. Steep hill was an understatement. At one point Jesse was pulling the wagon with both hands and I was all but crawling, pushing the wagon. Strangers passing us clapped and praised our determination. We eventually made the kids get out and walk, abandoning the wagon on a side ditch. We would have had to leave the wagon anyway since there were hundreds of stairs leading to the base of the falls.
We may have pushed the limits, but we made it and it was beautiful. I very much look forward to returning to these falls in a year or two when the kids have more stamina. There's another waterfall we could have hiked to if we had the energy.
The descent was equally challenging. The kids were all wet and missing articles of clothing from playing in the water. (Parenting fail for not bringing a change of clothes.) We tried to put them in the wagon but Jesse and I together could not control the momentum of 100+ lb wagon wanting to zoom down a mountain. The walk back to the van was tiring but manageable.
The drive home was fairly uneventful and we made it home for a very late dinner (quesadillas for the win).
We crammed a lot of fun into our 36 hour mountain adventure. The kids went rock hopping, swimming, hiking, played in waterfalls and gardens, geocached, and saw many different animals. I think we did a great job of hitting the highlights of Western NC, without spending a dime on entertainment. If we had more money, I would have stayed another night in the hotel so we could have more downtime, but I'm proud of how well the kids behaved and how much we were able to explore. The mountains will always be a beloved place to visit!