When we aren’t living for free in the National Forrest, Parks and Wilderness areas we are relaxing in town at hostels, B&Bs and hotels. Some of these have been more pleasant than others and so for the benefit of those that will come after us will would like to provide a review of our experiences so far.
The Blueberry Patch, Hiawassee: This was our first nero (a day where you head into town and stay there but hike a few miles first, a near zero day) on the trail. The Blueberry Patch is a small, donation only hostel between the trail and Hiawassee and it is delightful. The owner, Gary, is extremely nice and makes an effort to learn everyone’s names right off the bat. Everyone sleeps in a bunk house with an attached kitchen and it’s pretty easy to hitch into town. In the morning Gary and his wife cook an awesome breakfast for everyone and then drive you back up to the trail. Absolutely worth a substantial donation. If you are looking for a place to eat in Hiawassee I recommend Big Al’s Pizza Buffett, they will make whatever kind of pizza you want and its only seven bucks per person. I amazed everyone at this restaurant by eating upwards of sixteen pieces of pizza.
The Hike Inn, Fontana Dam: I feel bad giving this place a bad review because Nancy, one of the proprietors, is extremely nice and they worked really hard to get us shuttled into Robbinsville. But it wasn’t quite worth the price. The Hike Inn was supposed to be our first actual zero day but we didn’t get picked up from the shelter by Fontana Dam until twelve, causing the rest of the day to be rather hectic. We were picked up late, our clothes were washed but smelled like cigarettes because they smoke in the house where laundry was done, and our bill was an astronomical $82.00. The only positive was that there was a TV with cable and you would not believe how amazing it feels to veg in front of a television for a few hours. Robbinsville, on the other hand, was delightful. We went to a Mexican restaurant that blew my mind! Who expects to find surprisingly authentic tacos in Georgia? Not me.
The NOC bunkhouse, Nantahala Outdoor Center: The NOC is a magical place where there is food and beer and awesome kayaking to watch on the river. The bunk houses are not magical. They took me back to kids overnight camp bunk house, not very clean and not very comfortable. However, they are relatively well priced and worth it to spend an afternoon at the NOC. If I had had the option I would have rather tented…
The Laughing Heart Hostel, Hot Springs: Although not the cleanest, nicest hostel around I felt immediately at home at the Laughing Heart Hostel. It is right there when you come off the trail and there is a big grassy field to tent in and an awesome, comfy TV room with lots of movies and books. I also liked this place because the proprietor continued trying to undercharge us for our stay. First we were going to tent and he was only going to charge us for one person, then we moved into the bunk house because of weather and he was only going to take a few extra bucks for that and then without even asking he moved us into a private room for no extra cost because he didn’t like seeing couples split up!
Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn, Hot Springs: After spending a night at the Laughing Heart Hostel we moved over to Elmer’s for a zero day. Elmer’s is worth it just to see the inside of the house. It’s a very old Victorian-esque mansion with furnishings to match. Elmer and his helpers serve an amazing dinner and an equally awesome breakfast, both worth the extra fee. Those two meals are probably still the healthiest thing I have eaten while on the trail. Elmer is clearly a very food conscious person, judging by his book collection, which is refreshing but it does make you feel a little nervous about having a box of triscuits and a block of dollar store cheese in the house. There is only one problem with Elmer’s. It is, most certainly, the home to many many ghosts. We had to sleep with a light on (for me, Kyle is apparently not scared of the dead) and even then I barely slept. So for those who don’t wish to have a close encounter with the other side, I would suggest staying somewhere else.
Hemlock Hollow Inn, Greene County: Kyle and I hiked out of Hot Springs in a never ceasing down pour. After hiking twelve miles to the nearest shelter there had been no let up of the rain and the shelter was a let down. Tiny, dirty, and with the addition of us, uncomfortably full. While studying the guide books for a more appealing option Kyle discovered we were just six miles from the Hemlock Hollow Inn. We whipped out the phone to call down and see about space. A woman answered and seemed rather skeptical about whether she could fit us in, even if we were tented. Then there was a scuffling noise and I heard “Lindsey, is that you?” “Doc?!?” Turns out Doc and the gang were already there and he pretty much handled the arrangements from there on out. When we arrived we set up on a covered back porch and found Doc in the kitchen, cooking pizza for a crowd of hungry hikers. I have heard from other hikers that Sparrow, the woman who runs the inn is far from friendly or accommodating, but I can not speak to that rumor. This inn was there when we needed it most and we had a great night sleep, cowboy camped, listening to the creek.
Uncle Johnny’s, Erwin: Heading into Erwin we heard good things from hikers coming up the trail about Uncle Johnny’s. Like the Laughing Heart it is directly off the trail and looks very rustic and welcoming. We were feeling good about our decision to stay there until it started to come out that everyone there had been sick for the last few days. We had landed smack dab in the middle of the plague and Uncle Johnny’s seemed to be its epicenter. It was very obvious that our cabin we stayed in had not been cleaned, the previous owners towels were still hanging wet in the bathroom and there wasn’t even dish soap in the kitchen with which to do our dishes like we had been instructed. My hypochondriac self was seeing disease and destruction everywhere, and it didn’t help that both the children sitting next to me on the shuttle ride into town were clearly getting over colds and the man in the front seat had bronchitis and sounded on the verge of death. We got out of there as fast as we could and waited to get sick. We never did but my memories of Uncle Johnny’s are not exactly fond.
Mountain Harbour B&B, Roan Mt: Everyone should put this place on their list of places to stay, not just if they are hiking the trail but for life. The hostel is built into the old hay loft above the barn and is warm and cozy and quaint. The house where the B&B rooms are (too pricey for us, we just tented) is beautiful and looks like Pottery Barn might use it frequently for photographs. The grounds are well kept and there is a stream running through the property where billy goats frolic. Of course our stay here might be biased because it was our safe haven after our harrowing day in the Roan Highlands (see the post, Winter is Coming) but I honestly think anyone would find this B&B delightful. And the best part… breakfast the next morning. For only ten dollars a head you get all you can eat, homemade cinnamon rolls, monkey bread, spinach salad, cream cheese smoked salmon English muffins, pancakes with a banana rum sauce, sausage patties and links, bacon, egg scrambles with fresh veggies, quiches, and last but not least CHOCOLATE DIPPED STRAWBERRIES. I was amazed that the twenty of us that crowded around the island to fill our plates did not get greedy and start a punching match in order to hoard all the food to ourselves. Best breakfast so far… maybe in my life. I have to stop writing about it, my stomach is grumbling.
The Black Bear Lodge, Hampton: The weather had not improved leaving the Mountain Harbor B&B so we decided to hike twenty five miles to the next hostel, the Black Bear Lodge. We were rewarded for our big day with yet another wonderful experience. The Black Bear Lodge is new as of last year and has a great vibe. With food and beer for sale, lots of movies for the movie room, and cabins for cheap (ten dollars a head) we decided it would be a wonderful place to take another zero day. We had a nice relaxing day, watched four different movies, read, napped, and all around had a great time. I also took an incredibly long hot shower (sorry mother earth).
Mt Rogers Hostel, Damascus: By the time we made it to Damascus we discovered we had blown our monthly budget staying at nice places when it was raining. So we went on the cheap and stayed at the Mt Rogers Hostel which is right across the street from the outfitters. While far from cushy, it is nicely located in the heart of town and is pretty much what you would expect for twenty dollars a room. I would recommend it for anyone trying to do things on the cheap. When we opened the shower we were greeted by a bottle of dish soap… not a good sign. You probably wont find yourself spending a lot of time in your room though.
It has been eight day since we were in Damascus and I can honestly say that hiking and camping is by far the cheapest way to go. But we have to shower and do laundry at some point and those activities, plus the luxury of sleeping in a bed, will draw us back into town. After we have racked up another set of hostel/hotel/B&B stays we will check back in!