Dresses and Coyotes in the Great Smoky Mountains

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Come on, isn’t this better than a shot of yet another European monument or church? And it’s right here in the U.S.!

Trying to figure out a fun Summer trip? Feeling guilty about jetting to Europe because of how much CO2 your ride would produce? Wanting to try something different, that’s low-impact on your wallet and creates a minimum of stress?

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Taken while lying on the ground, contemplating the mountains’ geology

Consider visiting one of our nation’s national parks. After all, you’re already paying for them with your tax dollars! (Hey, I know I sound like an ad for our parks system, but they’re really important ecosystems that are more than worth supporting, I say.) Over Spring Break I drove down with one of my best friends to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. (I know, to be super eco-friendly, I should have gone to a park closer to my Connecticut home, but I’ve been to most of them, and I was saving Vermont for the Summer.)

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Who knew you could find old-growth trees this size on the East Coast? I felt like I was in California as I hiked through the Smokies. And yes, I am wearing a dress! Very comfortable and great to hike in. Eco Chicks should all try it sometime (thanks to Brianne for the suggestion)!

While some of the park was crowded, and it will probably be more so during the warm season (this park is THE most visited park in the United States), once you get on the beaten trail, you will have plenty of room. Most folks who visit this and other parks only ever check out the edges of the woods, at best going on short day hikes.

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All-natural cool-down time at a waterfall

Try camping out for just a night or two if it’s not something you haven’t had much practice in. Or stay in a campground and use it as a home-base for extra-long day excursions. Ask park personnel about hikes that will be your speed. We got some really good advice and suggestions from all the park employees that we asked. I’ve found this is generally true in national and state parks.

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Rain can turn everything into a gorgeous wet wonderland as long as you’re prepared with the right gear.

We camped out in two different sections of the park, really getting to see a variety of ecosystems within a small area, and spotting some wildlife. Remember, it’s always smart to hang your food up in a tree to keep bears away; in the Smokies many campsites have pulley-systems already set up for this purpose, which makes it easy to keep the bears away. After all, you’re in their home now, but they’ll still want to chow on your treats.

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A not-so-shy coyote I caught on camera on evening

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Needs no caption

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.