Hiking Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness

Alabama has so many beautiful hiking destinations. One of my new favorites is the Sipsey Wilderness in Bankhead National Forest just southwest of Huntsville.

We visited the “land of a thousand waterfalls” (as it’s affectionately known) at the end of October and hiked along Borden Creek. We barely scratched the surface of the 25,000-acre forest, so I can’t wait to go back!

Important note: Photos don’t do this place justice. The rock faces/cliffs were HUGE. Rarely would my camera fit them in its frame. It’s truly one of those places you have to see for yourself!

















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Hiking Mount LeConte

The most fun thing I’ve ever done? Hike to the top of Mount LeConte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It’s one of those rare places with no roads leading to it, only hiking trails, the shortest of which is five-and-a-half miles one-way. If you’re in really good shape, you can hike up and down the mountain in a day, but most people opt to stay at the lodge atop the mountain. The kicker? Bunks sell out quickly, so you have to book your stay usually a year in advance. Popular place for no electricity.

sunset on the top of Mount LeConte
Our group of six woke up about an hour before sunrise. With 6.7 miles ahead of us, we filled up on pancakes and coffee before leaving the trailhead. The first several miles were a slow and steady trod as we eased up the mountain. We crossed paths with a few people who hoped to make it to the waterfall, about 2.7 miles up the trail, and an older couple who walked a few feet up the trail to simply see the stream. To begin with, the forest felt almost otherworldly with the babbling stream, birds chirping and leaves glistening overhead, and damp leaves muddled beneath our feet. Before we knew it, we were the only hikers to be seen for miles.

fall foliage
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte

We took our time as we made our way up, trading turns sharing our favorite stories and Netflix recommendations and learning about each others’ lives. We also traded turns leading the pack and bringing up the rear, shuffling in an Indian run-turned-hike of sorts.

The further up we went, the brighter the trees seemed to glow, and the tireder we got, despite the fact that we were taking small steps and frequent breaks. We took turns once more, trading snacks and encouraging words when we each struggled with something different—trembling legs, pounding hearts, exhausted bodies, shortness of breath.

Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte

I knew we were getting close when the leaves started disappearing and the tree limbs became twisted and wild. We were greeted with hot chocolate and coffee when we reached the top, a welcome respite in the 40-degree weather.

We stretched and rocked on the porch of our cabin while we waited for dinner—roast, carrots, potatoes, and wine served communal-style. During dinner, we met a man in his 70s who had hiked to the top of LeConte more than a dozen times, but who never thought he’d make it back after a car accident debilitated him years earlier. Fortunately for us, he made it back up, otherwise we may never have heard his story of a LeConte staff member who was renowned for making it down the mountain in half an hour to get a six pack of beer and hiking back up in less than two hours. (!!!)

Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte
Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte

Dinner ended just in time for sunset, which was truly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The national park stretched for miles upon miles westward, so all we could see were smoky mountains bathed in pink and gold in every direction. That night, we all slept like bugs in rugs while kerosene warmed our cabin.

sunset atop Mount LeConte

sunset behind mountains



The next morning, we ate a hearty breakfast and took a cheesy (but essential) group photo before embarking down the mountain. We took a longer (8-mile) but flatter trail down, which followed a ridge much of the way.



Midway down, our trail joined the Appalachian, which helped invigorate our tired steps. I think we were all mesmerized by hiking just a few of the 2,200-mile pinnacle (and somewhat dumbfounded that anyone would be able to thru-hike the entire thing…although I, for one, daydream of doing just that).






Would I hike Mount LeConte again? Absolutely! In a heartbeat.

Hilton Head, South Carolina

The most beautiful view in Hilton Head? Dining on the deck of the Old Oyster Factory, where all of these photos were taken.

Old Oyster Factory outdoor dining in Hilton Head

Truly, I’ve never seen anything like it. Multi-level outdoor seating surrounded on all sides by nothing but marsh. We found ourselves whispering unconsciously during dinner as if our breaths had literally been taken away or as if we thought we’d disturb the wilderness that we were privileged to step into.

A story beneath us, a reef of oysters waited for the tide to rise so they could unclamp their shells. We even saw a cat (a cat!) swim clear across the river and disappear into the grass on the other side. Only a stately white house in the distance reminded us that people lived nearby, that and our waiter breaking our spell with the occassional crab cake and glass of wine. (Speaking of, the food was excellent.)

Old Oyster Factory outdoor dining in Hilton Head

Old Oyster Factory outdoor dining in Hilton Head

Old Oyster Factory outdoor dining in Hilton Head

Old Oyster Factory outdoor dining in Hilton Head

If you ever have the chance to go, aim to be there during sunset. Then you’ll really see the most beautiful view in Hilton Head.

Old Oyster Factory outdoor dining in Hilton Head

Savannah, Georgia

I don’t think there is a dull street in Savannah. Historic houses, cobblestone walkways, wrought-iron railings, oaks covered in moss. While there, I think we spent nearly half our time strolling the streets of Savannah.

(Fun fact: Savannah’s cobblestone streets, especially those nearest the river, are believed to have been made from stones brought over as ballast on ships from Europe. So Savannah is, quite literally, a blend of the Old World and the New.)

River Street in Savannah

Cobblestone roadway and brick arches between Bay Street and River Street in Savannah

Bay Street in Savannah

cobblestone street in Savannah

historic house in Savannah

It’s genius, really, how the city is constructed. At its center, squares of green space sit every other block, and like the rest of Savannah, these squares ooze with charm and history. The first four squares (including Johnson, immediately below) were built in 1733 as part of a master plan for a city that “made sense” and encouraged citizens to gather in public.

Since then, the nearly two dozen squares have witnessed plenty. The highlights: A dance given in George Washington’s honor. A Revolutionary War battle. The filming of Forrest Gump. And not just one, but two burials of historic figuresa Revolutionary War general and a Creek Indian chiefwhose graves are marked by monuments in their respective squares.

Johnson Square

Monument to General Nathanael Greene in Johnson Square

As the city expanded southward away from the river, the plan featuring squares every other block was abandoned for the next-best thinga sprawling park in the heart of the city. Read: More oaks. More moss. More fountains. More monuments. More strolling and standing in awe of this beautiful city.

Forsyth Park

Forsyth Park

Forsyth Park

Believe it or not, strolling the park was my least favorite part. I was seduced by the streets. But so are the streets of Savannah.

Forsyth Park

historic house in Savannah

Where to Eat/Drink

Sandfly (best barbecue we’ve ever had): The downtown location (where we ate) is located in an old railway car, so seating is limited but one-of-a-kind. Stained glass windows, mahogany details, and stainless steel and Deco finishes hearken back to the 1930s when the car was built. It was absolutely packed when we wentwith SCAD students, police officers, and other locals alikeso we really felt like we had found a beloved, local gem. Tip: Get. The. Ribs.

Crystal Beer Parlor: Equal parts charm and craft. Crystal Beer Parlor prides itself on being Savannah’s oldest restaurant and bar, having opened in 1933, and it’s known for its cocktails and a variety of local beers (more than two dozen, in fact) on tap. The food is also superb. I highly recommend the lamb burger!