Doug and I have done lots of camping and lots of hiking, but up until last weekend we had never put the two together. We decided that we would embark on our very first backpacking trip over the long Fourth of July weekend. We drove out to Cherokee, NC and packed into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park via the Hyatt ridge and Enloe creek trails. The Enloe creek trail led us to campsite 47 which is nestled right alongside a tributary of the Oconaluftee River called Upper Raven Fork. Upper Raven Fork is known to be the most rugged watershed in the National Park, and it is a fly fisherman’s dream. However, it takes quite a bit of treacherous bushwhacking, log balancing, and boulder traversing to get to each one of the pristine fresh water pools.
The effort to get to the trout waters was certainly worth the reward. Doug and I both caught our fair share of native rainbow trout and brook trout on flies, and I caught my very first Smoky Mountain native rainbow trout on a dry fly (an elk hair caddis for any fly fishermen out there). It was nothing short of amazing! Because we were both fishing adjacent pools, we didn’t get many actual photos of the fish we were catching out of fear of killing them. I was lucky enough that Doug was close by when I caught my rainbow because it was definitely the best fish of the trip for me.
One thing that we were pleasantly surprised to see was an abundance of honey bees. Any time we were at the campsite, there were at least a few curious honey bees checking out all of our gear. When we hiked up and down stream, we would occasionally have a curious honey bee check us out when we were standing in the middle of the river on the boulders. It was an unexpected but happy surprise to see so many native honey bees. Who knew that the honey bees seem to be thriving in the NC Smoky Mountains? We sure didn’t. We were so glad to see it though! And part of me wished that I could find a swarm of them to take home (not exactly sure how the logistics of that would have worked but whatever), because they probably have incredible genetics. It was definitely a great sight to see.
Because this was our first backpacking trip, when we planned out our food for the weekend we also had to keep weight in mind. At first we were going to buy pre-made backpacking meals, but after putting more consideration into things, we decided we would try to make our own dehydrated meals. Luckily we came across Kevin Outdoors and his super helpful videos about dehydrating meat and making your own camping food. Talk about a game changer! We quickly got to work dehydrating meat, veggies, and noodles to make up our meals. Once all of the ingredients were dehydrated, we put our two separate dinner meals together and gave them a test run. We were pleasantly surprised that the meals tasted great once they were rehydrated. Not only was this a money saver for us, but it allowed us to eat healthier meals with minimal ingredients. We were able to use veggies from our garden and from the farm stand down the road, as well as the pasture raised meat that we regularly purchase from a local farm. We lightly seasoned each of the meals and added some dehydrated butter and cheese powders and that was it. We portioned out each meal and individually vacuum sealed and organized them per day. The vacuum sealed meals weighed next to nothing and were super easy to stow away in our packs. We rehydrated the meals each night for dinner and they were both tasty and filling. We will definitely be making our own backpacking meals from here on out. Big thanks and shout out to Kevin Outdoors!
We spent the majority of the weekend fly fishing, hiking, and enjoying tent life next to Upper Raven Fork. At the end of the weekend, we packed up our camp and backpacked out to the trail head where our truck was waiting for us. Instead of heading straight home, we made a stop in Cataloochee Valley (another part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) for more fly fishing. We caught a few more small native rainbows on fly and came face to face with two pairs of mama and baby elk. What a way to end the trip! It was a wonderful weekend and we are already looking forward to going back to Upper Raven Fork for more backpacking and fly fishing adventures.