DoubleTree by Hilton Hilton Honors loyalty program Hilton Hotels Worldwide National Parks North Carolina Parks and Monuments South Carolina Tennessee

#FindYourPark National Park Service Centennial 1916-2016

This is day six and the last day of my Orlando to Knoxville road trip, and only the second time I have posted to Loyalty Traveler since driving out of Florida last week. Every morning I wake up feeling my head wants another two hours sleep. Then, the thought keeps me awake that getting to the places I want to see means no delay. I jump back in the car loading my iPhone map app for directions to the next destination. GPS has been vital this trip to find many of the remote locations I have sought out.

I think back to a sign I saw on a wall in Manhattan, New York City a few years ago, “You can sleep when you are dead.”

Each night I think of the day’s adventures and stories I want to write, download and look at my photos and pass out exhausted. Each morning I wake up and think of the stories I want to write, plan my first itinerary activity of the day, then find myself checking into a hotel room 12 or 15 hours later after an amazing day of travel and adventure. My brain spins from imagery and interactions I experienced.

I have posted photos along the way on Instagram and Twitter. Just about any photo I put on Twitter, there is a better quality one taken with my Nikon that I have for future stories.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

I am writing this piece from Park Vista Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee from a 10th floor room on the side of a hill with a view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the town of Gatlinburg in the valley below. This room is a blogger freebie arranged when I walked by a poster of the hotel last week at the IPW convention in Orlando with its wooded mountain backdrop and stopped to check out the photo. The representative at the booth proactively asked me if I wanted to stay there?


I did not even know where Gatlinburg was in relation to Knoxville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As I now know, Gatlinburg is the primary Tennessee gateway to the park. Gatlinburg is where the nearest hotels are located from the park entrance at the edge of town.

The name certainly applies to the view from my 10th floor room balcony.

Park Vista

Great Smoky Mountains National Park view from DoubleTree Park Vista Hotel, Gatlinburg, TN.

Drive 15 miles from Gatlinburg and you can find yourself deep in the Smoky Mountains National Park, in mountains and valleys of old growth forests that have never been logged. I looked out over the landscape and thought to myself, I thought you had to be deep in some Central America rainforest for a view like this.

Great Smoky old growth

Old growth forest vista Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Yesterday, my day’s drive took me to DuPont State Park for hiking. Transylvania County, North Carolina is known as the ‘land of waterfalls’.

High Falls-1

High Falls, DuPont State Park, North Carolina

The Vanderbilt family sold the vast part of Biltmore Estate holdings in the 1930s to create the first National Forest east of the Mississippi, Pisgah National Forest.

The Rockefeller family financed the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Gilded Age created land barons. The Great Depression created many of the public parks we enjoy today from 19th century private landholdings. Fortunes come and fortunes go. We are the fortunate ones today who can visit these parks for free or for just a few dollars.

Looking Glass

Looking Glass Fall, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

A traveler can easily spend a week in this part of the country visiting waterfalls. Forget about the heat and humidity of summer. Dozens of people were in the cool waters of the calm pool below Looking Glass Fall.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Two days earlier I was hiking in Congaree National Park, one of the least visited National Parks, located less than 25 miles from Columbia, South Carolina. It was created in the 1970s to save the largest remaining tract of eastern river flood plain old growth forest surrounding the Congaree River. This is swamp land and I hiked in the 90 degree afternoon heat for two hours feeling like a modern day Stanley Livingston, yet with the convenience of a boardwalk and marked trails to hike and some environmentally friendly insect repellant I purchased at the Congaree park store for $5.

Congaree NP

Congaree National Park, South Carolina holds many of the largest trees in the world for their species. I was kind of scared about snakes when I was hiking off the boardwalk in the park. Biggest snake I have seen this trip was at Biltmore Estate close to the gardens when a woman on the path near me screamed as she almost stepped on a four foot long black snake crossing the trail.

#FindYourpark, Centennial of the National Park Service 1916-2016

From the lowlands to the highlands, the Carolinas and Tennessee have shown me natural beauty and wonders I was unaware were so accessible. The National Parks Service are celebrating their 100 year anniversary in August 2016. Many of my tweets have included the hastag #FindYourPark, which is the NPS hashtag for their campaign to celebrate the centennial.

Loyalty Traveler will get back to regular programming soon. This road trip has been about discovering parts of the USA and getting back to what our points and world is all about, making travel more affordable to enable experiences in new places as a traveler.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway drive from Brevard, North Carolina to Great Smoky Mountains National park is one of the most scenic drives I have experienced as the road winds around the mountain ridges of North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina.

Get out there and #FindYourPark.

Blogger Disclosure: My room night at Park Vista, DoubleTree in Gatlinburg, TN was a complimentary hotel night.


  • Jim June 9, 2015

    Whether it’s Norway, Ireland or the SE US, I really, really enjoy your trip reports! Thank you!

  • Ric Garrido June 10, 2015

    Thanks. Sharing what I find in places I travel is a real joy and I hope helps and inspires other travelers.

    I need to organize my trip reports and I plan to set up a Parks page.
    An interesting aspect of writing trip reports is they tend to bring in a higher proportion of new readers to the blog, although they also tend to have overall fewer readers.

    This road trip over the past week kept reaching higher heights, figuratively and literally, as each day unfolded.

  • Jim June 10, 2015

    Ric, a follow up and words of thanks. Several years ago while reading your blog I caught on to the earn or buy Choice points here and use them in Scandinavia. Last summer, my wife, 7 year old daughter and I used those points for 6 nights at the Clarion Hotel Sign (awesome!) in Stockholm, 2 nights at a Clarion Collection hotel (breakfast, snacks, coffee and dinner) in Jonkoping, Sweden and one night at a Clarion in Oslo. We would have done hostels had we not used your tips and they would have been 5-6 times the cost we paid for the Choice points. As it was, we lived in luxury! I will always be thankful for you and to you for that one specific tip.

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