We stopped to do a combined hike of about 6.5 miles in the Loft Mountain Area down in the southern end of the park. We parked and followed the Brown's Gap fire road, turned on to Doyle's River Trail and the Jones Run Fall trail, and then finally finished up the last mile or so on the Appalachian Trail back to the parking lot. You can see a map of the area and the trails we did HERE. We then proceeded to drive through the park, stopping at outlooks and at the "comfort station" until we hit the next exit out of the park.
The trail itself was gorgeous, even though the falls were very nearly dry. The fire road was pretty even and straightforward and wide, though we did see some bear tracks in the mud. We got caught in a brief rain downpour, but then were able to continue on. Even though the weather shifted between cloudy, sunny, humid, and drizzly, we only had one brief rain where we actually stopped to take cover. Then a great deal of the trail was downhill... this was very hard on our knees, and a bit precarious since the trail was mostly rocks and dirt and the rocks were very slippery. The falls (or what was left of them trickling) were kind of taken over by some groups that were also on the trail, so we stopped to admire but didn't really climb or explore. The rest of the trail was all uphill and seemed to last FOREVER. I figured a 6.5 mile trail was definitely within my abilities, even without having hiked in months, but this was definitely on the harder side of "moderate" that the park rates the trail. We took quite a few breathers, and stopped for a really relaxing lunch at one of the dry falls. Sometimes nothing tastes better than peanut butter and jelly and lots of water. Then we huffed and puffed (or at least I did) up and up and up.
The last part of the trail was the Appalachian trail. I totally geeked out. There was something about actually putting my feet onto the Appalachian trail that was almost a spiritual experience for me. I know that sounds silly, since it was only a mile long section we walked on, and it was the least visually stimulating part of the whole trip. I assume this is because the Appalachian Trail covers over 2,000 miles, the point of lots of the trail is to get somewhere, so most of the Appalachian Trail just follows the road that runs north-ish through the park. Regardless of all that, stepping onto the trail, walking where so many feet have walked before me on pilgrimages Northwards (or Southwards), seeing the familiar white blazes and AT trail stamps that I've become so familiar with was overwhelming and wonderful. It hasn't been a lifelong dream or anything -- in reality, I think I became infatuated with the Appalachian Trail only a year or so ago. But it took me on by storm, and I still hope and pray that I will be able to follow through with one of the few life-long goals I've made to do the Appalachian Trail. I left the park feeling wonderful. I hadn't hiked in months, and the beauty of the park was undeniable. The short trek on the Appalachian Trail stayed with me the whole trip back. I hope I can revisit it soon!