I decided to go to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes as a day trip from Brooks Lodge at a cost of $96 (with lunch or $84 without lunch). I went on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. I knew in advance that there was an optional 3 mile hike down into the Valley that was part of this tour. I knew that could be very strenuous for me and I wasn't sure I was going to do it, but I thought the tour would be an opportunity to see volcanoes since I had not seen them prior to this trip. The bus departs Brooks Lodge at 8:30 a.m. and stops at two points along the drive to the Valley. The first stop occurs after about 30 minutes, has bathrooms and a scenic view. The second stop happens about 30 minutes later for a brief time. Along the drive, there are three creeks with no bridge over them and the bus just drove right across them. When we arrived at the Valley of 10,000 Smokes at 10:30 a.m., we went into the Visitor Center which was heated and they had hot coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate which hit the spot because it was a cold and rainy day. Then, we were served lunch which included turkey sandwiches, chips and cookies. The turkey sandwich was great! At 12 noon, the Ranger led the group of 7 on the hike down into the Valley with the expectation that they would be gone about 2-3 hours. I decided not to go. With a bad knee going downhill is painful. One member of the group also had a bad knee and heel pain from plantar fasciitis, but he went anyway. I stayed up top and walked around the flat trail up there, then when it began POURING RAIN, I went in the Visitor Center where it was warm and dry and enjoyed a couple of mugs of hot chocolate. When the group of hikers came back about two hours later, they were SOAKED, and cold. As it turned out, they couldn't go all the way to the Valley floor because it had flooded from the deluge of rain. The man who had knee and heel pain said he was in so much pain from the hike. I was even more glad that I decided not to take the hike. I would absolutely suggest that anyone who considers this excursion to bring walking sticks, a rain suit and/or a change of clothes, and bottles of water. I would also suggest that you should decide if you are comfortable walking on a narrow trail 1 and 1/2 miles downhill and then 1 and 1/2 miles back uphill. The ranger described the hike as "moderately strenuous". While I did get some beautiful pictures before the rain came, I regretted taking a full day away from bearviewing and spending $100 for this bus ride and turkey sandwich. However, on the plus side, on the way back from the Valley, I got off the bus where the Brooks Falls trail splits from the Valley Road putting me 1/2 mile closer to Brooks Falls (normally 1.2 miles). So, it saved me a lot of walking, but it also meant that I walked that final 6/10ths of a mile to the Falls ALONE! Luckily, I did not encounter any bears. Normally, the bus returns to Brooks Lodge about 3:30-4 pm. making this an 8 hour excursion.
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