We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
Flowers outside of rest stop in Tennessee.
Planning the perfect trip is practically impossible. For my family, just finding the time to plan a trip this year was difficult since I have one child taking summer classes in college. Once the summer semester is over, my other child will start back to school while the oldest is on break. To make the most of what little time we had on a weekend, we drove about 4.5 hours to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
We only had two full days to enjoy the nation’s busiest park. Did you know that the actual park encompasses 521,896 acres, covers Tennessee and North Carolina, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983?
Little were we aware of how congested traffic would be driving into Pigeon Forge. I have since heard not to go on the weekend because it is so busy. Traffic started getting backed up before we even pulled off of the interstate.
We took a short break and went inside Smoky Mountain Knife Works – I was surprised at how large the store is, housing numerous knives, guns, and other items. Nearby was a Lodge Factory Store that I had hoped to visit later.
We made it to our hotel in Pigeon Forge. The room was a little cramped for four people, yet overall sufficient. After unpacking our belongings, we went for a little ride in Pigeon Forge. We stopped at Hillside Winery. There we (those of us of legal drinking age) were able to sample some delicious muscadine wine, as well as a few other varieties.
You would think that the weather for the end of June would be hot and humid, bordering on becoming intolerable. For our entire trip, it was warm and wet. It rained every day that we were in Tennessee. Fortunately we had some pretty good timing, like on Saturday when we drove to Cade’s Cove. Driving into the park is free and you can get out at any time to go look at some of the homes built by early settlers. While driving into the park, it drizzled a bit.
It stopped drizzling so we parked our car and went into John Oliver’s cabin. In this small, two room (including the attic) he and his wife raised their children.
By the time we finished exploring Mr. Oliver’s homestead, it started to sprinkle. We were able to make it back to our car without getting soaked. We then finished the short loop around Cade’s Cove and headed to Gatlinburg.
Summer is high season in Gatlinburg, so it was difficult finding a parking space. We found a lot and paid $6 for the parking privilege. We walked the short distance to Ripley’s Aquarium to explore the more than 350 species of marine life.
The aquarium is fascinating and my kids and I could spend hours there. (Click here to read more about Ripley’s Aquarium.) Wouldn’t you know it, that while we were in there it rained again? Fortunately it stopped for a short while.
The main strip of Gatlinburg is about a 2 minute walk from the aquarium. We walked down the strip in search of a place to sit down and have lunch.
We saw a Mexican restaurant that was on the second level of a building. We went in and were pleasantly surprised with the environment. The food was pretty good, but our waiter was not.
Walking back down the strip to our car, we had to stop at the Paula Deen store. There you can find anything you need for your kitchen that pertains to butter or Y’all.
We made it back to our room and the family rested while I went back out to explore Pigeon Forge. I drove to the Old Mill District and wandered into the various stores. I walked into Pigeon River Pottery and was blown away at how beautiful the pottery was. When you visit, you can see different pieces of pottery in its unfinished state, as well as the potter’s wheel. The pottery is formed and fired on site.
There were so many beautiful pieces. If only I had the space for them all.
Just a couple of doors down is the Old Mill Farmhouse Kitchen. The store stocks mixes for everything from bread to corn chowder to salad dressing.
After I finished exploring and got in my car, there came a down pour. It probably rained for another 20 minutes. I never would have imagined that it would rain so much in June.
My Tips For Visiting
- Be sure to stop at a rest area and pick up some free brochures, some of which have coupons.
- Be prepared for rain.
- If you can, travel during the week, not the weekend.
- Stay at a hotel on the strip in Gatlinburg. You won’t have to worry about finding a parking space and will be able to walk to so many attractions.
Cade’s Cove is closed to car traffic on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:00 am to 10:00 am. You can rent a bike and explore the area.