An East Tennessee Christmas Vacation
While visiting our family in Jefferson City, TN we made sure to spend some time in nearby Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountain area of Gatlinburg....
We are fortunate that my mom, her husband larry and Jason's father now live in east Tennessee. After taking early retirement from their jobs here in Florida, they migrated north to the land of rolling hills and a change of seasons that did not include "hurricane" as one of them. We try and visit around once a year at the holidays, usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas and that is when we get a nice dose of cold weather.
This year, it was more rainy than usual and not as cold as in years past, so although it was overcast outside, we were able to enjoy ourselves on our traditional visit to some of our favorite touristy places....
If you're never been to this part of Tennessee, you are missing out. The Smoky Mountains are so very, very pretty and truly a place everyone should visit during their lifetime. You can rent a cabin on a mountainside for less than $200 a night (with more than enough room for the family) and just soak in all the natural beauty and relax. Enjoy a glass of wine as you soak in your outdoor hot tub, watching the sun set over the hills after an afternoon of walking the trails through the woods, chasing squirrels and looking for deer and other wildlife. Disconnect from the world and break out the board games for a fun game of Monopoly or Scrabble and bond as a family. And when you want to do the more touristy activities available to you in the area, just head on down to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. You definitely won't have an issue of not being able to find something to do!
The Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area has become a family friendly vacation destination, sort of like if Branson, Missouri and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina had a love child. The popularity of the area as a family vacation spot is largely due to the amazingly awesome music icon Dolly Parton who was born and raised in the area and has worked hard to help the local economies of surrounding communities. Although we didn't visit Dollywood this trip, it is a MUST VISIT place if you are in the area....although I would recommend it more for a summer time visit. We went a few years back when we were in town for the Fourth of July holiday and it reminded me so much of visiting Six Flags Over Georgia in the summer back when I lived in Atlanta. With the Dollywood Splash Country Water Park, you can't go wrong with a trip there in the heat of a Tennessee Summer. Spend a day at the Dollywood Theme Park, a day at the water park and another day or two visiting other attractions in the area, like the Gatlinburg Aquarium, the Wonderworks Museum, the Titanic Museum (just to name a few)...you can't go wrong!
When it comes to our visits, there is one place that we ALWAYS visit....and although it's not a typical "attraction" it is a place we all enjoy going:
Smoky Mountain Knife Works
2320 Winfield Dunn Pkwy, Sevierville, TN 37876
I'm going to start off describing this place by telling you this: If the Zombie Apocolypse ever starts and the shizz starts to go down, we aren't waiting for the world to go to hell in a handbasket. We are headed directly to the Smoky Mountain Knife Works and will be getting/stockpiling everything we would need from this place.
Guns & Ammo. You name it, they have them and know that I don't know a thing about guns, but I know they have an utter crap ton of them.
Specialty Foods and all kinds of Cookware (both indoors and out)
Seriously this place is the coolest and get this...I'm a pacifist by nature so I'm not a fan of guns, I've never hunted in my life (nor do I have any plans to in the near soon) and my idea of camping is what is more commonly known as "glamping". I HAVE gone camping, and would go again if it wasn't so god forsakenly hot here in Florida and I totally hate bugs. I have fired a gun, at an outdoor, country wedding reception and I have eaten food that was hunted and didn't come from the local Publix. Even though I am one of those bleeding heart "Liberal Democrats" and every bumper sticker sold at the SMKW is of the polar opposite of my personal political viewpoints, I'll tell you that I love this place.
This is just a fun place to go and look around and shop for things you didn't even know you needed, but once you found them, you couldn't live without! With three floors of stuff, there is no lack of things to look for. We can easily spend 2 hours here....
Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster
867 Wears Valley Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
After leaving the Smoky Mountain Knife Works, we drove towards Pigeon Forge for our next activity on "The Joy Family Day of Fun!". I had purchased 2 Groupons for the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster because I knew Sarah and Jason would have a great time riding the coasters through the trees. I stayed put on good old terra firma, as I was very concerned that it would be super jerky or a strain on both my back and neck and if my pain management doctors found out I was doing something like that, they would have my head on a pike. After all, it says that if you have back or neck injuries to stay off. So, I was left in charge of taking pictures, but I didn't mind because it was misty raining and I could stay in the warm car while they waited in line! Just so you know, this ride is suitable for kids of all ages. Young riders have the option of riding with an adult and my daughter, who is almost 15 had no issue with using the hand brakes. Top Speed is 27 mph, so it's not super fast, but I did learn that the wetter the track, the faster it seems to go.
From their website:
"The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is the longest downhill ride in the United States, with over 1 mile of track! So if you are looking for an unforgettable experience in your vacation here in the" Great Smoky Mountains", this is a must do!
The vehicles are designed to carry two visitors in comfort but can be handled easily by one alone.
The riders are in control of the velocity (up to about 30 mph) and this gives them a unique hands-on experience!
Rain, snow or sunshine no problem - the excellent braking effect is unchanged so you can ride year-round!"
Jason and Sarah had a BLAST! I bought them each a ticket for $22.50 on Groupon and when we got there, to redeem our groupon, we were told that since Jason and Sarah each had their own ticket, the purchased Groupon allowed them to each do the run twice. I don't know if that is really the case or if the girl was just being nice at Christmas time (this was Dec. 23rd) but she said that if we wanted to come back later that evening after sunset, they have the track lit up with lights and it's way cool doing it at night. Since we didn't have dinner plans set in stone and we were only 1/2 hour from home, we decided to come back later so they could ride the coaster before going out to dinner at a local Pigeon Forge restaurant, the Local Goat (review to be posted later).
It was just as much for them to do the track lit up at night, although it was a lot colder. Remember that in the winter, gloves are essential, but if you forget them, they are sold in the gift shop for $5 a pair. I'm sure in the summertime when the trees are all in full greenery, it would be beautiful in it's own right, as well! There are a number of different coasters in the pigeon Forge area, but after reading other reviews, this one seems to be the most scenic and enjoyable. Plus, you can't go wrong with a Groupon!!
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park
via Gatlinburg, TN
After grabbing a bite to eat at one of the local Pancake houses (review coming soon), we decided to head over to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the town of Gatlinburg. Now before I get into things, I have to tell you one of my little secrets. Growing up, I always thought that the reason the area was called the Great Smoky Mountains was because "back in the day" all the settlers cabins had chimneys, and those along with all the smokehouses that settlers and used to smoke meats and such, that the smoke from the chimneys where what caused a perpetual fog in the mountains, thus them getting that nickname. It made sense to me at the time, so I went with it. Little did I know that the Smoky Mountains were named for the foggy vapor that would cover the peaks and settle in the valleys. The area was initially referred to as "The Land of the Blue Smoke" by the local Cherokee Indians and the Smoky Mountains are actually a "subrange" of the Appalachian Mountains, that help to make up part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It had been a number of years since we had done an overnight vacation to Gatlinburg, although we had been there on other occasions, and let me tell you we were totally unprepared for the sheer volume of traffic headed into town, so this time around, we didn't even make it to downtown Gatlinburg before we said "Yeah, I don't think so" and we turned around to head back home. We really should have taken the bypass around the city, but the government shutdown had already started and we were unsure of what areas would be open since it is a National Park and we thought at least we could spend some time in Gatlinburg.
As much as I love cheesy tourist spots at times, I really am not a huge fan of crowds and with it being the Christmas holidays, it was wicked crowded. Although it is right next to a big parking garage, going to the Gatlinburg Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies was out of the question, although it is really very nice. even if we were lucky enough to get a parking spot, the Aquarium would have been packed to the gills! We had already eaten lunch, so eating wasn't on our list of things to do and it was too chilly/misty rainy for mini-golf at Hillbilly Golf or Davy Crockett Mini-Golf. Although we aren't die-hard"Dukes of Hazzard" fans by any means, we wanted to take Sarah to Cooter's Family Fun Center so she could see the Dodge Charger"General Lee" (she loves vintage cars) , but we totally forgot that it had moved to a new location after the wildfires that happened throughout the area in 2016.
Instead, we decided to just go to a local park down by the river and spend some time skipping rocks, taking pictures and enjoying time as a family....
North Gatlinburg/Herbert Holt Park
151 N Park Ln, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
This is such a nice little place to stop. With ample parking, there is a playground for kids, a wheelchair accessible landing for rainbow trout fishing on the stream (trout are released into the river here each Thursday) and the awesome thing is that the fishing here is restricted only to children and the physically handicapped. There is a 2 fish limit on the number you can keep, but what a great place you can take you kids for a little fishing on the river! We liked that it wasn't crowded, there were some awesome worn-flat river rocks along the embankment that were the ultimate for skipping across the water and the sound of the water flowing was so amazingly relaxing. I swear that one day, if I ever win the lottery, I will have a house with a babbling brook flowing through my living room....(Bonus points if you can tell me what '60's TV sitcom that is a reference to!)
Honestly, there is nothing better than just spending some quality time with the family where you're not having to worry about cooking dinner, helping with homework, doing laundry or meal planning. Sometimes you just need to get out into nature and just take in the sights, sounds and smells of everything around you, otherwise you run the risk of missing so much! Who knew skipping rocks would be so entertaining!
The park is less than a mile down the road from the Zoder's Inn and Suites, where we stayed quite a number of years ago....14 to be exact. I know things can change over that amount of time but it was a nice little hotel, located right alongside the Roaring Fork Creek and the rooms, while not super fancy were clean, comfortable and had the wonderful sound of the rushing water outside. There is an indoor pool with hot tub that you can use when the weather is too cold outside. I would hope that in the last 14 years they have done some renovations, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. It is within walking distance of the Aquarium of the Smokies and there are a number of stores and restaurants right nearby, such as the Smoky Mountain Trout House, which serves locally sourced, fresh trout in 12 different ways. They also serve traditional American fare, so if you're not into fish, you do have other options. This was the first place I ever have Rainbow Trout and it was delicious!
So there you have it....our Christmas time "Joy Family Day of Fun". We did have lunch and dinner at two local restaurants, Flapjacks Pancake House (for lunch) and The Local Goat (for dinner) and I'll be posting that review in the next day or so!
(***Oh and the TV show I was referencing was "I Dream of Jeannie", when Dr. Bellows comes over to see Major Nelson and finds that Jeannie has set up a campsite in Tony's living room, complete with a tent, fire and babbling brook. Poor Dr. Bellows. He always thought he was the one going crazy when he was in fact the only sane person on the show at times. I always loved that episode!)