There’s nothing I love more than mountains. They are beautiful, breathtaking, full of life, and adventure. The Smoky Mountains are one the few gems in Tennessee and North Carolina. The mountains offer so much to people whether it be family vacations, camping, hiking, experiences, or an escape from life. For us, it was yet another family vacation! I have been to the Smoky’s multiple times but I vividly remember my first few trips with my family. Of course, it wasn’t as I remembered though because on November 28th of 2016, a massive wildfire happened. This fire claimed the lives of 14 people, burned a combined 16,000 acres of land, and caused over 2,000 structures to either be destroyed or damaged. This fire forced at least 14,000 residents and tourists to evacuate the area leaving their homes and life behind. I could not even imagine being put in the situation they were in. But even after the fire happened, the town was still bustling in the following summer.
We headed down to Tennessee in early June for fun-filled week. All of us stayed in one ginormous cabin that had a swimming pool inside, a hot tub, and an amazing view of the mountains. The cabin was absolutely beautiful! Surprisingly, we had no wildlife around or near the house except for a raccoon that we tried to shoo away multiple times. He only came out around night time when we were by the fire and making s’mores.
Our first night there, we ended up eating at a pizza place that was super cool. Of course it was followed by everyone coming back to the cabin and crashing from traveling that day. The next day, we got up and did a workout down and up the driveway (the longest uphill driveway ever) which was KILLER compared to anything in Ohio! Everyone got ready and then we headed into downtown Gatlinburg. We walked the strip for a bit and then decided to go to Ober Gatlinburg. I was totally excited about this until I found out how we had to get there, and for those of you who don’t know, I am TERRIFIED of heights. So the thought of getting on the tram packed full of people high above the ground not being able to hold onto anything because of being stuck in the middle, made me want to profusely vomit and pass out. But nevertheless I got on the tram and up we went to the ski resort. We walked indoors and it was like walking into a time machine. There’s an indoor ice skating rink, restaurant, lounge, snack bars, clothing stores, and gift stores. On the outside there’s alpine slide, the ski mountain coaster, a chair swing, a maze, mini golf, a scenic chairlift to the top of Mount Harrison, and kiddie rides. We ended up riding to the top of the chair lift and took some pictures which was really awesome!
The day after was more of shopping around and driving day for us. We saw most the burn areas around the park just by driving or using the tram going to Ober. It of course is sad to see but the wildlife and area will greatly benefit from the fire soon. As we were driving around the park, we found a cool brewery and an awesome store that we visited a few times. The Smoky Mountain Brewery and NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) were our two favorite places to go. The brewery had good beer and delicious pizza! Each time we went in it was filled with people and they even have live music sometimes at night. The other place we loved which was the NOC store. It’s a dream store for all of us because it had hammocks, camping gear, clothing, shoes, and so much more. If you’re in the area we highly recommend going to this store because you are bound to find something!
Clingman’s Dome was another awesome place that we went to. This is another area where we drove through on our way there that had evidence of the fire. Chimney Tops trail which was recommend to us by a friend, was closed due to the fire starting there. We were pretty bummed because we really wanted to hike it but now it’s just an excuse to go back! We all lucked out at Clingman’s because we actually go to see Pigeon Forge from the top! They say you can only see it on a good day but we must’ve gotten there at a good time because it started to rain right when we got back to the car and it was just starting to get crowded. I would highly suggest going here as its family friendly, paved path, and simply amazing. The other cool thing about Clingman’s is that it has part of the Appalachian Trail on it and it straddles Tennessee and North Carolina.
In the middle of the week, we decided to venture to Cades Cove on the other side of the park. On the way we stopped at a store called GSM Outfitters LLC. We love outfitter stores because they always have the best stuff and are normally a locally owned store. With that being said, this was also a favorite store. They had hammocks, bags, hiking gear, shoes, clothing, sun screen, and stickers. The owners were so friendly and even gave us a few suggestions on hikes in the area. So, we took off and headed to Cades Cove to find the Abram Falls hike that we chose to do for the day. We immediately pulled into the Cove and saw a momma bear and her cubs along with a lot of people. It was super crowded but the drive was nothing short of cool. We arrived at the trailhead and took off on the 5 mile round trip hike. It was a good thing we packed food and drinks because this trail ended up being pretty exhausting. It had lots of uphill and downhill with some pretty steep parts. All of our group did well but I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who is not in some type of good shape. The falls were cool and we ended up getting pretty close to them but it was super packed. When we left the cove in the late afternoon, we headed to get some dinner at a BBQ joint that I cannot remember the name of but was SO GOOD! We topped off the day full of hiking and BBQ with some ice cream then headed back to the cabin.
Taking a break from doing hiking and lots of driving was a must. We found an amazing donut place called Mad Dogs which also had ice cream. The donuts were a hit and we ended up getting them a few times! After the donuts, we found ourselves at Dollywood. Now, I hate roller coasters (you’re probably assuming I’m a terrible boring person but I promise I’m not I just get terrible motion sickness and like I mentioned above, I’m terrified of heights) but this park was nothing short of fun. I enjoyed every minute of this park and went on almost every ride except for one that was way out of my comfort zone. We lucked out and ended up getting the fast passes which was a lifesaver because we got to ride almost every single ride twice sometimes. This park had a wide range of things to do for all ages. Our family split into two meaning the older kids went one way and the younger kids went the other to ride all the small rides. The very first ride we went on was the fastest one in the park and goes upside down, of course I didn’t figure this out until I was strapped into the ride beside Chase who was pleading with me that he didn’t know about it. Aside from all of that, I thought it was not the best coaster. The one that I liked the most of the Mystery Mine. We rode this one at least 3 times but it got shut down because of the storm coming. So, our Dollywood ended early but we still had a blast and I would TOTALLY recommend to anyone whether you have young kids, old kids, or no kids at all because there is so much to do!
Later that day we went out hiking again. Now on this hike, we parked the car and looked into the woods to see a momma bear and 3 cubs. We made our way up to the trail head where there were no people surprisingly because it was packed parking. I started to walk up the little hill and all of a sudden I see the momma bear and her three cubs walk out of the woods about 100 feet in front of me. Luckily, I saw them and so did the guy on the other side of the trail walking towards me. The momma bear looked at both of us but just kept walking and the cubs ran along right behind her. I don’t think I’ve ever turned around and ran so fast in my life! After we made sure they were gone, we started to Grotto Falls. This hike was pretty cool but not in my semi brand new Teva’s. Unfortunately, I was pretty miserable along with another family member which made the hike not as fun on the way back because our feet were wet and the sandals gave us big blisters. I love my Teva’s but make sure you break them in before you decide to do any type of hike. Aside from the shoes, the falls were pretty. The boys caught salamanders, we walked under the falls, and took a break to eat some food.
We wrapped up the end of the week a bit more shopping, eating out, and of course taking pictures by the national park sign. This trip was nothing short of amazing. We cannot wait to go back and do all the hiking we didn’t get to do. I would recommend the Gatlinburg area to anyone because there is such a wide range of things to do. We hope you get to visit and have lots of fun like we did!