Story and photos by Heather Short
If you’re new to the area, you might be unaware that you now live within arm’s reach of a fun-filled family vacation at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s the most visited national park in the country, and once you’ve been there, you’ll know why.
On the drive out east, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the rolling hills of lush greenery along the highway. It will truly give you the feeling of getting away from it all. Once you pass the hustle and bustle of Knoxville, you’ll arrive in the tiny mountain town of Gatlinburg.
If you’re looking for a unique way to vacation, consider renting a cabin in the woods. Cabins for You is one of several businesses that offers cabins in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. Rental prices range from $120 a night and up, based on the size of the unit.
Unlike the busy, touristy feel of a packed hotel, cabins are quietly nestled among the mountains. Some cabins offer superb views of the mounts right from the back deck along with outdoor seating for guests to really put their feet up, breathe in the fresh air and enjoy a vacation with their family.
The cabins are completely furnished, including a full-size kitchen to conveniently prepare family meals. Adults will be pleased that most cabins feature a hot tub to kick back and relax. At night, the dark sky will fill with twinkling stars to gaze on with the kiddos.
The drive to the Smoky Mountains is relatively simple, and the earlier you head there, the less traffic you will run into. Driving through the national park is free and guests can visit various locations once inside. One of the most popular is Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest point in the park. It’s a half-mile walk up a paved trail to the actual dome.
Once there, you will walk to an observatory that gives you a breathtaking, unobstructed 360-degree view of the park. On a clear day, the rest of the busy world seems to disappear and the park stretches out as far as the eye can see.
Another way to view the beauty of the area is by an auto tour. Cades Cove Loop is a free 11-mile road tour where families stop at different points to take in some history. Cades Cove is home to preserved homes, churches and water mills from settlers in the 1800s.
Cades Cove also offers several additional hiking opportunities. Guests can hike the Trillium Gap Trail and see Grotto Falls, which is located just 1.4 miles from the parking area. It’s a leisurely hike but bringing water and snacks is recommended. Once you reach Grotto Falls, you can walk behind the rushing water of the falls and continue on to the other side for additional hiking. Grotto Falls is a popular spot to stop because of the refreshing, cool water and of course, the spectacular view of the waterfall.
After a long day of hiking and sightseeing, you are bound to be hungry. Downtown, Gatlinburg Parkway is lined with specialty shops, museums and restaurants. Whether it’s breakfast food from Crocketts Breakfast Camp ($11 to $30), a sandwich from Parton’s Deli ($10 and under), or homestyle fixin’s from the Buckhorn Inn, you’re bound to find something to satisfy your cravings.
The city of Pigeon Forge is located a short distance from Gatlinburg and is home to The Old Mill. With almost 180 years of history, the home of the water-powered gristmill is also where you can find delicious, southern-style food. The Old Mill uses their own products to make savory comfort food, like fried catfish, their signature corn chowder and their famous biscuits. Meals at The Old Mill Restaurant range from $8 and up.
There is fun for people of all ages in Gatlinburg. Adults can wander into Davy Crockett’s Tennessee Whiskey or Old Forge Distillery to taste test whiskey and moonshine. Both establishments offer military discounts to service members over age 21.
Children and adults will find entertainment at the Hollywood Star Car Museum, the World of Illusions or the Titanic Museum.
If you and your family are looking to go somewhere adventurous while staying on a family-friendly budget, the Smoky Mountains and its surrounding areas are an excellent place to check out. Whether you want to enjoy nature or dive into the hustle and bustle of the city, there is no doubt something for everyone.
Story and photos by Heather Short