Our Summer of Mini-Vacations: The Smoky Mountains

I am a firm believer in vacation time.  I very strongly feel that vacations are incredibly important.  The time away, as a family, is priceless, and I love that our children are going to have these memories for the rest of their lives.  Some of my most favorite childhood memories are of the vacations my family took, and I want so much to create those memories for our kiddos.

This year, because of scheduling issues, we decided to try and just do a bunch of mini vacations, instead of our usual week-long trips.

Our first trip was to The Great Smoky Mountains, or more specifically, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.  To be completely honest, we have been there before…  many times.  It’s one of our go-to vacation spots.  It’s “normally” about a 6 hour drive, so definitely not too far, for a weekend getaway.  I say “normally” because the beginning drive of this particular trip was a total nightmare, and took close to double the usual amount of time.  Ugh!

We started out a little late, because, well, that’s how we do things.  From the start, we knew it wasn’t going to be a short trip.  It was pouring rain, and we were pulling our 34 foot travel trailer.  And by we, I mean my awesome husband!  So, we finally got going, and had just made it to the first town south of us, when a tire on our camper blew!  Luckily we were able to make it to an exit, where we pulled over and put on a spare.  Once again, we means my husband, though I did assist (a little).  With the spare on, we decided to drive to the tire store, and we went ahead and had the rest of the tires changed, as well.  This wasn’t our first experience with blown tires on this camper, and we should have had them all replaced the first time.  But, we figured since our camper was basically brand new the first time, it was a fluke.  I guess not.  We’ve had it 3 years now, so still practically brand new, and with a second blown tire, it was definitely the right decision to change them all.

OK, all tires are changed, and we are off!  Again.  It’s still raining, and the other drivers are still driving like they’ve never driven in rain before.  It usually takes about 90 minutes to get from our house, to the Ohio – Kentucky state line, but on this lovely day, it took us 3 hours.  And, this was pretty indicative of the entire trip down.  So, after a long, 11 (? – I lost count) hour trip, we finally arrived at our campground.

Our Stay

This was a last minute decision to come to Tennessee, so we weren’t able to stay at the campgrounds we normally stayed at.  I won’t say that the campground we had to use this time was horrible, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.  They had options for the kids – The lazy river was fun, and the kids enjoyed the jumping pillow and the playground, but the sites were REALLY close together.  The whole campground just felt cramped.    If you are planning on camping in Pigeon Forge, I would recommend the following two campgrounds:

Pine Mountain RV Park – http://www.pinemountainrvpark.com
This campground is very spacious and roomy.  The facilities are clean and well-cared for.

Riveredge RV Park – http://www.stayriveredge.com
We have stayed here quite a few times, and have always been happy with our visit.  The restrooms and showers are the best of any campground we have ever stayed at.

Fun Stuff!

We’ve been to the Smoky Mountains many, many times, so we’ve done almost everything there is to do.  I can honestly say that everything we did this time, was something that I would recommend to anyone visiting this area.

First of all, in my opinion, no vacation to the Smokies is complete without a trip to Ober Gatlinburg in Gatlinburg.  We must visit every time we make it down here.  It’s a tradition!  If you are a first-time visitor, I would suggest you  take the Aerial Tramway up the mountain.  It’s a fun ride up, and the tram operator is usually very knowledgeable.  When you arrive at the top, there are so many activities.  We always make sure to ride the Scenic Skylift up, and the Alpine Slide down.  Another tradition!

Another attraction that is quickly becoming a family favorite is the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster.  We had rode this last year, and made sure that we did it again this year.  It is such a fun experience, and something that the whole family enjoys!  Both times, we have rode during the day, and we loved it, but we definitely want to try it at night.

For our family, it’s not a trip to Pigeon Forge without a stop at a go-cart track.  We usually make that stop at The Track.  There are a number of different tracks at this park, to accommodate all ages.  This year, we also had some fun on the bumper cars and the bumper boats.   We always have such a good time here!

This visit, after tons of begging, we took the kids to Magiquest.  I had been reluctant, but finally gave in. I’m actually glad we did.  It was really fun, and our whole family had a good time!  We bought tickets that allowed us to experience all 4 attractions, at this location.  We were able to complete a game of Magiquest, some Pirate Putt-Putt, a laser obstacle course, and a mirror maze.  This really was a great way to spend our evening.

My very favorite attraction in this area is definitely Cades Cove.  I could probably even say that this is one of my favorite places, anywhere.  I love it there!  We spent the afternoon driving thru the Cove, visiting the historical buildings, and just enjoying the wildlife and scenery.  It is so peaceful in Cades Cove, and I recommend it to everyone!

If you are going to be visiting this area, and have a little more time, I would also recommend the following activities:

Roaring Fork Motor Trail – Similar to Cades Cove, but less of a drive.  This is located in Gatlinburg.

The main “drag” in Gatlinburg – It’s loud.  And, it’s crowded.  But, it is definitely someplace you should check out.  There are tons of shops, and so many cool things to see and do.

Wonderworks – Great activity to do with kids!  Or without!

Titanic Museum – My husband and I went here on a weekend getaway a couple years ago.  We really enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t recommend taking small children.

Dollywood – We’ve only been here once, but we had such a fun time.  We went in September, and it wasn’t busy, at all.  We are definitely looking forward to a return visit.

Dixie Stampede – It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to Dixie Stampede, but it was such a neat experience.  I plan on taking our kids, but just wanted to wait until they were a little older.  We’ll probably go in a year or two.

The Island – This is a newer attraction in Pigeon Forge, but it really is a fun place to go with your family.  There are so many different things to do, and everyone is sure to find something that interests them.

Where to Eat

We only ate a few meals out, while we were there, this last visit.  But, all were delicious, and I highly recommend each place.

Big Daddy’s Pizzeria – We are a pizza-loving family, and this place did not disappoint!  The kids were given dough balls to make into a shape they wanted, and then the waiter took them to the back, sprinkled cinnamon sugar on them, and baked them.  Our kids really loved this part!

Boss Hogg’s BBQ – OMG!  This place is AMAZING!  It’s a family rule, that when we are on vacation, we are not allowed to eat anyplace we can eat at home, and we also try to find places that are a little off the beaten path.  This place fit the bill!  And, we were so glad we tried it!  Everything was delicious, and we tried almost everything.  I also have to recommend their special BBQ sauce.  It was delish!!  We even bought a bottle to take home.  You won’t regret stopping here!

Grandmother’s Kitchen – We stopped here on our way to Cades Cove, and it was so good!  The portions were huge, and everything was delicious.  This may sound strange, but if you like chocolate milk, you will love theirs.  I don’t know what it is, but it was the best EVER!!

We had such a great time on this mini-vacation, and I hated to head home, especially considering the trip to Tennessee.  But, it was a pretty uneventful trip, and we made it home in a much more reasonable amount of time.  Have any of you visited the Smokies?  What are your favorite attractions and restaurants?  I would love to hear from you!  And if you have some summer memories that you would like to display for others to see, be sure to check out these great Etsy finds!