The Great Smokies have always been a special place to us. Not because we hike or are super outdoorsy people, but because we’ve created many amazing memories there over the last (nearly ) 16 years. My husband and I honeymooned in Gatlinburg in June 2001, attending the first 4th of July parade in the nation on the holiday (it starts at 12:01 a.m.). When our daughter was a newborn in 2006, we rented a cabin to celebrate my first Mother’s Day. In June 2011, we returned, staying in the same cabin as our honeymoon, and renewed our wedding vows. So when the fire broke out in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in November 2016, our hearts were broken. We were sad for those who lost their lives, their homes and their livelihood. In a place of such beauty, that held so many significant moments for us, we wondered what remained of the mountains and towns we loved?
As we planned a Spring Break trip, we considered Nashville, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. But friends had recently visited Gatlinburg, and from their pictures, everything seemed the same, so we researched cabins, and found a deal in Pigeon Forge. (We initially booked the wrong week because I looked at the school calendar wrong, and lost out on our original cabin, but that’s a #momfail story for another post.) We were anxious to see the aftermath of the fire, and we were looking forward to returning and making new memories with our children.
We left Wednesday morning, a few minutes to 8:30. We stopped in Lexington, KY for a short lunch break, and pulled into our cabin’s driveway at 3:00 p.m. Our kiddos were rock star passengers, but at ages 6 and 11, snacks and iPads easily entertain them.
We had an amazing view from ‘Lakota Sunset.’ The cabin was clean, but a little dated. The kids enjoyed the foosball and pool tables in the game room. My daughter loved the hot tub on the deck too. It was quaint but suited us just fine for our three-day stay.
The road down the mountain took us right into the heart of Pigeon Forge. On the main strip, there is nearly every restaurant imaginable, plenty of arcades, lots of shopping and many activity play lands, with go-karts, putt-putt golf and more. It feels like one big carnival as you drive through Pigeon Forge because there is something to do everywhere you turn! Downtown Gatlinburg is a short 10-minute drive.
We really enjoyed our quick getaway, and made plenty of new memories. We didn’t see any devastation from the fire in the fall, and we were excited to see the development since our last visit in 2011.
Here’s our family’s “top five” things not to miss when visiting the Smokies.
1. The Coaster at Goats on the Roof – this alpine coaster (double- or single-rider) lets you set your own speed (up to 30 mph) as you zip through the mountains. And if you have a non-coaster kid like we do, you can visit and feed the goats while others enjoy the ride. We found a Groupon, so this was a no-brainer for my husband and adventure-loving daughter.
2. The Island in Pigeon Forge – anchored by the HUGE Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, the Island Show Fountains, and the Margaritaville Island Hotel, this outdoor entertainment hub offers shopping, games and rides and plenty of eateries. We were so impressed by all this area had to offer – we wished we had more time there! The Island Show Fountains play every 30 minutes, leaving the crowd ooh’ing and aah’ing.
3. Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen – my mouth waters just thinking about the dinner we ate there! My son prayed the sweetest prayer for a delicious meal, and that it was! The 2nd story restaurant offers a great view of the Island Show Fountains while you feast on family-style southern cooking. Order the fried chicken and the yellow ooey gooey butter cake – you will not be disappointed!
4. Tanger Outlets in Sevierville – the same great outlets we know in Ohio, but there are lots of stores with lots of deals! Plus we played at the Ripley’s Super Fun Zone after shopping til’ we dropped!
5. Pancake Pantry – right in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg, on the edge of a sweet shopping area called ‘The Village,’ this was Tennessee’s first pancake house in 1960. It’s our absolute favorite! They have every kind of pancake you could want (think M&M pancakes served with warm peanut butter syrup!), and each order comes with a whopping side of homemade whipping cream! They only take cash, and the line forms fast, so be prepared, but it’s worth the wait – and the drive from Central Ohio!
Now, go visit the Smokies and make your own memories! #roadtrip