Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gatlinburg, August 2013

ON THE ROAD AGAIN!
Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Summer Vacation 2013

John and I love to travel and see and experience new places, meet new people and try new things. When our children were young we did a lot of camping.  We started with a used pop up trailer that we purchased used, and moved up to a bunkhouse as the kids got older.  We put a lot of miles on both and made some awesome family memories with our kids.  Some of our favorite trips were camping with our kids.  We loved sitting around the campfire, sharing stories, talking and roasting marshmallow's. They sometimes brought their video games but rarely used them unless it was terrible weather because there was so much to do and enjoy in the great out doors... they could ride bikes, hike, swim, and explore!  We camped on many of our Great Lakes here in Michigan on both sides of the state from top to bottom but we also camped as far as Cap Cod in our little home on wheels.  I would highly recommend this type of travel for a family, it is really an awesome time to connect with your kids and make great memories together!  

Eventually our family grew older and we had to shift our thinking about traveling.  Our grown kids no longer had time to take off work/school to take a week or two every summer to travel with the family so our travel plans needed to change.  We sold our little house on wheels to another family and started to travel just the two of us.  Not that we would not have enjoyed camping together but we wanted to simplify and streamline our travel and explore places we maybe would not want to pull a trailer behind us.  

Since our camping days we have enjoyed a few family vacations with our grown kids but we usually rent a house somewhere (most recently on Beaver Island) so that they can come and go as they are able but we have also enjoyed many empty nest vacation now and have a blast traveling together! 

Our most recent vacation was to Gatlinburg Tennessee this past August.  Our good friends Nadya and Ken blessed us with a week at their time share they were unable to use because of conflicting family schedules (oh boy do we understand that!).  




We choose to drive to our destination and enjoyed the mountains and the scenery along the way. We stop for coffee and potty breaks often so our trip usually takes a little longer than the average drive time but we figure we can enjoy the getting there just as much as the destination!  


I have myself been to Tennessee many times as a child because that is where my father grew up so we went there often in the summer for family vacations to visit my Grandparents on their dairy farm (so much fun for a city girl).  We also have visited popular destinations like Look Out Mountain and Ruby Falls when our kids were younger driving to and from Florida, but we had never visited this area of Tennessee so we did not know what to expect.  I did send away for a travel guide from the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce, and also our friends told us a little bit of what to expect.  The two towns themselves are the epitome of a tourist trap with "dinner theaters" and "side shows" and "souvenir shops" on every corner, but if you dig a little deeper from the surface you can always find more interesting things to explore.  Of course if we had visited this town when our kids were young our trip would have looked a lot different... I am sure we would have hit many of the more noted "attractions" of the town (like Dollywood)!  We also got really were lucky with the time of year we went (late August) because the weather was still beautiful but the towns were not quite as busy (as in peak season) because a lot of schools had already started back so we considered that a bonus!




My husband John has read many books on the Appalachian Trail and knew that it crossed the Smokies in Gatlinburg so we decided to hike a bit of the trail on our first day.  The weather was awesome our entire week and the skies were blue except for a small rain on one evening.  We are not real "hikers" but we just wanted to get a small taste of what if might be like.  We got a trail map from one of the visitor centers in the Great Smokie Mountain National Park and it showed us the trail heads for many awesome trails that can be hiked.  We found the trail head and headed up... and I mean up and up and up and up!  It was rocky and steep and it was definitely not a "walk in the park" but it was so much fun!  We only hiked for about 2 hours total because what goes up... must come down eventually, but it gave us a good taste of what it might be like to hike the trail!  I can't believe that people actually hike for months from Georgia to Main!  There are many trails and and scenic drives throughout the park and just minutes from the town of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. We also took a beautiful scenic drive through Cades Cove in the park which we were told we would see more wildlife and we sure did... along with a million butterflies, we saw deer and 4 black bears! I had been looking down on the ground for the bears but believe it or not, most of the bears we saw were up in trees eating little berries!  





















Since we decided that we weren't really interested in the surface attractions of the city we decided to dig a little deeper and found a helicopter ride that we decided to go on at Scenic Helicopter Tours . Neither of us have ever been on a helicopter so it was fun to experience it together!  We took a 20 minute tour over the mountains which was one of their middle packages but there were packages for every budget.  It was a beautiful day and we were able to see the mountains from a totally different angle!  We are both so glad we did it!!!















We also found a place called Bluff Mountain Adventures in Pigeon Forge that rents ATV's so we signed up for a ride one afternoon.  We had so much fun traversing 3000 feet up the Bluff Mountain!  We road up and down tight mountain trails, at the edge of cliffs and through rocky mountain river beds!  We had a blast off the beaten with our guide who was friendly and experienced and two other couples.  At the top we were able to stop and take pictures and take a little break.  I would definitely recommend this if you are ever in the area, they also have different packages to accommodate different budgets and experience.  It would be a fun family activity, but not for the very young or faint at heart! 









The town of Gatlinburg is filled with stores and restaurants and is a great way to spend a day or evening exploring. They have many attractions from Aquariums to Gondola rides.  We enjoyed strolling the city of downtown Gatlinburg, seeing the sights, and even tasting a little "moonshine" while sitting in a cracker barrel rocker listening to a country street musician. 

Of course since we were blessed with such nice accommodations we spent most evenings soaking in the hot tub, or taking a dip in the pool... and and we found the best time to use the facilities is while everyone else is at dinner.... hahahahaha!



I hope you too are able to discover some hidden gems in your next vacation!