Smoky Mountain Trip Report

Hi all! My family just got back from a vacation to The Smoky Mountains and I wanted to write a quick trip report. I had asked a couple of questions on a different thread and was asked to write one, and also, I love reading about other people’s adventures – Disney and Non-Disney! I find them so interesting and helpful! Thank you to all the folks who offered their tips and advice!

Cast: Me (41), DH (43), DD (12), DS (12), DS(6) and DD(9 mos)

August 1 – 7th

We left on Thursday evening when DH got home from work and stopped in Virginia for the night. My sister graciously offered us her place for the night as a midway stop. We left early Friday morning to drive the rest of the way to Gatlinburg.

First stop, however, was the Bush’s Baked Bean Factory. We arrived around 3pm which was plenty of time to explore the museum. The restaurant was closed by the time we left, but we weren’t planning to eat there anyway. Fun stop. Was not crowded and we took our time watching the video, and looking at all of the exhibits. DS6 had fun doing the Duke’s Scavenger Hunt Activity Card; it wasn’t hard, but definitely kept him more engaged in the tour. He got a certificate when he was done. They also give you a free 4x6 family photo as you leave the museum (as someone else mentioned)! They asked how many copies we wanted and I said just one – they gave me a “look” – so I said, “OK, how about 2?” The sweet gal told me she would give me 3…just in case. So nice!:RpS_biggrin:



Yay for Pressed Pennies! An aside...we learned that the National Parks are getting rid of the pressed penny machines because there is too much maintenance. They now sell tokens ($1). You buy them in the gift shop and they have booklets for them just like the pennies. This was new information to us!

Arrived at our hotel in Gatlinburg around 5:15pm. We stayed at the Bearskin Lodge on the River. It reminded us of a miniature Wilderness Lodge.

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When I booked, I called to ask about getting connecting rooms because their website shows all rooms as an occupancy of 4 (we are 6). They were so accommodating and said that with the ages of our younger 2 kids they were totally fine with us all staying in one room if we wanted! That saved us quite a bit of money so we were pleased. The rooms were very spacious. Of course, once we had an air mattress and pack and play set up in there it was a bit more crowded, but still roomy enough. I know that many folks prefer to have more space, but we are fine with piling into the room. Maybe someday that will change, but for now it still works just fine and allows us to stretch vacation dollars.

Our room had a balcony with a city view which overlooked the parking lot/pool and town. However, the hotel was only 0.2 miles from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so we could also see some scenery. I spent time in our room with the baby while the big kids went to the pool, and it was nice to be able to see them swim from our balcony!


The pool area was a little small, but seemed on par with the other area hotels that we saw. There was a regular pool and then a small lazy river with 3 inner tubes. It could get crowded at times, but fortunately we were usually there when it was just us or a couple of other families.

The Lodge did include a continental breakfast which is something we look for. Nothing amazing, but sufficient. No hot items, but I knew that going into it. They had standard beverages, cereal, bread, bagels, muffins, apples, instant oatmeal, yogurt with fixin’s, and jimmy dean sandwiches you could microwave. They also would put cookies out in the lobby in the afternoon.

Overall, we enjoyed the Lodge. It was very convenient walking to town, and we loved that it was on River Rd and not the Parkway because it was much calmer. We also loved that it was on the edge of the National Park. It wasn’t secluded or anything, but overall a good fit for this trip.
Once we checked in the big kids went for a swim while I fed the baby and set up the room. We walked to dinner at Bennett’s Pitt BBQ and then called it a night!

Bennett’s was “meh.” The food was just okay and the portions were a little on the small side. This was the least favorite restaurant of the trip.
 

bnoble

he's right
Glad you enjoyed the trip! I've been there several times over the last decade or so, and will be going back more often I think.
 

BSS

Member
Happy you enjoyed yourselves! We go to the Smokies at least every other year - though by the end of October I will have been 3 times this year (once to Asheville and twice to the National Park). Disney is what my oldest likes to do and the Smokies are my middle kid's jam.
 

smwisc

Member
Looking forward to reading this! Smokey Mountains is on my "list", although it's probably a few years out at this point.
 
Saturday, August 3rd

Up bright and early! Because, while I dislike getting up early, I dislike crowds even more...and let’s face it, the baby isn’t sleeping in anyway!

Breakfast at the hotel and then we were off to Sugarlands Visitor Center at the National Park. We could have walked the 2 miles or taken the trolley, but we felt that driving was our best bet here. We arrived a little after 8AM and the parking lot was still fairly empty. We explored the center a bit and bought our Jr. Ranger booklets. Then we hopped back into the car and drove a little further to the Chimneys Picnic Area.

We got here way too early for the 10AM ranger program so the kids explored the trail a bit with DH while I sat in the car with the sleeping baby.
We always enjoy ranger programs and this one was no exception!

When we were finished, we drove back to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. By this time, it was about 11:30 and the lot was full and folks were parking everywhere along the side of the road. However, I think this is a sweet spot in the day (or maybe we were just lucky!?) because a bunch of folks were leaving and heading out to do different activities/trails. My advice would be to circle around a bit before giving up; we had three cars leave just as we were pulling in! YAY! (A few days later we arrived around 10 to buy some last minute souvenirs and no one was leaving because all of these folks had just arrived…DH stayed circling the lot on that trip while I hopped out to buy the items).

We fed the baby, switched our bags around and then headed off to the Fighting Creek Nature Trail/Cataract Falls Trail. We had so much fun and ended up spending 2 hours exploring and really taking our time. We enjoyed the Fighting Creek Trail more because it was less crowded. It wasn’t necessarily super crowded at Cataract Falls, but enough folks for me!

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I did come out of character a bit during our hike on Fighting Creek. We rounded the path and I smelled it instantly! There were 2 women SMOKING! IN THE WOODS OF A NATIONAL PARK!! I gave them a brief lecture while they hid their cigarettes behind their backs. Ugh. I was so irked!

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These are my kind of crowds:RpS_biggrin:

By the time we were finished it was after 2PM and everyone was quite hungry! We drove back to the hotel and ate food we had packed from home. DH and the big kids all fell asleep, but the baby had napped on our hike so was fresh with energy! I took her down to the pool for awhile and she loved it!

Around 4:30 we walked to Park Grill for an early dinner. We had zero wait and there were only a couple other families in the restaurant. We really enjoyed our meal there. I had a grilled pineapple chicken sandwich, but I don’t remember what anyone else had.

After dinner we walked to Anakeesta. If you purchase tickets after 6pm you can also use them the next day…so that’s what we did! We arrived around 6:30pm, bought our tickets (use coupons from the booklets that are ALL over town), and got in line for the chairlift that brings you to the top of the mountain.

I wasn’t willing to ride the chairlift with the baby so we waited for an enclosed chondola. There were only 2 chondolas for every 27(?) chairlifts. So even though there were only a few families in front of us we had a 30-minute wait. I wish they had more chondolas because that was the one negative we had about Anakeesta…always a long wait to/from. They are getting ready to open a 45 passenger truck/jeep that will be another option for travelling the mountain soon. Hopefully that helps the waits a bit. If you want a chairlift there is little to no wait.

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This experience did make me wonder about the new skyliner. It was SO HOT going up the mountain, and I usually do ok with some heat. It made it a little hard to enjoy the trip up! Coming back down was very pleasant because the temperature had dropped by then and the sun wasn't out.

Anakeesta was charming! If we lived locally, I would buy an annual pass just to go up and enjoy the ambiance. The views were great and we spent the evening exploring.

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And HERE…in the “Bear Village” portion of the Vista Gardens, of all places…is where we saw our first bear! He was in the mulch and surrounded by the flowers and looked like he belonged there. There were people all around taking pictures, and I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be there or not for awhile. I finally decided that I couldn’t see an employee around so he likely was NOT supposed to be there. I no sooner made the decision to notify someone then an employee came and shooed him away.

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We had some ice cream and then headed back to the hotel around 9:30pm. The ice cream was so good and huge portions for a pretty reasonable price! I want more!
 
Sunday, August 4th

Up bright and early again and breakfast at our hotel. We walked to Anakeesta for their 9AM opening. We had a 20 minute or so wait for the chondola. It was a beautiful morning and there were very few people at Anakeesta yet. We explored the treehouse rope bridges and the big kids ziplined with DH. We had wanted to do the mountain coaster, but unfortunately, it had gotten struck by lightening a few days earlier and was still being repaired. The kids enjoyed ziplining instead, but DS6 was too little…I consoled him with ice cream while we waited!

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We played some corn hole and ladder ball and just enjoyed the ambiance until a little after noon.

Next, we caught the trolley to Delauder’s. The trolley was very confusing to us because the stops weren’t clear. The information online just said they stopped at hundreds of places, maybe that means anywhere along the route? The folks were extremely friendly, however, they all just expected you to understand how it worked. I didn’t have the app, so maybe that would’ve helped. Also, it could have just been me. I think if I had more time to use the system I would eventually figure it out.

Anyway, we caught the trolley yellow line (arts & crafts). We paid $1 each for the roundtrip fare, and told the driver where we were going. There was confusion because, evidently, we were only supposed to pay the $0.50 for each leg? She also had us transfer to the blue line because it would be faster. Lots of confusion again, but eventually we got the blue trolley and with the help of some other passengers we found our destination and pulled the rope to indicate we wanted to stop. By the time we got to our destination it was 1:45pm!!

Delauder’s BBQ was delicious and quaint and I’m glad we were able to eat here even if it was quite the ordeal to get there and back. DH was especially happy with our lunch choice.

The trolley stop was right across the street from the restaurant, and we went out to wait. And wait. And wait. 45 minutes later it arrived, and 35 minutes after that we were at the Mass Transit Center and disembarking to then walk back to our hotel. I’m glad we got to experience the trolley and it was quite comfortable to ride. However, on future trips we will have to research a bit better on utilizing it! We had wanted to shop and explore the arts and crafts community a bit, but a lot of the stores were closed because it was Sunday and it also took so long just to go eat that we needed to head back to the hotel.

We arrived back at our hotel at 4:20pm and we all took some downtime. The kids swam for a little until the pool was closed for lightning in the area. More relaxing. Ate dinner in our room. Swam some more and got to bed early.
 
Monday, August 5th

Another early morning and breakfast at the hotel. We packed up our gear and were on the road around 8AM to head to Clingman’s Dome. We were early enough that there weren’t a lot of other folks headed up yet. It was also a little foggy and misty out which probably helped. We took our time driving up and pulled off at several look out spots. GORGEOUS!! I actually preferred the views in the morning with the fog and mist “stuck” in the mountains. When we drove back down a few hours later the skies had cleared and the clouds were up high in the sky.

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We parked around 9AM at the Visitor’s Center and there was still plenty of parking. By the time we left around 10:30 the lot was full.
The hike up was steep, but really not too bad. We stopped at the strategically located benches to let DS6 rest for a minute or so. It was such a nice hike and was so pleasant because it wasn’t crowded yet. I packed winter hats which came in handy at that altitude.

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We left Clingman’s Dome around 10:30 and made our way back down the mountain. We stopped at the Spruce Fir Trail on our way. This was a very short and easy hike, and we were the only ones there! Woohoo! We also stopped off at some streams (river? Mountain runoff?). The kids enjoyed skipping rocks for awhile.

Once we were back in town we decided to hit the Log Cabin Pancake House for lunch. We had originally packed a picnic lunch, but this restaurant was one we wanted to try and couldn’t fit well in our plans because they close early. When we realized we had the opportunity to go we called the audible even though it meant backtracking a bit. We arrived around 12:30 and were among only a handful of other diners. The pancakes and crepes were delicious! Nothing fancy, but very very good! We all enjoyed ourselves!

After lunch we headed back to the National Park. We stopped at Sugarland’s Visitor Center to hand in the kids’ junior ranger booklets and collect their badges. Then we headed to Chimneys Picnic Area to play in the river. The kids had A BLAST playing in the water and on the rocks. It was one of their favorite parts of the trip! And dad lost his shoe….so they all thought that was funny!
We headed back to the hotel around 4:20. We swam for awhile and ate our uneaten picnic lunch for dinner. It was still early so we walked into town to get some donuts from the Donut Friar and some ice cream (ok, but not as good as Anakeesta!).

Back to the hotel around 8:30 and off to bed!
 
D

Deleted member 832

Guest
Sounds like a great trip. We had been making a habit of going every other month after the fire, just to give them some business (much needed then) but we fell off the habit after we noticed the business back in full swing. DH and I are talking about going back in Nov this year. We always stay in a hotel near the one you did, but just down the street, right there near Bennetts (we eat their pizza side)
Our go to place to eat is Peddlers. We get up and have a big breakfast at Davy Crocetts and then call Peddler to get on the wait list about 6:00 that night. They usually get us in about 8:00. You can't make reservations in advance but the do same day seating.
 
Sounds like a great trip. We had been making a habit of going every other month after the fire, just to give them some business (much needed then) but we fell off the habit after we noticed the business back in full swing. DH and I are talking about going back in Nov this year. We always stay in a hotel near the one you did, but just down the street, right there near Bennetts (we eat their pizza side)
Our go to place to eat is Peddlers. We get up and have a big breakfast at Davy Crocetts and then call Peddler to get on the wait list about 6:00 that night. They usually get us in about 8:00. You can't make reservations in advance but the do same day seating.
That is such a nice gesture to vacation after a disaster when you know they really need (and appreciate) it so much! I hope you got to go in November! Peddlers did look good, but we were unsure about taking all the kids with us. Maybe on another trip.
 
So...I completely fell off the forum for a few months! I know you've all been pining away just waiting for this trip report to be finished with details on our final day ;)

For the sake of actually finishing what I started I'm going to wrap up!

Tuesday, August 6th

We had a staggered wake up today. The boys got up early, ate breakfast at the hotel, and then headed out to the Gatlinburg Trail. The trailhead was only 0.2 miles away from the hotel. The girls slept in a bit before eating breakfast and then starting to pack up the room a little. We met the boys at the trail around 9:30. The kids played in the water and it was so much fun. They all talk about that morning as one of their favorite memories.

Around 10:30 we walked to Davy Crockett’s for breakfast/lunch. The atmosphere was fun and we all loved the huge cinnamon rolls! However, we all agreed that we liked the pancakes at Log Cabin Pancake House better. Still a fun place to go.

And here is where my notes end…hmmm.

We had tickets to Country Tonite Theatre in Pigeon Forge for the 3pm show. We drove there and decided we were glad to be staying in Gatlinburg. Pigeon Forge looked like fun, but we liked the feel of Gatlinburg better…and the walkability of it. The show was cute and worth seeing. The kids enjoyed it as well. I don’t know that I would see it again, but it wasn’t a waste by any stretch!

Then it was back to the hotel to pack up! We ate dinner in our room, and maybe we swam? We checked out early the next morning and began our long drive back home.

It was a wonderful trip! We enjoyed the area so much and hope to visit again someday. Thanks for reading along!
 

bnoble

he's right
As it happens, I'm just finishing a trip to Gatlinburg right now. I spent six nights at Bluegreen's MountainLoft in a standard 1BR. It's cute, and I like the location; East Parkway so it's possible to miss most of the Gatlinburg traffic nightmare but still get out and about, and there is a grocery store just down the road, very convenient. The standard has a full kitchen, washer/dryer, and a gas fireplace. The master BR might only be a double, but I am traveling alone so don't really care. However, the walls are *paper thin* which has been a bit of a drag.

I came down mostly to do some hiking---the last time I was here was with my kids, and they hadn't ever done much hiking before so we mostly stuck to easy trails. I was hoping to get some more in and was able to do several short-to-medium trails with moderate elevation gains/terrain. This trip I did the Grotto Falls (plus an extra 1/2 mile each way) out and back, Peregrine Peak and Alum Cave out and back, Cucumber Gap and Little River loop, Porter's Creek out and back (just to the waterfall), and the Curry Mountain out and back. I think Peregrine Peak was my favorite of those, but the Porter's Creek waterfall was pretty impressive too. All told clocked about 25 miles across the five hikes.

On a whim I also signed up for the Santa Hustle half marathon. I finished that in a time I was very happy with, particularly because I didn't really train for it; I signed up a bit less than two weeks before the race. I am not sure I would do it again. Most of it is run on the Parkway in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, and they only close off one southbound lane so you are running next to traffic.

I took the kids down here over the summer, and we bought Dollywood passes for that trip, so I also spent some time there because admission and parking was already paid for. This is their Christmas festival, and they do it up right. Now, it is a Christmas festival. It is not a "winter fest", it is not a "holiday celebration", it is very much Christmas, with a strong faith-based bent. But, they also do something like a half-dozen shows themed specifically around the holiday. All of the ones I saw were between okay and great. Every single building is covered in lights, as are all of the trees in or near a walkway, plus several arbors. The train up into the hills and back gives you a bird's eye view of the entire thing, and it's stunning.

The food is good, and inexpensive for a theme park---and, in some cases, just plain inexpensive. I ate at Aunt Granny's, the main buffet in the park. Fried chicken, ham, turkey, and all the southern sides you could ask for including some awesome collard greens. Drink and dessert included. $19 plus tax and tip, with a 20% discount for gold pass holders.

Dollywood also has one of the most eclectic coaster collections anywhere, particularly given the park's size and target demographic---people "of a certain age" who are there for the performances. None of them are what I would call ordinary. Thunderhead is one of the world's best wooden twisters and is well-maintained, Wild Eagle is a compact fun B&M wing coaster, Mystery Mine is a Gerstlauer Eurofighter with a cool hanging corkscrew plus some vertical lifts/drops, and Lighting Rod is an insanely good Rocky Mountain Coaster steel-on-wood new build with extreme airtime. Even Tennessee Tornado is interesting; it's an Arrow looper, but unlike nearly all the others, it's a custom design instead of a stitched-together sequence of standard-sized elements that never quite work. It's smooth as glass and *fun*. I'll ride most of the others begrudgingly, but this one I enjoy. Heck, even Dragonflier, the family invert, packs a surprising punch.
 
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D

Deleted member 832

Guest
We’ve talked for years that we need to get passes to Dollywood
We never do
That’s not really a 20% discount since you’re paying a mandatory tip. :unsure: :ROFLMAO:
Even when a tip is mandatory it’s still a discount unless one is a jerk that doesn’t plan to tip at all
 
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