Since I was a child, I have been visiting the Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. This area was close enough for my family to make a day trip and enjoy time together. I remember they took me to Silver Dollar City as a child, which is now called Dollywood and Hillbilly Golf. Now that I am grown I still visit the area, often. Before I owned my cabin properties, I would come with friends once a year if able and rent a cabin to watch or participate in Rod Runs. This car fest draws tons of people each year and I loved to see all the unique fancy cars and trucks. Now that I own my own cabins, I am in the Smoky Mountain area once a month to maintain those properties. In my time there, I like to create balance and ensure we have a little fun, in addition to the work. I thought I would share some of our favorite “tourtisty” and local things to do while in the area.
Let’s start with the places I visited as a child, Dollywood and Hillbilly Golf. Dollywood is an amusement park created by Dolly Parton. It is an all day type of place to visit and unlike other theme parks is more shaded with the natural setting so you do not get as hot while waiting for rides or walking around. I love that each season there are new and unique themes to see such as Barbecue and Bluegrass, Harvest Festival, and the spectacular Smoky Mountain Christmas. I also like that it is a wholesome, Christian park where Gospel, bluegrass, or Dolly’s music is playing throughout. In the past, we have saved money by getting the Gold Season pass so that parking is included and we receive 20% off purchases once in the theme park. This is good for us if we plan to visit multiple times a year but if you plan to go just once there are less expensive options. I have so many things to share about Dollywood that it could be a blog in itself. For now, my favorite things to do while there are to ride the many awesome rollercoasters, watch their amazing shows with talented cast members, and to ride the steam train to enjoy the scenery.
Hillbilly Golf has been around for nearly 50 years now and even survived the wildfires in 2010. It has two Appalachian themed, 18 hole miniature golf courses on the side of a mountain. I love that you get to ride a tram about 300 feet up the mountain and then golf down. This obstacle golf course features things that are typical Appalachian mountain items such as tractor equipment, moonshine making setups, and old forest logs. These things make for challenging yet fun holes that create a unique atmosphere for great putt putt. There is even one hole where you turn your putter around and use it as a pool cue to tap the ball down a Plinko-like game table before it lands near or in the hole at the bottom. It has many fun aspects like great history, beautiful landscaping, and entertaining family fun!
You can find them on FaceBook @Hillbilly Golf
I took my first big swig of homemade moonshine when I was five or six years old. This was not intentional, but my daddy carried around a jug that was clear and had a thumb handle on it. We were visiting Grandfather Mountain on a day trip and I saw that jug and was thirsty. I took a big swig of ‘water’ not knowing that it would burn all the way down. That was an interesting time which made for a good laugh, for sure! Ole Smoky Moonshine opened up in 2010 and up until then I had only ever had homemade ‘shine. I was not even sure it was real ‘shine since it was legal to distill and distribute then. So, I tried it and no offense to all ya’ll that like it but it was nasty to me! I did not like the flavor, the consistency, or the after taste. After that I just stuck to my local mountain water and didn’t give it another thought. Then, in 2014, Sugarlands Distilling Company opened in Gatlinburg and began offering samples of Sugarlands Shine. So, I went to give it a taste and now I highly recommend visiting their location when you are in the area as their ‘shine is mighty tasty. When you arrive you pay $5 to sample 12 different ‘shines. They have multiple tasting stations where a local person helps tell about the ‘shines and pours samples. Tips are recommended afterwards if they do a great job. What I like about this is that you can try 12 different types or flavors of ‘shine and then use the $5 you paid for the tasting to go towards a bottle of ‘shine to take home. This is a great daytime activity, evening date night, or group activity. I took my Momma there for a daytime fun visit and needless to say we were good to go for the rest of the day and had lots of laughs together. Personally, I do not care for all the frou frou flavors. My favorite may not be one most folks like because it is stout at 100 proof. Again, I think I like it because it is what I was raised up on. The traditional, unaged corn whiskey is closest to the kind that used to be bootlegged throughout the Appalachian mountains and has a crisp, sweet tone. Others that are similar to what I had back home are the Blackberry, Peach, and Apple Pie kinds. Definitely worth a taste to see what you think and they are less proof around 40 or 50 so you may not feel the ‘impact’ as much as the traditional ‘shine.
Having grown up in Damascus, Virginia I have always been appreciative of and drawn to beautiful rivers. My grandparents house was on the Laurel River and when I would spend the night with them I remember the window being cracked and the sound of that mountain water flowing. My swimming pool growing up was at Backbone Rock, a natural waterfall that I would bodyslide down into an ice cold pool of fresh mountain water. So naturally, when I am in the Smokies, I have to find watering holes to play in. We have two spots that we normally go to that are in very different locations. So, depending on where you are staying or visiting you can choose one or the other. The first one is on a less popular entrance into the Smoky Mountain National Park. A general pin to the location is 194-272 Greenbrier Road, Gatlinburg TN 37738. There is a dirt road that leads to several pull off areas with the beautiful Little Pigeon River on the other side. In the middle of the river area there is a waterfall that you can bodyslide down, as well. As with most mountain water, it is brisk so going in midday with peak sun is ideal. Also, wear water shoes and stay on the small rocks as the larger ones can be super slippery. On down this road 5 miles or so is a moderate to strenuous hike to a large waterfall known as Ramsey Cascades. The other river we like to go to is more of a float river located in Townsend, the quiet side of the Smokies. This is called the Little River and runs along several campgrounds including a KOA and the Little Arrow. You can take your own tubes or rent some at one of the various outfitters. This is a great way to rest and relax in nature on a hot day!
Smoky Mountain River Rat Outpost
There are umpteen options for folks as far as scenic drives and hikes go in the Smoky Mountains and several guides and reviews of hikes that can be found online. So, for this section I am just going to chat with you about the 45 minute scenic drive from Gatlinburg, TN to Clingman’s Dome in Bryson City, NC. This drive is absolutely breathtaking and there are several areas to pull off and admire the scenery or take a hike, including the Appalachian Trail. So, for now I will focus on Clingman’s Dome and you can do your research and find the hikes you want to try along the drive up there. My tips to you are to leave early to arrive early as the parking lot gets full quickly and the half mile walk/hike from the parking lot to the top of Clingman’s Dome takes about 35-45 minutes and is somewhat strenuous. Not because of the path as the majority is paved but because of the steep incline of the path. I have been winded just taking my time and walking up the path because of that. It is definitely well worth it at the top of the observation tower at 6,643 feet, the highest peak in the Smokies. Be sure to take proper outdoor gear (comfortable walking or hiking shoes, a rain/windproof jacket, sunscreen, water, snacks, binoculars, and layers of clothes) as the weather at the higher elevation can change quickly and is typically 10-20 degrees cooler than where you start. Take a camera and be prepared to see nearly 100 miles if the weather is clear!
Through my many years visiting the Smoky Mountains, I have enjoyed tons of fun activities. These listed above have come to be my favorites. So, try these out next time you find yourself in East Tennessee and tag me in your pictures!