I’ve wanted to visit Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for years. I decided the kids’ fall break would be the perfect time to go. Living in Charleston has many charms, but fall foliage just isn’t one of them. I grew up in New England, so I really miss the foliage, and hoped to show my kids what the trees look like dressed in orange, yellow, and red. Due to an unusually hot October in the southeast, we didn’t see quite as much color as I’d hoped, but the scenery was splendid nonetheless.
For this trip, we decided to skip most of the typical tourist attractions, and focus on relaxing and experiencing the Great Smoky Mountains together. Most of our vacation budget went to renting a cabin and eating in restaurants. For our kids, half the fun of visiting a new place is exploring our accommodations (usually a hotel). I knew they would love staying in a cabin that included bunk beds, a pool table, and a backyard fire pit.
We drove up to Tennessee on a Thursday afternoon and stopped in Cosby for dinner at Carver’s Orchard & Applehouse Restaurant. Beginning our meal with apple cider and fritters with apple butter was such a treat! While we were there, we bought a jar of apple butter to take home and the kids stocked up on candy for the weekend.
After dinner, we checked in to the cabin we rented from American Patriot Getaways, and had a relaxing evening playing pool, reading, and watching TV.
On Friday morning, we ate a quick breakfast at the cabin, then headed out to Smoky Mountain Riding Stables for some horseback riding. When I first considered taking the family horseback riding, I wondered if my six-year-old could handle it, since he has never ridden before. The stables allow children age five and up to ride alone, but I was hesitant. Once we arrived at the stables, however, I knew it would be fine. The staff provided helmets for the kids, selected a small, calm horse for my little guy, and tethered his horse to our guide. Our 45-minute ride was delightful and relaxing. Later, the whole family agreed this was the highlight of our weekend!
Next we decided to explore the extensive arts and crafts community in Gatlinburg. There are so many shops full of pottery, paintings, jewelry, woodworking, and more! You could spend an entire weekend browsing the stores and chatting with the artisans. We enjoyed visiting Treasures in Earthen Vessels, a pottery shop where a friendly dog named Bear lounges on the floor, and the owner is happy to explain the pottery-making process to the kids. We bought several items at Misty Mountain Soap Company, which offers much more than your typical soaps and lotions. I love their Shower Scent-sations, aromatherapy bars that fill your bathroom with a subtle scent while you enjoy a hot shower. The most entertaining stop along the arts and crafts loop has to be Sparky’s Glassblowing. Sparky demonstrated how he makes glass ornaments while we were there.
We grabbed a quick lunch at Smoky Mountain Shakes-N-Dawgs, where the kid’s hot dog is only $1.49 and the milkshakes are thick and delicious. I highly recommend the Chocolate Oreo shake if you’re a chocolate lover! When the kids needed a break from shopping, we headed over to Hillbilly Golf for a round of mini-golf. To play this course, you ride a tram up the side of the mountain, then putt your way back down.
We chose Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que for dinner, where we devoured pulled pork, coleslaw, fried corn, and probably more food than we were meant to consume in one sitting. We spent the evening back at our cabin, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores.
Saturday morning, we attempted to go downtown for breakfast, but found long lines of people outside, waiting to get into restaurants. Instead, we opted for a tasty pancake breakfast at Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin, located at the north edge of town. From there, it was easy to hop on the Gatlinburg Bypass to reach the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After examining the wildlife displays there, we grabbed a map and drove down the road to the Laurel Falls trailhead. We chose this hike because it was easy enough for our six-year-old, and I thought it would be fun to see the waterfall. The kids also enjoyed leaving the paved trail here and there to climb on rocks or play in the woods.
We brought a small cooler of snacks and drinks on our hike, which served as our lunch. When we finished the hike, we drove back to downtown Gatlinburg. Traffic was heavy, but that gave our little guy time for a nap in the car. Our next stop was the Sugarlands Distilling Company so we could sample their moonshine. You pay $5.00 per person for the tasting voucher, which includes about ten different flavors. Kids are allowed to come in and watch, and I think ours were entertained by the fun atmosphere. I know I was! The tastings can be quite hilarious because everyone at the large, round bar drinks together, then reacts to the taste. I liked nearly all of the flavors (the only exceptions being two that tasted a bit like Robitussin to me). After the tasting, you can use your voucher for $5.00 off any purchase. We also took a tour of the distillery to learn how the moonshine is made.
The Rye Apple Moonshine was our favorite, so we bought a jar to take home, then walked down the street for dinner at the Mountain Edge Grill. Derek and I both had bison burgers, which were excellent! After dinner, we went back to our cabin for another campfire. I didn’t hear any complaints about having s’mores for dessert again!
On Sunday morning, it was time for us to leave. I definitely could have stayed longer! The people in Gatlinburg are incredibly friendly. They certainly don’t hide their faith in God or their love for our country. They seem to understand the value of the simple things in life, which makes Gatlinburg a great place to “unplug” and relax. Before starting our journey home, we drove up through Pigeon Forge to The Apple Barn Cider Mill. We meandered through their General Store, Cider Bar, Candy Factory, Creamery, Winery, and Christmas Shop. Our brunch at their Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant was unbelievable! They start you off with apple fritters, apple butter, and an applewood julep to drink (a mix of apple, pineapple, orange, and lemon juices). My breakfast included scrambled eggs, bacon, home fried potatoes, and two thick slices of cinnamon roll french toast. That’s right – they slice a giant cinnamon roll horizontally, then turn it into french toast! Also, anyone who knows me knows I do NOT eat bacon, but their apple cider smoked bacon was so good, I ate a whole strip of it. After all that, I couldn’t eat another bite, but their cider bar is the perfect place to pick up some donuts or pie to take home.
Farewell, Gatlinburg! Thanks for the memories!