It’s Spring Break for most secondary and elementary school children and college students are returning from Spring Break the last couple weeks. It’s also officially Spring, but the 3-4 inches of snow here in Kentuckiana would seem to indicate otherwise. I know I’ve posted lately about getting away and being tired of the snow and winter, but I’m in need of a getaway for sure. I know that Florida and the Gulf Coast sounds nice, but the travel costs might not be that affordable.
That brings me to another option — Gatlinburg and the Smokies. I mentioned something to Mom about taking a trip next month and I suggested that if my Brother and Sister-in-law wanted to take a vacation closer but still fun they might consider the Smokies. I had been when I was a young boy but hadn’t been for almost 25 years until going last November.
I learned that if you’re spending most of your time in Gatlinburg itself, having a hotel in town or at least very close is the best option. We stayed in a hotel just off the main drag in Pigeon Forge which was fine, but it meant having to search for parking each time we visited Gatlinburg. Parking comes at a premium. So, while I’m talking about being in Gatlinburg, let’s talk about where to go and what to see there.
The cheapest and most obvious place to go is Great Smokies National Park. The mountain roads are a gradually winding path along a large area with several scenic vistas and sites to hike through the park. We chose to drive through the main road and onto Clingman’s Dome just across the border into North Carolina.
Complementing the scenic views in the park and offering other vision opportunities is the Gatlinburg Space Needle. Located in the arcade in the heart of downtown the Space Needle allows for the ability to look out upon town and the nearby mountains. Also of note to see in terms of natural beauty is located at Ober Gatlinburg. Modeled after an Alpine Ski Resort, the attraction uses a state-of-the art tram to reach the summit from downtown, the resort offers opportunities for skiing, boarding, and tubing, and an indoor skating rink along with souvenir shops.
When you visit Gatlinburg many of the attractions besides the souvenir shops on every corner are the various Ripley’s attractions. Yes, that Ripley, the namesake of the Believe It or Not! fame. Of course, the hallmark attraction is the Believe it or Not! Museum. Containing some of the strangest and unique attractions from Robert Ripley’s collection, it’s an amusing time to see all the oddities. In addition to this Ripley attraction, it’s worth a trip to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Housing all kinds of saltwater fish, freshwater fish, and other aquatic animals the aquarium is worth spending a few hours touring.
Also, worth visiting is Cooter’s place. Ben Jones the actor who played Cooter on the Dukes of Hazard operates an indoor mini-golf course and go-kart track. Also included are several artifacts from the show including mementos of Corydon’s own James Best.
As I mentioned yesterday I have a love affair with food. Luckily, I could enjoy a lot of the food offerings in Gatlinburg without much guilt since Gatlinburg is laid out in a compact area. Getting your walking exercise in is no problem. We were there during Thanksgiving and found many restaurants open on Thanksgiving Day. We enjoyed Howard’s Steakhouse. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in town and it’s a quaint little tavern with tasty food and a fun staff that likes to sing along to the 70s and 80s music. The Thanksgiving meal was spot on, and I would venture that the steakhouse fare would be worthwhile too. We also visited Bennett’s BBQ, which is part of a group of restaurants in the area. The BBQ joint is also co-branded with a pizza restaurant also in the restaurant group. I had the combo platter which included tender brisket, smoked sausage, ribs, along with Texas toast, spicy mac ‘n’ cheese and deep-fried corn. Way too much, but we ended up spending so much time exploring the park that we missed lunch and being gluttonous was excusable. We also enjoyed dinner at Blaine’s. I had wings with salad and baked potato. The wings were just spicy enough, if not a little messy but still worth it.
Also, while we participated in wine walk at the various wineries in downtown. They each have different offerings worth exploring and finding a particular wine you like. Along with the wineries is the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. It’s a distillery offering mass-appeal flavored grain alcohol. Tastings are offered for a small cost, but the bartenders have fun and the drinks are strong but handled well.
I included Pigeon Forge and Sevierville as one section since their city limits often blur together. Most of the main highway thru both towns are dotted with dinner theatres, dollar outlet stores, min-golf courses, and pancake houses.
Worth visiting as sole attractions are the Titanic Museum. An exact replica with a self-guided tour and exhibits about the ill-fated voyage complete with docents in period costumes. The interactive features help you to have a fuller sense of what it would be like to be on the ship. You’re assigned a real passenger with a biography when you embark and find out at the end of the tour if you survived. As I mentioned, most of the main thoroughfare includes mini-golf courses and we chose to play at Prof. Hacker’s Mini-Golf Adventure. Each course has its theme, and Prof. Hacker is a geologist/archeologist and there’s clues about his adventures in each section of the course. Also, worth exploring and losing an entire day is the Tanger Outlets. Yes, it’s just a large outlet mall, but still good bargains at major retailers like Old Navy, Nike, Converse, and several others.
We found several restaurants worth recommending in Pigeon Forge/Sevierville. One that’s worth noting is the Apple Wood Restaurant & Grill. The restaurant is part of a larger compound that is included on the Apple Barn & Cider Mill location. The restaurant serves down-home comfort food. I had a massive club sandwich that was very filling. Add the complimentary apple fritters and Apple Julep (a combination of various fruit juices). We also made sure to visit the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge. The restaurant includes an old grist-mill and several themed pioneer style shops. The menu includes more down-home vittles that include a cup of our Corn Chowder, corn fritters, salad, homemade mashed taters, green beans and a choice of desserts. Kentuckiana folks, think like Joe Huber’s. I had the Chicken Fried Steak, which was a double portion that was more than enough, and tender, and very peppery. The chowder was rich and full of vegetables. The corn fritters use a hush-puppy batter and are offered with a maple butter (think bacon & syrup together). We also ate at Big Daddy’s Pizzeria, they’re part of the co-branded pizza joint at Bennet’s BBQ in Gatlinburg. The location in Pigeon Forge is standalone. I had the meat combo pizza. It’s an woodfired hand-tossed crust with a mild tomato sauce.
Of course, we took in more attractions and restaurants while we were there, and I’m sure if I make a return trip, I’ll find new places worth visiting.
Be sure to look out for the locals while visiting. They especially like coming to see what the tourists have brought for them to rummage through. They’re a little fierce and sometimes grumpy so approach them with caution.
What about you…are the mountains calling you too?