Our summer vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains!

If you’re anything like us, we try to take advantage of where the Army sends us. Right now, we are stationed at Ft. Stewart and enjoy the beaches, restaurants, and historical charm that Savannah, GA has to offer.   This summer, we decided to hop in the car, unplug, and seek out some cooler temperatures to see what the Great Smoky Mountains have to offer.  Our crew of 6 headed out to Pigeon Forge, TN in mid-July, and here is what we did!

Old Wedding Chapel Air B&B

Day 1: Asheville and More

  • Travel Day! First stop: Ava’s Donuts in Asheville, NC.  Donuts were huge and amazing, highly recommended!
  • We checked out the Tanger Outlets in Sevierville.
  • Headed to Bucee’s brand new location and it was HUGE!  In keeping with every Bucee’s we’ve been to, it was very clean, and fully stocked.  Our girls loved it and we spent nearly all our money there, ha!
  • Last stop of the day was our AirBnB.  We stayed in this recently renovated wedding chapel and the host did a fabulous job attending to every single detail and it was extremely clean.  The only drawback was that it was a little bit of a drive to get into the touristy area, but not a deal breaker!
Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls

Day 2: Hiking

  • Donuts for breakfast and out the door early
  • We headed to the Grotto Falls hike located off the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.
    • The Roaring Fork Trail consists of a paved one way loop that weaves through the mountains.  If you’re weary of heights, have someone else drive!  We didn’t see any bears but a lot of people come across them on this scenic ride.  For the Grotto Falls hike, you can pull up the parking area here if you use Google maps.  We arrived around 8:30am and there were no spots available, so we ended up parking a bit of a ways down from the trailhead which just added an uphill climb onto our adventure.  (Pro tip: Be sure to purchase your parking pass to keep on your dash if you plan to park for longer than 15 minutes. 
    • Park rangers explained that this is a new rule and is being heavily enforced and cars will get towed.)  The trail to the falls is mostly a clear path, and requires hikers to cross over the stream several times.  Our kids all navigated independently (when our youngest was tired, she hitched a ride in the backpack for a bit) but it’s nothing that kids 5 and up can’t handle!  The trail ends at the falls, which was a fun time for all.  The water was cold, but fun to play in!  Keep an eye out for salamanders, they love the rocks!  We took pictures and hiked the trail in reverse back to the car.  Overall distance on the trail was about 3 miles.  We took our time completing the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, but sadly didn’t see any bears.
  • We parked at a public lot in Gatlinburg and walked around for a bit.
  • Ate a later lunch at Mellow Mushroom and toured around a bit more.
  • Headed back to the AirBnB to relax.  Ordered takeout for dinner, kids played PacMan, hung out in the hot tub, and early to bed!

Day 3: Anakeesta

  • -Headed to Anakeesta in Gatlinburg. 
    • We parked in the Anakeesta parking lot ($20 seems to be the going rate for all day parking).  We purchased tickets online and arrived around 9:45am.  We hopped in a super short line and caught the chair lift up the mountain!  After we checked out a few stores, we decided to try the Rail Runner mountain coaster (at an additional cost).  Due to height/weight/age restrictions, not everyone could ride, but those that did enjoyed it.  It seemed short, but fun!  You can control your speed and we were told it was designed for a 7 year old to go max speed the whole way and be fine – so our 9 year old rode solo and I rode tandem with by 6 year old and then again with our 3 year old. 
    • Afterwards, we walked around, grabbed lunch and listened to live music.  We took in the sights and checked out all of the interesting landscaped artwork.  We found plenty to do that didn’t require additional fees – a canopy Treetop Skywalk, a small bear course, a challenger course with rope bridges, slides and other obstacles, and a small play area. 
    • Our last stop was to climb the steps up to the top of the observation tower –  the view was definitely worth it!  The girls took a stroll through the gift shops before we called it a day.  We stood in line for the chair lift, and everyone was happy about how the day went (win!).  We rode the chair lift back down, hopped in the car and checked in at our second AirBnB in Pigeon Forge.  
  • Our second AirBnB was in a better location than the first.  It was a larger cabin at the top of a steep hill and had a very rustic feel!  We still couldn’t get over the caged garbage cans outside – to make sure the bears didn’t get into the trash!!!  This instilled both panic and excitement in Team Pepoon, lol!  We relaxed for a bit, claimed our favorite rooms, and got settled.
  • For dinner, we had tickets to the Dollywood Stampede.  We arrived just in time with no real need to wait in line.  Got to our seats and the show began!  The girls liked the show and it held their attention the entire time.  Horses, singing, riding tricks, comedy, and even little pigs were in the show!  Our youngest held her nose for a good majority of the show, claiming it smelled stinky…oh to be 3 again!  We splurged and bought the plastic boot cups, and to this day it’s still a fan favorite for dinner drinks. 
    • Biggest takeaway:  Tickets are expensive, but remember that you’re paying for the entertainment and not necessarily the food.  The food was fine, and the soup was pretty good, but it was a typical dinner show/eat with your hands event. On our way out, we got to see the horses from the show, which the kids really enjoyed.
Three baby bears!

Day 4: Bear Hunt

  • Off to Smoky Mountain Pancake House for breakfast in Pigeon Forge.  We chatted with the most friendly and helpful hostess who gave us the best driving directions.  The locals are kind and helpful!
  • Headed to Cades Cove to drive the loop.  Our main goal of the day was to see bear!!  When we pulled in, we were a tad overwhelmed with the amount of traffic and were discouraged thinking our goal was unattainable.  About 15-20 minutes into the loop we saw not 1, not 2 but 3 bear cubs crossing the road with their Mama not too far behind!  It was the best, and made the drive worth it!!  We continued around the loop and looked for more wildlife – and we did spot some turkeys, deep and a few more black bears (but not as amazing as the up close bear cubs).  The loop took us about 2 hrs to complete and this would be on our list to do again for a return trip. 
  • Before heading back towards Pigeon Forge, we stopped at the picnic area and let the girls play in the very very cold river!  Sadly we were starving so we didn’t stay long.  Definitely recommend a picnic lunch!
  • Drove back to Pigeon Forge and had a late lunch at Mel’s Diner – friendly staff and good diner food.  We hit up the Three Bears General Store which has essentially any type of souvenir you could dream of.
  • Next, we drove a stone’s throw down the street to The Island in Pigeon Forge.  We parked and took the tram to the shops and restaurants.  The kids played at the arcade for a bit and snacked on popcorn and lemonade.  The ropes course and Ferris Wheel seemed to be popular attractions, but we skipped it.
  • Grabbed dinner on the go and headed back for bed.

Day 5: Dollywood!

  • Breakfast at the Sunliner Diner.  Cute and clean diner, nothing fancy, but the girls thought that it was cool to sit in a car while eating.
  • Activity for the day – DOLLYWOOD!  We purchased military discounted tickets online ahead of time and headed there around 9:30.  We took the tram from the parking lot to the park and got our day started! 
    • Pro tip:  When you enter the park, go to the left to get your kids a wristband to record their height.  We had no idea and went right and had to double back!  We spent the entire day at the park and found plenty to do for everyone (ages 3-11).  We have a child in nearly every height bracket, but using the divide and conquer method we were able to keep everyone happy and pleasant for the day.  We didn’t pay for the skip the line pass, but if you have taller kids who are thrill seekers that must ride everything more than once, it may be worth the price tag! 
    • The food was good and we opted to get a few of the refillable souvenir cups to share and we felt like it was a good deal.  We left before the fireworks, but we saw them from our AirBnB!  One solid day was enough for all of us to do what we wanted and not feel rushed.  Could we do another day?  Sure, but we didn’t feel it was necessary.
  • We had a late dinner at Cielito Lindo and our girls were done for the day!  Tired but happy and stuffed!

Day 6: Final Day

  • Packed up the car and checked out of the cabin.
  • We booked a few rolls at Outdoor Gravity Park which was just a quick ride from our AirBnB.  If you haven’t heard of Zorbing, its one of the funniest experiences!  Essentially you get into a huge plastic ball with a few inches of water in it, choose a course, and roll down the hill – all while catching this on a GoPro.  2 of our 4 girls participated and they were able to ride together.  Watching the participants was equally as entertaining, so everyone was laughing!  We had an 8:30 reservation and were done by 9ish.  We liked this excursion – it was a family-run local business and we found the owners to be genuine.
  • Breakfast stop back at the Sunliner Diner, because someone in our party needed a picture with the fancy car.
  • Dolly Parton’s Splash Country was our last adventure on our trip.  The park opened at 10am and by 10:15 it felt very crowded.  We quickly realized that even though TN had cooler temperatures than GA, not everyone came from GA haha!  The TN heat was a lot for some tourists, and they all needed to cool off! 
    • We purchased the 2 day military park ticket, so we had the second day to use so even a few hours was worth it to us.  The splash park has a bunch of water slides, a big wave pool, and several spray park areas.  With the crowds came long lines.  The girls did several rides (height restrictions and tandem rider requirements were a little tricky), but it was fun.  We played in the wave pool and enjoyed running around at the splash park to drain some energy.  Lunch lines were also long, the food was typical, but no major complaints.  We brought in our refillable cups and used them at the park for a second day so that was a bonus.  If we had to do it again, we would probably skip Splash Country.  The lines and the crowds were a drawback, but then again we are spoiled with water parks close to our house!
  • Around 2pm we bribed the girls with some Dippin Dots and made our way to the car to change into comfy clothes, and began the 6-hour trek back to Georgia!  Thankfully the water park tired them out, so the ride home was quiet.

A Trip to Remember

Overall, our trip to Tennessee was fun!  We are grateful to have had the opportunity to show our girls a little part of the Smoky Mountains.  Sadly, we didn’t make it to Davey Crocketts Breakfast Camp, so it remains on our list for next time!  While the adult in me feels like the trip was on the expensive side, there were some things that were well worth the money.  The military discount at Dollywood was generous, and for that we were thankful.  We would love to plan a fall trip back to do more hiking, outdoor activities, and relaxing…and of course, another visit to Dollywood wouldn’t hurt us either.

Did you take any trips this summer?  Let us know where you traveled and how it went.  And if we missed any must do’s in Pigeon Forge, be sure to mention it below! 

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