We went to the Smoky Mountains about a month ago and I had a few reflections after our time there. There may be some useful (and not so useful) tips for your Smoky Mountsin vacation.
1. Go back. Just because you’ve been to the smoky mountains at least 7 times before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. There are still new memories to be made…every single time. Go back again and again. When we were trying to decide where to vacation this time around, we talked about Florida (during Hurricane season 😬), Nashville, and places IN Indiana and Ohio. While I’m sure there are tons of fun to be had at those places, we would need to figure everything out. There is something so familiar about the smoky mountains that made us decide to go back.
2. You need a vacation! If your husband has been working non stop for the last month or two on a project…a vacation is just what your family needs. The girls LOVED the extra special time and attention that daddy gave them during vacation week.
3. Family is so important. My parents and my brother and I have always been weirdly close. I’m sure there are other families that are close like us, but I’m not sure we are the norm. But it is so fun when we can actually get a vacation scheduled with all of us. There are now 10 of us. It isn’t an easy thing to book a week long vacation all together, but we have managed to do it 2 times this year.
4. Make the memories. I never really thought I have taken for granted the love of my parents and my family. But these past 10 months we have been much more intentional about spending time togerher and making memories. We have no clue how long dad will be with us, but I want to make sure we never wasted a minute and did all the things we could with him while he was here. This even includes him go cart racing with Craig and the girls on both trips this year. Even though he felt weak some of the trips, he made it the best he could.
5. Go outside. This seems like a given when you are in the beautiful Smoky Mountains but I didn’t really grow up hiking on vacations or playing in random rivers. But my husband did. And we have been trying to do these things with our girls. It is pretty fun to hike with a 5 year old, 2 year old while being pregnant with some light rain. There were some places I was pretty nervousof the edge. Or the time we were hiking while I had C in the Ergo and I fell. I scraped up my knee pretty bad and bumped C’s head. Those are not necessarily my FAVORITE memories of outdoor time on vacation. We have the time when we were hiking with C and a bear was super close to us in the parking lot (okay, that is a bit scary but looking back….it was so cool). Or the hike we took in the spring with all 3 girls and it started pouring. It was a short hike and we were drenched by the end but we were giggling. And then there is all our time at the river. Our favorite spot is at Greenbrier and across the street at a covered bridge. We try to go there at least once every trip. And those smiles and giggles are priceless!
6. Do your research. Most of the time, Craig and I spend a good amount of time going through cabins. Cabins have always been our preferred lodging so we can be away from crowds, have space to be with family and be able to cook our meals. We usually take into account the price (obviously), location, amenities (a hot tub and wi-fi), roads (we prefer not to go up/down steep inclines), close neighbors and number of rooms. When all 10 of us are together on trips…we prefer at least 4 or 5 rooms. Let me back track. I prefer 5 rooms. Baby girl A sleeps way better in her own room. And I sleep much better when she sleeps much better!
7. Go on a bear hunt. This is similar to the first point. Just go back. Cades cove is one of those places where we have been there, done that. But we Go back everytime mainly to look for bears! We take the long, curvy drive just to look for bears. But it is beautiful. And we still like the gift shop. And we almost always see at least 1 bear and horses. Plus it is so cute to watch the girls ride with theie heads out of the window so they can see some bears.
8. Choose restaurants wisely. I know there are so many must eat at places in that area. I wish we could squeeze them all in. But then we would likely be stuffed. And especially this past year, dad can’t eat too much for meals. Plus you factor in the CRAZY of 10 people and 4 of them being wild kids. It isn’t a ton of fun to go out a lot. Some of our favorites are: Big Daddys Pizzaria, Mellow Mushroom, Hungry Bear BBQ, Bennett’s BBQ, Fuddruckers and the New Orleans Sandwich shop. *Note: we did love going to Shakes and Dawgs for hot dogs but they appeared to be closed this last trip.* We dont usually go to all of these places, but we enjoy a few each trip.
9. Eat the ice cream. I’m not sure why, but it is almost always a must to go get ice cream on a regular basis. We like chunky monkey and mad dog’s creamery but really any ice cream will do!
10. Don’t waste your money. We have spent money on some things there that we regretted right away. At least for our situation (with younger kids and my dad being sick)…some things were not worth it. Money wasters in our opinion: Wonderworks, Ripley Believe it or not, Old MacDonald putt putt, and the Aquarium on a Saturday (it really is a great aqyarium, but it was absolutely no fun on a busy day). Many of these things we did because C begged, but we choose not to go back now. We have really enjoyed The Exotic pet zoo, go cart, going to see Santa at Santa’s Claus-et. Honestly, usually we have more fun when we don’t do a lot of the big touristy things.
11. Buy the shirt. I know I just said not to waste money, but a souvenir shirt is different. I think it must be a thing my parents started with us. I have a lot of shirts from vacations growing up. I love the memories associated with the trips. And now, I feel the same way with the girls. I can look at their shirts from Gatlinburg tripa and recall certain fun memories. I love it!
12. Go fishing. My husband really likes to fish when we are down there. Yes, I did even make the sacrifice one year of waking up at 6 am to go fishing. It isn’t my favorite thing, but I do it because he wants to. And I love seeing our girls have fun with daddy. They feel so proud when catching a fish. Even my dad caught his first fish last year while fishing with us in Gatlinburg.
13. Spray for mosquitos. The same annoying mosquitos you deal with at home are also annoying in the smoky mountains.
14. Go out for breakfast. Most breakfasts we make pancakes or eat cereal when we are at the cabin. But we have started a tradition where we go out for breakfast on the last day together. It is a fun/yummy way to end our trip. Even if my 3 year old picky eater said she would est the bear pancakes and then refused to take a bite when she got them.
15. Stay an extra day. There have been several times that my husband and I weren’t ready to go home. My parents and brother and his wife had other obligations, so we ended up getting a hotel room downtown Gatlinburg. Usually I am not a fan of spontaneity, but I love it in this case. We are usually able to squeeze in a few extra things we had hoped to do.
Go to Smoky Mountains! Have fun and make lots of memories!