My family has visited the Smoky Mountains region around and near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, many times over the years. Each time we visit, we run out of time before we run out of fun. There is ALWAYS something new to discover there…along with many family favorites that we try to visit each time we are in town.
One of our favorite first stops when visiting the Smoky Mountains is a visit to The Apple Barn Cider Mill & General Store (Sevierville, TN) for a fried pie and an apple cider freeze. The cider donuts are pretty amazing too. The warm, fried pie is even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top…even if you happen to get there around breakfast time.
Wander around the complex and you will find a celebration of all things apple. There are also two more restaurants, a winery, candy shop, and gift shop within walking distance of each other.
Our next stop was Cades Cove located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We rented bikes from Cades Cove Trading located next to the camp store at Cades Cove and took in the scenery of the popular 11-mile loop by bicycle instead of our vehicle.
Our experience biking Cades Cove was unanimously one our family’s top 3 adventures all weekend…and that says A LOT! Seriously, riding vs. driving Cades Cove was a game changer! You can read more about that adventure here.
After a few hours at Cades Cove, we made our way back to downtown Gatlinburg to our hotel, the Gatlinburg Inn. The oldest hotel in Gatlinburg has hosted a large number of famous people. Another claim to fame was that the famous song “Rocky Top” was written in room 388 by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in 1967.
The decor of the rooms is like a time capsule to the past with a few modern touches like Serta Perfect Sleeper Beds and a 42″ flat screen tv. They even still keep it old school with actual keys for your door locks. In the mornings, we took advantage of the complimentary hot breakfast buffet offered during our stay. We found the hospitality to be very welcoming, the central location on the strip to be extremely convenient, and the rocking chairs by outdoor fireplace to be a welcomed site after a long day on our feet.
For dinner that evening we decided to visit a local favorite about 15 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg called Fox and Parrot Tavern. This British themed pub has been around for 20 years and prides itself on being the region’s only Authentic British Pub. The atmosphere is lively, but still, kid friendly, and the food is very good. You can’t go wrong with their Fish and Chips or Shephard’s Pie.
On Saturday, I crossed another attraction off the list. The Salt & Pepper Museum (Gatlinburg) was on my bucket list because it’s so unique. There are over 20,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers on display! You will seriously feel like you stepped back in time when you recognize pieces from your grandma’s kitchen. The salt and pepper shakers are grouped together in cases by likeness and even flow with their coloring which is a merchandising feat in itself!
Make sure that you walk slow and really take in all of the detail. Each case also shares a little bit more information about some of the specific items of interest. The museum is FREE for kids under 12 and admission is $3 for adults. If you want your kids to engage more with the displays, make it a challenge for them to find a specific shaker in each case. This collection of over 25 years, is a labor of love that covers the globe. This is a gem to visit!
Our next stop was Sparky’s Glass blowing (Gatlinburg- Great Smoky Mountains Arts and Crafts Community) to watch glassblower and owner/namesake, Sparky in action while he created one of a kind piece made from glass. Sparky is full of energy and life. It was so fun to watch him in action while he was blowing glass and telling stories. You’ll have a greater appreciation for the intricate details on display after you watch one being made.
Next, we headed to Bush’s Visitor Center (Chestnut Hill, TN). I know that it might sound like a bit of an odd stop, but it was really interesting. Bush’s Visitor Center is also perfect for a rainy day or as a destination for lunch or an early dinner. You can learn more about the production of distributing beans from the ground to your table in a variety of interactive displays housed in the original A.J. Bush & Company general store, that was founded in 1897. You will find lots of one of a kind gifts in the general store.
Make sure that you try the Pinto Beans pie at Bush’s Family Cafe! I know that sounds really odd but it tastes like pecan pie. I would also recommend trying a few more of the pies. They are WONDERFUL and homemade. My husband’s coconut creme actually look a little longer because it just came from the oven. The few extra minutes were worth it because he loved it!
Our afternoon adventure was at Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park (Sevierville, TN) for an ATV Tour. We’ve previously visited Foxfire and found that the property offers a lot of options for families from hiking to zip lining or just enjoying the views on site. You can read more about our previous visit here.
Our ATV tour took us to various scenic stops located throughout the property with opportunities to get out and take pictures. The boys enjoyed testing their skills on the rope climb on one of the mountains during a stop. I was really impressed by our guide, Jason, who handled tight, steep turns with ease and was the perfect blend of being adventurous and safe.
After our ATV tour, we decided to play miniature golf at a family favorite, Hillbilly Golf (Gatlinburg). I love this Appalachian themed mini golf course because it’s so one of a kind.
You take an incline up to the top, play on the mountain, and then take the incline back down to the bottom when you are finished. If you look closely in the picture above you will see a tree with a horseshoe nailed to it in the right corner. It’s at the edge of the mini golf course and is a visual reminder of luck because the course was not greatly impacted by the wildfires. Luck indeed!
Sunday morning, we visited Mike Fowler at Fowler’s Clayworks (Gatlinburg- Great Smoky Mountains Arts and Crafts Community) to “make a mug.” This is the PERFECT adventure for someone who wants to try something unique during their visit.
It’s also a great way to personally connect with a local artisan who is passionate about sharing his craft with others.
You learn about the process of making pottery and experience hands-on learning. Mike was a great teacher and very patient while we were learning what to do. He was very intentional on letting us be the main ones creating the mug and guiding us when we needed it. My husband said that making the mug was one of his favorite experiences of the weekend and all of us really enjoyed it.
Each of us selected the color for our glaze and a few weeks later we received our mugs in the mail. They were secured with plenty of bubble wrap so that they arrived safely.
Each mug had the name of its creator on the bottom along with the year. I absolutely LOVE how they turned out! You’ll notice that one of the mugs below has two handles because my son said that two reminded him of a trophy. This was such a wonderful souvenir and keepsake from our adventure spinning clay on the wheel.
We took some time for a few final views of Gatlinburg from 342 ft. above at the Gatlinburg Space Needle observation deck followed by lunch at Old Dad’s General Store. There are a few tables available inside or you can get your meal to go and take a picnic to the National Park. This is a great stop for a burger or deli sandwich.
We also made one last visit to explore a few trails near Sugarlands Visitor Center (The Great Smoky Mountains National Park) located a short distance from the entrance of the park near Gatlinburg. The regrowth in the areas affected by the wildfires will continue to grow back even greener and also produce unique wildflowers that only occur during these conditions. You will see areas affected by fires but overall, you will find the National Park to still be what you’ve remembered from previous visits.
Our last stop during our visit was at Outdoor Gravity Park (Pigeon Forge, TN) to fulfill an adventure that has been on my bucket list for YEARS! This is the only place in the US where you can try zorbing all year round! Warm or cold water is pumped inside the ball, depending on the time of year and up to 3 people can ride together on the straight paths. The zig-zag path is for single riders.
If you don’t have a change of clothes with you, they are available for purchase. There are also changing rooms on site and GoPros available to use to make sure that you don’t miss the footage from this unforgettable adventure.
We once again took back so many wonderful memories from our visit. The Smoky Mountain region has a special place in our heart. The people in the community are resilient and the more we come back to visit the area, the more we are helping them with their comeback story.