The day we drove to Gatlinburg from Chattanooga was beautiful and sunny. It was a two and a half hour drive that took us through the mountains and through the technicolor nightmare that is Pigeon Forge. We stopped at the Visitor Center to get some Smoky Mountain maps and check out the gift shop before moving on to get groceries for the cabin.
The closest grocery store was Food City in Gatlinburg, so we loaded up on supplies there. Our cabin was up a winding, one way road into the mountains. The drive was a little bit scary with the hairpin turns and steep drops, but the destination was so worth it. It was absolutely stunning; a log cabin perched on a peak with a perfect view of The Great Smoky Mountains.
The cabin had three levels, three bedrooms, three balconies, four bathrooms, a game room and a huge kitchen. We ate a lunch of grilled bratwurst and chips out on the porch and relaxed, all in awe of the view. Once we felt we had memorized every nuanced ridge and treetop, we drove to downtown Gatlinburg to explore and eventually get some dinner. The drive downtown was about 20 minutes each way from our cabin.
There is a parking garage right on the edge of downtown, on the corner of routes 321 and 441 that only charges a maximum of $6 that we utilized frequently (we usually paid less than the max). It’s an easy walk to the main drag from there. Downtown Gatlinburg is an interesting, kitschy city; the street is lined with places with names like Sweet Fanny Adams Theater, Cooters Dukes of Hazard Museum, Doc Collier’s Moonshine, Beef Jerky Outlet, Donut Friar, All Sauced Up Kitchen Fixins, Earthquake the Ride, and an unprecedented amount of Old Tyme Photos. We navigated the streets among the other tourists, feeling like we had been transported to a different world.
We were planning on checking out the Smoky Mountain Brewery, however as a party of six and a half, the wait was 45+ minutes. We walked next door to Cherokee Grille instead. Luckily, we were able to order some Smoky Mountain draft beers there. We ordered a variety of entrees. I had the barbecue grilled chicken with rice and broccoli. The beer was great, the food was good. The service was friendly but a little frantic. After dinner, we strolled back down the parkway, taking in the street performers and sights. That evening, we sat out on the porch in the rocking chairs with a glass of wine. It was heavenly.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the cabin and headed straight to Smoky Mountain National Park. The drive there took us right through downtown and then into the wilderness. Each drive we took through the park was prettier than the last. Our first stop was the Laurel Falls trail, which was a paved, two and a half mile hike. It had beautiful views but was very crowded. We walked in a single file line behind other hikers, past other hikers and with other hikers behind us; it felt a little like an assembly line.
Once we reached Laurel Falls, it was easy to see what drew in all these people, and, as such, it was hard to take a photo without anyone else in it. Either way, it was a pretty hike. We drove onward to the Chimney Tops picnic area to have our sandwiches. Right next to the multiple picnic tables are some gorgeous rapids to dip your feet into. The water is chilly and the rocks are prime for climbing across to get a better view of the scenery.
You can walk along the rapids a ways, but we moved on to our next hike, Clingman’s Dome, up the mountains. The drive up is lined with many scenic overlooks, which is good because the view is too pretty to put into words. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the park, so you have to drive quite a ways to get to the parking there. From the parking lot, it’s a half mile hike straight uphill to get to the dome. What’s cool about this hike is that it crosses the Appalachian Trail towards the top.
There is a lazy spiral ramp that leads to the dome, where you can see a 360 degree of the mountains. It is absolutely stunning and I took approximately 100 photos. The way down from the dome was a lot easier than the way up as long as you don’t stop to admire the view.
We stopped at a few other spots to take pictures on the way down, including the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. Because we had all been craving margaritas all day, we met back in Gatlinburg for dinner at No Way Jose’s. The margaritas there did not disappoint and the food was good too, albeit pretty typical Tex-Mex fare.
I will say that their homemade salsa that they plunk down on the table just as soon as you sit down is out-of-this-world good. After dinner we walked down to the Sky Lift, which my mom and I had spotted the night before and vowed to try out. It was $16.50 a person for a round trip ticket to head up the mountain in a ski lift bench to the scenic overlook, cafe, and gift shop at the top and back down.
The ride was pretty slow but provided a spectacular view, and the view from the top, of Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains, was gorgeous. We gave in and bought the professional photo they took of us on the way up as a souvenir. Our last stop of the evening was Maddog’s Ice Cream and Donuts for a treat before heading back to the cabin. It was a cute, roadside shop with homemade donuts, soft serve, and ice cream. They had some interesting statues outside, along with some picnic tables. We took our ice cream to go and went back to our beautiful view at the cabin, looking forward to another full of hiking.