As many of you know from my recent Facebook posts, my husband and I just returned home from a trip to the Smoky Mountains last weekend. It was our first vacation WITHOUT kids since before our oldest daughter was born! That would be over 6 years ago! It was a much needed break from ‘daily life’ and we definitely enjoyed every second! The trip to get there from Fort Wayne, Indiana took about 8 hours, but we talked for the entire way! It was SOO nice. No interruptions…at all. I can’t remember the last time we talked that much. 🙂
Because I like to share and record my thoughts about pretty much everything I do these days, I couldn’t resist writing this post about our Smoky Mountain vacation! And maybe it will even help someone else plan their own trip one day. I’ve broken it down into four parts: where we stayed, what we did, the trails we hiked, and the food we ate. I will apologize in advance, though, because this got a little long! I can’t write about our week-long trip without being somewhat detailed!! 😉
Where we stayed
When I first started planning our ’10 year anniversary trip,’ we were both assuming we’d go someplace warm, like the Caribbean or Mexico. I met with a travel agent, got some brochures, spent countless hours researching different locations, cities, resorts, etc. For some reason, I really struggled to find a resort that seemed to fit all of my criteria AND wasn’t too expensive (that was the biggest issue). I knew I wanted to relax and not have an agenda, but I also wanted to have enough activity that we wouldn’t get bored after two days. 🙂 Long story short (you’re welcome), we started thinking about cabins instead. I knew many of them had hot tubs (relaxing) and that most were nearby state parks (hiking). Plus, after I started looking up prices online, it seemed like we could save quite a bit of money, but still rent a very nice cabin for a week! And have our own vehicle for driving! (I also liked the added safety of knowing we ‘could’ drive home at a minutes notice if there was any type of emergency.)
We made our reservations through Cabins of the Smoky Mountains. We stayed in the Mountain Top View cabin in The Preserve resort. We LOVED the cabin. It was clean, had all the amenities we wanted (fully stocked kitchen, hot tub on the deck overlooking the mountains, games (we played Scrabble three times!), a pool table, king sized bed, etc.), and we felt safe being within a large group of other cabins. I would highly recommend this cabin to anyone. My only two “complaints” about this cabin are that 1) the pool table area isn’t quite large enough to actually fit a pool table (without banging the pool sticks into the wall trying to make a shot) and 2) it IS a bit of a drive to get into town. This is not the cabin you’d want to stay in if coming back to your ‘room’ multiple times in one day is important. It didn’t bother us, but after driving to our cabin the first evening, we quickly realized this was going to be a ‘one outing per day’ type of stay. It takes a solid 20-30 minutes to get into Pigeon Forge from this particular cabin (and longer to go into Gatlinburg). The cabin is on the side of a mountain and there is definitely some scary ‘mountain driving’ on the way up. 🙂 And note: there is a sign along the road to this cabin that says “4 wheel drive or chains on your wheels is required during the winter.” And I can see why! One tiny slip and your car would be sliding down the side of a mountain. Thankfully, there was no ice during any point of our stay, so we had no fears about this. 🙂 (Just something to be aware of if you’re considering staying there during the winter season!) Here are a couple pictures of our cabin:
There are several entrances into the Smoky Mountain National Park and our cabin was a “short” drive from one of the back entrances. (No drive is truly short when you’re talking about mountain roads.) Just keep in mind, some trails are faster to get to if you take the main roads (and not the winding, slower roads within the park).
What we did
We aren’t big shoppers and we had no real interest into going to any of the shows that were along the main Parkway in Pigeon Forge. (If we go back with our kids someday, I’m sure the shows would be somewhat entertaining for a family vacation.) On the drive down, we did stop at the Tanger Outlets in Sevierville, but were disappointed in the selections that day. However, I did find one cute top at the Nike store for $15 that was regularly $85! Yay for good deals!
We planned to do lots of hiking…and that’s what we did! One great thing about the Smoky Mountains is that there is no park admission fee. That was kind of a nice surprise upon arrival. Of the five full days we were there, we hiked the trails on four of them. The only day we did not going hiking in the park was when we went to the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. This is definitely a place to add to your bucket list! Amazingly large historic home (but it’s more like a castle), tons of history, beautiful mountain views, gardens and flowers galore…totally worth the visit. We took the self-guided tour with the mp3 audio option. If you go, the audio is a must…otherwise you don’t really know what you’re seeing in each room.
For comparison purposes, the day before touring the Biltmore, we came across this small cabin in the Smoky Mountains park. It was built during the SAME time period as Biltmore, but a family of TEN lived in this cabin. I can’t even imagine…
Note: It annoys me so much that people have written their names on the inside of this cabin. I just don’t understand that level of disrespect for history. Anyway… My husband is just over 6 feet tall and he was almost touching the ceiling! And I’m standing next to the hog pen. 🙂 What a difference between this cabin and the Biltmore! Then again, these stark contrasts still exist all over the world today.
We also went to “The Incredible Christmas Place” in Pigeon Forge. I wanted to get a Christmas ornament to commemorate our trip, but I was very disappointed in the quality of items there. I was certain I would find something I liked…but, I did not. Bummer. Target has a much cuter (and better quality) selection of Christmas decorations…at least in my opinion, anyway. Take that for what it’s worth! 😉
Trails we hiked
Day 1: Chimney Tops Trail – strenuous 4 miles round trip…pretty much what it sounds like. Climbing to the top of a mountain! I didn’t realize until we got to the top that in order to see the view, you had to do some real rock climbing. I started to go up, until my husband asked me if I would be able to get down… I turned my head, looked at the steep drop off the side of the mountain, and decided he was right… So, I didn’t go up. He did, though! Go figure… He told me later he didn’t want me going up because 1) the kids need me too much and 2) the insurance payout for me is MUCH less than for him!! 😉 ha! After watching him come down at an agonizingly slow pace (mostly on his bottom), I’m glad I didn’t try. 🙂 These pictures just don’t do justice to how steep this climb was; plus, you can’t see the drop off on the other side either!
Day 2: Abrams Falls Trail (on the Cades Cove Loop Road) – moderate 5 miles round trip…waterfall at the end. I don’t know why, but I was scared this entire hike that a bear was going to run out and attack me. Could have something to do with this sign we saw right before heading onto the trail…
…and the fact that it was early in the morning and we were one of the first ones to hike the trail that day. Luckily, we didn’t see any bears until AFTER our morning hike…and it was from the safety of our car! 🙂 It was pretty cute, though, seeing the two cubs playing with each other (with their mama close by).
The waterfall at the end, though, was worth the hike. And we felt much safer on the way back out since so many people were hiking in at this point. 🙂
Day 3: Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls – moderate 2.6 miles round trip…with a waterfall at the end.
Day 4: Biltmore House; no trails today. 🙂 There was enough walking inside that huge house!!
Day 5 (last full day of the trip): Clingmans Dome Trail – 1 mile roundtrip…paved, but it is steep!! Worth the hike up, though, as the end is an observation tower looking out over all this…
After that short morning hike, we walked a portion of the Appalachian Trail. The bottom right picture is of me standing in both North Carolina and Tennessee at the same time. 😉
And then we hiked the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail…a strenuous 4.6 miles round trip. Awesome hike and views from the top. The picture does not do justice to the steepness of this area… It was a tad scary!
We could visibly notice the leaves changing colors during our trip. When we got there, I was a little bummed that almost everything was completely green. I knew that would probably be the case when I booked our stay, but I was hoping for ‘some’ fall colors. Well, by the end of the week, we could see the leaves starting to change colors. I can only imagine what the next couple of weeks will look like in the Smokies!
We took quite a few selfies last week! Fun, but not the best pictures. 🙂
We also asked people if they would take our picture a few times, as well…
What we ate (mostly what I ate…)
As you all know, I eat ‘real food’ as much as I possibly can, but I make a small exception for when we travel or eat at someone else’s house. It helps me keep my sanity and hopefully doesn’t make me come off as rude or ‘judgy’ of other people’s food choices. I just try to do the best that I can. (I wrote a post about what we ate during our Disney World family vacation here: Our first ‘real food’ vacation.) Honestly, I think a little splurging during vacation is exactly what my mind needs. Not my body, of course…because I know these foods are NOT good for me. However, it’s nice to eat food without worry on occasion…and, after a week of doing that, I’m reminded why I do not eat this way all the time anymore. I definitely gained some weight (even with all that hiking!) and was very much ready to come home to cleaner eating. You’ll see in my pictures below that I tried to maintain ‘some’ semblance of healthy eating while we were gone, but you’ll also see several foods that I normally would rant about on my blog! I do miss these foods at times, but now that I got my yearly fix, I’m good for a while!
When we travel with the kids, I like to cook a few times and bring more food from home. However, since this was MY vacation, as well, I didn’t do ANY cooking. Crazy! We went out to dinner every single night. It was fun while it lasted, but I’m glad to be back home cooking healthier, more-balanced, and regularly-sized meals again. Portion sizes are definitely way too big these days at restaurants!! And two treats that I enjoyed during the trip: a package of Double Stuffed Mint Oreos and ‘homemade’ fudge–twice!!–from the shops in town. Not real food at all, I know!! However, I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy them!
Day 1: We ate our regular breakfast that morning before we left home to make the 8 hour drive. On the way down, I tried to find a Chipotle, but somehow missed the one we were looking for, so for lunch I just had an apple and a granola bar that I brought with us. For dinner, we ate at Calhoun’s BBQ shortly after arriving to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. We were very disappointed. My husband ordered ribs and I ate a BBQ bacon burger (which didn’t hold together well). Neither one of us thought our meals were very good. Bummer for our first night out!! After that (combined with all the reading I’ve been doing lately), I decided that I wanted to eat very little meat on this trip, knowing that it wouldn’t be grass-fed or free-range.
Day 2: Breakfast was the granola we brought from home with a single serve container of organic milk that I bought at the grocery store. I also cut up some bananas for on top. It was delicious and a great pre-hike beakfast!
Lunch for three of the days we went hiking was a combination of these foods pictured below (but never all on one day). This is a sampling of the foods we took on our hikes. Not real food and I know I could have done a better job of picking items from the grocery store down there, but this is what we ended up with: our own water bottles, apples from home, turkey and cheese sandwiches on (white) hoagie buns, dry roasted cashews, pretzels, granola bars, grapes, and Mounds candy bars that my husband brought with us. Most of the time, we ended up eating our sandwiches right before our long hike, the granola bars and Mounds DURING the hike, and maybe the grapes or apples afterwards. The grapes were not organic and that was a big mistake. They tasted horrible! We ended up throwing most of them away. 🙁 The pretzels were barely touched the entire trip.
Dinner that night was Mexican at Loco Burro in Gatlinburg. I very, very rarely order a drink…but I treated myself to one this night: a pina colada daiquiri. It was good, but not as good as the ones we drank on our honeymoon 10 years ago! Oh well. And for dinner, I ordered black bean nachos. They were good, but it was too much food and I didn’t finish.
Day 3: I had the same breakfast and lunch as above. For dinner, we ate at Carino’s Italian in Pigeon Forge. Also kind of disappointed. 🙁 The salad and bread were good, but the Fettuccine Alfredo that I ordered reminded me of Fazoli’s version (though, it’s probably been a couple years since I’ve eaten there). Not horrible, but not good. Once again, I didn’t finish, but I ate it for lunch another day. (To be fair, though, it’s hard to compete with my favorite Italian restaurant here in Fort Wayne: Casa Ristoranti. Their fettuccine is amazing!!)
That evening, my husband really wanted to buy doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. I didn’t know how many I should get, so he told me, “I’m ordering a dozen. You order what you want and then I’ll eat the rest.” Ha…okay. So I ordered myself four, which I ate over two days. (And, yes, he ate his 8 donuts over 3 days.)
Day 4: I ate the apple and donut pictured above for breakfast. Yep, not the healthiest way to start my day, but oh well. It was vacation and I didn’t have many regrets (though, I was hungrier much earlier than usual…). After hiking that day, we decided that pizza sounded good for dinner. We went to the Mellow Mushroom Pizzeria. I forgot to take a picture, but the pizza we ordered was very good! No complaints today!
Day 5: We went to the Biltmore House. After the tour, we ate a light lunch. I ordered an “all beef” hot dog with pickle relish and my husband ate a soft pretzel with some sort of dipping concoction.
For dinner that evening, we went to Bullfish in Pigeon Forge…and I was actually pleased with my meal! I ordered grilled shrimp with pineapple salsa (something different for me) and cheese grits (something very different!). I figured, if I was in the south, I should eat something that is more exclusive to the area. They were good, but I don’t know if I would order them again back at home. I ate my whole meal, though! 🙂
Day 6: Nothing new or exciting for breakfast or lunch. For dinner, we went to Blue Moose Burgers & Wings in Pigeon Forge. I ordered a veggie burger and onion rings. Nothing healthy, I know, but it was delicious and I got my onion ring fix for a while! 🙂 Very tasty meal and the veggie burger was really good, as well.
Day 7: Time to head home. On this trip, I made certain that we didn’t miss going to Chipotle, so I plugged its address into my GPS. I had only eaten there one time before and I didn’t like it at all. However, that was before I was eating ‘real food’ and I decided I wanted to give it another shot. Besides, I knew it was one of the better fast food options out there. I ordered a veggie burrito with brown rice, black beans, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. It was very good. Way too much food (though I ate the whole thing!), but I was happy with my meal and look forward to going there again sometime soon.
We arrived home around dinnertime. I had no interest in getting a meal out again. Instead, I cut up an organic apple and dipped it into my natural peanut butter with homemade granola on top. Nothing too filling, but it hit the spot and that was all the food I needed that night!
Something to be proud of… This was probably my first vacation EVER that did not include a single stop at McDonald’s…or any other “junky” fast food restaurant. It seems like every vacation we’ve gone on since beginning this transition, we’ve made smarter and healthier choices along the way! Yay for that! Plus, it gets easier every time without feeling deprived in any way. 🙂
Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the trip…
If you’ve never been to the Smoky Mountains, it’s definitely a vacation I would highly recommend! I’m sure we’ll take the kids back eventually…when they’re old enough that I won’t be completely freaked out about them slipping and falling off the side of a mountain!! But…maybe that fear never goes away??
Awesome vacation! We’ll miss you Smoky Mountains!!
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