Monday, August 11, 2008

My Smoky Mountain Vacation

My family hasn’t taken a real family vacation in years, something that involved all of us for more than just a day. So when my husband received an invitation for his family reunion back in January we decided that we were going to go to the reunion in Maryville, Tennessee and make a vacation out of it by visiting Gatlinburg and all of the other towns that are clustered together in the Smokies; Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Townsend, Tennessee and Cherokee, North Carolina. So we started planning a week of fun in the Smokies.

This was one of my most well planned vacations ever also one that we actually had money saved up for. So it was wonderful to go on vacation and not worry about not having money for the things we really wanted to do.

The location is stunning. Ever since my husband brought me to Tennessee several years ago I have been in love with the mountains. The beauty of the Smoky Mountains is indescribable, really something you just have to experience firsthand.

Driving through the mountains is another story. That’s dangerous.

Our cabin was in Gatlinburg up in the mountains not down in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the main strip. Last time we stayed in Pigeon Forge which is also pretty crazy this time of year.

I enjoyed our vacation but it was exhausting and hectic. I think my favorite parts were the ones that didn’t involve a lot of crowds, noise, or money.

I think the best day was our trip to Cades Cove, which is a historical community inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is camp ground, picnic area, and the 11 mile scenic loop full of historical buildings and sites including three churches with very old cemeteries. My husband’s maternal family is from that area of Tennessee (they are even mentioned as being one of the first families in Cades Cove on one Cade’s Cove Web site) and there are old LeQuire tombstones in the cemeteries. There is also a barn in Cade’s Cove that his grandfather claimed was his when he was a child and a wall that his grandfather helped build. It was a wonderful way for my children to get a taste of their genealogic roots.

Members of my husband’s family joined us on our Cade’s Cove trip; his brother, sister, and their children and two of his cousins. My husband, his brother and sister and all of the cousins used to make the trip almost every year when they were children. This time it was a second generation that got to explore where they came from.

We picnicked in the park, played in the river and hiked through the trails in the woods then we drove the scenic loop through Cade’s Cove stopping and checking out the historical locations. The whole day was free (minus the cost of gas) and it was the best part of our vacation.

The rest of our vacation was spent checking out the attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium in the Smokies, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, Wonder Works, and some of the little go cart places and arcades that are extremely plentiful in the area. Parts of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are like a big amusement park, except an amusement park would be cheaper. Everything is separate here. For my family of 5 to get into the aquarium it cost over $85 same for WonderWorks. Both places were noisy, crowded and crazy. Not a good combination for me and obviously not for my two year old either because he screamed and cried through most of it making us all miserable.

We also did some shopping. I found my favorite store of all time in the mall in downtown Gatlinburg, Chillin Turtles. Nothing but turtle stuff; turtle garden décor, turtle home décor, turtle clothing, turtle jewelry, turtles, turtles everywhere. I love turtles. Someday I will have a turtle pond or habitat, maybe a whole turtle preserve. Right now I don’t have any because I think sticking them in a little glass aquarium is cruel. Anyway, I contained myself and exhibited remarkable self control and only purchased one thing, a beautiful turtle wind chime made from copper wire.

There is so much to do it is unbelievable. One day my daughter went to Splash Country inside Dollywood with her aunt while my husband and teenage son went to the NASCAR Speed Park go cart track and went through Ripley’s Haunted Adventure while I relaxed at the cabin with my little guy because he was sick. Another day my husband also took the older kids horseback riding and tubing down the river. My little guy is only two so a bit too small for any of that, and I got to do something I’ve wanted to do…sit in a log cabin in the woods and relax. While the little guy napped I sat in the Jacuzzi tub and read a book. I can’t do that at home and nobody bothered me.

A Smoky Mountain vacation is just so exquisite. There is something for everyone; you have nature, history, adventure and lots of fun for all ages. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is full of beautiful scenery, hiking trails, rivers and waterfalls and if you go to Cade’s Cove it’s like stepping back in time. And it’s free unless you rent a bike or go horseback riding but to just go to the park and hike around, free.

Other mountain adventures include renting ATV’s, taking a ride in a Hummer or seeing the sights by helicopter or you can go white water rafting or fishing. For the less adventurous (though I think braving the crowds, noise and tons of kids takes a lot of guts) you can visit one of the many family friendly attractions. There are a couple underground caverns open for touring. Being underground is so cool, literally…it’s always around 58 degrees underground; a great way to beat the heat in the middle of the summer. If going underground isn’t enough jump in one of the many rivers. That’ll cool you off. Mountain streams and rivers are pretty cold.

We did a lot. It was nice being able to find things the whole family could do since there is such a big age difference in the kids; 16, 9 and 2. We tried to make sure to do things as a family and make sure everyone got to do the things they really wanted to do. It was a fun family vacation, thank goodness though we won’t be repeating it anytime soon though because I am exhausted. We did so much walking and hiking and it was HOT. I’m a Michigan girl, relentless days of 98 degree and up weather doesn’t sit well with me. One day it was over 100. We hit the pool after a day spent in the heat in Pigeon Forge.

I was thankful to go home to Michigan and 70 degree weather. Plus I really needed a vacation from my vacation.

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