The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a natural playground with majestic waterfalls, excellent hiking trails, and panoramic views of the mountain range. Nestled at the entrance to the Park is one of Tennessee’s most visited cities, Gatlinburg, TN – just adjacent to neighboring Pigeon Forge, TN.
Char and I headed to Gatlinburg by way of Chattanooga (another Tennessee gem) and spent time both enjoying the peacefulness of the Smoky Mountains as well as being entertained by the all the attractions of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
We stayed in a hotel situated at the start of the Gatlinburg strip right on the Little Pigeon River, a quiet and romantic spot – perfect for a vacationing couple.
Downtown Gatlinburg is lined with quaint shopping villages, museums, thrill rides, tourist traps, restaurants, and more – all against the beautiful backdrop of the mountains. The strip is home to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, an outstanding aquarium that exceeded our expectations, and the Gatlinburg Space Needle, offering visitors a breathtaking view of the city and landscape.
The city of less than 4,000 residents brings in over 2 million vacationers each year – and there’s no wonder why. Gatlinburg can be just as exciting for a teenager or child with its many rides and attractions as it is for couples wanting a romantic get-a-way.
One place on the strip that we’ve got to rave about is the famous Pancake Pantry restaurant. This is simply the best breakfast in Gatlinburg, or anywhere else for that matter. From crepes to pancakes, from french toast to omlettes, it doesn’t get any better. I’m entirely serious when I say that I’d drive 3 hours just to eat breakfast at the Pancake Pantry. And now that I’ve learned they have opened a location in Nashville (about 2 1/2 hours from our home), we just might do that soon…
After checking out the many things to see and do along the strip, Char and I headed into the National Park for a more quiet, romantic setting. The park is home to Cades Cove where visitors might find black bears playing in the early morning. We took the drive into the park with no agenda – we were just an adventurous couple celebrating our love and life together.
Our first stop was a hike to Laurel Falls, an impressive 75 foot waterfall crashing into a mountain stream. Char and I took the hike on a day when the trails were relatively quiet – we saw few others for the duration of the hike. When we finally reached the falls, we stayed for quite a while enjoying the stunning view and sounds of crashing water.
The hike to Laurel Falls takes you up the mountainside to a rocky pool where the falls flow over a cliff several further feet down to the base in the mountain creek. At the rocky pool, there is no railing – just nature. Slippery rocks and a cliff with rushing water. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. The noise of the massive falls blocks out everything else and you stand there in awe at the majesty of God’s creation. It’s a place you don’t want to leave and will remember the rest of your life.
After returning from Laurel Galls, Char and I continued our drive up the mountain, eventually arriving at the legendary Cades Cove. Our trip through this settlement didn’t grant us any views of black bears this time (but we will return to look again) but we did see other wildlife and historic places of interest.
Cades Cove is home to the John Oliver cabin of 1822-1823, old churches, and more. The setting seems so removed from the rest of civilization that it is easy to forget that just a few miles down the mountainside lies a bustling city with museums, theaters, and amusement parks.
We drive slowly and didn’t want the moment to end. We stopped for more hiking, sightseeing, and relaxation on our way back down the mountain. The park quickly became a favorite destination for us as we have already made many great memories there.
Back in downtown Gatlinburg, Char and I had a blast being our typical unusual selves and of course we brought along the camera to capture it all. From posing with statues and checking out bizarre signs to playing homemade instruments with the locals, Char and I made the most of our time! As is usual with us, of course.
Our next stop was a trip to adjacent Pigeon Forge, TN. Home to many theaters featuring magic shows, comedy concerts, music reviews, and plays, Pigeon Forge is an entertainment mecca for the entire family. There are amusement rides, helicopter rides, indoor skydiving, and more. We hit The Comedy Barn where Char succeeded in getting me on stage by shouting out “TAKE MY HUSBAND! TAKE MY HUSBAND!” at the top of her lungs when the comedian asked for volunteers. The Comedy Barn featured a clean, hilarious comedy show with a patriotic and inspirational message. It is located in the same theater that once housed the television show Hee Haw.
Another comedic episode in Pigeon Forge involved a used bookstore we came across. Char and I absolutely love used book stores. This one, however, wasn’t at the top of our list. There were books, but nothing grabbed our attention – no great finds. But along the shelves on the ground were boxes of used thing for sale as well (that’s about the best description I can give). For example, a box of random, greasy old screws and nails and metal hardware parts that go to, well, things. There was also an old weed eater. A most interesting store, to say the least.
Our trip to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge was most memorable and we look forward to going back soon.
Be sure to check out the entire photo gallery of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to see more photos from our vacation.