Roadtrip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and a little Nashville Hot Chicken on the way

#gatlinburg #tennessee #greatsmokymountains #nationalparks #ripleysaquarium #dollywood #obergatlinburg #lodgecastiron #sugarlands #hattiebs #princeshotchicken

Hope you all had the best Thanksgiving! My kids had a whole week off for Thanksgiving, so we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner early and go be thankful up in the Smoky Mountains for a week! We’d stopped in Gatlinburg on the way to Washington D.C. once, and had the full Jack Skellington reaction of “What is this place??” We went back the following summer and gave it a proper exploration. It is the perfect blend of cheesy tourist stuff and amazing natural resources. Great family spot. We decided to head back and rented an Airbnb up in the mountains.

91sJD0D8+ULWe love road trips and try to find mini-trips on the way. I’d always wanted to try Nashville Hot Chicken and that was right on the same highway. It was meant to be. We tried Prince’s on the way there, and Hattie B’s on the way back. I strongly recommend them both. To calibrate the spiciness thermometer, Prince’s medium was medium-hot, and Hattie B’s medium was medium-mild. I’m sure you’re shocked ;), but I wanted to be able to make that at home. I found online that Hattie B’s recipe was in a book called Fried and True. Odered it! It was waiting for me when I got home! I made the chicken, and it was a smidge hotter than what I had in the restaurant, but totally yummy and barely forehead sweat inducing, so I figured it must be heat level “hot”. They have the recipe up on SeriousEats, so you can give it a try, too!

The location of our cabin was ideal – a 5 minute drive straight (well, winding really) up the mountain from the visitors’ center. The cabin had everything – a deck with views, a hot tub, an air hockey table, darts, and a big table for board games. It also had a decked-out-for-a-rental kitchen, a family room with an overly efficient fireplace, and three bedrooms. The owner even had a Christmas tree all set up. It had a bunch of TVs for a nice movie to end the day. It was just what we wanted. Those views!

The cabin didn’t have a cast iron pan for our steaks, so I used it as an excuse to hit the Lodge store in town. They have ‘seconds’ racks in back with pans with just cosmetic damage, at a fraction of the real price. I picked up a 12″ skillet and a big square handled grill pan for just $20 a piece! Score! The only grocery store (Food City) is a few miles up from traffic light #3. Their prices were surprisingly good. I always say I don’t cook on vacation, and the kids laugh. Okay, we only went out 3 times over the course of the week, but I didn’t make anything efforty. 😉

The first day we headed to Ober Gatlinburg. It’s up at the top of the mountain and a great way to spend the day. They have a nature center where you have a guaranteed bear sighting, and can watch otters playing. There’s a cool mountain roller coaster where you ride in a single car and have a handle brake to pull when the corners get fast. Then you ride a ski lift up the mountain where you jump on alpine slides to zoom back down. We played on those and then laced up skates and headed to their ice rink. There’s an aerial tram that runs from the middle of town if you don’t like driving the mountain roads.

We went for a nice long hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Day 2: Charlie’s Bunion. It was about 8.54 miles there and back and about 2450 feet in elevation gain over the hike. It was the hardest, but the most scenic walk we went on. And it’s on the Appalachian Trail, so you get to walk on an iconic, historic trail. It’s rated as moderate. Check out the video of the awesome little red squirrel. He’s petitioning to get the name changed to Little Red Squirrel’s Thinkin’ Place.

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31.JPGOn day 3, we hiked to Rainbow Falls. It was about 7.73 miles and 2329 feet of elevation gain. It’s rated as strenuous only because you never get a break from climbing, where the same climb is spread over a longer distance on Charlie’s Bunion. It’s straight up, then straight down. I should note that all of the hikes that we went on around Gatlinburg are very clearly signed. We saw several people stop at tiny waterfall on the way up, proclaim them to be Rainbow Falls, and turn around. No. When you go, and hit the actual falls, it will be unambiguous that you found them. (Note the small figure in red near the bottom of the falls in the pic above, for scale.) And there’s a sign – lol!

On day 4, we went to Dollywood. This is such a cool amusement park. It’s small, but the big rides are quite close together, so there’s not a ton of walking after all that hiking you’ve been doing. Be sure to ride the Wild Eagle. You’re strapped in from above and below along with a bunch of other people to the wings of a ginormous eagle with your feet dangling. The first drop is shocking, but it’s over fast, and then you go on the smoothest thrill coaster ride/flight ever. The Mystery Mine extracted hideous screams from me as it takes your mine car up a shoot, on your back, absolutely vertically into the sky, then it winds all over and flips and spins you all about. The Tennessee Tornado is a big loop-the-loop type coaster. Those are all great big kid rides. (But my youngest did the last two when she was 7.) Blazing Fury and Firechaser Express are family fun, but especially popular with smaller kiddos. Barnstormer. Well, that’s just a gross, giant, motion-sickness and fear-of-height inducing machine. My kids went a second time, though. The shows are top notch. You may wonder if it’s worth spending amusement park time in there. Yes! We got to see It’s a Wonderful Life, and it made me cry just like the movie always does.

On Day 5, we headed to the Ripley Aquarium. They say it’s the number one aquarium in the country, and I believe it. We went on Thanksgiving Day, and managed to find black Friday codes for 1/2 off there. Awesome stuff! There’s a  huge stingray touch tank where it’s so big that you can really spend as much time as you like without feeling like you’re monopolizing it. There’s a tunnel through the shark and sawfish tank. It’s on a people mover, but you can hop off if you’d like to spend a little more time. And they have an octopus that’s really fun to watch.

40The kids told me it was a bucket list item to go for Chinese Food on Thanksgiving because of the movie Christmas Story. Pretty sure Ralphie and his family went on Christmas Day, not Thanksgiving, but they were so excited that I thought I wouldn’t point that out. North China Restaurant was yummy and the kids were thrilled.

Then we headed over to Sugarlands Distilling Company, and did one of their moonshine tastings. 12 communion glass samples that were delicious. The place is really loud and fun. They had a buy 5, get the 6th bottle free promotion, so $125 later, we had a nice 6 pack of bottles to take home. They give you a coupon for a buy one get one free mixed moonshine cocktail out back to use at a later date. Or right then. <eyebrow raise>

On Day 6, we hiked the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. It was the shortest and easiest hike, 5.81 miles and 1771 feet in elevation gain, and a pretty walk, but far less scenic than the other two.


Some other really fun things in Gatlinburg that are totally worth checking out…. 

52Ziplining. Everyone loved it. The kids were 7 and 10 at the time and happily flipping themselves upside-down as they zoomed down the mountain from tree to tree. My husband is a thrill seeker, so that guy was nothing but grins. I’m a little afraid of heights, so the moving stands up in the trees between lines was a little something for me. Totally worth it! We turned around in the car later and saw that our youngest helped little bear zipline, too.

54Ripley’s Odditorium is a really fun, weird museum.

The Titanic Museum (in Pigeon Forge) was surprisingly informative and fun.55

Sweet Fanny Adams is a fun, vaudeville type of show that made the kids snort-laugh.

Clingman’s Dome is a super easy, pretty trail on the Appalachian Trail. If you drive to the top of the mountain to the visitor’s center, it’s just a mile round trip. We had Bugs Bunny type weather up there with wind and snow, and then drove back down to town to get a pizza in shirt sleeves after. Too fun!

 

 

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