The reason for the vacation: I had always wanted to take a vacation with my mom and brother (along with our families). For one reason or another it just never seemed like the right time. Then my step-dad had a heart attack. Yet another reminder that waiting may eventually become too late! We have lost many loved ones in our family already and it was time to start living life instead of "putting things off until tomorrow". A friend of mine had told me about Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. She also told me about the option to rent cabins. From there I started dreaming of renting a 3 bedroom cabin for my family to stay together for a week. It was a nice fit since it would only take my mom and I a day to get there and my brother (a Marine) was coming from another part of the country but still just a day away. So we finally made this group vacation a reality!
I started the trip from West Michigan and stayed over one night on the way. We could have done this trip in one day but my daughter had motion sickness that required many stops. We got into Gatlinburg around lunch on day two but our cabin wasn't ready until much later (takes a while to clean an entire cabin versus just a hotel room). Next time we will attempt to make the trip down in just one day since arriving later is probably as early as we can get into the cabin.
We took our vacation in late April. The weather was great but the pollen and bees were everywhere! The cabin we rented was VERY clean and the bees did not harm us. The weekend traffic was busy but the crowds on week days were perfect.
Places to stay: There are many cabin, cottage, and hotel options. We wanted to rent a "house" with 3 bedrooms. This would give us each a room of our own and provide options for us to feel comfortable with our stay. After researching many of the cabin/cottage options we decided to go with this group http://www.cabinsofthesmokymountains.com/index.php (Gatlinburg Falls). The price was right for us (especially considering our cabin had 3 bedrooms and we could split the cost by 3) and the amenities were perfect - a little bit for everyone. I noticed one big difference when we were deciding which specific cabin we wanted - did we want a great mountain view or did we want additional amenities. Most of the cabins come with awesome bedrooms with private bathrooms, game rooms, hot tub, kitchen, dining room, living room, washer/dryer, .... But some had home movie theaters, outdoor seating, fire pit, tree forts, .... Everyone has their own preferences but as a group we decided to go with the amenities since we could drive to the mountains. We all love the outdoors and we love watching movies.
Pigeon Forge: You can find a variety of entertainment, shopping and places to eat here! They have fast food restaurants, local restaurants, and fancy dinner theaters. They also have Dollywood (http://www.dollywood.com/) and a variety of other smaller amusement park options. There are a ton of places to shop including an outlet mall and a lot of stores that sell "as seen on TV" items.
Gatlinburg: I was expecting an old town with a little bit of tourist stuff in it. But no - this place is small but it is packed with tourist stuff!!! You have to park and walk down the strip to check things out. You will find one or two fast food options but you have to park and walk to them. To give you an idea of how commercial it is - they have a Hard Rock Cafe and a Ripley's Believe It Or Not!! Oh, don't forget about Cooters Place (http://www.cootersplace.com/) for those that are Dukes of Hazard fans! They have some great picture opportunities like a huge wooden chair you can sit on. There are a few steak house types of restaurants that serve BBQ options that you would maybe think of as authentic to the area and don't forget the pancake houses. Outside of the main strip you can find grocery stores to load up on needed items.
http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm. I highly recommend that you stop to visit. Along with all the fun stuff to see, they can give you a map of the park and help you figure out what sites might be best for you based on your desires and needs. For example: we wanted to see a high point of the mountains and we also wanted to see a waterfall that would be a short walk and appropriate for strollers. I recommend visiting them the day of your park visit so they can update you on areas that might be closed. Another example: We visited the center on the first day of our trip so we could have some time to look over the map. We didn't actually go to the park until a few days later. By then a small forest fire had emerged so they blocked off access to the waterfall we planned to visit.... Instead of driving out of our way for this we could have been notified by the visitor's center if we would have stopped that morning for updates.
Rafting: There are a ton of places to go rafting so you could research, simply just ask around, or look for the best deal when you get there. There is something that I wanted to blog about on this though. The river is monitored and has scheduled water release times to allow for fun rafting. This all starts during peak seasons. We went in late April (before peak season) so the rafting schedule is really up to the recommendation of the company you go with. We had kids with us on our trip so the ladies & kids went shopping while the guys took a rafting trip. They LOVED it!
This one is on our "to-do list" for our next visit. The caverns look awesome but I wasn't aware of them for our last trip. http://www.forbiddencavern.com/
They have great military discounts every where so don't forget to use it if you qualify!!