Where do I even begin, this place is beautiful! We decided somewhat last minute to take a trip to Tennessee after I learned that the path of totality for the 2017 eclipse would be right near Gatlinburg. I’ve always wanted to go there so this seemed like the perfect excuse to make the 10 ‘ish’ hour drive.
Since our little guy has been terrible in the car (since birth!) we were nervous for the drive and gave ourselves 2 full days to drive there. He surprised the heck out of us and did so well in the car that we kept driving past our 4-5 hour mark that we had planned for the first day. Unfortunately when it came time to get a hotel there were none available within a 200 mile radius thanks to a NASCAR race, rodeo and the eclipse traffic making their way down south. So, we ended up driving the entire way and were lucky enough to find a cancellation in pigeon forge which is about 10 minutes from Gatlinburg. But, out of that came Leif’s new love for car rides. He was so good and i’m so happy that we have turned this car seat hating milestone and can plan more road trips in the near future! I packed the kids a ton of new toys mostly from the Target dollar section and of course a bunch of snacks to help keep them happy. They were total troopers and i’m so proud of them.
On day 2 of the trip which was originally still a driving day we decided to check out Ober Gatlinburg. It was the perfect way to start the trip because we got a taste of everything that Gatlinburg has to offer. Luckily it was right across the street from our hotel so we walked over to it and took the tram to the top of the mountain. It was a 10 minute ride and the guide told us a little bit about Gatlinburg and some of the houses we were riding over, he even pointed out a replica of the Barbie dream house, so cool! Once at the top we visited the animal sanctuary which housed a bear, reptiles, beavers and other animals my kids loved learning more about. We ate a delicious pizza at the snack cafe and then hit up the mountain coaster. I have not been on one since I was a kid and let me tell you, it was fast! I had to go by myself since Leif was too small to go on it and we needed to take turns staying with him. I was actually scared, it was so much fun and awesome to be so high up on the mountain and be able to see so many things. I highly recommend you visit Ober Gatlinburg on your trip. They have a ton of cute gift shops and small eateries, plus an alpine slide at the top of the mountain.
Day 3 consisted of us driving to our eclipse viewing spot and spending the day there. We were lucky enough to have reservations at a family camp complete with food and beer trucks, a swimming pool and kids games. The mood was so exciting, everyone was just so kind and amped up while we waited for the eclipse to start. Finally at about 2:30 totality happened and we experienced just over 1 and a half minutes of complete darkness in the middle of the day. I don’t know if it was the excitement of my kids and everyone else, the amazement of this event or a combination of both but I got teary eyed when it happened, it was SO cool. During totality we got to see stars and even Venus. The next time the path of totality will come through the US is in April 2024, so definitely don’t miss that one!
The next few days were spent exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP). It is beautiful beyond words. Endless mountains and the drive throughout the park, beginning in Gatlinburg and ending in North Carolina is stunning. We were continuously stopping to let the kids hop into a little stream and play and we also did several different hikes throughout the park with the kids. Our favorites were the stream and short walk behind the Sugarloaf Visitor Center and the Laurel Falls hike. That one was slightly scary with two little kids because of the cliffs that the trail were located on, but it was well worth the stress and workout to get to the waterfall at the top.
Another favorite place to stop was the Newfound Gap, the view was incredible and it was fun to stand on the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina for a picture. Be sure to visit the Ocanuluftee Visitor Center in the NC end of the park, it’s full of history and has an outdoor farm museum with all of the old buildings that used to be in the GSMNP. We hiked Clingmans Dome (highest point in the GSMNP) on a cloudy day which was a bummer but i’m glad we did it then because I read the next day that it was closed for the rest of the year for repairs.
Be sure to stop in any visitor center and pick up a passport book, then as you visit all of the National Parks and participate in some specific hikes and activities you stamp your passport book, just like a real passport. Our kids loved collecting their stamps and it has them excited to visit more National Parks!
We also spent a good amount of time walking around Gatlinburg. The great thing about that town, especially compared to Pigeon Forge is that you can walk everywhere. Pigeon Forge is like a highway full of commercialized activities, whereas Gatlinburg is a scenic little town with plenty of restaurants and mom and pop gift shops. Be sure to do a moonshine tasting, we were lucky enough to be there on a night when they had live music outside and the atmosphere was so fun! As a family we mostly stick to outdoor activities like hiking when on vacation compared to the commercialized activities so Gatlinburg was definitely the better town for us. Plus, the entrance to GSMNP is in Gatlinburg.
I would love to go back and visit Gatlinburg in the Fall when the leaves are all changed, maybe even rent a cabin next time with a nice fireplace to enjoy the fall foliage! Have you been to Gatlinburg? What were your favorite hikes and activities?