A mountain trip is not to be missed once, twice, thrice…..umpteen times a year. Mention mountains and I am all ears for a trip to be made. The greenery, the talk with the trees, the silence in the woods, the rustling of leaves, the butterfly colors, the refreshing breeze, the calmness all seem to give a moment of ecstasy not normally achieved in the busy routine world of work. So this time, I persuaded my husband and a set of three more family friends to join us on this trip. IT WAS JUST SO MEMORABLE!.
The Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina is a place I have reveled in, so now it was the turn of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
Our plans for the journey started and we booked a log cabin near Pigeon Forge, a town in Tennessee (very near to Gatlinburg) at the Sherwood Forest Resorts. A six hour drive brought us to the cabins and we settled in with great chaos and noise with around five children, all hyper excited to explore the cabins. While we could not cover a lot of places due to a three day trip and the sensitivity of five children, we did manage to see some of the nature abound places. The day started with us sipping coffee outside the porch of the cabin and suddenly we saw a big bear with two beautiful cubs walking serenely in front of the cabin to get in to the woods. WOW – what a sight it was for us to see them tug their heavy bodies while taking a sneak-peek at us. The noise of the children drove the bears away faster, as we tried our best to bring down their excitement. That made our day.
The sightseeing started with the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, which was a beautiful 6 mile loop scenic drive. We stopped by at the Noah Bud Ogle farmhouse to view the old farmhouse, the beauties of the old tub mill where corn was ground for food. We then went past the Rainbow falls and Grotto Falls and stopped by to take dip our toes in the clear flowing water near a stream. It was refreshing and the children had a blast splashing in the water.
We then headed to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, enjoying the various types of sea animals and learning all about underwater life. The flat escalator taking visitors on a view of the sea land was amazing. It was like being under the sea, watching the sea creatures float above, sideways and near you and experiencing the joy and wonders of water. There was a mermaid show just about the time we went and we saw two girls in mermaid costumes perform dances and swim in the water. Overall, a great experience especially when you have kids along.
Our next stop was at the skylift at the Gatlinburg town. The chair lift offered to take visitors at 1800 feet high on top of the Crockett Mountain and offered marked views of the majestic mountains, the city of Gatlinburg, the green forests all round. A not-to-miss ride for anyone who wants to experience staying at the top and getting the best of the view. A caution however is to be exercised since the chairs do not have any additional security rods for securing a child or a kid. The skylift rolls slowly, so there is no fear of falling down, yet one cannot but exercise additional prudence as your go with family. Do not miss to go once in the daytime and once during the night to view the dazzling display of lights from the top of the mountain.
This was our first day adventure. We went back to the cabin and the additional treat was to watch a bear walk by in the dark all by itself. It was as if the bear was thinking about its troubles of the forest world and slowly treading by.
The next day took us a drive to the Tuckaleechee Caverns which has been carved twenty plus millions of years ago. We had a guided tour there to visit the natural formations and the guide informed us that there were two small boys playing in the mountain area and they discovered this cavern. They started a deep dive exploration and till today, the families of the two boys own them. Later, they decided to build pathways inside the cavern so that it could benefit all. The cave was opened to the public in the 1950’s. If you are a geography buff or you remember your tenth grade lessons, you could be familiar with the terms stalactites and stalagmites, which are geological formations formed by precipitation of minerals in the cave. There were beautiful formations at different points in the cave and the guide showed us all the places that had the drippings. The tipping point was a 250 foot natural waterfall which was formed inside the cave.
Next destination: The acclaimed Cades Cove. Cades Cove is an area abundant with lush green trees, forests and valleys surrounded by mountains on all sides and is a perfect area for viewing wild animals. It has trails where you can go on a nature hike and explore the animals or you can do a motor 11 mile loop trail enjoying the sights of animals as you pass by. We found white-tailed deers, bears and their cubs, wild horses, and elk. The historic buildings and the water powered mill near the visitor center are also good buildings to explore if you are in to history. It was very busy and crowded as the peak season was on, so our motor trail took us two hours to complete the entire 11 mile loop. You can also park near viewpoints, animal sightings and walk over the sideway grasses to get a photo shoot of the animals. This was undoubtedly one of the most exciting experiences for us. Just seeing the flourishing greenery was a feast for the eyes and the sighting of animals added to the precious moments of the experience. A must-visit for anyone planning to visit Tennessee. (By the way, we heard it is BEAUTIFUL in the fall season, as the leaves change colors).
PS: En route, do not forget to stop by at the Mountain Brothers General Store to pick up a souvenir or two and enjoy the carvings of bear done on wood by the expert craftsmen.
Our final tour ended with a visit to the Parrot Mountain and Garden. This was a beautiful garden set amidst a hill. As we parked in the parking lot, a bunch of parrots perched on open branches near the entrance welcomed us gaily. We were amazed by how these parrots were free, could roam about anywhere, but were still sitting on the branches and munching their food or gazing lazily at the oncoming visitors. Inside, it was much more of a colorful view, with parrots and birds of all colors, shapes, sizes and beauty welcoming us. We stopped by to watch the wide variety of parrots and other birds from across the globe and saw some rare toucans, kookabura, magpie and other species that were endangered. There is a feeding center where you can buy bird food for 25C and feed the birds with your hands. And if you are in a mood for colorful pics with the birds, check out their photo booth where you can hold the birds in your hands and enjoy the moment while the garden photographer takes a picture for $15 or so. You can get the picture printed with a size of your choice and keep that as a memento. The gardens are also wonderfully landscaped, so it is a good choice for a relaxing visit and of course kids will have a blast.
A long post, nevertheless I was keen to share my experiences in case you plan a visit to Tennessee (pssss… do not miss the fall season if you want the additional bonus of colors + amazing places to see).