Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Road Trip: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Last weekend we decided to drive up to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its a long drive - but totally worth it. Jeff astutely pointed out that unlike the National Parks out West, the Great Smoky Mountains don't have a few things that you have to see - you are there for the overall feel.

This whole trip actually started because back when I was in Law School and Jeff was stationed at Robbins, AFB I kept telling him I wanted to take him to dinner at the Dillard House. Since we were back in the area we decided to finally check this off our list. The Dillard House is this great little place right on the GA/NC border. The restaurant is a GA experience - they bring you a single serving of their whole menu (served family style) and then you just get more of what you want. The food is good, hearty and very southern. I had never stayed at the Dillard House before but the rates seemed really reasonable and since we needed to drive back to Alabama on Sunday, we booked a night at the Dillard House. (They are always running specials and ours included breakfast.)

There was allot on our Smoky Mts. to do list. Traveling with our unpredictable 3 month old we decided this would be a sampler tour. We would do a few things to sort of check out the area and then plan a return visit if we felt like there was more to do. (We will certainly be returning.)

Fog in the Smoky Moutains
Our visit started with a pass through Pigeon Forge on our way into the Park. Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood and about every other kitschy attraction that you could think of - we drove past Christmas Place, an upside down museum and a replica of the Titanic just to name a few. If you like miniature golf and go karts this is the place for you. (I've never stayed here but the Inn at Christmas Place looked to be quite cute)  These attractions all line the highway and have a hillbilly Vegas feel. You will also pass through Gatlinburg, another kitschy town, unless you take the bypass heading into the park. Gatlinburg has a more mountain town feel, but features Ripely's Believe it or Not, Hard Rock Cafe and lots of miniature golf. I was actually a little charmed by Gatlinburg - there are several adorable Inns and a Hilton Resort  that have the advantage of being right outside the park.

We stopped at the Sugarlands Visitors Center for the orientation movie and our park stamp. (There is a 'visitors center' in Pigeon Forge that is run by the parks service, but it does not have the movie or any exhibits so just continue down the road and into the park.) We found a picnic spot along the river to enjoy our sandwiches. I was terrorized by a yellow jacket (or several its hard to say.) Jeff convinced me to remove one of my tank tops that had a yellow stripe and my pink hair ribbon. The yellow jackets seemed to still think I was some sort of flower so the baby and I retreated to the car to finish our lunch.

Grotto Falls
We had our hearts set on a 3 mile hike to Grotto Falls. The directions to get there are a bit confusing, taking you out of the park into Gatlinburg and then back into the park. The directions use the numbered streetlights so pay attention or you will end up turning around several times like we did. Grotto Falls is on a one way road and does not disappoint. The trail is 3 miles round trip. The way there is entirely uphill (but that means you are all downhill on your way back.) It also requires 4 stream crossings - none of which are difficult, however they came as a surprise to us (and most of the other hikers.) Grotto Falls allows you to walk behind the falls, an experience that is not to be missed. I would highly recommend this hike, its slightly challenging and has a great payoff. We of course put H in our Ergo sport (he no longer needs the infant insert) and he was happy the whole hike, falling asleep on the way home.

After the hike it was about a 2 hour drive from the top of the park to the bottom. We crossed from Tennessee into North Carolina and enjoyed the amazing views the park is known for. Thanks to some late afternoon storms we were able to see the fog the Smoky Mts. are named after. We stopped into Willy's BBQ for some pulled pork deliciousness just as another evening thunderstorm rolled in.

We arrived at the Dillard House as the sun was getting ready to set. We walked around a bit with H, since it had finally cooled down. The Dillard House has a large collection of animals that will entertain any child (or adult.) The accommodations at the Dillard House are excellent. There are lots of old aspects to the lodging, but they have made updates where necessary. The rocking chairs on the back patio overlooking the horse pastures are sure to charm. We slept amazingly well - although they don't have cribs available so we had to default to our arm chair against a wall "crib" method.
Dillard House Horses

A meal at the Dillard House, the reason for this whole trip, did not disappoint. There is way too much food but your there for the experience. The biscuits are not to be missed. I'm also a huge fan of the baked apples. We were seated right at the front windows and had amazing views of the valley as the morning fog lifted.
After breakfast we made the several hour trip back to Atlanta and then on to Montgomery. It was a quick trip, but we know we will be returning soon. We would like to include a train ride through the Smoky's and the Biltmore House in Asford, NC on our next trip. There are several more trails that look amazing in the park as well. We are thinking Christmas may be a fun time to come back...

A quick recommendation for the National Geographic National Park's iPhone App. (The App is free but each park map will cost you a little something.) We have used its "highlights" at several of the parks and loved it. We also like the photography tips and live tracking map.


  1. The smokies is definitely my favorite vacation spot. Here are my favorite things to do there

  2. Hello from Ukraine! Very beautiful pictures and a wonderful happy family! It's great that you can travel all together.