After our very relaxing few days in Asheville, North Carolina, we reluctantly said goodbye to the ducks and running stream at the Asheville North KOA and made our way through the Smokey Mountains toward Creekside RV Park , in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Since it was just a short two-hour drive on I-40, we took our time, enjoying the beautiful sights along the way. And can I say that Tennessee has the cutest rest stops of anywhere we’ve traveled! They even have a one-mile walking trail mapped out for travelers to get a little exercise along the way!
Before heading into Pigeon Forge, we stopped by the A.J. Bush Factory Visitor’s Center Home of Bush’s Baked Beans. Built on the same land A.J. Bush moved his family to many years ago, the factory is across the street from the visitor’s center. Nestled in amongst the Smokies, it’s a beautiful place to stop, have lunch and learn about the history of this wonderful family business. And who doesn’t want to know how much they weigh in beans!
Driving into Pigeon Forge, you are immediately overwhelmed by all the tourist attractions that have built up in this town. Fortunately, our destination for the next four nights was set off from the main drag, and relatively quiet. Creekside RV Park was a very nice little campground. Once again, our site backed to Walden’s Creek; smaller than the river in Asheville, but nice nonetheless. For those of you who are in need, the WiFi at this park was excellent, and we had 50amp power. The water pressure was also excellent, and the laundry facilities were top notch. We were also once again greeted by ducks in this morning.
Thursday was our day to explore, so after working some in the morning, we drove to the Smokey Mountain visitor center near Gatlinburg. We met a very helpful receptionist who provided us a map and wealth of ideas, including a tip about the shuttle service to Gatlinburg. More on that later.
As we drove toward our destination for the day, Clingmans Dome, the scenery was just stunning. We stopped a number of times for pictures and to take in the beauty.
We drove up Newfound Gap Road to the Newfound Gap Overlook . It was there we realized we had not packed long sleeves and warmer clothes – it was about 15 degrees color than when we left the camper. After a few pictures, it was on to Clingmans Dome.
Mike remembered “hiking” up to this lookout observation when he was probably around 8, give or take a couple of years, with his parents and sister. The hill was very steep and rest stops were needed to allow the young folks to pass and older folks to get their heartrate down. However, the effort was well worth it – seeing the mountain ranges and river in the distance are sights we’ll forever remember.
After the long drive down from Clingmans Dome, we stopped at a picnic ground and ate sandwiches by a roaring creek. Following lunch, we returned to the visitor center and caught the Gatlinburg Trolley into Gatlinburg. And really, if you are going between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the trolley is the way to go. For as little as fifty cents, you can ride and not have to worry about parking and traffic. Gatlinburg is basically a tourist trap nestled in the valley, but we thoroughly enjoyed walking through all the shops. Yes, we ended up buying some “Life is Good” shirts (kind of our moto) and a magnet to remember our trip.
Friday, we decided to hang at the campground to do laundry,catchup on bills and get some work done. It was time well spent! We had heard that the Music in the Mountains Parade would be in town on Friday evening. Cal Ripken (iron man who set the record for consecutive baseball games played) and Paula Dean were the grand marshals.
According to the locals, Dolly Parton was usually in that role, but was unavailable. Cal just opened a new sports complex in Pigeon Forge and Paula is redoing a theater she purchased to have a dinner show, so they were both plugging their businesses. We arrived early, staked out our place, and then did some walking to kill time. We had great spots and enjoyed watching all the floats from the different shows in town, majorette corps, vehicles of every kind, and everything else you would expect in a hometown parade, including Forrest Gump (advertising Bubba Gump Shrimp, of course!)
Saturday morning, we headed back to the Smokies. We had read about Cades Cove, a loop in the Smoky Mountains that had old buildings and represented a way of life back in the 1800s. It was a one-way road, that catered to both cyclists and motorists. We parked near the start of the 11-mile loop, changed into our cycling clothes, grabbed some pepper spray in case a bear came after us (because they go after the slowest rider in the group, and that would be me!), and took off. There were many cars, making it more difficult to ride up and down, mostly up, the hills along the route. We’d heard that they close the loop to vehicle traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00, but we were a week to early. If we did it again, we’d time to better. It was awesome exploring the area by bicycle and we even saw a bear. Lucky for us, he stayed well away!
We stopped by the visitor center and took in some of the sounds from local singing groups, before continuing on.
Once we were back at the car, we changed back into our clothes, ate another picnic lunch, and then returned to the camper.
Sunday morning, we awoke to the sounds of heavy rain on our travel day to Nashville. Never a good sign when you need to break camp in the rain. So, we did an abbreviated take down of things (e.g., threw power cable, hoses, etc. into the back of the truck instead of in storage bins) and hitched up Rocky to The Big Guy. Would you know – as soon as we were hitched, the rain eased up! We had light rain on the trip out of Pigeon Forge and then overcast by the time we hit I-40 and westward to Nashville.
We both agree that Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are your typical tourist destinations, but a great launching point to all the outdoor activities available in the Great Smokey Mountains!
Next Week: the conclusion of our Working Vacation – Nashville, Paducah, and Louisville
Jennifer Skinnell is the author of the Hope Springs Romance Series available on Amazon. Check out Jennifer’s Author Page for all the details.