5 Foolproof Romantic Places in the Smokies

You spend so much of of daily life handling problems: work issues, school project deadlines, sports activities scheduling, and maintenance and repair surprises. When it is the too short timeframe to enjoy being with the person that you love, make each moment count! Here are some ways to ensure you create great shared memories when visiting the Smoky Mountains this month.

1. Try a fun activity together like ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg. Whether a new experience for one or both of you, it is a simple pleasure to circle the Olympic-sized ice rink hand in hand. Bonus hand holding time is available if you park in downtown Gatlinburg, and ride the aerial tramway car to the summit. Descending from the resort at dusk grants a lovely panoramic view of the sunset over the  surrounding ridges and the lights of Gatlinburg below.

2. Enjoy a leisurely, peaceful dinner at the Peddler Steakhouse, seated at a table overlooking the Little Pigeon River. Located in an historic Gatlinburg landmark cabin, it’s an intimate atmosphere to enjoy a steak, hand cut to your liking at tableside. The salad bar is extensive and can even be a meal in itself. Plan to finish by celebrating with delectable homemade desserts like hot blackberry cobbler, peanut butter mud pie, or Kahlua Creme Brulee.
Extra tip: If the Peddler is too crowded during your planned visit, try its co-owned sister restaurant, the Park Grill. Located a couple of blocks away, this larger, more contemporary lodge restaurant also can be a pleasurable dining experience for two.
3. How about going for a drive together on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail? I have written previously in detail about this popular roadway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although extremely beautiful in the spring when the native rhododendron bushes are blooming, the driving loop offers mountain serenity every season of the year, and will most likely not be very crowded in the February winter. Be aware that it is within the national park boundary, so this road can be closed at times due to inclement weather. There are multiple stopping points along the roadside: streams, trailheads, and historic homesites all can be explored along the way. Donate a dollar for a self-guiding booklet in the honor box at the driving trail entrance. If local rainfall has been recently adequate, make a beautiful photo op stop at marker #15, the Place of a Thousand Drips. This waterfall is just off the roadside near the end of the trail. An umbrella can make a fun photo accessory!
4. Perhaps you should forge a closer bond by surviving danger with your bestie at Smoky Mountain Ziplines. Full disclosure, such activity is weather permitting in the winter months (call the office to check for tour availability). This adventure park has a selection of zipline tours, from novice to advanced, for those with previous experience. I suggest you test your courage on their new canopy tour (opened in 2016). It features multiple lines with manmade platforms. Some platforms are independent towers and some are tree platforms that encloses a selected trunk. The mix provides both wide open scenic views and zips that are immersed among the forest trees. SMZ also is the only local company with a rappelling feature (descending vertically from a tower platform) to move from one line to the next. Not your typical date, but a fantastic adrenaline rush, guaranteed! This video gives you a taste of the tour.

5. Perhaps the best romantic spot of all is to relax in each other’s arms, in front of the fireplace in your secluded Smoky Mountain cabin. Whether you choose an old movie favorite on television, or just gaze at the flames with some quiet conversation, it’s the perfect setting for time that is all your own.
As you plan your visit, enjoy one or all of these suggestions to make this special time everything you hope for it to be. Let Volunteer Cabin Rentals help you with the details, and we look forward to seeing you both here soon.

Top 6 Best Guy Shopping Locations in Sevier County

You have already heard about outlet shopping. You may be familiar with the outstanding arts and crafts community. You might even have visited the Bavarian-styled retail spot called the Village. This blog is for the guys. Not to say that women would not enjoy these locations, but let’s find some purchase opportunities that might help with the man cave. So while you map out a shopping route plan on your GPS before leaving your rental cabin in Pigeon Forge, consider these stops for your list. Some are chains, some are locally-owned, independent establishments.

1. Bass Pro Shop (3629 Outdoor Sportsmans Place, Kodak). Located just off the exit 407 interchange from Interstate 40, you may have already spotted this opportunity on your way into town. This massive retail playland for hunting, fishing, and boating has a few things to keep the whole family entertained: an instore Starbucks and restaurant (Uncle Buck’s), a small arcading area upstairs, a glass elevator, and an oversized fish viewing tank. There are also seasonal events that are worth checking out if they occur during your stay.
Close by Pitstop Tip: Adjacent to the main building is a small shopping area that includes The Beef Jerky Outlet (3609 Outdoor Sportsmans Place, Kodak). Beef, turkey, and wild game jerky are offered in over 200 varieties, plus free samples. Enough said.

2 and 3. Smoky Mountain Knife Works (2320 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville) and Buds Gun Shop and Range (2270 Two Rivers Boulevard, Sevierville) are literally across the street from each other. The Knife Works slogan is, “If it cuts, we carry it.” An impressive array of all types and brands of knives, along with camping and sporting goods, kitchen items, clothing and gifts of all sorts. It’s unique, and worth at least a short visit. If you’d prefer a little more ammunition, try Buds. With knowledgeable people on staff (we know two retired policeman friends who work there for fun), you can find a variety of weapons, ammunition, and accessories at competitive prices, and be assured of making a good choice with your purchase.
Close by Pitstop Tip: Also located next to Buds is the Coleman Factory Outlet Store (2270 Two Rivers Boulevard, Sevierville). Whether you like to go roughing it, or prefer glamping, this place has many bargain items for use in the great outdoors. From kayaks to coolers, a good place to purchase dependable Coleman products.

4. J. Floyds Golf & Guns (539 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville). Located in close proximity to Sevierville Golf Club, this store can provide most of your golfing needs without having to pay the premium prices of local pro shops. All familiar name brands are offered, and they also fit, adjust and service equipment to meet your specific requirements. If you are thinking of a new club or even a set, check here first. J. Floyds will also ship merchandise for your convenience.
Close by Pitstop Tip: The Home Depot is directly behind J. Floyds, and Lowes is across the street. Not that you need anything, but it’s always good to know where one of these home stores is located, just in case. My wife jokingly (?) calls them “man Walmarts”.

5. Harbor Freight Tools, 205 Forks of the River Parkway, Sevierville. This retail chain just opened last month, and although there may be one close to home for you, when do you truly have time to go browsing? Stop in to view those “quality tools at discount prices” that they have advertised since 1977.
Close by Pitstop Tip: There is a location of Trapped Escape Game in this same strip shopping center. If you are a puzzler and want a fun adventure, it’s worth a look. Not technically a store, but hey.

6. Rocky Top Harley-Davidson (105 Waldens Main Street, Pigeon Forge). Who doesn’t want to ride a Harley? For novices, did you know that you can enroll in a New Rider course? This location offers academy classes almost every weekend, and the minimum age is only 15 to “Learn to Ride the Harley-Davidson Way”! If you already own a two-wheeled prize, skilled rider courses are also offered, along with plenty of fine machines for purchase. If you will always be only a wanna-be, there is also an apparel shop of Harley items to buy the look.
Close by Pitstop Tip: Five Guys Burgers and Fries (2525 Parkway, Pigeon Forge) is located about a block from Rocky Top Harley. Because after all the browsing, a guy’s gotta eat.

As a postscript, should you be forced to visit the Tanger Outlet Center with family, don’t despair. You can score some sport deals with Under Armour, Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Reebok. Visit Oakley Vault for sunglasses and maybe a jacket from The North Face, and you are all set. There are even more clothing stores, if you really have to do that too. Let me just say that there’s still more here to see in our area that didn’t make this blog. With a little effort, even guys can spend some serious green in Sevier County and be happy about it. If you want any recommendations from anyone on our VCR staff, please don’t hesitate to ask!

The 6 Most Overlooked and Underestimated Rides at Dollywood

Only a couple of weeks of school remain, and our favorite family activity on the last day is to leave the school parking lot and drive directly to Dollywood to celebrate. Many vacationers in the Smokies make a beeline to the queues at the newest and largest rides at the theme park. Here is a list of rides that are worth your attention, and typically not as populated with the longest lines and waiting times.

5. Blazing Fury-Let’s begin with this old-fashioned firefighting-themed, indoor roller coaster ride. Many stroll right past since it is indoors, not realizing the content of this ride. Blazing Fury is located in Craftsman’s Valley, is the oldest coaster ride in the park, and is a holdover from Silver Dollar City days, before the park became Dollywood. It is mild for adults on the wow factor scale, but its dips and turns are in complete darkness, which adds to the suspense. It is perfect for building a thrill for the tweens that are too old for the kid coasters. This is also a ride that some enjoy riding several times in a row when lines permit such behavior.
4. Daredevil Falls-This is a classic wet boat ride, similar to a log flume ride adults might remember from childhood. The boats float along bumping and building suspense throughout, for a single last freefall drop to a splashdown ending below. Also located in Craftsman’s Valley, this is a mild ride for those graduating from the kiddie section, but also quite intimidating for adults afraid of falling from heights.
3. Dizzy Disk-Located in the Country Fair area of the park, this rotating ride really does have the appearance of a midway ride. The orientation of the seats outward creates a pretty unique ride while both spinning and swinging in an arc from side to side on the disc base. Think of sitting astride a scooter and holding handlebars, as the safety brace locks at your back at waist level. The disorienting spin thrill is actually more than it appears from an off-ride point of view.
2. Barnstormer-Bystanders can easily observe this ride “up close and personal”. Watching a cycle or two will help you determine whether this one is for you. Built to resemble an airplane flying through a barn, the ride is a large pendulum swing with rows of seats. It reaches a 230 degree maximum rotation, and a 45 mile per hour motion that flies to 81 feet in the air. If that excites you instead of making you want to toss some cookies, then Barnstormer definitely delivers. Incredibly (at least in my opinion), this is a favorite of teens for consecutive ride achievement. How many times can you stomach the swing?
That said, don’t miss the Owens Farm area as a respite stop for families with both small and older children together. In addition to a sweet toddler playground and splashpad area, there are two rides here that really shouldn’t be missed for the older and braver set (Barnstormer and Slidewinder). My tip for the adult watching the littles: visit the adjacent bathroom facilities first, then the upper floor of the Grist Mill for cookies or cinnamon bread to munch while attending to playground duty. You are welcome.
1. Mountain Slidewinder-I laughed to myself recently when speaking with a guest who thought they had conquered every ride at Dollywood, and yet missed this one completely. I am absolutely certain this gem of a ride is the most overlooked in the park, both because of its obscured location and the shortened season of this water ride (like several others that don’t operate in cooler weather). There is a short, inclined paved walk with a few stairs to the top of the hillside, which is a physical deterrent to some. Most will have no difficulty making the trek: it really can’t be called a hike since it takes less than 10 minutes. Passengers are loaded sitting single file, in foam rubber canoes with grip handles. I promise you truly need to hold on tight. These literally shoot down a curving waterslide, where you ride high on the sides, and it includes a nice final splash drop to the finish. The more weight in your boat, the faster and more exciting your ride. It will catch your breath, guaranteed.
Bonus Thought: Thunderhead. Though certainly not overlooked, this ride is definitely underestimated. In my humble opinion for all you coaster enthusiasts, inversion-laden track does not always equal the best. The terrifying clatter and g-forces of this long ride wooden coaster far surpass the shorter, flip-you-over rides of today’s coasters. Thunderhead gets an A+ from me for both perceived speed and thrills. The angled dips and curves, and particularly the flyover pass through the loading station are totally worth any length of line at this venue. Plus it is relatively fast loading, so lines move rather quickly. I promise you won’t be disappointed staying right side up (well, sort of right side up). The staff no longer shouts this phrase prior to your departure, but I still say, “Let the thunder roll!”
So are you up for some adventure? If you arrive in town early afternoon, check into your Pigeon Forge rental cabin. Then go ahead and visit Dollywood in the evening (after 3 pm). Lines are shorter, the temperature cools down after sunset, and the next full day is included in your admission price. More time to ride and play-what a fantastic way to start this trip to the Great Smoky Mountains!

Quick Guide to Paula Deen’s Fast Casual Cafe in Pigeon Forge

Anyone familiar with down home cuisine is acquainted with both the persona and recipes of celebrity chef Paula Deen, also known as the “First Lady of Southern Cooking”. Though healthfully tempered in recent years, her rich ingredients are enhanced with farm-grown flavors and sometimes surprising seasonings. Recently opened, Paula Deen’s the Bag Lady Cafe at the Island in Pigeon Forge takes Paula’s cooking back to its origins.

Paula and her two sons began her home-based commercial business in the late 80’s, with an express lunch delivery service to Savannah, Georgia area office workers. What became Paula’s food dynasty began as simple, delicious catering to fill a local market need. There is still a similar need in today’s market for convenient food that is created homemade fresh. Those same sandwiches, salads and sweets that made Paula famous are now delightfully available in a cafe environment, to be purchased as grab and go, or enjoyed on site at your leisure. If you have ever lived in the business box lunch catering world, this is cuisine that you already understand.

All menu items at The Bag Lady are created from Paula’s recipes, are freshly made inhouse, and include seasonal items to keep things interesting. A variety of sandwiches include standard meat and cheese offerings, along with tuna melts, chicken and egg salads, and homemade pimiento cheese. There are also healthy salad options and a kids menu.

Whether on your diet plan or not, strongly consider the Ooey Gooey Butter Cake dessert, which is an original signature Paula item that helped to drive business volume all those years ago. You really must taste it for yourself!

A thoughtful tip for your shopping day-though single drinks appear a little expensive, free refills are allowed for the entire day. This is very attractive on those steamy days ahead as you explore all the shopping, dining, and entertainment the Island complex has to offer.
The restaurant represents a more casual, quick meal offering of “Paula fare” in addition to the Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen: a family style, sit down country meal, also located at the Island complex.
As options for casual dining increase throughout our area, don’t overlook those that strive to provide standard quick fare done one step better. Sure, you can always choose the familiar chain store submarine or hoagie. You can also save money by visiting the new Publix grocery store in Pigeon Forge to stock up on sandwich items to assemble in the kitchen of your Pigeon Forge cabin rental.
But at least once during your stay, come visit the venues of the Island and make a stop for a great quick fix from the Bag Lady: the Paula Deen experience without the long wait.
Don’t expect fancy. Do expect to enjoy the eating. Don’t forget to chase it with sweet tea and some dessert, y’all!

6 Different and Tasty Pancake Breakfasts in the Smokies

It’s time for that rare experience: a leisurely, hot pancake breakfast. Not cooked by a family member at your Smokies rental cabin, but served to you in a restaurant-where no one on vacation has to make everything and then clean up afterwards. Eat it all, and then walk (or waddle) away. Here are some out-of-the-ordinary breakfast treats you really should try while in our area. All of them are locally owned establishments. There are more locations, and some excellent chain choices available, but consider starting with these.

Log Cabin Pancake House (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge)
They know how to do pancakes right, and for more than a few generations of family. The restaurant offers a broad, delectable variety of specialty pancakes, and also many crepes.  Try the blackberry crepes for a special twist, or the buckwheat pancakes for a richer option than the standard stack.

Red Rooster Pancake House (Pigeon Forge)
A red metal roof, vintage tractors, and the token giant red rooster statue at the front door let you know you are in the right place. The chocolate eclair pancakes are the special favorite here. The stack is layered with Bavarian cream, drizzled with (not just a little) chocolate and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sweet teeth absolutely crow with delight (I promise no more bad puns in this blog). Regular respect on Trip Advisor and large portions keep people returning each time they visit town.

Reagan’s House of Pancakes (Pigeon Forge)
A long-time family establishment, Reagan’s has served many tourists and won best area pancake awards multiple times. For something different, try their fruit roll ups. This is not the kid plastic chew from a box, but a berry and cream cheese combination rolled between pancakes (choose your favorite berry). Definitely different and delicious. For those wanting a cross section of items, try their filling breakfast buffet.

Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Kodak)
These folks are near you wherever you may be roaming, with six locations sprinkled across Sevier County. Start here with sticky bun pancakes: cinnamon swirled pancakes with pecans, and then drizzled with creamy icing. These are fan favorites, and the food here has received national award recognition and has also been mentioned in Southern Living Magazine.

Sawyer’s Farmhouse (Pigeon Forge)
This country breakfast restaurant is a place that anyone with a big appetite can love. Hearty portions can make this a two-meal’s worth carb extravaganza. Think about the Bacon Belgian Waffle, with the bacon cooked inside and topped with butter. Make sure and drizzle the peanut butter syrup with a heavy hand (also excellent over the chocolate chip pancakes). Some swear there have been Elvis sightings here!

Pancake Pantry (Gatlinburg)
You cannot talk about pancakes in the Smokies without mentioning the iconic Pancake Pantry, the original pancake purveyor on the Sevier County map. Many visit this downtown Gatlinburg location again and again, as a family tradition. Along with many fruited versions, there are also choices like cornmeal pancakes and pigs in a blanket. Something worth a try that isn’t actually a breakfast, but a lunch item: the Blue Ribbon Burger. This hamburger is topped with green pepper, bacon, cheese and banana slices, and a special sauce to complete a blend of flavors you won’t find elsewhere. The Pantry will also make box lunches for carryout. So if you have visited before, try them again for something different.
There are many options in our neighborhood for those golden brown orbs of goodness. Whether you enjoy adventure with new flavors or are just looking to indulge in your old standby, all of these locations offer good choices, along with all the other breakfast trimmings, and most offer hearty lunch menus too. All offer casual atmospheres where the entire family can be comfortable and well-fed without over-the-top pricing (check for coupons too). What’s not to love?

Danger! Don’t Ignore These Tips for Mountain Winter Driving

The downhill slide. Great fun if you’re a child on a sled with a clear run ahead of you. Not so thrilling if your family vehicle is headed toward the outer edge of that hillside curve. You may be a true flatlander from the sandy coast, or have grown up with several layers of lingering snow all winter. No matter–we are all in this together when a beautiful snow comes to the mountains of east Tennessee. So why does everyone here make a milk and bread run when the forecast predicts winter precipitation? And what do you do when you need to drive in it? Here are a few key tips to get you down that hill from your Gatlinburg rental cabin to safely make it to the grocery store (or restaurant if you prefer)!
Facts first. There are many that can’t understand what all the uproar is about for a little flurry. Our municipalities do not purchase mass quantities of major snow removal equipment because it is not cost effective for the infrequent and short-lived winter precipitation that we receive in our area. That said, our primary thoroughfare roads are customarily brine treated well before actually needed, so that essential services can continue to move freely. Local road crews do a really nice job at keeping those scraped and treated. Let me be clear that the road or driveway to your lodging choice is likely not considered main road essential, and will not be immediately plowed the morning after a beautiful snowfall! Hence the reason both visitors and locals alike prepare ahead of time for breakfast toast and milk for cereal (and probably something for the slowcooker also).
Even if you are snow and ice experienced, the incline factor of a hill creates an added, sometimes very harrowing, dimension to staying safe.
Essential tips for ascending and descending hills when driving conditions are slick:
—Be thoughtful where you start. If you can choose a flat spot, do so. If you must park on a hill, point your vehicle where you will pull forward when you next need to drive. Avoid backing  your vehicle uphill. Simple planning ahead, but effective.
—Be consistent. When you are driving uphill, do use the slow and steady approach, and don’t press your brakes. Regaining traction on an incline once lost is difficult, and can cause you to slide and get stuck.
—Avoid powering up. “Getting a running start” when ascending a hill is not wise, since it often ends in just spinning wheels with no traction, and then the inevitable slide. Local responders indicate this is the most frequent cause of stranded vehicles in Sevier County-too much speed.
Best tips for icy conditions:
—Drive in slow motion. Do everything more slowly: accelerating, braking, turning, and overall average speed. This is when you let the tailgater behind you go around you, if possible.
—Don’t stop completely. If you can approach a light or an intersection with a very slow roll and keep going, it’s far easier to maintain traction and momentum than a full stop (not breaking any traffic laws, of course).
—Be aware of your brakes and tires. If your vehicle has ABS brakes, learn ahead of time how to use them properly to assist you (or not). Make sure you have adequate tire tread to lend as much traction as possible.
—Consider shady areas treacherous. Even when the rest of the road may be dry, tree-lined spaces often don’t get enough sunlight to dry the road during the daytime, and may stay slick for days because of overnight refreezing. A realtor friend of mine recently hit the ditch for just this reason. My advice to him was to put down the phone and focus completely on driving.
#1 Tip for driving on winter-covered roads in our mountains:
—Stay off the road. With any steep incline, gravity always wins. It doesn’t matter what type vehicle you have or how experienced you are, it’s simple physics. Also, though you may have great driving skills, usually there are several out there with you that lack them. Don’t become someone else’s foolish collateral damage.
Fortunately, weather changes quickly here, and usually inclement conditions only last a couple of days before melting. A recent week had snow, ice, and 14 degrees on Monday, and 60 degrees high for the day on Thursday.
So plan ahead! Just relax and enjoy the fireplace, a good movie, and some down time that all of us need anyway. Please call our office here at VCR if we can answer questions about weather conditions prior to or during your stay. Our Smokies truly offer a snow-covered winter wonderland-absolutely breathtaking!

3 Great Little Joys of January in the Smoky Mountains

To be sure, there are so many different reasons to visit the Smoky Mountains all throughout the year. Yet those who are in the know always realize that there are special moments to savor during the off season. Let’s discuss some special winter joys!

1. A little privacy. Without much effort, you can achieve immediate seating in your favorite restaurant, or park directly in front of your chosen store at the outlet mall. You can even take that road less traveled virtually alone. If it’s mostly locals in town, then they are too busy in their normal workaday world to be joining you on your vacation trek—though we seriously wish we could! During January, the Smokies are more wholly your own. You can go where you can’t easily reach when it is more crowded with tourists during high seasons and weekends (like New Year’s and MLK long weekends this month).
Even better, it’s much easier to be romantic. You don’t have to be a February Valentine to share together time: on a trail, over dinner, seeing a dinner show or a movie. What an easy date without much effort!
2. A little bargain (or a lot of them). Off season has its budgeting benefits. Choices of cabin lodging are both more plentiful and more affordable, and often specials are available (check our link here). Several local restaurants have deals for weekday lunches (like Alamo Steakhouse and Bennett’s BBQ in Pigeon Forge, and Chophouse in Sevierville). Shopping outlets begin to clear seasonal inventory after the holiday rush. Use your Christmas cash to snag some great finds. Local theaters run specials on admission and combination ticket package deals are also available at attractions like the Ripley’s venues.
Check out the value deals at Tanger Five Oaks here:  https://www.tangeroutlet.com/sevierville/deals
3. A little snow (maybe)! Weather changes quickly this time of year. We can literally have 60 degrees one day and snowfall the next. To guarantee yourself some white stuff fun, head to Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Resort. There are 10 ski trails total  (with mass quantity snowmaking ability), snow tubing, and an indoor Olympic size ice skating rink, among other venues. So you can spend time both outdoors and inside, creating winter sports memories with your family. It’s one of our favorite places to play during winter.
Choose your activities by exploring Ober’s site at http://obergatlinburg.com
Or, just enjoy the living room fireplace in your cabin, with a hot cup of your favorite beverage. Do you need to recover from the holiday madness? Want to start off the new year with a resolution of more relaxation? Just need a quick overnight getaway with that special someone? Plan now to take the time to inhale the fresh air, to anticipate the fresh new year, and find that fresh, peaceful attitude that is yours for the taking in our mountains in January. I promise you won’t be disappointed! Call us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals to schedule your getaway with us today.

4 Best Ways to See and Study Trains in East Tennessee

If all things locomotive interest you, there are multiple opportunities in East Tennessee to explore train history in our area. Some favorites are mentioned here, starting closest geographically to your Smokies rental cabin, and moving outward.

1. The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum in Townsend features the mountain logging industry and the historic railroad operations supporting it. The exhibits here document the lumber company’s ascent with the lucrative business of “timber mining” local hillsides. This same railroad shortline was also used by Knoxville tourists to access their Elkmont community vacation homes via the L&N (Louisville & Nashville) line. Volunteer docents bring the details of the exhibits to life, and recount how the logging industry changed the area, along with its eventual industry demise here. In addition, the establishment of the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and World War II are also explained regarding their impact on the life of the Smoky Mountain community. Definitely interesting, donation admission only, and worth a whistlestop!
For more information, see http://www.littleriverrailroad.org
2.The Dollywood Express in Pigeon Forge. If you plan to visit the Dollywood theme park, carve out some time to ride the park-based steam train called the Dollywood Express. Original to the theme park all the way back to the original Rebel Railroad in the 1960’s, the 20 minute, 5 mile open-air ride gives passengers a sweet taste of train travel flavor in the steam locomotive era. Our tip for riding is to sit farther back in the train, and wear sunglasses to avoid stray airborne ash cinders. So whether being pulled by Klondike Katie or Cinderella, this easy-access rail ride is enjoyable for the entire family, and included in your park admission price. Have your camera ready to photograph the engine where the track curves along the way.
3. For an afternoon day trip, consider the Three Rivers Rambler in Knoxville. This steam train ride originates at the University Commons depot, accessible from I-40, Alcoa Highway from Maryville, and Kingston Pike at the western edge of the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus. The Commons retail area was originally the Fulton Bellows Foundry industrial site that operated from 1917 to 2005. The Rambler (3RR) trip traverses 11 miles and 90 minutes of scenery in the Knoxville countryside, and is operated by the Knoxville & Holston River Railroad (KXHR). Excursions fill quickly, so plan ahead to ride the Hoot ’n’ Holler Autumn Express, or the holiday-themed Christmas Lantern Express.  Some families make this ride an annual tradition.
The John Henry Number 150 steam locomotive is also on display, having just arrived this past July. This memorable piece of history is named for the American folk hero, and was the source of the John Henry song.
For trip schedules and ticketing, get more details at http://www.threeriversrambler.com
4. Should you be a serious train enthusiast, you must take a day trip to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, just north of Chattanooga. Located not far off I-75 South, the trip can be easily driven from your Wears Valley cabin rental to the museum in about 2.5 hours of mostly interstate driving. The train yard at the museum is fascinating and allows for many photo opportunities. There are also multiple excursion trips to choose from.
My family’s absolute favorite is the Missionary Ridge Local trip. It is roughly an hour long, goes through a mountain Civil War-era tunnel, and stops at a turntable to rotate the the engine locomotive for the return trip. Passengers can choose to disembark to observe this feat, and absolutely should! It is exciting and educational for all ages to see early 19th century industrial technology, and realize that digital may not just be all there is. This trip is well worth the time commitment to learn and enjoy!
So choose which visits are right for your family, and find that there is still so much to learn about in the mountains of east Tennessee. All aboard!

Don’t Miss these Transportation Museums! Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Enjoying a Smoky Mountains vacation in your Sevierville cabin rental affords you time to indulge in pastimes that you can’t stop for in your daily routine. Don’t miss these two transportation museums in Sevierville. Full disclosure: trains will be the next blog, this writing takes a spin past the airplanes and automobiles.

warbird

First, take flight mentally by visiting the Tennessee Museum of Aviation, located adjacent to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport, at 135 Air Museum Way. You don’t have to be a veteran to appreciate and learn more details about our military aviation history and the heroes who worked with these aircraft. The museum is based in a heat-controlled aircraft hangar, and features Warbirds that have been restored or are in progress. The air-conditioned gallery also contains a treasure trove of interesting and educational exhibits of memorabilia that make the history of our brave airmen come to life. Parts of the gallery have been featured on cable television, and many school and youth organizations visit regularly for field trips.
The museum has both permanent and rotating/visiting exhibits, and has special events and demonstration shows held throughout the year. Our son first had his interest in these planes piqued during a local preschool soccer game. The museum was hosting an aerial demonstration show, and the flight path of the planes passes over the local playing fields. With each pass, players’ attention to the game completely ceased, as the boys on field turned their gaze skyward to see the warbird beauties pass overhead! All ages can enjoy visiting this proud piece of our aviation history. For more information regarding operating hours, admission, and current events, visit the museum website:  http://tnairmuseum.com
floyd-garretts
If classic cars are more your speed, consider Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum, also located in Sevierville at 320 Winfield Dunn Parkway. This venue features a collection of almost 100 cars, and has been featured in multiple television shows and car enthusiast magazines.
Anyone that can appreciate the automobile culture of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s can see both the preserved vehicles and a plethora of memorabilia in this comprehensive specialty museum. Each item has been carefully acquired, and is maintained in showroom condition, with many rare models on display. There are classic hot rod models, actual racing cars, and muscle vehicle with serious horsepower under the hood. Mr. Garrett himself is also often present, and always willing to share his aficionado knowledge regarding any specific vehicle in his collection. Take home a souvenir from the gift shop that any car lover would enjoy. Christmas gifts, anyone?
Whether you are just beginning to learn about the technology of muscle manufacturing or taking a trip down memory lane, Floyd Garrett’s museum offers an interesting array of exhibits that are a pleasure to view. So don’t hesitate to bring that man who still misses the sportscar he traded in for the minivan of fatherhood. Also bring that little child who loved the Disney movie Cars and would like to see the real thing! Check out the details at: http://www.musclecarmuseum.com/index.shtml
It’s your loss if you overlook the Tennessee Museum of Aviation and Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum. There’s so much history contained in these two locations. Who knew that such amazing collections of airplanes and vehicles were so easily accessible? Choose to visit one or both on this trip to the mountains. You’ll be glad you did!

5 Easiest Places to See Fall Leaves in the Smokies

fall-leaves

Bar none, on a clear day, the best view anywhere is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Clingmans Dome. But it is often literally in the clouds, and the paved hike, though short, is surprisingly steep.The best reward of hiking is that panoramic vista of rolling tree-covered mountaintops, that so beautifully burst into multicolored hues this time of year. Sometimes though, after unwinding a bit at your Wears Valley rental cabin, your energy for hiking tends to wane. So I provide here today the path of least resistance:
5 easy places to see the changing leaves of autumn in the Smokies–with very little effort required!
1. Wonders of Flight Balloon Ride, 500 feet-This 72’ diameter helium balloon will lift you up, up and away. Except you are firmly tethered to terra firma, so that “away” is more of an open-air, vertical elevator-type glide. Located adjacent to Wonderworks in Pigeon Forge, this ride has easy handicapped accessibility accommodations, so everyone in the family can enjoy the scenery. The large gondola ascends smoothly and silently to 500 feet above the Pigeon Forge Parkway, with an unobstructed 360 degree view of the Smokies horizon, which is breathtaking from such a “heightened” perspective!
For flight information and admission, visit http://www.wondersofflight.com
2. Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, 200 feet-Located at the Island in Pigeon Forge, this enclosed gondola ferris wheel-type ride is one of the tallest grounded rides in the region. Each large car is glass enclosed, and can accommodate up to 8 people. Not like a typical short fair ride, this is a comfortable, climate-controlled, rotating observation perch for viewing both the sprawling town of Pigeon Forge and the mountain range beyond. It is particularly striking at sunset and dusk, as the interplay of lights changes the colors and the city lights begin to illuminate the valley.
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3. Gatlinburg Sky Lift, 1800 feet-The Sky Lift is the most classic of all the offerings listed here. Many long-term visitors have experienced this ski chair-type ride as youths, and then return with their families to enjoy the experience together annually. Since the 1950’s, tourists have swung their dangling feet and leisurely ascended to the peak of Crockett Mountain from the origination post on the Parkway in the heart of downtown. An observation deck and gift shop are located at the top, and the view on the returning descent trip is 20 minutes of pure outdoor viewing pleasure, with fantastic photo opportunities!
4. Gatlinburg Space Needle, 407 feet-On the corner of Parkway and Historic Nature Trail, the Space Needle is the main fireworks-adorned centerpiece of every New Year celebration. Yet the iconic tower offers its loveliest seasonal views a few months prior, in the fall. Know that you will first have to steer the littles past the kid-friendly arcade located at the base of the structure! A glass elevator ride transports you to the round observation deck, allowing views of downtown and mountainsides in multiple directions. The view of Mount Leconte is up close and personal, and completely unobstructed from this vantage point. This is another lovely spot for memory selfies and the landscape shots.
5. Scenic Overlook, Gatlinburg Bypass-Sometimes the most humble surroundings can be the most memorable. Choose the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Gatlinburg bypass when entering the edge of Gatlinburg from the Pigeon Forge Spur side of town. This is a pull-off parking spot that provides a gorgeous lookout any day of the year. You can see downtown nestled among the undulating mountains surrounding the awe-inspring vista of creation—a truly colorful perspective of the changing palette of the season. If you want to claim a family portrait shot for the holiday cards, this is a perfect location to do it. Just make sure to step carefully to avoid any inadvertent tumbles. Unlike most of your fellow visitors’ snap and go, it is also a good location to linger for awhile. This is the only location mentioned that is actually on National Park property, and is the best opportunity for a potential bear sighting, usually early morning and dusk. Make this short drive; take the pit stop; and don’t rush: soak it up!
Of course, there are many other locations to absorb lovely colorful views. Perhaps the easiest is even closer…perhaps from the rocking chair on the deck of your vacation cabin? We hope you enjoy autumn in the mountains as much as we do!