Over 12 Ways to Face Downhill Drama: Just for the Fun of It!

chimneysDon’t you just love (someone else’s) drama? Or do you sometimes endure a little melodramatic flair from someone in your traveling party? After snuggling into the sofa of your Wears Valley cabin to relax and watch an exciting dramatic movie, why not make the storyline more personal, and take on some downhill action of your own making? There are plenty of hills in the Smokies to get you off the horizontal plane. Let’s look at over a dozen ways to head downhill: fast or slow, controlled or not, on purpose, just for fun.

1. Drive from Clingmans Dome to Gatlinburg down Newfound Gap Road. Several suggestions on this list involve your vehicle, and this one is the most logical. Start at the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and make your way back. It’s a gorgeous 25 mile tour.
2. Navigate the road to your rental cabin. Those great views often are located at the summit of a hill, which requires the climb and the fun descent back down to civilization,. If steep rural roads are not on your agenda, check with our customer service personnel regarding your accommodation selection. We have many cabins for all levels of vehicular bravery.
3. Drive down Ski Mountain Road in Gatlinburg. This, of course, involves climbing the mountain first, and there are other downhill opportunities at Ober Gatlinburg at the top (more on that later). A few tips to navigate this curvy, steep, 3-mile length of road well: fair weather only, low gear (or your brakes can overheat), and please allow locals behind you on their way to work to pass by your joyride.
4 through 6. Ski, slide, or tram downhill from Ober Gatlinburg. Seasonal snow skiing, boarding and tubing goes without saying to lovers of those sports. The Alpine Slide is a classic dry trough bobsled-type ride that parents and children can enjoy together. The Ober Gatlinburg Tramway gets my vote for the best view of any downhill journey in the area, though it is a slow and sometimes rather crowded journey. Think ahead to position yourself strategically to get the best standing view spot during your ride.
7. Ride the Sky Lift in downtown Gatlinburg. This retro classic chairlift ride can be easily overlooked since it’s not a speed thriller nor painted some obnoxious neon color. On a pretty weather day, this can be a pleasant way to overlook the city of Gatlinburg nestled in the foothills, as you ride up to a gift shop at the top and back down.
8. Go Horseback Riding among the trees. Though not all of the riding stables trek hilly terrain, some do-just ask. If you don’t spend much time on horseback, it’s a unique and fresh way to view the hillsides.
9. Sluice down the Splash Country River Rush Water Coaster. Yes, it’s a better ride downhill if you’re wet. Hydromagnetic is the technical term for the only water coaster in Tennessee. Four stories high, and four drops along the way. Twists, turns, tunnels, and water. Let’s just say the scenery is not the point here! Check out the POV video of this sweet ride here:
10. Choose your speed of descent on the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. New to the area in 2013, you will want to ride this more than once, guaranteed. This one gets my favorite vote. Self-propelled uphill, and speed-controlled by you coming down, this smooth ride is a do not miss.
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11. Experience ZORB. My vote for the most outrageous downhill spin (teenagers, anyone?) is this inflated, double-walled sphere, with water inside (or dry). You ride inside the ball as it rolls down a rather steep 700 foot incline. Only you can choose whether that excites or nauseates you. I promise you it will do at least one of those, if not both. Many do this so they can say they did, if you know what I mean. Take a look here:
12 and then some. Now try trail hiking, ziplining, Dollywood rollercoasters, or just picking a random mountain road going somewhere unknown. That’s what is so superb about the Great Smoky Mountains area! You can pick an activity as simple as going downhill, and easily find more than a dozen ways to do it. Like trying to choose your favorite ice cream flavor, the joy is in the experimenting. I’ve given you options; now it’s up to you to make your personal family plan.
Let us know here at Volunteer Cabin Rentals what your favorite downhill adventure choice is. Better yet, come back again, and make sure to try them all!

Stoneground History: the Gristmills of the Smoky Mountains

While you are relaxing in your Smoky mountains cabin rental, make plans to absorb a small bit of history while exploring our area on vacation.

Historically, a gristmill was the central gathering place for most communities. Along with the service of grinding grain into meal or flour between grooved millstones, trade bartering for goods and services took place onsite. Social news and storytelling made the local grist mill the most interesting place to be on mill day, usually Saturdays.

There are four mills in the National Park that are easily accessed:


The John P. Cable Mill is powered by a wooden flume, ending in a classic overshot waterwheel at the millsite. Overshot wheels have spill over the top, suited for fast-flowing downhill mountain water. It is located in the picturesque Cades Cove community near Townsend, about 5.5 miles from the Cove area entrance. Cornmeal ground onsite is available for purchase in the visitor center.


The largest mill in the National Park is the Mingus Mill, located 3 miles outside of Cherokee, NC on 441/Newfound Gap Road, or approximately 30 miles from Gatlinburg, TN. This mill is unique as it is water-powered by a cast iron turbine, instead of a traditional waterwheel. Both of these mills have farm homestead museums created around them, from historic structures that were moved from various locations throughout the park area. Spending time here makes one realize how stalwart and strong-willed the mountain folk were to sustain themselves in their rugged home envrionment.


There are also two smaller, tub mills for viewing along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which begins at the end of Gatlinburg’s Airport Road/Historic Nature Trail, about 2 miles from the main Parkway, turning at the downtown Convention Center. These mini mills were small, but effective, for use by families and neighbors’ homestead needs. The Noah “Bud” Ogle Homestead is the the first major stop on the trail, and the Ogle mill is about a quarter-mile woodland trek from the cabin. The Alfred Reagan mill is also located on this trail, with its shed-sized building and flume at the Reagan homestead toward the end of the trail. There are multiple interesting historic sites and some scenic overlooks along this trail in addition to the mill locations.

If venturing into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is outside of your goals for this trip, there are two mills in Pigeon Forge:

The Old Mill Complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a destination location for visiting with surrounding restaurants and shops to explore.  It is located one block off the main Parkway in the heart of Pigeon Forge. The 3-story mill structure was built in 1830, and its waterwheel and adjacent milldam are one of the most photographed mills in the nation. There is a guided milling operations tour available 9:30-1:30 Monday through Friday (except for lunch break). Tour fee is $3 for adults, $1.50 for children 6-12, and free for under 6 yrs. Milled items are available for purchase in the general store located here, and are also used for the menus in the complex’s restaurants, should you need immediate gratification.


The newest mill in our area is at the Dollywood theme park. The Dollywood Working Gristmill was built in 1982, the first of its kind built in over 100 years in the area, and created with the original construction techniques of its predecessors. So, not historic, but certainly authentic. The delicious cinnamon bread baked onsite here is well-known, and well worth the purchase price. Don’t plan on buying this as a gift, I promise you it won’t last, and you will wish you purchased more. One of the best treats to sample in the theme park, in my humble opinion.

Take in a little history of one of these interesting milling sites, and then take home as gifts some of the products created on location.  A simple, timeworn, authentic piece of Sevier County history that’s  good enough to eat!

Urgent Dollywood Update: 3 Must Do’s for the First Visit of the Season

Dollywood opens this season on Saturday, March 22. Let’s prepare before the family gathers by making a “what’s new” shortlist for you to visit at the theme park.

First, for the adults, hurry and enjoy the multiculturalism that is the always popular Festival of Nations. This year brings several new shows with a wide selection of music: Swiss yodeling and alphorn playing, South American harp music, Colombian, Celtic, Gaelic, and Russian music among others.

Most impressive and visually mesmerizing is the “Mother Africa” performance that has toured internationally before arriving at Dollywood. The show features music, dancing and acrobatics in traditional styles from across the entire African continent. Not just your average modern dance drumbeating, this is a true cultural experience that shouldn’t be missed.

My vote for most unusual musical performance is an Italian grand piano act with ballerina on top that will be driving its music throughout the park during the day. There’s so much more to the festival, like a miniature world showcase of art, music, dance and food (of course), from over 30 countries. My only regret is that it is short-lived: Festival of Nations ends April 21, so hurry to enjoy it all before it’s gone until next year.

Next, really fun for all, from grandfather to great-grandchild, is the new family roller coaster, the FireChaser Express. At top speed of 35 miles-per-hour, this firefighter-themed coaster is still mild enough for all to enjoy, but has a few twists (pun intended) to make even coaster fiends smile. The ride shoots forward and eventually pitstops in a fireworks shed, before “exploding” backwards for a shorter, but different backwards trajectory to end the ride in the original boarding station. If you have never ridden a coaster backwards, this is your chance to initiate your family to that unique thrill sensation. The only thing my young son didn’t like were the “hot flames” in the fireworks shed. Me? Let’s just say going both directions makes for some interesting windswept hairdos! No inverted loops or heartwrenchers here:  just good, smooth family fun.

Spoiler alert: want to preview the ride before actually hitting the rails? View it animated online here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSBYYwSNEdE

For the smallest ones, there is a great new micro playground below the FireChaser, that brings back oversized Lego’s and a water play area that were features lost from the park with changes at the Owens Farm treehouse play area a few years back. It’s a delightful place to cool off in the heat. It is also very well-staffed to monitor for safety, which most playground-visiting parents can fully appreciate!

Please come and enjoy these new features for all at Dollywood, and stay with us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals while you are here. Our family would love to help yours enjoy the area as much as we do. We promise that once is not enough–join our group of repeat visiting friends soon! Book your visit today.

Erin Go Bragh! Irish Month Events at the Titanic Museum

People of Irish descent celebrate their heritage on St. Patrick’s Day, and anyone, from anywhere, can enjoy special events throughout Irish month this March at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. Storytelling and Gaelic humor, music with singing and dancing, and more will be featured throughout the month. The RMS Titanic arose from the Harland And Wolff Shipyard and the hands of its proud Irish workmen in Belfast, Ireland. Many members of both the ship’s crew and passenger list were of Irish descent.
Several authors of Titanic literature have scheduled Facebook interviews and book signings in March, culminating at month’s end with the 2nd annual Authors’ Week and Book Signing Fair from Saturday, March 29 to Saturday April 5th. The museum has also recently unveiled its featured new exhibit of Margaret “Unsinkable Molly” Brown, one of its many colorful, memorable passengers.
Board this museum “ship”, and immerse yourself in a recreation of sailing on the vast Titanic. Study her unparalleled opulence and the immense resources required to make an excursion. Experience the intricate details of the personal stories of those aboard the vessel during its maiden voyage and impending disaster. Touch an iceberg wall and plunge your hand into 28 degree water, which many endured upon the ship’s sinking.
During your visit, you will develop an interactive, hands-on knowledge of the Titanic that can be acquired no other way. There are activities to engage and educate your entire family aboard this museum. The RMS Titanic was and still is a captivating piece of modern maritime history. For information regarding Titanic events, tickets, and operating hours, visit http://www.titanicpigeonforge.com
As you plan the attractions you want to visit while in Tennessee, consider VCR as your hosts for your next stay in a Pigeon Forge cabin rental. We will work with you to select the perfect home for your vacation to our area. From cozy 1-bedrooms to colossal 12-bedrooms for large events, we can provide a property that will make your visit one you will want to repeat. We hope you will join us for a beautiful springtime in the Smokies.