Free is Good! 6 No-Cost Things to Do in the Smokies

We take family time away from work too, and understand that vacations are expensive. That’s why here at Volunteer Cabin Rentals, we offer regular specials to help keep your lodging costs reasonable. Once you arrive and are settled in, consider these ways to enjoy our area that don’t cost anything (except maybe the gas to get you there).

1. Stroll the sidewalks of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. You can encounter so much on foot that is missed just driving by. Explore little nooks leisurely, hear live music, see crafts being made, or watch candy making demonstrations like taffy, fudge, and caramel apples. Consider the attractions available with a close-up inspection. Strike up a conversation with a friendly local for places to visit. Even better, take a spot on a bench and people watch. I guarantee it won’t be boring.

2. Vist the Smokies area city parks. Walk the dog around a greenway track. Feed the ducks on the river. Let the kids release a little energy on the playground. Play a round of disc golf; shoot a few hoops; toss a ball, go stream fishing, or have a picnic. View last week’s blog for more details on what our area’s six municipal parks have to offer. It’s much more than you might expect!

3. Take a mental break at the King Family Library. Sevierville has a lovely, modern facility (opened 2010) that can be an enjoyable, relaxing pitstop for all. Check the events calendar for free children’s programs, which are offered year round, and are open for all to attend. There are also smaller branch libraries throughout the county, for a quiet place to read. What better location for the ultimate reference resources on this area?

4. Learn more than you ever thought possible about knives. Quirky, yes. But interesting, too. The Smoky Mountain Knife Works complex not only sells all sorts of functional and collectible implements, but it also is “home of the largest knife collection showplace” and has an extensive taxidermy collection, to view without spending even a thin dime. If you like Bass Pro Shops just up the road, you will want to also make time to visit the Knife Works. I file it under the category of “Who knew?”

5. Ham it up for a photo opp at the Dolly Parton Statue. Dolly herself says of all her many accolades and awards, this bronze replica of her likeness is what she is most proud of, because it came from her hometown people that truly know and love her. It is located on the picturesque Sevier County Courthouse lawn in Sevierville, just one block off the main Parkway. I can’t think of a better area celebrity selfie shot than this!

6. Explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Please. For free! It is the only National Park in the nation without an entrance fee. I cannot imagine coming to Sevier County, and not soaking up even just a bit of the majesty and history that is our mountain legacy. To make plans specific to your family’s desires, start at the Sugarlands Vistior Center at the park entrance. There is a free movie with park information and an interesting natural history exhibit. Rangers can assist you on choosing the best nature walk, hike, or drive for you to explore the Park at your own pace. Our family has a deep, personal love for the therapeutic powers of such beautiful nature. Find a rock in the middle of some rushing stream water, and just rest awhile. See if you don’t agree.

There is so much more to see, touch, hear and taste. Spend your “good times” budget however you choose, but start by stepping out for a little “free time” first. You just might make a memory. Total cost value? Priceless.

The City Parks of Sevier County: Hidden Gems for All to Discover

Of course, one of the criteria for your secluded Smoky Mountain cabin is that it has an inspiring view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To extol the history, the splendor, and the amenities of the National Park could take days. We are so blessed to have such a wonderful resource literally at our back door! But what if all you need is a place for a cranky kid to let loose? Or you want to get in a quick jog or walk, without hiking shoes? A shady place to plant for a picnic? Need a large pavilion to rent for a family function? Need to exercise the pets? We always enjoy meeting smart tourists at the city parks that we frequent throughout the county. Here’s a map plotting the locations and a reference list with features.


Gatlinburg has three city parks: Mills Park, Herbert Holt Park, and Mynatt Park.


1. Mills Park is the largest and is located off Highway 321 on Mills Park Road. It has a Disc Golf course with 9 holes, a skate park,  a playground, 400 meter track, basketball, softball, and football fields;  picnic area with grills, and more.


2. Herbert Holt Park is directly off the Parkway on the right as you enter into Gatlinburg from the Spur, after passing through Pigeon Forge. Though the smallest of the three, it has a  playground and plenty of shade for picnicking. Fishing for children (also with wheelchair access) is allowed in the adjacent stream. A trout rearing facility is also located here.




3. Mynatt Park is the most scenic, and literally at the National Park border. It is located on Asbury Lane off Historic Nature Trail in the heart of Gatlinburg, just before the entrance to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Soothing and peaceful, a stocked stream runs alongside the shady picnic area, a lovely place to wade, with a footbridge and child fishing available. There are clean restrooms, a basketball court, and a ball field. An ample playground area and tennis courts are located a half-block up the street. Mynatt Park is our long-term family favorite for a relaxation spot after the hubbub of downtown Gatlinburg.




Pigeon Forge has two municipal park locations.
4. Patriot Park is located on Old Mill Avenue, just past the Old Mill complex in the heart of Pigeon Forge. It is the centerpiece of all special event festivals held in the city, from Independence Day fireworks to the Winterfest “turn on the lights” kickoff. It shares its parking lot with the city Funtime trolley system, and has a walking track that runs beside the Pigeon River (a good place to feed the resident ducks). The park is named to honor service veterans and has appropriate memorabilia. Large, flat and open, it is also a good spot to throw any sort of sports ball around or to enjoy field play with your pet.


5. Wear Farm City Park is virtually brand new, completed in spring 2013. It replaces the former city park that was absorbed with the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant. It is located on Wears Valley Road, just out of the city on the left, and borders Waldens Creek at its backside. This is sports field central: football, basketball, and 5 baseball fields. There are also two ADA all-access playgrounds, and shelter areas for gathering. Tournaments are often played here, and it’s a good place for jocks to get their energy out and game on.





6. Sevierville City Park has a renovated, modern public pool with splash pad and slide, a diving board and very reasonable entrance fees ($5 adult, $4 child/senior, under 4 years free, spectator $2.50). In addition, there is a shady picnic area with pavilions next to a stream, ballfields, renovated tennis courts, a playground, and a walking greenway.


As you can see, the variety of activities available is surprising, and most are free or just a nominal fee. So come be outside with us, and join the locals at some of our favorite places to play.

Sevier County Golf Courses: Above and Below Par



If you found room in your vehicle for a bag of clubs and some spikeless shoes, it’s important to have a summary at hand to make the best choice for your foursome (twosome or self) to have a beautiful day of par-knocking. Here’s a summary for those adults with skills surpassing last week’s mini-golf primer.

1. Gatlinburg Municipal Golf Course, 520 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, 800-231-4128,
Located about a half-mile from the main Parkway (Hwy 441) in Pigeon Forge, this facility is easily accessed both from the Parkway and from Veterans Boulevard.
The original course in this area, this William Langford-designed classic course opened in 1955 as Gatlinburg Country Club, but has always been located in Pigeon Forge city limits. The course was renovated in 1993, and again in 2007. Playing here is both picturesque and unique. It boasts plush fairways and bent grass greens, with not much water on the course, and plenty of natural growth. It is true mountain golf: lots of terrain changes make playing both highly challenging and quite unforgiving. Accuracy is paramount, particularly on the forest-lined fairways of the back nine. Hole 12 is the signature hole, named Sky-Hi, a deceptive par 3 where the tee box is cliffside, and the green about 200 feet below: club choice drama at its best!
Tips: Take time to absorb the extreme beauty of the surrounding countryside; it’s truly a gorgeous pleasure. Go prepared with insect repellant since gnats can be an issue, particularly with a wet summer season. This is a course you will want to play more than once, and have a few balls in the bag that you are willing to lose.


2. Sevierville Golf Club, 1444 Old Knoxville Highway, Sevierville, 888-710-1388,
Located a block off Highway 66/Winfield Dunn Parkway, the clubhouse and part of the course can be seen from this main access artery into Sevierville, from exit 407 at Interstate 40.
This second municipal course originally opened as Eagles Landing in 1994, and was expanded to its current 36 holes with relocated clubhouse in 2009, making it both the newest and largest in the area. Along with a nice modern clubhouse, there is an excellent driving range, and good putting greens available. The course has Bermuda fairways, and shares its parking lot with the adjacent Wyndham Wilderness Resort.
The River Course is a relatively forgiving par 72 that offers ample water play around and over the Little Pigeon River. The Highlands Course par 70 is a links layout with more terrain change, and increased accuracy required.
Tip: Because of the course’s youth, there is not much shade with the lack of mature growth trees. Pretty course, but often very hot on sunny days. Don’t forget your hydration and sunscreen on this one.


3. River Islands Golf Club, 9610 Kodak Road, Kodak, 800-347-4837,
Straddling the Sevier and Knox county line, this club can be accessed from both Highway 66 and from Interstate 40 at exit 402 (Midway Road), with a short drive.
Completed in 1991, this course was designed by Arthur Hills as a links-style 18 holes. The layout is scenic and spectacularly beautiful. Though the views are mountainous, the course itself is relatively flat. Please note that it is also quite wet and formidable, maybe even humbling? This par 72 has Zoysia fairways and Bermuda greens, with a challenging and interesting layout. 5 holes are located on islands in the French Broad River, with signature holes actually crossing the river channel (forced carries, anyone?). 9 holes cannot be easily played here, since the ninth hole is out with a turn shack and does not return to the clubhouse. Lovely and fun for the less-than-serious, it’s also a worthy opponent to those intent on conquering its threats.
Tips: Don’t be deceived by the par 3’s, even they can be tougher than you might expect. Deals on fees can be found on


4. Bent Creek Golf Village, 3919 East Parkway, Gatlinburg, 865-436-3947,
Located about 10 miles out of Gatlinburg, on Highway 321. Its location is relatively remote unless staying in the Gatlinburg area.
Opened in 1972, this par 72 course was designed by Gary Player, with bent grass greens and views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It shares grounds with the Diamond Resorts Timeshare community which now surrounds it. Its front nine is scenic on the valley floor, and the back nine is among the hillsides, with creek water running throughout. The course is both panoramic and pleasant, but not for duffers. Precision and accuracy are needed throughout (or at least a good quantity of balls to lose).
Tip: Insect repellant is an absolute must on this course.


5. Creekside Plantation Golf Course, 326 N. Shiloh Road, Seymour, 865-577-4653 (GOLF),
Located off Boyd’s Creek Highway, the course is accessible from both Winfield Dunn Parkway/Highway 66 and Chapman Highway 441. Seymour is about 20 minutes from Sevierville.
This Par 35, 9-hole course was completed in 2000. The course is pretty and pleasant with bent grass greens, and bills itself as “great golf in half the time”. Its main challenge is water on over half the holes, hence the name. Both straight and creative holes are included, with various levels of challenge that can also be achieved from using different tees. Great for a quick game, if you don’t have the luxury of time for a full round.
Tip: deals are available for here also.


Hopefully my thumbnail summary of courses in our area is helpful in choosing a golf location, while enjoying your vacation in one of our Wears Valley cabins. There is plenty to appreciate for all skill levels. Have a ball, and hit them straight!



7 Ways to Score a Hole-in-One: a Putt-Putt Primer

You know you will have to do this at some point during your trip,. The kids have already spotted at least one of these courses on the way to your Gatlinburg, Tennessee cabin. There is certainly an abundance of courses. Here are a few descriptions to narrow your mini-golfing choices.


1. Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf, 1639 Parkway, Sevierville-Located adjacent to Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall, this course is the most sophisticated and the largest in the area. It features three 18-hole courses with barnyard animal themes (choose your pigs, cows, or chickens). Motion-activated, humorous animation is sprinkled through the courses as additional entertainment to the sometimes challenging course layouts.
Tip: Beware the arcade, through which you must exit, that will snag a few extra dollars if your kids can extract them from you.
2. Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, 188 Parkway in Gatlinburg. This sister course location has a smaller footprint with two 18-hole courses, similar interactive animation, and a woodland animals theme.
3. Firehouse Golf, 2528 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, is the centerpiece of the Walden’s Landing complex, with two 18-hole courses from which to choose. It sports a cute firefighting theme with moving water and several falls throughout the courses. Its location allows Dad to play with the kids while Mom shops. The family could also play together while waiting on restaurant seating or prior to catching a movie at the Forge Cinema, the county’s only movie theater.
4. Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf, 3010 Parkway, Pigeon Forge-Think of Indiana Jones shouting, “Fore!”, and you get the theme of this course. An archeologists’s hunt for gold and diamonds leads you through a ship, a temple, caves, waterfalls and a volcano for that elusive hole-in-one. A unique feature is a “mine train” ride to the first holes of this course.
5. Gator Golf, 2575 Parkway, Pigeon Forge– This course is part of the Track Family Recreation Center, which includes multiple activities: bumper boats and cars, gokarts, kiddie rides section, and more. The landscape is filled with stationary jungle animals, and includes some waterfalls and tunnels.
Tip: Buying tickets in bulk for the attractions at the Track affords some discount over single activities purchases.
6. Adventure Golf, 2925 Parkway, Pigeon Forge-Here is the perfect retro experience of classic miniature golf on two courses. This location is one of the original putt-putts in town, and is easy to spot with its giant octopus, shark and dinosaur. Owned long-term by a local family, the course doesn’t have modern bells and whistles. Yet the creatures make for great photo opps, trees shade part of the course, and real ducks often visit.
Tip: Look for coupons that are offered regularly that make this course a bargain.
7. Hillbilly Golf, 340 Parkway, Gatlinburg- Another classic course that has stood the test of time, this one is unique because the course is atop a small ridge. An incline tram ride carries players up to the playing area itself. Two very similar courses are based on a rustic backwoods theme with simple layouts on a terraced hillside among the trees.
Tip Note there are lots of stairs on this course, and I would recommend bug spray, since it is in the trees, particularly at night when floodlights are on.


So choose your club, which brightly colored ball to call your own, and try for a free game by sinking that hole-in-one on number 18. It’s a time-tested, low-tech way to create some family moments, and a little healthy competition among those who can’t stand a laid-back game. Enjoy!

New Eats of Note in Pigeon Forge: New and Soon-to-Come Restaurants to Try

Now that you have unpacked everyone and everything into your cabin rental in Pigeon Forge, your crowd has “gotta eat”. Maybe you have planned to grill out a family meal on the deck and enjoy the view. But if you are coming into town, there are a few new interesting choices to consider for a fun meal out. 

Cheddar’s Casual Cafe opened at 3240 Parkway in 2013, and is usually quite busy. An American food chain restaurant from Texas, it has large portions at reasonable prices. Nothing fancy, but usually good, with variety so that all can find something to enjoy. Check out this link for location directions and their downloadable menu:



Hard Rock Cafe moved its location from Gatlinburg, and is now found between Wonderworks and Smoky Mountain Opry Theater at 2050 Parkway, Pigeon Forge. Opening on May 20th,  its well-known music memorabilia venue and classic American food is a welcome addition, and now much easier to access with ample free parking at the door.
The Island in Pigeon Forge entertainment complex opened in 2013, and is filling up tenant space not previously leased. Locate the “cannot miss even if you try” lighted ferris wheel and you have found it. This is a destination spot to explore itself, but I wanted to provide a few eating options here.



Poynor’s Pommes Frites is definitely worth the trip. This is simple German food: brats and fries. But, oh, the fries: thick cut, Belgium fries with multiple sauces to dip them in, equals a fabulous indulgence. Then everyone can share a spoonful of Spaghetti Ice, a most fun dessert that is a trompe l’oeil food masterpiece. The picture above is not a pasta plate, but a creative sundae of vanilla ice cream, strawberry puree, shaved white chocolate, chocolate candies and sugar cookie sticks. It’s a fun memory-making spot to eat.
Timberwood Grill is another restaurant at the Island, which wraps a mountain theme around solidly tasty American food. A few creative menu items are offered, which you can investigate here:

Coming soon! There are several other locations to explore at the Island, and the construction of Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen restaurant is also underway and slated to open late summer 2014. More on that later this year.

So, make sure and visit your old favorites (or ask us here at VCR for ours), and give one of these new businesses a try. Let us know what you think!