Get Your Game on at the Old Mill Smoky Mountain Cornhole Tournament

You’ve already made a good choice for family time together by selecting a cabin rental in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. How about some friendly family competition in the Great Smoky Mountains? Do you have family members who just live to compete and win? Here’s an event for you.
As a kid, did you ever play the tic-tac-toe game Toss Across with beanbags? Cornhole is a game that requires those same skills. Think of a cross between Skeeball (try to hit the hole at the top for points), horseshoes (toss the distance and target hitting scores), and bocce lawn bowling (strategize to knock your competition out). Played in a flat area on two inclined boards, it seems deceptively simple to win with simple accuracy. Well loved in this part of the country, you will find the game boards decorated in every theme, including your favorite collegiate football team (tailgate pasttime, anyone?).
The Old Mill is hosting their 5th Annual Cornhole Tournament for charity on Saturday, August 2, where any two-player team can register to play and win prizes. There are both competitive and amateur divisions to level the playing field. The competitive folk are the ones with their own custom corn-filled beanbags, oh yes. Here’s the link to register your team:

Come play or just watch, and enjoy the simple fun that this event offers. Also take time to explore this fantastic historic destination, which hosts several events throughout the calendar year. I have blogged before about the many amenities that the Old Mill complex offers.

For an idea of how some play this game (I think these guys would be in the competitive division!), here’s a short video.

We are glad that your family is squeezing the most fun out of summer before it is gone once again. Enjoy!

Pigeon Forge Extinct Attractions: What They are Today

How long has your family been visiting the Great Smoky Mountains for vacation? The vast majority of visitors here are returning guests, who have enjoyed spending time together as their relatives grow and change. Though Gatlinburg had developed a burgeoning tourist business by the mid-1960’s, it is obvious from the aerial picture below that Pigeon Forge was still in its infancy as a vacation destination. More than likely, the secluded Pigeon Forge rental cabin which you have chosen as your place to relax was built within the last 25 years (most likely the last 15), which is the time window when most of these accommodations became more numerous here. With so many changes, I wanted to remember a few earlier attractions that some members of your family may enjoy recalling from a simpler era. 



Rebel Railroad was a fort-like attraction that featured a steam engine train ride through the mountain countryside, with a Confederate-themed flavor. I chose this photo of its advertising billboard on the Parkway, because this train is still sitting in its same location at the corner of Parkway and Dollywood Lane. This marked the original turn for the entrance to the theme park, which now has been moved to Upper Middle Creek Road. Rebel Railroad operated from 1961 through 1970, became Goldrush Junction from 1970 to 1976, Goldrush from ’76 to ’77, then expanded broadly as Silver Dollar City from 1977 to 1986, when Dolly Parton and the Herschend organization recreated the park as Dollywood. This brought a major economic boost locally and lengthened the tourist in-season here through the Christmas holidays. Of course, the train still runs daily at Dollywood, and the same loop through the countryside can still be enjoyed, with a tremendously altered scenery. The train is no longer stopped and robbed by “armed gunmen” as it was in the past, with less dramatic flair than in past years!


If the original Water Boggan was a wet ride that you enjoyed in the 70’s and 80’s, you know that you would not want to lose your foam rubber mat on your ride down the hill! The textured, painted concrete troughs made for a bit of a roughed up bottom, unlike the smooth fiberglass runs of today’s parks. Other water attractions of that era included Mountain Ocean, the town’s original wave pool, and Ogle’s Water Park, the first and largest complex of water slides and pools at that time. The pictured Water Boggan, hillside at the far north end of Pigeon Forge is now dotted with camping rental cabins. Mountain Ocean has long been paved over as the upper parking lot of (originally named) Factory Merchants Outlet Mall (red roof mall stores) in the early 80’s. Ogle’s Water Park was sold, dismantled, and redeveloped as Walden’s Landing in 2003, at the corner of Parkway and Wears Valley Road .


Ah, the water-skiing stunt show that was Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus! This ski, sky, and stage show opened in 1977, and was billed as “the greatest show on H2O”. The show’s run in the area was splashy (ok, that was a really bad pun), but relatively short, ending in the early 80’s. The grandstand canopy is still rusting in place on Sugar Hollow Road just off the Parkway across from the recently closed ZORB attraction. It was redeveloped by a church organization with buildings added roadside, and then again changed hands later. 


If you ever visited Porpoise Island, you caught a taste of Hawaii in the Smoky Mountains. Surely an unexpected combination of Polynesian and East Tennessee cultures, but “the porpoises are calling you!” (declared their commercials). The attraction featured a seal and porpoise water show, trained parrots, and a Hula dancer music luau show, among others. Students from Hawaii were flown in each season, along with almost all the animals. It was a fun and interesting place to visit. In doing some research for this blog, I noticed on Facebook that the Porpoise Island cast recently held a reunion in 2012, expressing fond memories of Tennessee, just as we have fond memories of their time here in the 1970’s and 80’s. The same property in the middle of the Pigeon River is now The Island, which is a rapidly growing development with new attractions and restaurants. Just look for the large observation Wheel, and you’ll be standing on what was once “native Hawaiian” stomping grounds.


Magic World grew and changed over the years with this park map representing its offerings in 1991. This was an amusement park from a simpler era, prior to all of the special effects and over-the-top rides and coasters that are major draws today. This park featured a small train, dinosaur statues, amphitheater musical shows, stunt shows with bikes, skateboards, and high divers, and a magic show. Early animatronics were used in the Haunted Castle and the Magic Carpet rides, and also the Confederate Critters show. A Martian Flying Saucer was actually a small theater with pre-IMAX type screens and imaging, supposedly taking you on a ride from the theme park over the Smoky Mountains (until you noticed the helicopter shadow in the flyover footage). The Kid’s Kingdom area in the park replaced the saucer later on (as in this map) with carnival type rides like the Spinning Spider, along with the Dragon Coaster and a rope net climbing course. Magic World’s entertainment mishmash closed in the mid-1990’s, when the property owner decided to subdivide the land, instead of renewing the park’s lease. Today, the remains of the volcano mountain and its waterfall, along with the schooner ship at the entrance are incorporated into Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf.
Attractions certainly evolve and change in our area, sometimes more quickly than expected, surprising even us locals. As mentioned above, ZORB has closed just this season. Their reason for closing is unknown, as it was quite popular. You can be sure there will always be something new to try here in the Smokies. But all the better to get those vacation photos while you can, since sometimes those special locations become just a memory too soon. I hope you enjoyed this little summary of the past. We look forward to your upcoming stay with us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals soon! Book your next memory making trip with us today.

Come Get Soaked! Over 10 Insider Tips and Packing List for Splash Country Water Park


So you are headed out of your Pigeon Forge rental cabin on the way to some serious water play at Dollywood’s Splash Country. Here are some ideas before you go to make your play day the best it can be. In addition, I have also included a packing list so that you will not overlook a vital item for your day’s enjoyment.

1. When to go: The park’s hours are 10 am to 7 pm up to school opening time in August, when closing begins to occur at 6 pm. Check the online calendar here for your planned trip.

 There are two options in my opinion. Arrive early about 20 minutes before the park opens, and you will be able to park close to the entrance. Then head immediately to the back of the park to stash your stuff in a spot that will be shady most of the day, either in a quiet corner as a home base, or near the attraction that you believe you will use the most. Then take off to the most popular slide attractions before the park begins to fill with people. You have about an hour to 90 minutes before lines begin to lengthen. The other option is to arrive about 3:30 or so (arrive after 3 and next day free!). The first wave of morning people will be exiting, and the ride lines decrease along with the people volume as the day turns to evening. This is also a good plan if you just want to swim and relax after sweating all day at Dollywood. You then can attack the slides full force the following day after a solid night’s rest.
2. Buy some extra shade if it’s important to you. Canopies offer 65 feet of shade, 2 chairs, and a locker. Retreats feature 200 square feet of shade with drapes, a TV and locker, dining seating, 2 lounge chairs, and “room service” phone for snacks and drinks. Review these options online, decide if the cost is feasible for your family, and reserve a spot close to your favorite attraction within the park. We like the Cascades pool area since there are littles in our friends crowd, it is quieter, and tucked away in a corner.

3. Check for discounts. While online, check the Special Offers section. Usually $10 off each admission for a family of four is readily available, along with group (15+) discounts, combination deals, and 30% off for active and retired military. For the most playtime for your money, I’ve already mentioned the “come after 3, next day free” standing offer, which Dollywood theme park also promotes.
4. Safety first. The water park offers and strongly recommends free life vests for use by weak and non-swimmers. Water shoes are a good idea for traveling between attractions as the pavement can become burning hot. A buddy system for children to not be alone in any pool is a wise choice, and a check-in system (say, after every three rides) for older children is also a good practice. The first aid station is located near Big Bear Plunge, and always has medical personnel present when the park is open.

5. Choose food wisely. Although Splash Country states that no food should be brought into the park, we have always brought in small quantities of snacks with no protest from employees. The park food is also decently palatable, and relatively reasonably priced. Check the prices before ordering, though. A large fruit cup for $5 seems reasonable; $2.50 for a snack bag of chips? Not so much.

6. Rain checks are available. If your day is cut short by severe weather and closings at the park, just ask for a rain check, which will be granted. Rain checks are valid until the end of the summer season.
7. Buy more play time by skipping the line. On extremely busy days, you may consider the Time Saver Pass wristband. Consider what attractions are most appealing to your family, and whether paying extra to ride more quickly is the right option for your crowd.
8. Be secure and rent a locker. Unless you want to park someone with your stuff, you will need a secure place to keep a wallet, keys, and all those extra things that come into the park with you. To be honest, we have never had any issues with any of our bags chairside. But if you want to roam freely unencumbered, or would be concerned about your belongings while playing in the water, a locker rental offers peace of mind, both safe and dry. There are both normal and family-size units available.
9. Choose the right tube for floating fun. One of our mom friends says, “Choose fluffy over spongy” when grabbing the right inner tube from the stack available. An under inflated tube makes for a tougher ride, and is more easily flipped in the waves.
10. Know your fear factor before you go. No one has fun if a child becomes traumatized by his first large water ride of the day. Gauge what is appropriately thrilling, based on your children’s courage and swimming capabilities. When in doubt, opt out. Better to have a good time on fewer and milder rides than a bad memory (or even potential injury) from the one that was too much. Both courtesy clerks and life guard attendants can answer any questions you may have regarding ride requirements and experiences.
11. Though you won’t want to pack everything under the sun (pun intended), being prepared makes for a better, and usually less costly, day trip. Here is a list of items that you may consider taking for use while at Splash Country. A good attitude is the best thing to bring: hope you enjoy a truly great day together!
Tickets Adult ID/License Kid ID/picture Lanyards  Cash or Credit Card Cell phone Waterproof Case Waterproof Watch Waterproof Camera
Ziploc bags for clothes Swimsuits Flip flops Water Shoes Water Toys Hats Sunglasses with Headstraps Goggles Earplugs Swim Diapers Dry Clothes/Underwear
Beach Bag Beach Towels Coverups Collapsible cooler Water bottle Snacks Books Sunscreen Sunscreen Lip Balm Insect Repellent Epipen Wet wipes
Hand sanitizer Bandaids Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen Kleenex Body wash/shampoo Hairbrush Wet items bag

Danger Ahead: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Meeting Bears on the Trail


Mmmm, there is nothing better than a steaming berry cobbler, fresh from the oven of your Gatlinburg rental cabin. Others would agree with you, including our local black bears, who are currently munching their way through the ripe summer berry season in the park. Recent local media have reported that two national park trails are currently closed due to heightened bear activity: Twin Creeks Trail and the Noah Bud Ogle Cabin and Nature Trail. Though highly unlikely to be attacked by a black bear, it’s a prudent idea to make sure you know what to do, should you meet one (or a family of them) while exploring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Do this:
1. Watch for fresh tracks and scat (animal droppings) while you hike. Remember that you are in their neighborhood, and in this season, very likely passing through their dining area. Making regular conversation, singing, and carrying a bear bell (essentially a free hanging jingle bell) decreases the likelihood that you will surprise an animal, and gives them the opportunity to naturally avoid you and your party.
2. Should you actually encounter a bear, move calmly and slowly. Back away without turning your back and without making direct eye contact.
3. Look bigger. Wave your arms calmly or grab a stick to wave to increase your visual size. Also place children on your shoulders to increase your height and their safety.
4. Leash your pet. Better yet, leave them home. A happy Labrador, for example, could make the whole situation needlessly volatile. Why risk it?
5. Turn up the volume, if the bear appears curious (standing on hind legs), or does not retreat. Use your voice to sing or yell. Bang items together or clap.
6. Should the extremely rare attack occur, fight back furiously and loudly, tantrum-style, hitting with whatever you can grab. Know that it will not likely ever come to this, if you don’t get too close. Should you have a bear encounter, please do report it to park services, so it can be recorded and the animal behavior closely tracked.
Whatever you do, don’t do these:
1. Do not run! Prey runs away from its predator. This is not the message you want to send the bear. Though you may want to flail, scream, and retreat, resist the urge.
2. Do not feed the bears. Never. Not even for the world’s best photo opportunity. Walking into a natural dining room is one thing, but establishing yourself as a food source in the mind of the bear endangers both you and all other humans to follow, as the bear develops a palate for people food. A young bear is taught by its mother to avoid humans naturally. It is appetite and needless opportunity for human food that derails innate behavior.
3. Do not smell like food or something else interesting. Avoid colognes, perfumes, or use of scented body products. Pack out your trash and any leftover scraps, preferably in sealed plastic, so as not to be viewed as a roving snack opportunity.
4. Do not show fear or aggression. Don’t play dead (that’s for grizzlies-none here). It is also unwise to stare them down: direct eye contact can be perceived as aggression on your part.
5. Do not climb a tree. You cannot out climb or outrun a black bear. They can quickly ascend to a treetop and can keep pace with a horse. Can you?
6. Do not go solo. Groups of three or more people are best for safety while hiking in the park.
We want your hiking experience to be both happy and healthy. It is perfectly acceptable to enjoy watching black bears from a safe distance. Federal regulations state that “willfully approaching within 150 feet, or any distance that disturbs bear or elk, is prohibited. Violators are subject to imprisonment up to 6 months and/or fines up to $5,000. It’s just not worth it. Should you desire a wonderful memento of the bears in our park, view my blog from May 28, 2014. Two great choices for photos or paintings of local bears are mentioned, both much better and far safer than any selfie attempt.
Education is also never a bad thing. For more tips and details, check out this video made in conjunction with the National Park Service:

Celebrate the Fourth, and then Christmas in July at The Incredible Christmas Place

We hope for everyone a blessed Independence Day holiday. As you relax with your family in a secluded Pigeon Forge cabin rental, please make plans to visit the first Fourth of July parade in the nation at midnight in Gatlinburg on Thursday, July 3rd. Or if you choose to sleep in, don’t miss the Patriot Festival in Pigeon Forge, beginning at noon on Friday, July 4th. That event has a carnival atmosphere with food vendors and a children’s area, music on stage throughout the day with this year’s headliner Lonestar performing at 8:30 pm, and a bang-up fireworks finale beginning at 9:45 pm. Park at the convention center public parking and take the free shuttle, as public parking is limited to handicapped spaces for this event.

Since you will still have the rest of the weekend to fill with family time, it’s never to early to consider the holidays at year end, since Christmas is now less than six months away. Don’t laugh or groan, the Incredible Christmas Place can transport you to a warm, fuzzy memory (or perhaps a refreshing, chilly one) with just a few moments of holiday background music. Plan a couple of hours to stroll, explore, and reminisce while shopping here.The Incredible Christmas PlaceBell Tower Square is a Bavarian-style retail complex that is the South’s largest Christmas destination, and definitely worth an enjoyable visit. Its stores have much to offer. Starting with home decorations, artificial Christmas trees, lights, ornaments, Nativity scenes, stockings, and many fine collectibles can be found to deck your halls. Find floral pieces, trims, garlands, ribbons, and many other items for the home to decorate for Christmas, but also for autumn and year-round. Whatever your tastes, you can find all styles by choosing a color or theme. Over 60 trees display items with themes such as winter white, whimsical, patriotic, woodland, peacock, Western, pets and more unique themes in addition to anticipated traditional and Old World ones.
If you or anyone you know indulges in collectibles, this is the location to find them. A vast selection of Department 56 Village items is featured, along with Fontanini Nativity figurines and creches, and Christopher Radko glass ornaments. What about angels, nutcrackers, Santas, dolls and trains, figurines, and more? If brand names like Seraphim, Ulbricht and Steinbach, Didion and Pipka, Adora and Mark Roberts, Bachmann, Hummel and Precious Moments are familiar to you, know that whatever has not been listed that you enjoy collecting is very probably found here also. From fine art items to just for fun, there is something for every taste.
Yes, there are breakables here, but children are also considered with Elf on the Shelf, a great Melissa and Doug array, bears of all types, and other toys and childhood favorites. Letters to Santa can be composed and sent here, and the Singing Santa has been a seasonal resident for over a decade. Little ones also just enjoy the beautiful sparkle of the decorations more than jaded adult eyes.
Begin completing your gift list by choosing from the massive quantity of merchandise. There is a surprisingly large selection of items that can be personalized. A personalization gallery allows for your selection to be completed while you shop. Give to others a thoughtful and budget-friendly keepsake, for so many occasions. Clothing, jewelry, outdoor decor and yard items, collegiate-themed gifts, clocks and music boxes, boutique items, and gag gifts can all be found here.
All such retail exploration can be fueled with a pitstop at Mrs. Claus’s Candy Kitchen and Sweet Shop with fudge, candy, caramel apples, ice cream, and more to keep you motivated in holiday shopping mode.
This location is truly incredible in its vast offering for the very special holiday of Christmas and beyond. Happy Independence Day to you and your family, and don’t hesitate to cool off from the July heat and enjoy a small bit of “holly jolly” this summer too.