Best Ways to Play at Douglas Lake

Sometimes the best way to cool off is to get out on the water. We are blessed in Sevier County to have Douglas Lake easily accessible for all sorts of summer water fun. Enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, you can’t lose if you choose a scenic and sunny day playing here. Douglas Lake is actually a manmade “faucet reservoir” as a part of the Holston-Cherokee-Douglas Watershed system. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created this hydroelectric dam system in the 1940’s during World War II, and Douglas Dam and Douglas Lake is our much beloved result, which spills downstream into the French Broad River. The lake is used to control water flow, and is drawn down in the early fall, causing the water line to drop throughout the winter months. August, however, is happy summertime to enjoy all there is to offer.

Besides special events that occur in the boating community over holiday weekends, there is always plenty to do during the warm summer months on Douglas Lake. There are over 30,000 acres of water and 555 miles of shoreline where you can enjoy a sunny day. Swimming, Boating, fishing, and water sporting and lakeside dining are all available. I won’t waste words discussing the many ways you can play in the water.

If you are saying to yourself, “But we left our boat at home,” know that you can rent all the necessities for a great day of play on the water. There are many places to acquire equipment around the lake, but consider H2O /Sports in Dandridge and Mountain Cove Marina in Sevierville as two friendly and reputable outfitters. From a paddle board or kayak, to waverunners and pontoon boats, clean equipment and all the safety and fun accessories like lifejackets and tubes can be rented. Prices are reasonable and equipment is nice: why not? Check for special offers online available during your stay.

Fishing anyone? Can you say bass tournaments? Gamefish available for everyone on the lake include largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, bluegill, and more. A haven for daily anglers, those who know say there are fishing opportunities for various varieties throughout the calendar year. TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resource Association) also monitors, manages, and uses supplemental stocking and habitat enhancement to maintain sport fishing quality in the lake. From the shore or on the water, everyone can enjoy using their poles on Douglas Lake. Acquiring bait depends on where you plan to approach the water. For a full bait and tackle shop, consider Bucks N Bass in Dandridge, or just grab some minnows from The Dam Store in Sevierville.

Need a picnic location? Camera photo spot? With killer mountain views and charcoal grills in a park setting, you must select the Douglas Dam Overlook picnic area. There are two separate areas from which to choose, and both are a lovely place to relax and dine outdoors. Peaceful and beautiful, it’s an easy place to let the kids play safely outdoors and for you to relax in the camp chair. The Overlook area has a viewing station with public restrooms, and a pavilion for large group functions (can be reserved for special events during high season). The view of the entire mountain range is panoramic on a clear day without any major obstructions beyond the power lines. The backdrop has been used for professional model shoots and weddings, so it’s also appropriate for your family vacation memory photograph.

Douglas Dam itself is educational and interesting sightseeing for everyone in the family. Located below the Overlook, you can drive directly up to the dam and walk up and touch the wall, though no public tours are offered inside. Depending on the season and water level needs, spillways can be opened like waterfalls, and daily hydroelectric turbines are actively generating power at the base. It is a good spot also for birdwatching, since smart birds catch meals on the French Broad River tailwater area close to the dam’s spillway. Cranes of all sorts are numerous, and it is also possible to spot bald eagles. They are plentiful in this area since the American Eagle Foundation uses Douglas Lake as a release point back into the wild for rehabilitated birds, and they make their home here.

Easily accessible. Breathtaking views of the mountains. Playgrounds in, on, and around the water. Educational opportunities and places to unplug and relax. You must make “a day at the lake” part of your visit during this trip to your Smokies rental cabin. Your only regret will be if you miss it!

5 Easy Ways to Play in the Water in the Smokies

Every summer includes water play of all sorts, depending on your preferences for getting wet. Though not located on the ocean, there are still plenty of opportunities to make a splash just a short distance from your Wears Valley rental cabin. Consider these alternatives:

1. Pool privileges. Volunteer Cabin Rentals offers multiple cabins with local pool privileges. Never overcrowded, but with a few playmates for the kids, it’s an easy early-morning  swim, or even a lazy, all day splash and relax!
2. Waterfall Hike*. Should you prefer to get out into some nature with a little cardio exercise included, how about a waterfall hike? Here are a couple to consider:
For the entire family to enjoy, Cataract Falls is just a short stroll from the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trailhead starts directly behind the center, and is only .1 of a mile to a sweet photo opportunity.
Grotto Falls is located midway around the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The trailhead starts at the parking lot, and winds for an easy 1.2 miles one way. We truly think this one is much fun! The payoff for the hike is that you can actually walk behind the falls, if you don’t mind getting a little wet. Based on yearly rainfall, this spot also has a pool at the bottom for swimming in a really attractive setting. Refreshing for both mind and body!
3. River Wading and Swimming*. For wading, Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area is hard to beat, and is a just short drive from your rental cabin in Pigeon Forge. Many picnic sites are directly on the river: super for wading, exploring, and a little swimming. I strongly suggest water shoes for the rocky bottom and a length of rope for any floats because of the current.
Also close to the VCR office, the Townsend Y (or wye) is a large, natural swimming hole favorite of many in the area. Very easy to reach, it is located shortly past the Townsend entrance to the National Park, right before where the road splits to reach Cades Cove and Gatlinburg. Parking is available both in an adjacent parking lot, and also roadside. It is a junction of two rivers, and a popular location, so don’t expect privacy. There are places to sit: rocks, a beach area, and grassy area too. For older kids and adults, it’s a clear winner.
*It is my duty as a local to make sure you understand that many areas in the Smokies are NOT safe for swimming, and extreme danger can occur when proper safety measures are ignored. The National Park Service strongly cautions those who choose to water play in the mountains should understand the risks and adhere to these water safety recommendations:
4. Tubing/Rafting. Want to catch some sun and relax on the water? Try something perhaps new to you: if you have never been tubing, you have been missing great fun! River Rat Tubing Outpost is a short drive from your cabin, and located on the Townsend end of Wears Valley Road on the Little River. The firm has this outdoor experience down to a science. Head down the “Rat Hole Tunnel” to making memories with your family! Tubes are available both with and without bottoms, and tethers can be used to attach a couple of tubes together. Educate yourself on the upper and lower river options (lower is milder) and know what a push-off stick is. Relatively inexpensive for a group, and naturally exciting. Trust us, you will not regret a tubing run. For more information and rates, consult the company link here.
5. Dollywood’s Splash Country. This premiere, award-winning water park is a day’s worth of adventure and a destination unto itself. If you are serious about an entire sun-soaked water day with 35 acres of pools, slides, and water rides, this is the best place to make that happen. Rather than expound on all our favorite moments here, study their link for the details you need.
At the edge, floating on top, or fully submerged, make sure you take advantage of the clear, cool waters of the Smokies while you are here: an easy way to guarantee a great vacation memory for you and your family!

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!

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:
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
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 Easiest Places to See Fall Leaves in the Smokies


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:
4 easy places to see the changing leaves of autumn in the Smokies–with very little effort required!
1. 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.
2. 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!
3. 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.
4. 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!


5 Places Locals Go in the Summer

Rest assured that we who live and work in the Smokies are also relieved that the school year has ended! It helps to slow down daily, as the vacation industry ramps up in our area. So in between job duties, errands, and kids’ sports events, where do locals go for a quick break during the work week?burger

1. Frank Allen’s Market-First, let’s satisfy the stomach. Yes, it is a gas station. But for a no-stress satisfying breakfast, or a hot, loaded hamburger as a treat, many of us make the counter at Frank Allen’s an intentional gastronomic errand. You should too. Bypass that chain fast food.
2. Sevierville Downtown Farmers Market. After feeling calorically guilty for that juicy burger earlier in the week, we add healthy produce to the shopping list. On Friday mornings from 9 am to 2 pm, an early stop in downtown Sevierville loads up the fridge with fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables to carry through the busy weekend. It’s a great place to purchase known-source food at reasonable prices with friendly conversation We build our menu around what’s available seasonally—nothing better than vine-ripened food.swimdam
3. Douglas Lake Swimming Area. Mud is good! When there is no time to drag out the boat and put it in (most of us don’t pay for a slip at the marinas), an hour or two in the late afternoon at the roped-off swimming area is a grittier, freshwater alternative to the regular chlorinated dips in a pool This swim beach spot is located adjacent to the campground at the headwaters of Douglas Dam (west side). Like our 30,000 acre Douglas Lake, most in the area are on a “faucet”: created by watershed dam systems that are hydroelectric generators built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). If you want to get a panoramic view of the entire surrounding mountain range, drive across the bridge to the TVA Overlook directly across from the campground. On a clear day, you can take in a 180 degree view and see as far as North Carolina and Fontana Lake in the distance. You can also walk up to the dam on the bottom side (follow the signs), which is interesting to watch when the turbines are generating power. Nice benches and picnic areas at the overlook also make this an enjoyable picnic stop.
4. King Family Library, Sevierville. Please, just let me grab a short moment of air-conditioned peace in a comfy chair. Now that the last research paper and class project has been completed, going to the library can be more of a pleasure for the family than a functional errand for resources. The King Family Library main branch in Sevierville, along with other public branches in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, are an educational respite form the chaotic, loud parts of summer. All facilities are modern and staffed with wonderful human resources that can enhance your vacation stay beyond a quiet book reading break. Check the links for summer programs that may be occurring during your stay.
5. Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a glorious place to sit and relax outside. I realized that my other listed locations are spread across the entire county, so let’s include one of our favorite places that is just moments away from your Wears Valley cabin rental. Like sitting at the library to rest, we are often looking for a place to park while kids play. Metcalf Bottoms is certainly not a secret location to both locals and tourists alike, but here’s how we who live here tend to enjoy it.
Supplies needed are a picnic lunch, cheap fabric folding chairs, an inflatable tube with a rope attached, an old towel, bathing suits, watershoes, and sunglasses. We like to arrive in the early morning. Choose a riverside picnic spot and sink the chair into the river for just your feet, or so it’s waist deep when sitting (oh yes!). I promise it’s a pleasure after the initial shock of the icy mountain water subsides. Let the kids skip rocks, catch a crawfish,  make leaf boats, build rock sculptures, wade or float a short distance (depending on appropriate ages). Tie the float to a stationary item (like you or a tree branch) to keep from losing it downstream. River play is wholly different than a pool or the lake: most kids can go for hours without being bored. Shoes are needed though! Barefoot is not best here, for traction on rocks and irregular river bottom. Relax awhile, consume your alfresco lunch, and wipe any stray mud off on that towel. Then be on your way as others just begin to arrive. It’s a most excellent way to spend a super and natural half day outdoors!
So there you have it. For those who must still attend to daily life while working in Sevier County, these are a few of our favorite quick fixes that enhance our summertime. As always, we are willing to share them with you. We are glad that you choose to rest and play in our home that we hold so dear. You are always welcome at VCR, and please come stay with us again soon!

Smokies Hiking 101: What to Take and How to Act


Once you have settled comfortably into your Gatlinburg rental cabin, you surely have plans to explore your surroundings. Following a trailhead in early spring offers many advantages to the warmer, people-packed, buggier summer months ahead. Here is a short summary of what you will want in your backpack, and a few tips that experienced hikers want everyone to know.

Backpack Items for the Trip:

Spontaneity is not your friend on a trail in the wilderness. As tempting as it might be to take off on a hike without planning, don’t do it. Conditions change very quickly in our area because of the terrain, and knowing what you might face before you go is essential. Plan appropriately for a hike by first checking the weather. Rain or shine, time outdoors can be lovely as long as you are prepared. A few items that can be of help are:
  • A trail map. Even if you know where you are going. In case of emergency, since others may not.
  • A first aid kit. Plan for a wide variety of ailments from cuts to bugs to blisters.
  • Water and food. Both plain water and electrolyte, and even a water filter to use local water sources to refill. Never drink untreated water! Salty food and about twice the quantity of snacks that you think you will need.
  • Light source. A flashlight, or better yet, a headlamp for hiking out after dark, so you can see where you need to step. Check that it works properly before you go.
  • A whistle and mirror. For signaling for help, if you need to contact someone and can’t move.
  • Extra clothes. A dry set of clothes (and preferably something waterproof) can prove invaluable should you happen to need it. No, I have never slipped on a river rock either.
  • Phone in a plastic or waterproof bag. Place it in airplane mode or turn it off. Though there is little cellular reception in the national park, it still may prove valuable if needed.
  • There are many more items that can be included, of course. Include what best fits your trip needs, for a short walk or a daylong hike.


Trail Courtesy Tips:
Any activity is more fun when everyone follows the basic rules of play. Here are four tips that pro hikers practice daily:
1. Always hike with a friend. Hiking alone presents many hazards that most are ill-equipped to handle. Also make sure you have a contact check-in plan. Leave this information with someone who expects to hear from you when your hike is completed: which trail you are hiking and where you are parked, who is going, and when you plan to arrive back.
2. Don’t litter, and don’t abandon extra or broken gear. You are not doing anyone else a favor, and it is both unsightly and a hazard to local wildlife. Carry a few resealable plastic bags, and pack out all trash so that you leave nothing behind. Not even food scraps or poured out soda. Leave. Nothing. Behind.
3. Be polite to others on the trail. Know that uphill hikers have the right of way, and let them pass you if you are descending. If you want to pass a slower moving person or group, slow down, and let them know that you want to pass, saying something such as “Passing left please”. Startling someone on a mountainside can be dangerous.
4. Be quiet, and do not disturb. Respect nature and its inherent serenity. Many people explore to get away from noise, and a loud crowd can spoil the peace for some distance in both directions, not to mention ensuring you will see zero wildlife. So hold conversation to a minimum, and make children behave. Everyone will thank you for doing so.
So get outdoors, and see the beauty of the Smokies up close and in person. Everyone at Volunteer Cabin Rentals has their favorite spots in the mountains, though we don’t get to visit as often as we would like. Just ask, and we will be glad to steer you toward that perfect path. We hope to see you this spring, and hope you will return again and again to experience our area’s wilderness in several seasonshikers