Get it? Eh? Aren’t I so punny? Have you been to the Smoky Mountain area, in Tennessee? They lay within Eastern Tennessee, and three main cities reside in the National Forest. My kids still say this was one of the BEST places we’ve ever been, and we’ve been all over! We stayed in Sevierville, and had easy access to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Besides having one of the most beautiful National Parks in America, there are so many reasons to visit Eastern Tennessee! Here are my family’s 10 best (in no particular order).
1. Southern Hospitality- I was caught off guard by the southern charm of the people of Tennessee. Teenagers called me “Ma’am” and held open doors for us. Strangers told us to “have a blessed day.” Waitresses and waiters offered us sweet tea and asked “Where are y’all from?” People struck up conversations and were genuinely interested in getting to know you. Almost everyone we encountered were well mannered and courteous. It’s no wonder Tennessee is one of the top 10 friendliest states in the US.
2. Free Moonshine- The Ole Smokey Moonshine Holler in Gatlinburg is like a fun party with strangers. The free tastings are generous and the flavors are amazing! They’ve got apple pie, blackberry and “hunch punch”! Our very favorite is the moonshine soaked cherries! Hiccup! We had to take a bottle home! Please drink responsibly.
3. Dolly Parton- Who doesn’t love Dolly? Even if you’re not a country music fan, Dollywood Amusement Park and the Dixie Stampede Dinner and Show are fun for everyone! Dolly Parton is loved the world over, not only for her music, but for her kindness, generosity, and humanitarian efforts. She was born in Sevierville and has a strong presence in the Smoky Mountain area.
4. Wilderness At the Smokies is Tennessee’s biggest water park resort. This place is HUGE and it offers 3 water parks that are included with your stay! 2 outdoor ones and a GIANT domed indoor park, so no matter the season, your kids will have a blast! They also have an indoor adventure forest where you and the kids can do a ropes course, rock climb, go bowling, play laser tag and play arcade games. It was hard to get the kids to want to leave the resort, and hard for the adults to leave the giant indoor/outdoor hot tub. Oh, but there’s so much fun to be had, that you must also leave the resort to see the rest of Tennessee.
5. WonderWorks Museum in Pigeon Forge- The first thing you will notice when pulling into the parking lot of WonderWorks is that something is not quite right. This massive museum is completely upside down! This is just the beginning of the fun. Where else can you lay on a bed of nails, get struck by lightning, experience an earthquake and get engulfed in a giant bubble. Do not miss the Wonders of Magic Show with Terry Evanswood. The magic is amazing, and the kids can participate and be on stage interacting with Terry. This show sparked a love of magic in my kids that they have never lost! They learned some great tricks to do at home as well.
6. Southern food- Barbeque, fried chicken, cornbread, grits, hot wings, biscuits and gravy, country ham… who’s mouth is watering? Hearty food goes great with friendly hospitality and sweet tea! We were pretty happy foodies in Tennessee. With their house made sides and large portions, I don’t think we had one bad meal! We even loved the Waffle House and Cracker Barrel! We don’t have those in California and can’t wait to get back!
7. Forbidden Caverns – Want to get UNDER the smoky mountains? Did you know Tennessee is home to the MOST caves in the US? Forbidden Caverns is the coolest place under the Smokies! It is a constant 58 degrees year round, so it’s the perfect place to go to escape the heat. You will see glittering rock formations, huge columns of white onyx, an underground river, maybe even a bat or two or a salamander. Everyone will get plenty of cave kisses so you’ll feel very loved by this natural wonder!
7.5. If you’re in the area of Forbidden Caverns, stop by English Mountain’s Trout Farm and grill where “You hook em, we cook em!” We had a blast catching trout! The fish are ALWAYS bitin’! The nice people there will help you with everything! They’ll season your fish and cook it up for you and serve you with side dishes as well. It does not get any fresher than this!
8. Hike with a llama over a the longest swinging bridge in the US. We took some llamas out to Firefox Mountain with Smoky Mountain Llama Treks. You get all the fun of a guided hike, and none of the weight, since the llamas will carry all of your stuff! They are the funniest, most stubborn, most adorable pack buddies. It was quite an adventure to trek with them. They never spit on us, not even once! They were quite friendly and fun. Before you cross the Bridge to Prosperity, hang a wish in the whispering winds covered bridge.
9. Take in a show in Pigeon Forge or Gatinburg. There are dozens of shows to choose from here and most of them are family friendly and fun. We saw the Hatfield and McCoys, the Dixie Stampede and the Lumberjack Feud! All these shows will have you cheering, and hootin’ and hollerin’!
10. Go horseback riding through the countryside. We loved Walden’s Creek Stables. The handlers and tour guides were so kind! We splashed through a creek, rode past homesteads and wooden bridges, and went up to see the verdant hills. We learned so much about the flora, fauna and history of Tennessee. They took the best pictures of us. I literally handed over my camera in the beginning, and our guide took dozens of great photos. Since Daughter was quite little, our guide stayed right next to her the whole time. She was so proud to ride the horse all by herself!
Tennessee is a favorite of ours for good reason. It’s a great mix of adventure and entertainment. There are countless things to do and see, this list of 10 (10.5), is just a hint of what the great state has to offer! Have you been to the Great Smoky Mountains? I’d love to go to the National Park when it’s firefly season!
Planning a trip to the volunteer state? Pin for later!