Gatlinburg and Great Smokey Mountains National Park

We have spent last Sunday and Monday having a great time exploring Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains National Park.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a small mountain resort town that is surrounded by high ridges and the Smokey Mountains National Park. The history of Gatlinburg goes all the way back to when Native American hunters that pre-dated the Cherokee used a trail thru what is now Gatlinburg to access the forests and coves of the Smokey Mountains. The first permanent settlers arrived in the very early 1800’s. In 1900 the first sawmill was erected in the town which led to a major increase in logging in the area. The extensive logging increased the calls by the conservationists for the federal government to take action.

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was opened in 1934 and Gatlinburg was radically affected. In the first year 40,000 visitors passed thru the city that had only 600 residents just 20 years prior. A year later the number of visitors increased to 500,000. Today the town has turned into a tourist mecca with lots of shops selling all kind of wares, lots of places to eat and various tourist traps. Ripley’s has a major stake in the tourist activity in the town with 7 separate attractions.

There is a private trolley system in Gatlinburg that appears to be well run with very reasonable fairs. We wanted to visit the Fine Arts Festival which only ran from last Friday thru Sunday, so we decided to brave the masses and take the trolley in from the visitor’s center that located between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The ride that on other days takes about 15 to 20 minutes took just over 45 due to the traffic. We wondered through the arts and craft festival (small but very nice) and then started walked up the main street in search of food. It is kind of amazing even though the town is very touristy, it is still very nice. Although they do have a building the call “The Space Needle”, which you can see in the pictures below, is not at all like the “real” Space Needle.

Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg

We returned to Gatlinburg Monday after we spent the day exploring a little of the Smoky Mountains National Park to ride the Sky Lift and have some dinner. One of the attractions in Gatlinburg is a ski chair type lift that goes up one of the mountains that surrounds the town.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift

Gatlinburg Sky Lift

Smokey Mountains from Gatlinburg Sky Lift

Smokey Mountains from Gatlinburg Sky Lift

Gatlinburg from Gatlinburg Sky Lift

Gatlinburg from Gatlinburg Sky Lift

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was authorized by Congress in 1926 there was no federally owned land in the area at the time to house the newly authorized park. Over the next 8 years the Federal Government, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina assembled the necessary land.  Today the park encompasses 522,419 acres making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. I was surprised to learn that the park is the most visited National Park in the United States.

Scenes from GSMNP

Scenes from GSMNP

We left our RV park and drove into the park to Cades Cove which was the valley home to many settlers prior to the formation of the National Park.  Cades Cove is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district due to the number of historic building in the area.

GSMNP- Cades Cove Buildings

GSMNP- Cades Cove Buildings

We continued our drive thru the park to visit the park headquarters and main visitor center in Sugarland. On our trip there we made Leslies day when we spotted a bear in the woods. Prior to us seeing the bear I was speaking with one of the park rangers who said that some people will see a bear right away and others, like him, work in the park for 3 years before they see their first bear.

GSMNP - Bear

GSMNP - Bear

Well our time here in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains has come to an end without a visit to the Dollywood amusement park (yes Char – we actually did not go to an amusement park even though we were so close), so I guess we will need to return to see more of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and visit Dollywood.

 

Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf

Mini-golf is something I love to do. I have been reading a book called “The Happiness Project” and one of the things you are supposed to do is think about what you like to do for fun. Far too often we do things OTHERS think is fun but that we don’t particularly enjoy, say… cave dwelling. Thpppt

Something I do love to do is play mini-golf. I am really not very good at it because I do not play very often but I sure do love to play when I do make time for it. Growing up in Florida, for the most part, mini-golf is in almost every town and they are open year round. The weather is nice enough that this is just normal. When I moved to other places I discovered this was not the norm. In almost all of metro Seattle there are so few mini-golf places that I actually forgot to even look. Years after living there in a little slightly defunct mall they opened a Black Light Mini-Golf that Bill and I took Lex and her friends to and had a blast. I lost horribly but it was so much fun. Since then I have taken Bill to a few mini-golf places in Florida and we have a great deal of fun.

Upon arriving in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg we discovered there is a lot of mini-golf. As we drove around I would look at the different courses and try and determine which we liked so we could go play.

Today was our “down” day where we didn’t have much planned. We got up and went to the gym to do our half marathon training and then came home. After relaxing for a little and having lunch we decided to go catch some mini-golf. I had chosen the Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf in Gatlinburg because it had cute little cartoon creatures around the course that appealed to me.

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Cute Little Creatures

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Cute Little Creatures

Upon arriving the sky was turning a little grey but we decided to start playing and see what happened. The course includes 36 total holes. 18 in the Village Course and 18 holes in the Fort Crockett Course, as per our usually we decided to do both. The Village Course was supposed to be easier (so the lady at the register said) so we headed that way. The holes are scattered along a hillside that is built to look like a little town where cartoon animals live. There is a bear fishing, a skunk doing the laundry (which cracked me up), mice running the mill, crows just being annoying, gophers singing, etc.

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - More Cute Little Creatures

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - More Cute Little Creatures

We played through about 11 holes before the rain started. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect because due to our 3.7-mile run this morning we were starving. 7 more holes and we would have been gnawing on each other’s arms. We left out putters and balls and let the folks there know we would be back. We headed into Gatlinburg to find lunch.

Gatlinburg and parking is a bit of a headache. The parking is only $5 but it is annoying to have to pay it at all especially when I am already paying for lunch. We found a garage to park in finally and made our way over to Hard Rock Café. By the time we were done with lunch the rain had subsided but had left behind a good 95% humidity. It felt like we were walking in the clouds. We headed back over to finish our game. The last 7 holes in the Village were delightful including the skunk and the crows.

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Yet More Cute Little Creatures

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Yet More Cute Little Creatures

At the 18th hole if you hit it in the top hole you win a free game. We didn’t. We then headed over to the Fort Crockett Course. This course was fantastic. Balls dropping entire stories to the next floor down and balls being washed down river by water in a trough that went down at least 30 feet to the hole.

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Two Story Hole

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Two Story Hole

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Down the Trough

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Down the Trough

It was a blast and I would definitely recommend spending a few hours playing mini-golf for those that visit the area. I wish we were here another week so I could play a couple of the other courses but it will have to wait for our next visit.

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Score Cards

Davy Crockett Mini Golf - Score Cards

White Water Rafting in the Smoky Mountains- Bucket List Check

I am a water rat. I love being in and near water. I grew up in Florida and I love the Ocean or the Gulf. I love rivers, streams, creeks, ponds, lakes. I am a water sign so I guess it makes sense. When planning our time in the Smoky Mountains of course one of the first things I wanted to do was get near some water. There is kayaking and white water rafting. I have kayaked many times and enjoy it greatly but I had never white water rafted. This was one of those things on the ole bucket list so this was my opportunity to check it off.

As we started planning we called one of the facilities that does rafting on the Pigeon River and found out that September 1 was the last day they would have water release from the hydro plant along the river that adds additional water to the rapids in essence making it more fun. Tonight at 6pm the hydro plant stops releasing water for the rest of the season and there will only be what they call “Actual Water”. Bill thought this was a funny term. With the minor drought in this area we were concerned that the actual water days might not be enough water for them to run (they can’t know until the hydro plant stops) so we decided to fit it in today even though we knew it was going to be very busy because of Labor Day weekend. We got in the jeep and headed over this morning after making our reservations.

We decided to take a longer route on the way over. We could drive I-40 or we could go a little out of our way and drive the Foothills Parkway through the Smoky Mts. We didn’t have a lot of extra time to stop at the viewpoints for pictures but it was a gorgeous drive.

We finally arrived at Smoky Mountain Outdoors at noon and there was a lot of controlled chaos. Dozens of people waiting to go out, dozens arriving and paying for their trips, dozens coming back in. We walked in and paid for our trip. We were going to be in Group 8, which consisted of six rafts with between 5-7 people per raft and the guide (a bus full). We went to the pavilion to meet our guide. We were called up to be in Big Steve’s group with five people from a family of eight that had to split up on two boats. We talked with the family a little while waiting for our instructions. Very nice folks from Georgia up for the weekend, most of them had done this before. We were the newbies. Big Steve brought us our life vests and helmets and got us all suited up to go. We loaded on the bus and off we went.

Bill looks confident.

The bus takes you about 10 miles upstream near the hydro plant where you go off into the water. While waiting for other boats to launch Big Steve gives us instructions and then we were off.

I had begun to worry some on the way up because Bill does not know how to swim. They give you all kinds of safety rules and it started to make me worry. When we arrived I realize they have this all in hand. There are people in kayaks that are experts that hung out around the areas that were rough so if people fell out they could help them out. There were a lot of safety measure they took to make sure this was a wonderful and not frightening experience. They really had it covered.

We finally got down into the water and Bill was in the front and I was in the middle. I had the water camera, which I am so happy we bought. I got a few good pictures but for the most part the best parts we were paddling so no big splashes of water. I knew they had photographers placed at different spots so I was hoping they got some great pictures and they did.

We had so much fun. Big Steve was awesome. A few of the other guides were a little more cautious but Big Steve had us leaping off rocks and splashing down into every rapid.

Things I learned today. There are six classifications of rapids. Here is the Wikipedia Classification definitions:

▪    Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None)

▪    Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)

▪   Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)

▪   Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Whitewater Experience)

▪   Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering. (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)

Class 6: Whitewater, typically with huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, huge drops, but sometimes labeled this way due to largely invisible dangers. Class 6 rapids are considered hazardous even for expert paddlers using state-of-the-art equipment, and come with the warning “danger to life or limb.” (Skill Level: Expert)

Today we had our choice between the Lower Rapids which would be Class I and II with a small portion of Class III or the Upper Rapids which include Classes I through IV. So of course we chose the Upper. I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t want to have done this without an experienced guide. When Kayaking even through waves your kayak stays pretty much in the straight forward directions. When riding rapids in a raft this is absolutely not the case. The water flows around the rocks in different ways and pushes up in all different directions. It also turns you in absolute circles and our guide even had us turning ourselves in circles to be able to “see all the scenery!” LOL

When we were at Gen Con we demoed a game called “White Water” by Mayfair Games. I loved it and so I picked up a copy. I had no idea how true to life the game was to how a rapid turns you about. Now I am going to have to pull the game out so we can play again.

I would absolutely do it again. If I lived in an area where I could do it regularly I would be looking into it. It was so much fun! The people at Smoky Mountain Outdoors were awesome all the way around. If you are in the area go try it. It will be a memory not soon forgotten.

If you would like to see more pictures check out my Smug Mug account by clicking on any of the pictures.