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Gatlinburg Now

Gatlinburg News, Opinion, and Wonder

April Gatlinburg Trip

For the second year in a row, we took a trip to Gatlinburg just prior to the Easter holiday. Even though we’ve been to Gatlinburg more than 10 times now, we are giddy with excitement every time we make the trip here from Ohio. Every year brings new surprises and also some old favorites are revisited. Here is a summation of the highlights of our most recent trip.

After visiting the Knoxville area for some sightseeing and some good grub from Hard Knox Pizza, we drove into Gatlinburg after 5 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. We checked into our hotel and took an evening stroll along the Parkway. My first order of business was to buy a bottle of Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey from Ole Smoky for a co-worker who had to have another bottle, which was long gone from his previous trip last year. I was surprised that my wife elected to sample a few of their selections while we were here. Her favorite was Peach, but I don’t believe she will sample any more as they were a bit too strong for her liking. After some free samples from a few other businesses in town, we called it quits for the day and looked forward to tomorrow’s activities.

As some of you have gathered from reading some of my other trip’s posts, I love taking morning walks from our hotel to one of my favorite places in town, The Village, where I can enjoy my favorite donut from The Donut Friar and enjoy my favorite cup of coffee from Coffee & Company. 20170414_151801

Wednesday also was our day for lunch at Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que in Gatlinburg. My wife and I were pleasantly surprised at our portions with this visit. Both of us had new dishes that weren’t ordered before: Pulled Chicken, which is a new menu item, and Burnt Ends, which is fairly new as well. They were very tasty and tided us over until well past the time we normally eat dinner.

We finally managed to be hungry enough for our planned visit to Cherokee Grill in the evening. My wife ordered her usual, Prosperity Steak, and I ordered a daily special, which was the Bourbon Glazed Grilled Chicken. Of course, no visit to CG is complete without eating their two best side dishes, which are Neva’s Potatoes and Spinach Mac and Cheese. As good as the food always is here, we still needed a To-Go box for leftovers the next day.

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Last April, we didn’t go on a hike, but after seeing pictures on social media of all the waterfalls and streams, we thought it was a good idea for a morning hike this year, so Thursday was our day for it. We decided on a new trail this time–Porter’s Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls. This is considered moderate in difficulty, and we could definitely feel it afterward. The first mile is pretty easy, but it gets more difficult after the footbridge until you get to the Falls. There were so many pictures we took, as it was beautiful to see the rushing Little Pigeon River, the blooming Trillium flowers, the historic sites, and a few surprise guests on the return trip–a deer and a snake.

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We were tired, but we made it out to the Arts and Crafts Community, where we visited with my friend Lori, the owner of Farmhouse Mercantile, and stopped in Custom Creations by Beth where we purchased one of her paintings of the mountains to hang on our wall at home. I highly recommend a visit to their shops located at the Covered Bridge in the Glades; they are wonderful people who appreciate your business.

Finally, I can’t forget to mention our favorite place for breakfast in Gatlinburg, which is Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. We ate here for breakfast on Thursday morning and Friday before we left town. Their portions are consistently HUGE! Did I also mention they are very reasonable price-wise with fast and friendly service to go along with their high-quality breakfast dishes–or should I say…skillets, which they actually serve there.

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I am going to end this post by saying that this was another lovely trip to Gatlinburg and the mountains of East Tennessee. I don’t think we could’ve asked for better weather for the three days we stayed there–80 degrees and sunny every day! If this sounds like something you want to experience for yourself, check out Mobile Brochure to help plan your vacation to the Smokies and check out my blog for more of my Gatlinburg adventures. I will have a new one in June that I hope you will enjoy. I am sure I will too. Thanks for reading!

April Gatlinburg Trip Plans

The wait will soon be over.

Winter here in Ohio is trying to hang onto whatever life it has left, as flurries are forecast for the end of the work week; however, Spring is here, and that means we are set to make a return trip back to Gatlinburg. I shouldn’t complain too much since it really has been a fairly mild winter when compared to average winters here, which can be downright awful sometimes. I mean, I didn’t even have to shovel the driveway once this past winter. Still, the gradual warming of the temperature is comforting, and along with the longer days, it lifts the cloud of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which I actually believe is a real thing.

We are obviously excited to get back to our happy place, even if it’s just for a few days. We don’t have many activities planned, as some unfortunate things befell us leading up to our trip, but we don’t spend much until our traditional June trip anyway. I am going to share with you plans for our brief trip to the Smoky Mountains, which is just a few short days away.

Day 1

As some of you readers have seen from previous blog posts, I have expressed my desires to make a new life for our family here in East Tennessee. Keeping with this theme, I should mention that this day will mainly be spent scouting a few areas in Knoxville. Our plans include a few apartment visits and just checking out potential locales since I don’t have anything on the job front yet (The job must come first). When we do finally arrive in Gatlinburg, we will get checked into our downtown hotel and head to Best Italian in the Elks Plaza, if we haven’t already eaten in K-Town. Of course, we will stretch our legs a bit by walking the Parkway until we’ve had enough and eventually rest up for the next day.

Day 2

This will be our morning to head down to our favorite spot for breakfast–a place that needs no introduction, Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. This restaurant has the biggest portions, best food, and some of the best service (knock on wood) in town.

I could go on about this place, but I need to get moving as I am making a drive after breakfast back toward Knoxville for a career fair. I’ve heard they are a mixed bag, but if we want to make this happen, I need to get acquainted with employers here. Unfortunately, this probably means we’re winging it for lunch, as my wife won’t be coming with me to the career fair. 

Hopefully, time is on our side for heading to the Arts and Crafts Community to see my social media friend Lori at her relocated Farmhouse Mercantile, which is still at the Covered Bridge. We will probably visit more shops on Glades Road, but I look forward to this visit the most.

Back to Gatlinburg we will go, and here we will visit our favorite casual steak restaurant in town, Cherokee Grill. As I have mentioned before, we want to try other steak places in town, but we just can’t turn down their delicious steaks and side dishes. I also like that I can have a nice cold drink here from their craft brewery located just a few steps away at Smoky Mountain Brewery.

Day 3

Yes, unfortunately, this is our last full day in Gatlinburg. This will be my morning to take my solo walk–unless my wife is awake–to The Village where I can have my donut–or two–from The Donut Friar and my coffee from Coffee and Company. My peaceful morning walk will take me back the other way down the Parkway to Old Dad’s for a newspaper. I have to visit this little convenience store, especially after their gracious display of opening and feeding the firefighters when the tragic wildfires destroyed some of the Gatlinburg area in late November.

Since we learned Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will be open, that option could be considered, but if not, then we will spend our day perusing various shops including Sugarlands Distilling Co. They have the best moonshine in Gatlinburg in my opinion, and we may end up with another jar for the road. They have new flavors we haven’t tried, including an orange-flavored one that is advertised as tasting like an orange cream pop.

Day 4

This will probably be our morning we decide to hit the Pancake Pantry for the best pancakes in the Burg before our long and painful journey back home. It’s certainly a bit depressing to leave, but usually, it is inspiring to me in a sort of strange way that keeps me on a high for a few days after we arrive home. Oh well, time to start planning for the next trip, right.

Thank you for reading about my latest thoughts, advice, and happenings in Gatlinburg. I hope that you find it interesting enough to leave your questions and comments on anything related to The Smoky Mountains. I usually respond fairly quickly, so ask away. See you all next time!

April 2017 Events in Gatlinburg

Yes, this guy is planning another Gatlinburg trip next month, and while the first three months of the year are generally quiet as far as tourism is concerned, April means Springtime is upon us bringing in the dollars for a town in need of a serious boost. The town will be bustling with people soon, and there are a good number of events on the slate to experience as the weather turns consistently warmer.

Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament

Dates: April 1-2

Billed as the largest trout tournament in the Smokies, adults and children can compete in multiple events and categories. The event is sponsored by Rocky Top Outfitters, and prizes total $10,000 with over 10,000 trout stocked in over 20 miles of streams prior to the event. For more information, visit their website and join in with the other novices and experts for plenty of fishing enjoyment.

Smoky Mountain Winefest

Dates: April 7-8

You can sample wine here in Gatlinburg from wineries all over Tennessee at this event located at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. There is also a Wine Tour held on the first day that takes you on a guided tour of the Gatlinburg wineries. Seats are limited for the events and will probably sell quickly so you may want to get your tickets here if you are interested in participating.

Hands On Gatlinburg

Dates: April 7-9

This event provides the most options as it is sponsored by the Arts and Crafts Community and features a wide variety of demonstrations put on by the various artisans and craftsmen and women on the Arts and Crafts loop. Spaces are very limited for these brief classes that introduce the student as to what these people do every day. A full listing of the classes can be found here with various listings of prices.

Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage

Dates: April 11-15

Anyone with a passing interest in flowers to an educated botanist can partake in these tours. There will be seminars and guided tours that highlight the many different plants and animals that are native to the Great Smoky Mountains. Registration has already begun so take a look at their website to find out more information about the event.

Easter Sunrise At Ober

Date: April 16

This is a worship service sponsored by the Gatlinburg Ministerial Association and features free tram rides up to Ober Gatlinburg for anyone who wishes to attend the service which starts at 6:30 in the morning. Visit www.obergatlinburg.com to find out more about this Easter morning service.

Earth Week

Dates: April 17-21

Gatlinburg has recently become a very environmental-friendly place lately with their “Going Green” campaigns, and there is much to celebrate as they will having various events to mark the week in different locations. There is plenty of music, games, and events on any given day in Gatlinburg, but you may want to experience these particular events since many–if not all of these activities–will be held outside in the beautiful mountain sunshine or rain; either is just fine for many of us. Take a look at the rest of the Earth Week events found here.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t mention the Arts and Crafts show–which I will be attending–that will be held in the Convention Center on the Parkway. These talented artists and owners will be bringing their items for sale to display in their booths downtown during Easter Week.

Don’t be a stranger so be sure and comment if you have any questions. I am on Twitter as well to answer you if you feel the need to know something. I am looking forward to my trip, and I will hopefully have something else posted before then. Thanks for reading!

 

Getting Back to Business As Usual in Gatlinburg

This post is going to focus on reminding people that, in fact, Gatlinburg is open for business. I have heard many people on social media being under the impression that it was completely burned to the ground. IT HAS CERTAINLY NOT! In fact, most businesses were not affected structurally by the fires, even though there was plenty of smoke damage that needed to be addressed by many of these establishments. The following businesses that I will mention here have not yet reopened but are planning on inviting guests once again in the near future.

Zoder’s Inn

There is a special place in my heart for this motel located on the Parkway. It was here that we spent our first two visits in Gatlinburg. The fires spared this long time Gatlinburg motel; however, it did sustain significant smoke damage as a result of the November fires that inundated the surrounding area. They are using this time to do a major cleaning and partial remodel of the complex, which features many rooms that overlook the stream that meanders through the property. According to their Facebook page, Zoder’s  is planning on reopening in the Spring, so if you have reservations, you may want to contact them to check on its status.

El Sonador

This restaurant was featured in one of my recent posts as one I would like to visit. Sadly, the fires damaged this establishment, but fear not, they are planning on a reopen scheduled for the Spring. This is a popular Mexican restaurant that the locals have been fawning over since they opened. All accounts say that is truly authentic Mexican food. Located on the East Parkway, they offer live entertainment, a patio, and a brief respite from the bustle of the Parkway. We would love to come here in mid-April if they can be open by then, but June looks like a better possibility. Check out their Facebook page here or their website for updates when they become available.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift

This has to be the most improbable of all the reopenings due to the fact that the mountain it sits on was completely engulfed in flames. Although they have not yet set a reopen date, the Sky Lift also has plans to expand. The gift shop at the top was a total loss, and this will be rebuilt along with the addition of a pedestrian bridge, zip lines, and canopy trails located at the top of Crockett Mountain. A short summary of this story was written by a Knoxville television reporter and can be found in the link here. The Sky Lift has been a signature attraction in Gatlinburg for many years, and this is welcome news for visitors and the tourism industry here.

Alamo Steakhouse

Another restaurant that we were wanting to visit was completely destroyed in the fire, but the owner — Kelly Johnson, of Johnson’s Family of Restaurants — endeared herself to her employees and the public by announcing she would pay the employees their full salary for the next year. This family of restaurants owns nine in the area: Mad Dog’s Creamery, Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que, (a favorite of ours) and Big Daddy’s Pizzeria (another good one). This was one of the better stories to come immediately after the fires ground business to a halt a few months ago. Needless to say, I highly recommend you go to their other restaurants as they are working on a complete rebuilt to this particular one. No date for a re-opening has yet been set, but the kindness these owners displayed is not publicized enough nowadays, and I will applaud them and support them by continuing to visit their establishments and be among those that come to their new and improved Alamo Steakhouse in Gatlinburg.

I hope you gained some insight on the status of these businesses, and I certainly would encourage you to keep an eye on them to see when they are officially set to open. I also would love your input on any other businesses whose situation has you uncertain, and I will find that out for you as quickly as possible. Thank you as always for checking out my blog for the latest Gatlinburg happenings, tips, and other tidbits, and I welcome any comments. See you next time!

5 Options for Choosing Local Instead of Chain Businesses in Gatlinburg

Sometimes the choices can be a bit overwhelming when you are searching for a place to eat in Gatlinburg. This may result in you getting a bit comfortable with the places you normally stop and visit in your day-to-day busy lifestyle. I would like to steer you toward making decisions that will help the local business owner in town and give the local economy a boost, as well. Here are five businesses that will aid in that cause, instead of visiting the familiar chain establishments.

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Chain: Pizza Hut

Better Option: Best Italian

Sure, we all love Pizza Hut when it comes to good pizza — and Gatlinburg has one right on the Parkway — but I would like you to try Best Italian, instead, when you are visiting town. Best Italian has two locations: one in the Elks Plaza, and one directly off the Parkway. We have not had a better pie in Gatlinburg than here, and we are frequent pizza eaters, so this comes as high praise. They have plenty of good Italian dishes, as many of locals can attest to, but our standards are the Garlic Rolls — which come served with a generous dusting of parmesan, and dipped in a small pool of olive oil — and, of course, their pizza. We ordered a large extra cheese pizza last time, and they were VERY generous with the cheese. Let’s just say this is one of our first stops when we arrive in Gatlinburg.

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Chain: McDonald’s

Better Option: Old Dad’s General Store

I know what you’re thinking; why would I want to go to a convenience store, instead of a place where I know what I want every time. I’m glad you asked because Old Dad’s is more than just a general store, it boasts a grill inside that serves a good hearty breakfast too. You can have everything from a bacon egg and cheese biscuit to a fried green tomato BLT — all for breakfast at a reasonable and comparable price to McDonald’s. They also have a super friendly staff that welcomes you, even if you’re just in to pick up a newspaper.

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Chain: Dunkin’ Donuts

Better Option: Donut Friar

There are plenty of Dunkin’ Donuts scattered across the country, but there is only one Donut Friar. They are located in the Village in Gatlinburg, and they have the absolute best donuts I’ve ever eaten. Opening at the pre-dawn 5 a.m. hour, they serve the early riser and stay open until the evening to accommodate the day crowds. My wife isn’t a big donut eater, but I’ve managed to convert her by introducing her to one of my favorites, the Chocolate Chipper donut. Even with an abundance of breakfast places in town, here you can grab a quick bite and take some back to your hotel room.

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Chain: Texas Roadhouse

Better Option: Cherokee Grill

I will be one of the first to admit that Texas Roadhouse has some mighty tasty steaks, along with their rolls, but there is one place in Gatlinburg that has them beat, in my opinion. We didn’t discover Cherokee Grill until our second trip, and it didn’t take long for us to wonder why we didn’t go the first time. The steaks and the grilled chicken are AMAZING! But I don’t want you to think they don’t have good side dishes. Their Neva’s Potatoes is a twice-baked potato that’s full of flavor, and their spinach mac and cheese hits the spot too. Also on the menu are crab cakes, trout, and shrimp for the seafood lover. Their atmosphere gives off an upscale feeling, but don’t be put off by that, they are most certainly a casual restaurant that welcomes all families. It is our favorite dinner splurge on our vacation, and I highly recommend you try them.

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Chain: Starbucks

Better Option: Coffee and Company

Starbucks is one of the largest chains in the country and Gatlinburg is represented with one, but there is one coffee shop in town that you may not see or be aware of as a visitor. Coffee and Company has been in business in Gatlinburg since 1993, and they are a tiny shop in the Village that is a left turn out of The Donut Friar away. The first time I arrived here, I walked into the open door, even though it wasn’t quite their posted open time, and I got a Coffee 101 lesson when I told the owner I wasn’t sure what to get. I settled on a basic Shot in the Dark, which has an espresso shot, and I walked away not only satisfied with my pleasant tasting coffee, but I was happy that someone cared enough to help me with deciding on the perfect cup for me, which it was.

I hope that you found this a helpful read. I know how difficult it can be to veer off from your normal routine and try something different; however, when you are on vacation, I strongly believe that this is the time to try new things and knowing you’re helping small businesses can give you a special feeling. In our case, it keeps us coming back to Gatlinburg year after year.

 

My Story of How and Why Our Love for Gatlinburg Has Changed Us

As another year comes to a close, I want to reflect on a time when my mind wasn’t consumed with Gatlinburg, and the impact the town and surrounding area now has on my family. Just six years ago we were planning our very first trip to the tourist town, and while we were excited, we didn’t quite realize what was to come. The following is the story of how it came to fruition and why it keeps us coming back.

The year was 2010, and we were overdue for a real vacation. The trips to Columbus every October for our anniversary were fine, but they could hardly be considered a getaway vacation. It was merely a chance to do some Christmas shopping before the big seasonal rush, and since Lima, Ohio is not a big shopping mecca, we could get a lot accomplished here as it is just an hour and forty-five minute drive. Needless to say, it was not going to cut it for us anymore

My wife and I decided to get some vacation ideas at the local AAA office in Lima on a day we were both off from work. Our first ideas for the trip were Hershey, PA. and Washington D.C.; we aren’t big city people, so places like Las Vegas, New York City, and Chicago didn’t appeal to us — simply put, we wanted somewhere that was within reasonable driving distance, like six hours. Well, wouldn’t you know, the first thing I saw when I stepped inside the building was a Sevierville brochure with Dolly Parton on the front. That immediately made me think that Gatlinburg was close; and that I knew of some people that were married there. Since it was about a six or seven hour drive — and we thought seeing the mountains would be cool — we had our destination settled.

We were just giddy with excitement when the time came in June 2011 of our first real vacation since 2002. The drive — while seeming to be a bit long — wasn’t that terrible, the payoff was gazing at those Smoky Mountains for the very first time on the outskirts of Knoxville. It truly does take your breath away, as it is a stark contrast to the flat terrain of my home state.

It is difficult to really describe the feeling of being in those mountains and taking your very first hike there. One of our first hikes was to Grotto Falls, and it was amazing to get to walk behind the Falls after the mile and a half trek. The idea of a vacation took on a whole new meaning for us in those very moments. Some people’s idea of a vacation is stimulation and information overload: loud gaming sounds, bright lights, pounding music, roaring crowds. Don’t get me wrong, you can find a little of that in Gatlinburg at times; but the difference here is that you can take yourself out of these situations and into your own peaceful little utopia that you thought only existed in your dreams.

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Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

My love for Gatlinburg runs deeper than the Mountains of East Tennessee. There is a certain kind of genuine kindness that is on display with the people here; a kind that I don’t normally sense at home. Whether you are walking into a restaurant, or any small business in the area, you feel like you are being welcomed into their home; a place where you feel like a family member that you haven’t seen in a while. I have come to adore this Southern hospitality, as I believe it to be tangible; it is a feeling like no other, one that I would like other visitors to feel, which is why I’ve started this blog and connected with like-minded people on Twitter over it. Twitter has been valuable, since it has led me to meet people that make their home here with their own local business; here I can thank them by making purchases to support them and telling them I’ll see them again next time, which is never soon enough.

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The front of a shop in The Village

I wouldn’t be doing my love for Gatlinburg justice if I didn’t talk about something else there that is near and dear to my heart — the food. Yes, that’s right, you heard me. The food is excellent and I’m not afraid to say it loudly and proudly about a tourist town. Some may say it’s overpriced — wrong! The only thing that reminds you it’s a tourist town is the tax, which is around 10%. Not only do they have better pizza here (Best Italian), they also have better steak (Cherokee Grill) than my hometown offers. Of course you have to mention breakfast in Gatlinburg, and each of them offers some excellent, jaw-dropping, and belt-popping meals. I can remember my first experience with eating these foods as memorable, wanting to come back and wishing I could re-create the feeling upon returning home — a feeling on which my family agrees.

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Healthy Mountain Waffle from Crockett’s Breakfast Camp

All of these reasons combined are why my thoughts are with this place every single day when I work, when I have downtime, or when we discuss what we should do on our next trip. As long as I live here in Lima, Ohio, this will not change, and it will also not lead us to make plans to travel anywhere else on vacation. It is our perfect and ideal vacation.

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