When Tennessee became the destination for our vacation with Brandon's family, I really didn't know what to expect. He and I had suggested it because of a deal we had for a few condos for us to stay in, and we thought, "Why not?" None of us had been there before and we all loved the outdoors.
During our week-long stay, we experienced a little bit of everything, but here I'm recapping what stood out to me as the best tips to share if you're thinking about visiting Gatlinburg and/or Great Smoky Mountains NP!
Avoid the Crowds + Disconnect
Wow. Gatlinburg is B U S Y. I don't think any of us expected the Disney-eque nature of this town, or how many signs and attractions would be in our faces non-stop. While we did make a few trips in (shout out to Mellow Mushroom), I think we all felt relieved to return to our condos about 25 minutes away in Sevierville on the top of a hill with literally no service, wifi, anything. That in itself also sounds nerve-wracking, but it actually helped us to communicate in different ways (as in, face-to-face) and step away from the outside world in order to focus only on family for a week. And it helped us to have a nice balance of rowdy and relaxed environments throughout the week. If you're planning to be in the general area with a purpose of visiting the national park, I highly recommend staying outside of Gatlinburg.
Get Out on the Water
We decided to spend a day out on Douglas Lake and rented a pontoon boat and water tube. The 8 of us spent time tubing, sunbathing, fishing, and enjoying the beauty of the lake together! It was also a great way to stay cool in the summertime! I have to give a shout out to H2O Sports because our day got cut short due to a thunderstorm, and they allowed us to finish out our rental the following day. If you're feeling lost amongst the tourist traps or are looking for something to do outside of the national park, getting out on the lake is a great option!
Go to Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in GSMNP and the highest point in Tennessee! This was my favorite part of what we had the chance to experience in terms of the national park. We were lucky enough to have a clear June day and could see for miles!
You can reach the parking lot by driving through the park, and it's a 0.5-mile trek to the observation area. Though steep, the trail is totally doable and you can take your time! The observation tower allows you to experience a 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Overall, we had a nice time in Tennessee. I've since traveled to Memphis for work, but I'd like to explore other cities like Nashville and Knoxville. Our family trip, though with some unexpected twists and turns, turned out to be a great way to connect and disconnect and experience an incredible part of the natural landscape of our country.