Now that we’ve had a couple busy weeks of work, unpacking and catching up on sleep, I finally have a chance to sit down and share a few pictures and stories from part of our February road trip.
It started in mid-January when we decided, kind of suddenly, that we wanted to use some of our vacation time from work to visit Albert’s family in Wisconsin. Plane tickets were a bit higher than we would have liked to pay so, without another thought, we decided to drive instead. Some people think a 24 hour drive across the US sounds like a nightmare, but we had already made this same trip once before, about 2 years ago, and we were excited to try again. We took about 12 days off of work and decided to bring one of our dogs, Starbuck, so that she could experience life on the farm. We felt pretty prepared for the drive but decided to do things a little differently than our first road trip (when we drove straight through) and planned for a 2 night stop in Tennessee. I had originally wanted to visit Nashville but I had hard time finding a big-dog friendly hotel where it was going to be okay to leave Starbuck alone in our room if we decided to go out and explore the city. I was worried that the plans wouldn’t work out until my many hours of googling led me to research a different type of lodging: cabins near the Smoky Mountains.
I really loved the idea of getting to stay in a larger, more comfortable place with a kitchen and a hot tub (which I found out many cabins are equipped with) and having more privacy than we would in a hotel. I also loved the thought of being closer to the country and a national park. However, I spent about two weeks searching for cabins in the popular Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg areas of Tennessee with no luck- I could not find the perfect one. Every cabin I fell in love with was either in the middle of a ravine and impossible to get to without 4 wheel drive or too expensive with ridiculously high fees for pets. A lot of places advertised as being “dog friendly” but did not even allow dogs over 20 lbs (which reminds me of a Ron Swanson quote.)
I was about to give up on Tennessee until just days before our trip when I stumbled across Cramer’s Creekside Cabins in Cosby, TN – a town about 20 miles from Gatlinburg. I was immediately able to find a perfectly sized 1 bedroom cabin that was completely dog-friendly and welcoming to Starbuck, and the priced was the best I found- I even got an awesome discount for liking their page on facebook. And yes, it had a hot tub.
I’m incredibly thankful we found this place and that it worked out because we loved it and the short time we spent in Tennessee was unforgettable- our only regret was that we didn’t stay a few nights longer. We arrived on a friday night, a bit later in the evening than we had planned and we were a little bit stressed from our delay, but as soon as we arrived and enjoyed a relaxing evening and a bottle of wine by the fireplace, we instantly forgot about everything else I knew that the hassle of finding this place had been completely worth it.
The next morning I woke up to the sound of birds chirping and daylight breaking through the window. I’m not going to lie, I was confused for a few moments, I thought that the night before and arriving to the cabin had been a dream, but as soon as I reconnected with reality I jumped out of bed, eager to get the day started and go out exploring.
I bundled up and ran outside with Starbuck, who was just as excited and confused as I was, while Albi slept in. The temperature was about 20 and I was excited to find everything outside covered in a thin veil of sparkly frost, something you rarely see in Florida. Once Albert got up we started thinking about breakfast and having really no idea about the area we were in, he turned to the Around Me app on his iPhone for suggestions. We discovered a place not more than 5 minutes down the nearest road, an apple orchard and restaurant known as Carver’s Apple House Restaurant. Situated on a bit of a sloping hill, the charming restaurant and adjoining shop overlook an apple orchard which I imagine is incredibly picturesque when the trees are in season. There were even a few horses roaming amongst the trees while we enjoyed our breakfast.
Breakfast, by the way, was incredible. The restaurant lives up to it’s Apple House namesake and along with our hearty country breakfasts of eggs, bacon, biscuits, and grits, we also were provided with apple fritters, homemade apple butter, and delicious apple cider. After breakfast we stopped at the store where, of course, there were a multitude of fresh apple varieties to chose from along with an assortment of other produce, nuts, and locally made goods like jams, butters, relishes, and cider.
Breakfast was so incredibly satisfying and exciting that we headed back to the comfort of our cabin for a rather long nap (I mean, this was a vacation after all.) Once we were awake again and ready for more exploring we got in the car and drove towards the Gatlinburg entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National park.
I had not done a lot of research on the area before our trip nor had I planned any activities, we were completely winging it, so I was surprised to see how busy downtown Gatlinburg was as we drove through it. The strip is filled with shops, bars, restaurants, old-timey photo studios (the kind where you can dress up like a frontiersman or woman and have corny sepia-toned portrait taken) and some big attractions like a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and a huge aquarium. It was also packed with tourists and traffic. I would have loved to stop but it was late in the day and we really wanted to make it to the park before dark.
I have no idea how big the park is and how many places there are to visit. I mean, I know its huge, but we were short on time so we parked at the first visitor center we found and followed the signs for a nature trail. I am far from being a master-hiker but I love going on trails and frequently go for impromptu hikes here in Florida, but the scenery here was amazing and completely different from back home, and we were only at the entrance to the park. We passed a few creeks, a billion trees (guesstimating) and even a couple small waterfalls.
We walked at least 2 miles into the trail and pretty far up the side of the small mountain (or hill? how do you tell the difference?) until we reached a stream of water we couldn’t easily cross and decided to turn around. The scenery the entire way was breathtaking, and I collected a handful of pretty river stones to take home as souvenirs, which I’m not sure is even allowed but, oh well. Then, on the way back down the trail, something wonderful happened – we saw a deer.
I know that in places like this, and most of the US, deer are probably incredibly common, but I still freaked out. I kind of have a thing for deer, and all woodland critters, so to see a buck like this one in the “wild” was awesome. And he was so close to us! He just suddenly crossed the path in front of us, stopped to chew on some leaves, looked at me like I was a huge nerd while I stood there frozen and frantically snapping unfocused pictures of him, then he just calmy turned around and disappeared back into the trees.
It was magical.
I needed to settle down from the excitement of my encounter with Bambi, so we headed out of the park as the sun was setting and made our way back towards the downtown main street. Earlier in the day I had seen a flier for free tours and tastings at the Ole Smoky Mountain Moonshine distillery and we decided that if we had time to stop anywhere else, it had to be there.
The Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler was bustling and a live band was playing folksy mountain music to onlookers in rocking chairs. The tasting and sales room was crowded but there were numerous counters and we made our way up to one where we got to sample about 7 or 8 different varieties of moonshine and their moonshine-soaked cherries. They were all great, but my favorites were the classic 100 proof “white lightning” and the amazing apple pie moonshine. If you love apple pie and imbibing alcohol and can manage to get your hands on some of this stuff, do it!
After leaving the holler we realized that we were also standing beneath a Mellow Mushroom – one of our favorite pizza places back home. Except, this was a two-story establishment with a downstairs gift shop and a huge, flashy “moonshine lounge” (bar) unlike our quaint and adorable location in Winter Park, Fl.
Whenever I’m on vacation I try to avoid any place I know from back home, but the amazing thing about Mellow Mushroom is that each location is unique, so we HAD to stop there. We shared a small Mediterranean chicken pizza that was topped with tzatziki sauce and I had a cocktail made with Ole Smoky Apple Pie moonshine called “The Dolly Parton.”
Now, I love Dolly Parton and, as I had just discovered, I also love apple pie moonshine, so of course I love this cocktail. Since you can probably get ahold of Ole Smoky at any large liquor store, or even online, I will share the easy recipe with you, as copied from the menu in the restaurant.
The Dolly Parton
Equal parts Ole Smoky® Apple Pie MoonshineTM and ginger ale, splash of lime juice, garnish with 2 Ole Smoky® Moonshine CherriesTM
After an exciting evening we headed back to our cabin, soaked in the hot tub and enjoyed a frozen dinner and saturday night live. The next morning we packed our things and said goodbye to Tennessee, promising each other and Starbuck that we will go back – we have to go back!
Check back soon for part 2 of our road trip adventure and lots of pictures of snow. <3
For more pictures of our trip to Tennessee, check out my Flickr page!