Today I woke up to sunshine and I am ready to hit the open road and head towards the Smokey Mountains. Today we head to Pigeon Forge…I don’t know why but I am super excited. I have in my mind this quaint, quiet little mountain town…with log houses, rocking chairs on the front porch and it is laid back…something out of a postcard. Boy was I to discover how wrong I was.
The drive is only about four hours long, but with the way we like to explore this will likely take about seven hours. And since we have an amazing place booked for our stay for two nights, I want to get there sooner than later.
We follow Highway 11 veering off course west a little, but passing through mile after mile of farm lands and mountain views. I will share a few of the counties and towns with you.
Highland Park, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia is an architecture lovers dream. This little area has the largest number of restored Queen Anne style homes in all of Virginia. They are gorgeous…its like walking back in time…but with paved roads, a Starbucks coffee in the holder and taking pictures with a cellphone…pretty close, right? It is worth a drive through if you are in that area.
We drove through the small counties of Fort Chiswell, Hildreth House, Atkins, Mount Carmel and Chilhowie (which means valley of many deer…and yes there were a lot of deer; roadside and in the forest). There is no real history to share with you on these sites and we didn’t stop in any of them, but I found some pictures to share with you.
We did drive through Bristol…mainly because we had to…that is where the highway took us. Bristol, Virginia is right across from Bristol, Tennessee….its actually right across the road. Both towns are on their respective state lines, directly across from each other, and the main street is the state line…its called State Street. So you can stand in the middle of the street, straddle the lane dividing line and you will be in both Virginia and Tennessee. That is not something you get to do everyday. Bristol is home to the Bristol Motor Speedway. Its located in what is called Thunder Alley due to the roar of the racing cars engines echoing back to the crowd off of the mountains…I gather it sounds just like thunder.
The most interesting thing I found out about Bristol, Virginia is that it is the birthplace of country music. In 1927, Ralph Peer of Victor records made the first commercial record here with the Carter family. They received $50.00 per song recorded…that was a good sum of money back then. The Carter family went on to become the first ever country music stars. Now you may say…”Hey Jan, who is this Carter family you are going on about?” Well, one of the members was Maybelle Carter. She went on to become known as Mother Maybelle…and…she is the Mother of June Carter…the wife of Johnny Cash and a talent in her own right. I think this is a wonderful story that only one side of the main street in Bristol can call their own.
The route we have chosen to Pigeon Forge has us weaving in and out of Tennessee and West Virginia…but you never really notice much in the way of signs on this highway. We travel through Jearoldstown, Tennessee, Baileytown and then through Mount Carmel, West Virgina, and finally back to Tennessee. I have vertigo just typing this. Phew.
We pass a turn off that we didn’t take, but I wanted to share with you. After you are passed Mount Carmel, watch for Highway 448, the Dolly Parton Parkway. This will take you into Sevierville, the birthplace of Dolly. You can even go and see the cabin that she grew up in.
Only 8 miles from the turn off to Sevierville, we drive into…Pigeon Forge. Mountains loom beside me and I am so excited to see what it really looks like. Well, color me disappointed….well my expectations were. If you have ever seen Lundys’ Lane in Niagara Falls, Canada (if not you can google it)…well multiply the carnival atmosphere times 100 and you have…ta da…Pigeon Forge. It is an adventure and fun park town for families and it is full of lights, noise, theme parks and amusement areas and lots of over the top themes on everything. We decided this was a good time for a bit of lunch. We headed to the Outback Steakhouse, where Lexi, our waitress filled us in on the reality of Pigeon Forge. It really is a place that families come on their vacation…and Dollywood…well good luck getting in there without waiting in a long line-up. So with this in mind, we decide to drive through Pigeon Forge on the highway (aka, now the main road through town), and look for our room rental and check in.
I found this wonderful place online called Fireside Cabins. http://www.firesidechalets.com. I figured if I was going to be in the Smokey Mountains, I wanted a cabin in the mountains…I made the best choice. They have various sizes of cabins; from one bedroom to seven bedroom. All have fully equipped kitchens, air conditioning and heat and fireplaces (wood burning or gas) and all have internet access. Some have hot tubs, pool tables, theater rooms and games rooms. I highly recommend them if you are coming here.
We found the check in office but they were closed for an hour or so, so we went and picked up some provisions for the next couple of days while we waited. Check in was easy, and a door code was given to us and directions on how to get to our cabin. I only paid $165.00 taxes in for two nights…I feel that was a good price when you see the pictures of the place and compare it to staying in a hotel room.
I love travelling by motorcycle on a trip, but I am happy that on this trip we were in a car…this road was extremely narrow, climbed a good elevation up the mountain and was almost constantly curving. Not a great road for night driving, meeting on coming traffic or a deer. But…man oh man…those views!
We finally arrived at the cabin…and…sigh…I am in heaven. A beautiful little log cabin, with a porch out front and a deck out back, with a hot tub, and views that overlook the amazing Smokey Mountains. This is more than I could ever have imagined…I have such fond memories that I will forever cherish of my stay there.
We spend the evening snacking and drinking some wine, watched On Golden Pond (yes we laughed and cried during this movie), watched the moon come up over the mountains and went to bed. I knew that I needed to sleep for another adventure day tomorrow, but I didn’t want to miss a moment in this cabin. I really love this place…I wish that I had a home just like it.
The next morning, I had coffee on the back deck and watched fog of the Smokey Mountains slowly rise. I heard a grunt down below me on the ground and saw a few bushes move…I think I had a black bear visitor. Sadly he left before I could see him.
This morning we are headed to Gatlinburg for the day, and then back to the cabin. This is a day I have talked about a lot while planning this trip (I seem to do that a lot, don’t I?). We plan to visit Ole Smokeys’ Moonshine Distillery…how could this be a bad day?
Gatlinburg is in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The park is part of the Appalachian chain and has some of the highest summits in North America. Sixteen of the mountains are over 5000 feet, the highest being Clingmans Dome, coming in at 6643 feet. It is no wonder there are many hikers here. In fact over 13 million people visit this park every year to hike, camp, walk the Appalachian Trail, visit the towns within the area and to do historic walks in the park which has many historic cabins from the original settlers and mills from early logging days, prior to the land being preserved as parkland. It is good to be bear aware here…there are over 2000 of these lovelies wondering the woods. I felt so humbled and in awe of this place…I don’t believe I have ever been in the woods and realized how spectacular they are as I did here.
Gatlinburg is a very touristy place, filled with shops, restaurants, resorts, hotels and…moonshine distilleries. In the winter it is a ski resort, much like Collingwood, Ontario, Canada is. The town was named after Radford Gatlin, who was the postmaster. Unfortunately, he was run out of town due to his views on the Civil War, which went against the views of the rest of the townsfolk. It is home to the longest footbridge in the USA, which spans two mountains and is something to walk…I am told. It is a great place to park the car and walk around, which is exactly what we did.
The first stop we made was the Gatlinburg Package Store. Its a wine and spirits store… of course, I had to make a few purchases. Now that our supply for the evening was complete…into the main area of Gatlinburg we go. Parking the car took a little time, as it was so busy with so many folks from all over coming to check things out.
Once parked, our first stop was the place I wanted to see the most…Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery. Known as “The Holler” (why do I love that word so much?), Ole Smokey is the most visited distillery in all of the USA. It is the first federally licensed distillery in Eastern Tennessee, becoming legal on July 4, 2020…although it has made illegal moonshine for many decades before this. Originally it started when the Irish and Scottish immigrants settled in the area and began to do what they did in their homeland…make alcohol. Since the government imposed a $2.00 per gallon tax on legally made whiskey, it became too costly for many folks, so the moonshiners had a solid customer base. Corn farmers in the area quickly jumped on board and started illegal stills of their own, since using their corn to produce “shine” to sell was far more profitable than the costs of harvesting and transporting their corn to markets in big cities…and they sold a lot of corn locally to the area moonshiners…win/win for everyone. The term “moonshine” was coined due to the stills doing their cooking in the middle of the night to avoid being found by the police. If you go for a tour of the Forbidden Caves in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, you will see old stills there, as this was a popular place to set up shop, due to their remote location and ability to hide the stills from the law.
Ole Smokey Moonshine is made from a 100 year old recipe, and they make numerous flavors and proofs of the product, ranging from 40 to 100 proof. When you visit the distillery in Gatlinburg, you are able to sample 5 or 6 different blends and proofs for free (although I hear that you now have to pay to do this). You can tour the distillery, shop in their 12,000 foot store and of course purchase shine…I bought a few to share with the folks at home…it was a hit. Out front there are many giant rocking chairs, where you can sit and listen to different local bluegrass bands…it is truly what I expected and more. This is a must see if you are in Gatlinburg…and yes,…moonshine is an acquired taste…which thankfully, I acquired pretty quick. Oh, and as a fun Covid-19 fact….Ole Smokey now produces hand sanitizer…do not lick your hands. Ole Smokey also had some wine sampling going on…sooooo…I had to try a couple and loved them all.
A walk down the street brought us to the Davey Crockett distillery….and so it was sample time again. You can really taste the difference from their products and those of Ole Smokey…those cherished secret recipes really do matter. Davey Crockett distillery is similar to Ole Smokey in that you can shop in their store and buy their products. It was a really neat store to browse in.
It was time to eat…I am sure you can figure out why…and so we walked until we found this delightful place…Dicks Last Resort. How could you not go in here? It was a pub style place, with many choices on the menu, a fun waitress, and a place I would recommend as a stop in for some good pub grub.
A post lunch stop at the Great T-Shirt Company had me purchasing…well, t-shirts. So much selection, but great mementos of my day in this lovely town.
Heading back towards the car, we feel fueled up enough after lunch to try one more moonshine sampling…this time at Sugarlands Distillery. This is a very new distillery that takes honoring the area of the Smokeys seriously. They are housed in a beautiful building that has been built with stone and out of reclaimed wood, both on the inside and outside, from houses and barns of the homes in the mountains that pre date the Civil War. There is a an area out back they call “the back porch” where you are welcomed to sip “shine” and listen to live music. There is merchandise to purchase in the store and of course you can buy some of their very smooth moonshine. Great environment to hang out for a bit in.
Heading out and continuing the walk back to the car we stumble upon Ole Smokey Candy Kitchen…yummmmmmy. A few free sample of sweet treats infused or made with moonshine…and I walk out with two bags of moonshine peanut brittle…neither of which survived the night.
Across the street from our car is the area called The Old World Village. Set back off the main street and housed in some really quaint buildings are over 27 unique shops and restaurants. There is pottery, donuts, jewelry, clothing, candles, coffee, Celtic goods, bath and body and….well, the list goes on. It felt like being transported to Europe to walk through this lovely little area. A few benches placed in the beautiful inner court gardens make it the perfect spot to people watch and to gaze toward the ever looming mountains surrounding this town.
I took a moment to get my picture taken with a couple of furry, well in this case, wooden friends…I couldn’t resist their cuteness….could you?
Our time for exploring today has wound to an end. And so we leave Gatlinburg and head back to the cabin. A quick supper and a few movies (Ghost and Gettysberg…how fitting for this trip) and its time for bed…with visions of moonshine dancing in my head.
In the morning I hopped into the hot tub on the back deck and drank my coffee…How amazing to watch the morning clouds quietly disappear and the surrounding mountains slowly becoming visible…this is why they are called the Smokey Mountains, because we are up so high in elevation, that the clouds linger, all of the time. They are very thick leaving minimal visibility in the early mornings and late at night. I can eventually see across to another looming mountain and sit looking at the cabins nestled there…it is then I vow to come back and rent another cabin for a longer period of time. I settle into a rocking chair for my final cup of java and immediately hear rustling in the bush below my deck. Its another bear…not caring about me…just making its way to wherever it needs to go.
A quick breakfast and the packing of the car means its time to leave this beautiful place and head out for a long days drive to our next destination.
Our next stop is filled with ghost sightings (mine), history, mean pirate ghosts and southern hospitality….we are heading to Savannah.
Come along…this next story has much to offer your curiousities and will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck…I promise.
Live Your Life….Jan