Showing posts with label Great Smokey Mountains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Great Smokey Mountains. Show all posts

Great Smoky Mountain - Eating Out

When you are on vacation you are on vacation, right? I venture to guess that NO ONE wants to cook while on vacation.  Therefore, your family will eat out most of the meals. For the budget conscious family this can be a deal breaker on whether or not you go on vacation this year. Below I have some tips to help you save money on food while on your family vacation:

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Gatlinburg TN
where the food is good but PRICEY!
  • Eat breakfast in your room - Make sure your lodging accommodations have a refrigerator in your room.  This can save you lots of money because you can keep breakfast foods in it. Better yet, if you can find an affordable hotel/motel that offers FREE breakfast stay there. As you leave for the day grab some non-perishable fruits and cereals to take with you that day to snack on. 
  • Join every restaurant club you can - Most chain restaurants have loyalty programs where they reward you for being a member with free food on your birthday. When you sign up for the club, state that your birthday is around the days you will be travelling. About 1 week prior to your "birthday" you will get free food that you can use while on the trip. 
  • Stay AWAY from the tourist spots for food - In Gatlinburg we quickly learned that if we ate on the main strip through town we would pay 2 to 3 times the cost of a meal off the main drag.  Eat where the locals eat.  Some of our favorites in Gatlinburg include Mountain Lodge Restaurant (our favorite with great lunch specials) & Hungry Bear BBQ. Both are locally owned and operated and serve good, reasonably priced food. We also enjoyed the Texas Roadhouse on the main strip but that was the ONLY restaurant we enjoyed on the main strip. 
  • The days you plan to hike, take a lunch - We stopped at Subway & picked up sandwiches for our hike before heading out each day.  You can also go to the grocery store and get beef jerky, bagels, nuts, or other non-perishable high protein foods to give you the energy to make it until dinner.  Make sure you take plenty of water to avoid dehydrating.\
  • If you have the option of eating out at lunch or dinner - CHOOSE LUNCH.  At sit down restaurants the cost of eating out increases by as much as 35% from lunch to dinner. Therefore if you are going to eat out at a sit down restaurant, CHOOSE LUNCH it's less expensive.
  • Drink water instead of sodas/tea - The average cost of a soda or tea in a restaurant today is $2.80 per glass.  For a family of 4 that is an additional $11.20 added to your meal price just for drinks.  If you drink alcoholic beverages you will spend even more! If you want to save money, opt for water.  If you do not like the taste of plain water ask for a lemon wedge to place in it. 
  • Do NOT order appetizers or desserts - In many sit down restaurants the cost of an appetizer is almost the same cost as a meal. Forgo the appetizer unless it is a meal for one of your family members. If you MUST get a dessert, share it with multiple people in your party.
  • Order kids meals for any members of your family - Fast food restaurants do not ask to see the child before handing you the kids meal.  If you don't need a full meal then order the kids meal at fast food restaurants.  Sit down restaurants tend to have strict guidelines on who can order from the kids meal. However, you can ask for a smaller portion and save money that way. 
  • Use coupons -  Go to the chamber of commerce (website or actual location) for the town you are visiting and ask for vacation booklets.  Often times there will be coupons for area restaurants. You can also find coupon books at area hotels too. 

Great Smoky Mountain - Lodging

Where should you stay when visiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park? Below I have accommodation options:

  • Vacation Rental Homes - If you seek to have a vacation in a setting that feels like home, you have many options in the Great Smoky Mountain area.  Check out websites such as Airbnb, Homeaway, Vacation Rentals By Owner, & Flipkey among others. Vacation homes are great for the large family on a budget because you can get a home that will come with a full kitchen (save money by cooking meals in the crock pot during the day) as well as plenty of room for everyone.  

  • Hotel/Motel Options - When my family traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains, we opted to stay in a motel.  My family consists of myself, my husband, and our 9 year old son. A single hotel/motel room with 2 queen beds meet our needs nicely as we spend most of our days outside the room and use it only for showering and sleeping. There are hundreds of hotels/motels from which to choose in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  My family was on a budget so we needed a CLEAN & well priced hotel/motel for our 4 night stay. We chose Jack Huff's Motor Lodge in Gatlinburg, TN. What can I say about Jack Huff's? 
    • Let me begin by stating I have stayed at mid-range chain hotels across the nation and have never had an experience like Jack Huff's Motor Lodge. Most of the mid-range hotels have paper thin walls and staff who could care less about you and your accommodations. Jack Huff's is a family owned business that takes pride in their property and customer service. The hotel itself is not new. Believe it or not that is actually to the guest's advantage. You see when this building was built the walls were made so that you could not hear every movement of your neighbor. This makes for a pleasant sleeping experience. Jack Huff's is not full of frills. 
    • You will not find down comforters and pillows on the beds. The furniture I am certain must be at least 20 years old. However you could not tell that by looking at it because it is exceptionally clean. Cleanliness is my TOP priority when staying at a hotel. Jack Huff's does not disappoint. I did not even find a speck of dust in the room. 
    • I really liked that the room had a microwave and fridge. This saves us lots as we were able to eat breakfast in our room. 
    • I also enjoyed the balcony. It was nice to sit out on in the evenings and watch the people go by. 
    • Finally I liked that the hotel was off the main Parkway. We tried to avoid the Parkway at all costs as it did not appeal to us. We came here to hike in Great Smoky Mtn National Forest and found the Parkway to be WAAAAAY too commercialized to the point of ridiculousness.
    • The staff at Jack Huff's were very accommodating as well. They were friendly and made me feel like I mattered. 
    • The rates for our summertime visit was an affordable $75/night for a spacious room with a balcony.  Great option for a family on a budget!
    • Jack Huff's
      204 Cherokee Orchard Road
      Post Office Box 865
      Gatlinburg, TN 37738
    • If I am ever back in this area I will certainly stay here again. Thanks Jack Huff Motor Lodge for providing me such an accommodating place to stay!

Great Smoky Mountain - Hiking Trails

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers a wide range of trails to hike.  Hikers of all skill levels can find suitable trails. My family would not be considered skilled hikers.  Therefore we hiked Easy & Moderate skill level trails.  In this posting you will find a list of each trail we hiked. 
Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail


  • Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail (Distance .5 mile round trip) - This easy trail is located behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg.  The trail is paved, level, and wheelchair/stroller accessible. You follow a creek that meanders through a beautiful setting of trees, plants, and nature at it's best. At the end of the trail is a waterfall making the trip worthwhile.  Who should consider this trail? Anyone.
Clingmans Dome
  • Clingmans Dome (Distance 1 mile round trip) - I must admit I was torn about ranking this trail as easy. I think it might be best classified as easy/moderate. At an elevation of 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The winding path up to the observation tower is paved but it is VERY STEEP.  You will also have to deal with the increase in elevation making it difficult to breathe as you hike this trail. There are benches every 1/10 of a mile for those who need to rest. Take your time and you will be fine.  The view from the observation tower is worth every step!  Who should consider this trail? Those who are healthy to walk a steep grade short distance in a high elevation. 

  • Gristmill at Cades Cove
  • Cades Cove (Walking Distance: 1/2 mile round trip Driving tour 11 miles round trip) - The Cades Cove driving loop is great for family members who cannot hike but would still like to enjoy the beauty of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Half way around the driving tour is the restored buildings including a working gristmill. During the time of our visit there was volunteers explaining how the gristmill worked as well as other historically significant information about the area. Make sure and stop by the Cades Cove visitor center and purchase an inexpensive guide book so you can have the historical facts associated with the area. Cades Cove is great for a driving tour, bicycling, wildlife viewing, and touring historic buildings.Who should consider this trail?  Anyone - it is very easy to walk around the historic buildings.

Grotto Falls
  • Grotto Falls (Distance 2.6 miles round trip) - Grotto Falls hike is through an old growth forest that leads to a beautiful 25 foot waterfall that you can walk under! While the trail is fairly easy, there are many tree roots you can trip on.  Also be aware of the slippery rocks once you get to the waterfall area. There is not much elevation increase with only a total of 585 feet gain in elevation. Who should consider this trail? Anyone, just be careful of the tree roots and slippery rocks. 

    Laurel Falls
  • Laurel Falls (Distance 2.3 miles round trip) - The Laurel Falls hike is an easily accessible trail with the most rewarding waterfall of all at the end of the trail. The trail is paved making it easier for those with mobility problems to get to the falls. Because of the easy access and the paved trail many people visit causing some potential congestion. While the trail is paved, there are some steep drops when you near the falls, make sure to keep small children close by. The best times to visit Laurel Falls is in the morning or late evening for the best photo opportunities.  The waterfall has lower upper level falls making it all the more grand. Who should consider this trail? Anyone who is moderately fit.

  • Appalachian Trail (Distance 2,185 miles ONE WAY!) - The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine.  A portion of the trail runs through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Clingmans Dome. We hiked a short distance on the trail and then doubled back to our car parked in the Clingmans Dome parking lot. However, we did get lost because we did not have good maps. BEFORE you head out on trails, make sure you get detailed maps of the area you are hiking.  I recommend purchasing the paper maps sold at the visitor's center. Who should consider this trail? A moderately fit person with a good map.

Abrams Falls
  • Abrams Falls (Distance 5 miles round trip) - Abrams Falls is located in the Cades Cove area.  This trail follows Abrams Creek making for spectacular photo opportunities.  There are many tree roots combined with steep elevation making this trail a true moderate hike. Once you arrive at Abrams Falls you will be impressed with how a 26 foot waterfall can be so powerful!  Please make sure you adhere to the warning signs and stay out of the water. Backpacker Magazine ranked this trail one of the most dangerous trails in America due to the number of deaths caused by people getting in the water. Who should consider this trail? A moderately fit person with good walking shoes. (I can't tell you how many people I saw in flip flops on this trail complaining about their feet hurting.)

    Alum Cave Trail
    Lower Trail Alum Cave Trail
  • Alum Cave Trail (Distance 11 miles round trip if you go all the way to Mt. LeConte elevation 6,593 feet) - My favorite trail we hiked was the Alum Cave Trail.  We started the trail early, around 7:30 A.M. We originally planned to hike up to Alum Cave Bluffs and turn around which was only 4.6 miles round trip.  However once we got to the bluffs we met others who were headed up to Mt. LeConte and they convinced us it was worthwhile to keep going. Am I ever glad we did!   The lower half of this trail has foot bridges, streams, and some of the most beautiful scenery found! The first 2.3 miles was a typical moderate trail that was enhanced by Arch Rock & Alum Cave Bluffs. From Alum Cave Bluffs the terrain becomes more difficult putting the upper portion of the trail in the high moderate to difficult range. The trails are narrow in places with only a cable to hold on to as you hike.  In some places the trail is only 15" wide with a hundreds of feet deep ravine beneath you. As you traverse these butt clinching passages you feel accomplished!  Once you reach the summit of Mt. LeConte you are greeted by a host of cabins with no modern facilities.  Guests book the accommodations 1 year in advance so do not plan on spending the night in this little piece of yesteryear without prior reservations. There is a restaurant atop the mountain, however the food offerings are limited to bagels, cream cheese, Slim Jims, & bottled water for those who do not make reservations. Take time to sit on the porch of the restaurant in one of the rocking chairs and take in the beautiful scenery. THIS is what life is all about! Note: Make sure you take a jacket because as you ascend to the top of the mountain, the temperature will be at least 25 degrees cooler than in the valley. Who should consider this trail? Lower trail, anyone who is moderately fit. Upper trail, physically fit persons who will take their time on the narrow passages. (We passed a group of teenagers that were running across the 15" narrow passages - I hope they all made it down alive.) 

Church built in the 19th century
at Cades Cove
Throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park you will find many quiet walkways. These walkways are usually not crowded and often have beautiful scenery. Cades Cove has some short walks from the driving loop that take you to houses and churches built during the 19th century. You will find signs while driving the park roads that say Quiet Walkway. Who should consider quiet walkways? Anyone - they are easy paths into nature.