Showing posts with label Tennessee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tennessee. 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.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park On A Budget - Things To Do

Alum Cave Trail
"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."  
President Lyndon B. Johnson

One of the best vacations a family can take is to a national park.  National parks are a great way for families to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life and just relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. For the budget conscious family, national parks provide unlimited entertainment at a price that is easily affordable. If you do not have a national park near your home, then visit state parks. It will be an adventure!

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is located in Tennessee and North Carolina.  It spans over 521,000 acres and has over 2,900 miles of streams. Within the national park you have hiking, biking, fishing, camping, ranger-led programs, zip lining, white water rafting, and many other activities to keep your days filled with good times! My family visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park during the summer. However, the park is open year round.Did I mention the fee for visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park is FREE?  That's right! You can visit this beautiful park with no cost to you!  The only fee you might incur would be for camping or pavilion rentals. So now that I have sold you on price, the next question is what can you do at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park?
  • Visitor Center - Before heading out on your adventure, make plans to visit one of the 7 visitor centers located in and around the park.  In addition to history and facts about the park you will also have access to brief videos that tell you more about the park.  Also, the park rangers will be able to notify you of trail closings. You can find three visitors centers outside Great Smoky National Park in the towns Gatlinburg, TN, Sevierville, TN, and Townsend, TN. There are four visitor centers within the national park - Cade's Cove OconalufteeSugarlands and Clingmans Dome.
    Alum Cave Trail

  • Hiking - There are "officially" 150 trails to hike in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Since we are not avid hikers, and our son was only 8 years old, we hiked mostly moderate and easy trails. See my blog on hiking trails for more information. My best advice is to get a good map before heading out on a hike.  After being lost on the Appalachian Trail, I can honestly say you need a detailed map of trails. I recommend purchasing the paper maps at the visitor's centers because your cell phone is likely to run out or battery and/or signal and then you don't have a map. The national park service has a map with all the trails marked on it available online by clicking here. There are wonderful online resources for hiking trails and the level of difficulty at sites such as Hiking the Smokys or Backpackers. I also like EveryTrail because it has an app you can download for Android or iPhone for you to make customized maps.  When hiking wear proper footwear. I saw countless numbers of people hiking in flip flops! Even the moderate trails are not easy enough to wear flip flops while hiking. When hiking take plenty of water and non-perishable snacks. The temperature changes at Great Smoky Mountains based on elevation.  You will need to stay hydrated throughout your hike - take water. Bear pepper spray is permitted for hikers in Great Smoky National Park. There are over 1,500 black bears in this park and they are not the cuddly bears they appear to be!  As a safety precaution, carry bear pepper spray. Hikers in the Great Smoky National Park move about 1.5 miles per hour.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to make the hike before dark. See the National Park Service hiking safety facts when planning your trip. 
  • Biking - The roadways throughout the park are NOT suitable for safe bicycling due to steep terrain and high automobile traffic. However, Cade's Cove has an 11 mile loop that is great for bicycling.  You can rent bikes near the Cade's Cove campground.
    Stream Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Fishing - Fishing is permitted year round in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  This fun activity can be enjoyed by any age.  Fishing is great for the family on a budget! The Great Smoky Mountain National Park also offers the rare southern opportunity of trout fishing. Fly fishing is the preferred method of fishing in this national park. There is a children's only section of the Little Pigeon River near Herbert Holt Park in Gatlinburg.  Licensing and other important information can be found on the National Park Service web page

  • Driving Tour - If you are not able to hike or bike the Great Smoky Mountains, you can always take a driving tour.  There are over 350 miles of scenic drives in this national park.  The average speed limit is 30 miles per hour.  Due to popularity of driving tours, expect A LOT of traffic, especially during high tourism season. Some of the most popular driving tours include: Cade's Cove, Clingman's Dome, Little River Road, Newfound Gap, and Roaring Fork. 
  • Camping -  Camping options include group camping, back country, and front country at a variety of locations throughout the park. You can find more information about camping at the National Park Service website. When I visited the area I chose to stay in a hotel. See my blog on lodging near Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
  • Zip Lining with CLIMB Works - Yes, I know there are other options for zip lining in the Great Smoky Mountain area, however I do not believe the other options could be as good as CLIMB Works. Zip lining with CLIMB Works was one of the best things we have ever done on vacation, 2.5 hours of shear exhilaration! Our guides were spectacular! By the end of the zip we felt a certain comradery with our guides as well as fellow zippers. Everyone should zip at least once in their lives and CLIMB Works Tours was a top notch choice. While the cost is not cheap, it is worth every  penny. 
    Zipping with CLIMB works
  • Whitewater Rafting - Does your family seek an adventure on water? If so, whitewater rafting is for you! In the Great Smoky Mountain area you have several choices for whitewater rafting.  For around $45 per person you will have an exhilarating experience your family won't soon forget!
  • Visit Nearby Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - If you tire of the great outdoors and seek some theme park style adventure then Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge are for you!  Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge, Tennessee have plenty to do for the family once you leave the national park. Activities include Riplee's Aquarium, The Village Shops, Hypnotized by Guy Michaels comedy show, MANY putt putt golf, arcades, & go-kart places, MANY old west family photography studios, Dixie Stampede dinner show, Dollywood Theme & Water Park, wax museums, dinner theaters, and any other kind of touristy destination you can imagine.  I personally found all the tourist trap offerings to take away from the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and tried to avoid the trap as much as possible. For the budget conscious family you will need to pick wisely which pricey touristy options your family will partake of as most are quite expensive.
  • To plan your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains click here & download the National Park Service app.