☰ i
  • Travel Stories
  • Vacation Sweepstakes
  • Where To?

    Canada | Caribbean
    O, The Oprah Magazine

Travel Stories
    Enter to Win

<< Back to Travel Stories

Making Memories

Aquatic adventure, outdoor fun, and local gems in Gatlinburg

Spring break was upon us and I was determined to do something fun with my two sons and husband. I wanted to make some lasting memories with my family, like my father did for my siblings and me. My favorite memory was when he took us camping in the Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I remembered the great times we had sitting by the campfire, discovering new hiking trails and fishing in the nearby creek, and decided a four-day cabin trip to Gatlinburg would be perfect for our family adventure. Mike, my oldest, is 18 and he is my outdoorsman; Matt is 14, he is my science and aquatic guy; my husband, Tim, is all about golfing and fishing, and all things sports. Me? I'm looking for shopping, good Southern food and fresh air.

We arrived early enough to enjoy the sunset; there was no careless rush to get inside. This was a scene worth taking in and we all felt it. Astonished by the beauty that lay before us, we paused to gaze at the deep blue, cloudless sky and green-carpeted mountainside. It felt as though we were still outside as we entered the cabin. The walls were made of beautiful logs that rose all the way up to the high ceilings. The boys ran around checking everything out. Tom and I went to the master bedroom to settle in, and realized that there was a door that lead outside, revealing a beautifully dark-stained deck with a hot tub (score)! The boys informed us that there was a game room upstairs with a pool table, air hockey, darts and a big-screen plasma TV. While they were busy playing pool, we couldn't resist soaking in the hot tub on the deck.

I got up earlier than everyone the next morning, coveting time alone before the rush of the ¬day. Coffee in hand, I walked out onto the deck and appreciated the quite calm. I could see the town of Gatlinburg nestled cozily in its perfectly protected valley. The morning fog covered the town like a well-worn blanket, tucked lovingly along the mountain ridge.


The next three days were filled with big plans: day one was driving to and hiking to the waterfalls, which the Smoky Mountains are famous for.

Grotto Falls - Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Flickr/Timothy Wildey

We went to Grotto Falls, where we could actually walk behind the water. We stepped behind the falls and stood together, letting the spray of the cool water land on us, and listening to the roar of the falls in revered silence.

Next, we drove to Cade Cove Falls. On our route, we saw churches, a working gristmill, barns and other old buildings from the 1800s that were lovingly restored. We took a hike right off of the six-mile driving loop of Roaring Forks motor trail; the trail runs parallel to cool bubbling streams and white-capped rivers. Noah "Bud" Ogles homestead farm was the perfect spot to pause for a picnic. After lunch, we took the paved trail to Laurel Falls. The fall itself, with its 80-foot-tall cascades, is known for its picture-perfect lighting. On this sunny day, the falls created a vibrant rainbow.

Mike was a constant voice of information on flowers and trees and plants, he was definitely in his element. Everything we had seen was a picture waiting to be taken and an experience waiting to be lived.

Aquatic adventure

Touch-A-Ray Bay – Flickr/magicalweasal

The next day, we visited Ripley's Aquarium—it is rated as the number one aquarium in the nation, and rightfully so. The water tunnels made us feel as though we were being transported through the ocean. The boys marveled at 10,000 species of exotic fish, twelve-foot sharks and the indoor/outdoor penguin exhibit. Matt even got to interact with the stingrays by petting them in the water at Touch-A-Ray Bay. The radiant joy on his face was one of the highlights of the trip. After our Aquatic adventure, we stopped at a Smoky Mountain-themed restaurant that featured local dishes like the delicious fresh rainbow trout that I got. Of course, there were other great items like the juicy steak that Tom ordered. The boys got to try their first fried-green tomatoes. Believe it or not, they really liked them!

Local goodies

The following day, Tim and the boys headed off to the Gatlinburg Golf Course I took this opportunity to tackle some serious shopping in the heart of Gatlinburg. The shops carry an array of everything—jewelry, pottery, homemade quilts, baskets and stained glass, to name a few—all created by local artisans.

Gatlinburg also offers fine-art studios that feature local, national and international artists. I picked up some little gifts for Tim and the boys, a couple of beautifully weaved baskets and a breathtaking painting depicting The Great Smoky Mountains in the fall, which I can't wait to hang on our wall when we get home.

On our final night, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner. We were seated on the terrace where we could hear live bluegrass music nearby serenading us as we ate. After dinner, we walked over to the music and alternated between sitting on a bench and dancing. Even the boys found dance partners and made some new friends. We all enjoyed ourselves and danced late into the evening.

The next morning, we packed the car to head home. Even after four days, we hardly scratched the surface of what Gatlinburg has to offer. Our drive home was anything but quiet as the boys rehashed their favorite parts of the trip. "That was so cool getting to pet the stingrays!" Matt gushed.

"It was awesome to actually stand behind the waterfalls. It would be cool to do that again and discover more falls," Mike said, with a clear longing for more.

These are exactly the memories and fun I wanted to share with my family. This family adventure was surely a success, and one for the books.

Discover family fun and adventure in Gatlinburg!

You may also be interested in:

America's Leading Source for Free Travel Information