When we began our Great Smoky Mountain Road Trip, we were welcomed by the remnants of Hurricane Florence. Our itinerary had included a couple of days of indoor activities, so we moved those ahead to save the outdoor fun. Fortunately, the rain moved away in time for us to enjoy more pancakes, mountains and bears. It seems that vacation days pass much more quickly, so we planned to make the most of our remaining time. (If you haven’t seen Part 1 of our trip, you can find it here.)
Keeping Our Rhythm
We were hitting our stride for visiting pancake restaurants. This morning, we dropped by Log Cabin Pancake House for our morning flapjack fix. If a restaurant has cabin and house both in its name does it make it extra special? Well this place certainly had some unique topping combinations. Crystal was sticking with her berry heavy choices, but I still wanted to test the waters. A plate of Caribbean Pancakes was certainly out of the ordinary. The pancakes had slices of bananas cooked into the batter, and then topped with more of them. It was also sprinkled with coconut, powdered sugar, and chopped pecans. These were certainly the most unusual variety of hot cakes I sampled.
With breakfast done, it was time to head out of town. Today’s schedule had lots of car time, but we left space for stops, as often as wanted. Passing through the park, on our Smoky Mountain Road Trip, we were enjoying the rushing water from the recent rains. It seemed like every curve we rounded offered another good selfie opportunity. After a while, we decided to get back to the main purpose of today’s drive.
Above the Clouds
With the sun threatening to make an occasional appearance, we headed off to explore the Blue Ridge Parkway. This Appalachian roadway leads travelers along a path from Cherokee, North Carolina to Afton, Virginia. The 469 miles of scenic wonders were too much for our schedule, so we chose the section that leads up to Asheville, North Carolina. Our path led us through multiple tunnels and past amazing overlooks. The 80+ miles of our route took us around 3 hours with stops. We limited our stops this direction, since we had decided to come back the same way.
Duck, Duck, Beef
With hunger setting in, we pulled in to Asheville to scope out a lunch stop. We saw plenty of familiar names of places on our itinerary, since many restaurants are regional chains. Our final destination brought us to Biltmore Avenue, where we tested out the dishes at White Duck Taco Shop. This place offers some interesting flavor combinations and is clearly a local favorite. (You can read about Blue Ridge and Asheville here.)
Our return trip saw the sun beginning to escape from the clouds. With the return of the light, we decided it was the perfect chance to scale Clingmans Dome. We had passed the turn-off earlier in the week, but the rain prevented a visit. This time we found that many visitors had the same idea as we had. We joined the line of hikers making their way up to the highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. Soon we were looking out over the beautiful blue mountains. (You can read more about Clingmans here.)
Even though the climb was a challenge, we couldn’t imagine anything that would top it. As we made our way down the mountainside, we came to a small pull=off parking lot, that is near a trail head. Earlier in our trip we had spotted a black bear running across the road ahead of us. It was thrilling and really excited Crystal. If you were following our Instastory, you probably saw her video clips during our Smoky Mountain Road Trip. You can see the clips in our Smoky Mtn. highlight reel on our Instagram profile page. (Connect to our Instagram account here.)
As we sat there watching the mother and two cubs interacting, we were amazed to see them grazing on the native grasses. While we knew that they were omnivorous, it was a surprise to see how much grass they consumed. Soon a larger crowd appeared, and we witnessed the reason there are so many warning signs posted around the park. While we sat in our car and watched, others were getting out of their vehicles for closer views. It was a surprise that the mother didn’t get upset, as some people approached within less than thirty feet. It wasn’t long before the bears disappeared into the nearby woods.
Testing Our Skills
Back in town, we dropped our car at our lodging, before heading to dinner. We picked a fairly nondescript Italian restaurant along the strip. With the new influx of visitors for conventions, we noticed most of the restaurants were doing good business. After a meal filled with discussing the bears, we were ready to go explore some more of the strip. Just a short walk from our dinner location, we happened upon the Guinness World Records Adventure. This place was a cross between a museum and an arcade. It had tons of informational areas that taught us the background on some amazing feats that have been performed by average people. Mixed in, there are exhibits designed to allow visitors to attempt to set their own world record. While we may not have broken any standing records, we did get a chance to top our personal bests. (You can read more about our World Record attempt here.)
And Now For Something Different
Our last full day in Gatlinburg dawned with an air of anticipation. While we had enjoyed so many great activities during our Smoky Mountain Road Trip, our time was drawing to an end. The schedule for our day included spending the majority of it in the national park. A hearty breakfast was needed to fuel our activity. Crockett’s 1875 Breakfast Camp was highly rated by many of our readers who have visited this area. While the plan was to vary from our pancake tour, we ended up having Crockett’s version of a flapjack. (Check out the meal we had at Crockett’s.)
Falling For You
Now that our hungers had been satisfied, it was time to get ready for a day of adventure. We stopped by a local deli to pick up the makings of a good lunch, which we packed in our cooler. On this pass into the park, we tried to soak in all of the nature. We found a small waterfall behind the Sugarland Visitor’s Center, but knew we could do much better. Our path for the day had us heading toward Cades Cove, which is one of the most popular sections of the park. We didn’t have time to do much hiking prior to this day, so when we arrived at the trailhead for Laurel Falls, we made sure to stop. The hike is along a paved path, so we saw all ages enjoying this view.
Once we arrived at our destination, our first stop was the Cades Cove Riding Stables. Crystal and I had an opportunity to go riding in the Rocky Mountains, so we were looking forward to this experience. The previous experience had us in a string of horses passing through the hills. This time our group was limited to just the two of us and our tour guide. What an amazing opportunity to get to spend some one-on-one time learning about life in this part of the country.
Big Wheel Keep On Turning
After our ride, we ate our lunch in the picnic area nearby. Just being in nature was extremely enjoyable and relaxing. Once we finished our meal, we started the auto route that follows the one-way road around Cades Cove. Along the way, there are some pull-offs and stopping points to explore. An old homestead with working grist mill was certainly one of the highlights. (Read more about Cades Cove here.)
A Day in the Life
With our day waning, we wanted to squeeze out every minute of our time on this Smoky Mountain Road Trip. Back in town, we decided to enjoy more of the the day without rain. A stop at Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf was another chance to challenge our skills. While Crystal was in the lead so far, I was holding out hope of catching her. At this attraction you can spin a wheel to determine what odd manner you will need to putt from. As we played along, we saw lots of familiar cartoon characters.
Dining Nawlin’s Style
We felt like we had tested most of the mountain cuisines, so this final Gatlinburg dinner needed to be something out of the normal. Tucked away in a shopping alcove near our lodging, we found New Orleans Sandwich Company. Earlier in the summer, we had traveled to NOLA, so a chance to gobble down some gumbo sounded appealing. Boy, were we surprised at how good the food was at this place. By the end of our meal, we felt like we had just dined in the French Quarter.
With the sun getting close to setting, we had time for one more round of miniature golf. Hillbilly Golf was recommended by a close friend, so we were sure that we would enjoy it. We started our round by riding an incline train up a mountainside. Once up top, you play the course working your way down the hill. It reminded us a lot of being in the Ozark Mountains, which is one of our favorite regions to visit. This round I won, so in the end I decided to call it even. Since we don’t keep scorecards, it’s mostly just a gut feeling of who played each course the best. In the end, we just enjoy spending time together.
Our Final Flapjacks
In the morning, we packed our car to head west. We said our goodbyes to Gatlinburg, and made one last pancake breakfast stop, before leaving the area. This time, we went all out with our hot cakes of goodness. Smoky’s Pancake Cabin has a menu filled with some interesting flavor combinations, like the Blueberry-Lemon version that I had. Now that we were all pumped up with sugar, it was time to head to Knoxville.
Gateway to the Appalachians
It’s only about an hour from Gatlinburg to Knoxville, so we were pulling in just as the day was getting going. Knoxville sits just west of the Appalachians and we watched the mountains shrinking in our rear view mirror. This is the 3rd largest city in Tennessee, but it is easy to navigate. Since we were only in town for 24 hours, we focused our visit in the Market Square district. From this location, we could easily walk to all of the sites we would be touring. We found this World’s Fair city to be filled with some unique historical attractions, delectable dining options, and interesting outdoor art. (Check out our Knoxville adventure here.)
With our Smoky Mountain Road Trip winding down, we were relishing in our memories of pancakes, mountains, and bears. In just about a week, we had so many unbelievable moments to remember. Trips like this can be exhilarating, but require a good level of planning. We hope that by showing you the places we visited, and including plenty of photos, it might make your planning a little easier. Check out some of articles and let us know what you think. Do you see something we could add to our coverage to make it more helpful? Toss us a note in the comments section below and we will see what we can do. In the meantime, travel safely!