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Category: Tennessee

How to Spend Two Days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As the most visited national park in the USA, the Great Smoky Mountains are on many peoples bucket lists to explore. I had never gotten a chance to see them…

As the most visited national park in the USA, the Great Smoky Mountains are on many peoples bucket lists to explore. I had never gotten a chance to see them until a recent trip to Tennessee brought me to the town of Gatlinburg, which is right at the doorstep of the national park. I spent two days exploring the park, and if you are looking for what to do while there, I figured I would share my itinerary.

Day 1

Gatlinburg

We left from Knoxville after lunch and did the one hour drive to Pidgeon Forge / Gatlinburg. These towns remind me of Las Vegas without the gambling, and there are all sorts of crazy stops to see along the way, including many museums and attractions like the largest Titanic recreation in the USA. I am sure these attractions would be a lot of fun if traveling with a family but we wanted to get into the park, so we skipped most of them and made our way to our first stop, Rainbow Falls.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls was our main stop on day one as it is the largest waterfall in the park and one of the parks most popular hikes. We were able to get a parking spot in the small lot, and we set out on the 5 mile and 1,500 feet of elevation trail.

This trail is beautiful, following a creek and shaded most of the way. Don’t underestimate it though as it is a lot of uphill and can be tough in the humidity depending on when you go. Read all about the hike here.

The waterfall was great though, and we spent about 45 minutes just hanging out before making the trip back to the car. From there we drove back into Gatlinburg to our hotel.

Hotel

For hotels, I booked one a little out of town but right along the river. It was well priced and had a fantastic balcony that overlooked the water. Find out more about the hotel here.

Day 2

Day 2 was our long day, and we spent pretty much the entire day in the park. We grabbed breakfast and coffee at Starbucks then headed out on the 50-minute drive to Cades Cove.

Cades Cove is the parks most popular area, and it is an 11 mile one-way road with lots of historical points of interest and a chance to see wildlife.

Note that this road is extremely popular and you probably should plan at least a half-day for it. We found that people often go very slow and even stop in the middle of the road for photos, which means that you may be stuck often on the one-lane road and have to wait for them to start going again.

We did enjoy the drive though and saw a bear in the trees while heading around the loop.

There are many historic cabins, mills, and churches to see on this drive, so make sure to get a $1 map before you head in. When we left Cades Cove, we stopped at the campground store for some snacks and then headed back towards Gatlinburg.

Laurel Falls

From there we made a stop at Laurel Falls which is a cascading waterfall that is accessed via a 2.5-mile trail with 500 feet of elevation. Because the trail is relatively short, it is popular, and you will see a lot of people on the trail and may also have to wait for parking.

The trail is beautiful though, going uphill most of the way and ending at a stunning set of two waterfalls. It is an excellent introduction hike to the park if you only have a little bit of time.

After that, we stopped at the Sugarland Visitors Center to check out the exhibits they had on the animals in the park before heading into Gatlinburg for food.

We ate dinner at Five Guys, a popular burger chain, and then went over to the newly opened sky bridge.

Sky Bridge

This bridge is the longest pedestrian bridge in the USA, and you get to it by taking a ski lift up the hill to a viewing platform. There is a restaurant up there, good views of the Smoky Mountains and of course access to the bridge.

The bridge takes about 10 minutes to walk across as you want to take your time and enjoy the views. Do note that it is 140 feet up at its tallest height and that it has glass floors in a few sections so it may be scary if you are afraid of heights. After getting off the bridge, we made our way back down where we parked and headed out on the 45-minute drive to Clingmans Dome, which is where we were planning to spend sunset.

The drive was beautiful, and you will want to plan some time to stop at a few of the viewpoints on the way, especially the Newfound Gap.

Newfound Gap

The Newfound Gap is the tallest part of the road that goes through the park, and it is on the state line, so it is a popular stop with great views. This is also where the Appalachian Trail runs through the park so you can see some signs for this famous east coast trail as well.

From there it is about 15 minutes up to Clingmans Dome.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is a well-known part of the park that you have certainly seen in photos which has a big circular cement walkway that leads up to an observation deck.

Note that to get to the base of the cement walkway you do have to take a half-mile, 250 feet of elevation, steep hike though.

It is worth it when you get to the structure, it is one of the most unique spots I have seen in a national park, and the views from the top are incredible.

When we got there about 45 minutes before sunset there were only four people at the top, but by sunset, there was a good 40, so note that you will be with lots of others and that it is a relatively small space, but it is worth it for the fantastic sunset views.

With that, we headed back to our hotel and ended our time in the park. It was an incredible two days (but it was rushed as well), and we can’t wait to go back and spend more time there. Let me know what your favorite spot is in the park in the comments.

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Lost Sea Adventure: Largest Underground Lake in USA

While in Knoxville, I was looking at the advertisements in my hotel and saw one for the Lost Sea Adventure, which was only 45 minutes south. It stated that this…

While in Knoxville, I was looking at the advertisements in my hotel and saw one for the Lost Sea Adventure, which was only 45 minutes south. It stated that this cave tour took you to the largest underground lake in the USA and the 2nd largest underground lake in the world. Amie and I were in, and the next day, we drove down to take a tour of this popular tourist attraction. Here is all the information.

Details

  • Price: $22 (As of July 2019)
  • Tours ran as they filled up and they told me there were no specific times for the tours.
  • The tour took about an hour and a half.
  • Address: 140 Lost Sea Rd, Sweetwater, TN 37874

Getting There

From Knoxville, it is easy to get to the Lost Sea Adventure on Highway 75. After getting off on New Highway 68, you will be only 10 minutes from the attraction. Utilize Google Maps for the last 10 minutes, and when you get there, there is a large parking area that had a lot of spots.

The Tour

When I checked in, they told me the next tour was at 12:35, which was ten minutes from then, so that was the one we signed up for. I do imagine that on the weekends and in the summer this is a very busy spot and you may have to book your tickets in advance.

There were 30 people on the tour when it began and we started by heading down a long yellow tunnel into the cave itself. I have been on many cave tours over the years, and the thing that most struck me about this tour was how massive the cave was.

You were basically always in a huge room, and even those with claustrophobia may be able to do this cave tour.

Along the way, our guide told us about the many different formations that we were seeing, but if you are looking specifically for formations, there are much better caves to explore.

The highlight for this cave is the water aspect, which appeared many times on the tour, including small pools in the cave and even a waterfall in the middle.

Our guide was knowledgeable about the history and the cave itself as we headed further down underground to get to the lake.

When we finally got there, it was imposing to see as it was a big 4-acre lake in the middle of the cave. They had put a bunch of lights under the water as well, which made it much easier to see the size.

We were broken into groups to get into the boats, and then we set out on the water.

I have never been in a boat in a cave before, so this was a super cool experience even though there is not a lot to see on the lake.

There are some massive rainbow trout that were introduced into the lake a few decades back to see if there was an exit to the lake. The fish never found the exit though so they just got big and stayed in the water here.

It was crazy to see them swimming around as it was pretty clear and our guide fed them when they came near the boat. After making our way around the lake we finished our tour by hiking uphill back to where it began.

Both Amie and I enjoyed our time at the Lost Sea Adventure; taking a boat on an underground lake is certainly not something you get to do every day. If you are in the area or taking a road trip through Tennessee, be sure to add it to your list. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Rainbow Falls: The Tallest Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Rainbow Falls is the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one of the most popular trails in the entire park. It is a beautiful and lush trail…

Rainbow Falls is the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one of the most popular trails in the entire park. It is a beautiful and lush trail that goes along the creek most of the way, but that gains a lot of elevation and has a tough uphill grind. It’s well worth the effort though, and the waterfall payoff is an excellent introduction to the park. Here is all the information.

Details

  • 5.2 miles
  • 1,500 feet of elevation
  • Limited parking, especially in the summer.

Getting There

Rainbow Falls trailhead is not in the central part of the park that most people drive through, it is off by itself with Grotto Falls and a few other trails on Cherokee Orchard Road out of Gatlinburg. It is easy to find with Google Maps though, and there is a small parking area and an overflow lot about a quarter-mile down the road.

The trail

From the parking area, the trail starts a gradual incline and keeps it for the entire hike. There are some sections with wooden stairs that add more to the slope as well.

I would rate the hike as moderate, but some people turned around and said it was too hard. I am sure it depends on how much you do this type of thing though as there were many children at the waterfall who had made the hike.

For us, the toughest part was the humidity, which we are not used to in California, and which made it feel like you were swimming in your clothing. Make sure to bring a lot of water as you will be sweating it off.

The trail is beautiful though, and it goes along a creek and stays in the shaded trees most of the way.

Everything is a lush green, and there were a few moments where the trees gave way to some excellent views of the mountains as well.

As you get towards the end the trail crosses a fun old bridge with handrails only on one side, and a few stone step creek crossings as well.

Eventually, you will hear the sound of the falls and will get your first glance.

I was surprised by how pretty the waterfall was when we finally made it. It wasn’t roaring, but it had a beautiful stream of water falling into the pools below.

There are lots of rocks to climb around on to get different views of the falls, and you could even go behind it if you were feeling brave.

We hung out for about 45 minutes just taking it all in; it was our first hike in the park and a great introduction into this beautiful area of Tennessee. You can read about how we spent two days in the park here and let me know what your favorite spot is as well.

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17 Things to do in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee is a big city with a small town charm. The city is relatively easy to get around and it has a lot of fun things to explore from…

Nashville, Tennessee is a big city with a small town charm. The city is relatively easy to get around and it has a lot of fun things to explore from restaurants and museums to parks and hikes. You can see a video of all of my favorite spots below and text on each one as well. Let me know what I left off that you love in Nashville and watch for my food blog on Nashville next week.

Video

Johnny Cash Museum

Since Nashville prides itself on its country music history, it is no surprise that Johnny cash would have a strong influence on the area. The Johnny Cash Museum is one of the cities more popular tourist attractions and the small museum is expensive but it has a lot of stuff to see. I have been twice and enjoyed it each time. You can easily spend an hour or two here as there is a lot of information to read and watch about the famous singer.

Nashville Farmers Market

Located right off Bicentennial Mall, a stones throw from the capitol building, Nashville’s Farmers Market is the cities entry into the popular food court type estblishment seen in New York and Los Angeles. There are lots of places to grab food, coffee or dessert, with Jenis Ice Cream being my favorite stop in the market.

Nashville Murals

Nashville has a huge art scene with murals popping up weekly around the city. Last I heard there was close to 100 and some of the more famous ones show up often on social media. If you are looking for a fun way to spend a few hours and you have a car, check out one of the online blog posts about the murals and go find a few.

Country Music Hall of Fame

Country music is everywhere in Nashville so, of course, it would make sense to find the country music hall of fame here as well. This museum is gigantic and if you are a country fan you can easily spend a few hours here. There were exhibits ranging from Zac Brown Band to Little Big Town and even though I don’t like the music too much myself it was still fun to explore.

Bicentennial Mall / Tennessee Museum / Tennessee State Capitol

Bicentennial Mall is a large open space area in Nashville that is popular for walking and has a few different memorials to see. It is the park that leads up to the state capitol which is small but a cool building to go inside of. On the other end is the Tennessee Museum and this free spot has some really well put together exhibits that are great for the whole family. Plus if you are here during lunch you can check out the next recommendation, the farmers market

Lower Broadway Honky Tonks

No trip to Nashville is complete without going to hear some live music. You can do that by visiting one of the famous concert halls or you can just head out to Lower Broadway any night of the week and find dozens of bars with musicians covering all of your favorite songs. It can get rowdy during summer weekend nights but it is an area you need to experience in the city.

Hatch Show Print

Located inside the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print has been making letterpress posters for almost a century.  To this day you can still see the process happening daily, take a tour to learn more about it and shop some of the most popular designs in their store.

Ryman Auditorium

Ryman Auditorium is a building that has played an important part in Nashvilles history. Built in the late 1800’s the building was originally a church that attracted many of the inhabitants, but over the years it was reinvented as a music hall, complete with the original pew seating still intact. You can go on a self guided tour here to see if for yourself, or go to a concert while in the city to really experience it.

Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Oprey is the other famous building that houses some of Nashvilles biggest concerts and most famous singers. A good 20 minutes outside of downtown, this concert hall has tours you can take to learn the history and see the backstage area. I really enjoyed learning more about this place as its history is certainly unique with its members and the auditorium is beautiful to tour.

Goo Goo Shop

Goo Goo Clusters have been a popular treat for over 80 years. They originated in Nashville though and you can visit the shop in downtown which has all sorts of Goo Goo related things to see and eat. If you are there during the right time, you can also pay to take a chocolate class and make your own cluster as well.

Cheekwood Estates

Cheekwood Estates is south of Nashville and it includes the grounds of an old beautiful mansion that was donated to the city in the 1960’s. The grounds have been turned into a botanical garden with lots of blooms throughout the year and there is even a section with multiple miniature trains that go along a wooden track that is fun to see as well.

Parthenon

Built for the … in … this building is something you would not expect to see in Nashville. The replica of the famous greek building has been meticulously recreated and is part of a large park on the west side of the city. When it is open, the inside also has a small art gallery on the bottom floor, and a massive sculpture of Athena on the second floor. The sculpture was add in the 90s and it is said to be the largest indoor sculpture in the United States.

Radnor Lake State Park

If you are looking to hike while in Nashville, then check out Radnor Lake State Park. About 20 minutes south of the city, the park has dozens of miles of hiking trails with the most popular being the trail that takes you on a loop around the lake. The park can get busy though so get their early during summer weekends if you want to get a parking spot.

Pinewood Social

Pinewood Social is the popular attraction for 20 somethings in Nashville, but it is fun to visit for all ages with its restaurant, bar, coffee shop and bowling alley. I haven’t actually bowled there myself as I usually opt for the coffee shop or bar but I am sure it is a blast, plus the outdoor area has a bunch of attractions like bocce ball, and airstream and a pool for the summer days.

Beale Meade

Belle Meade is an old plantation from the mid-1800’s which is now part of a compound that you can tour and which includes structures and Nashville history from this time period. The grounds include an old house, milk area, original slave quarters and mausoleum. There are two tours you could go on, one that goes inside of the mansion and another that looks at the plight of the African American workers during this time period. Plus, all tours and even the grounds only ticket come with a free wine tasting, which is a fun added bonus.

Jack Daniels Distillery

This last recommendation is about an hour and a half outside of Nashville but it’s a blast and worth the trip. There are tours that will take you here from Nashville or you can just drive if you have a rental car. Jack Daniels is of course a massive operation and it is a lot of fun to go see the process, including how they burn the pallets for charcoal? And where they get their water for the famous whiskey. Plus at the end, you get to try a bunch of different types of whiskey which is always a plus as well.

John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

Right in the middle of Nashville, the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge is a great spot for a good view of the city skyline. The bridge is only open to pedestrians and no car, so you can walk, bike or even scooter across it. Its a fun way to get a little activity and some great views while in Downtown Nashville.

Let me know if what I left off in the comments.

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Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee

The Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the most famous spots in the city of Nashville, which is the home of country music. I will start this review…

The Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the most famous spots in the city of Nashville, which is the home of country music. I will start this review by saying that I am not a fan of the music myself. I mean some of the old guys like Johnny Cash are great, but that is about it for me. That being said, I really liked the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is an incredibly well laid out museum with fun exhibits and one that I found very enjoyable to explore. If you are in the city, you should check it out, here is all the information.

Details

  • $25 to enter (discount for AAA and military)
  • Location: 222 5th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203
  • Parking: Underground lot across that the street that is around $10 an hour.

The Museum

Upon arriving at the museum, you will be shocked to see how massive it is. This museum has three floors, each of which has different exhibits and artifacts from country’s history.

Before walking in, be sure to check out the star walk of fame, much like the Hollywood equivalent, outside of the museum and across the street in the park.

Heading into the museum, you will start by going to the 3rd floor, which is where you begin your time here. The museum is laid, out so that you start at the top and work your way down to the bottom in a well set up path.

The first spot you will see is the Taylor Swift Education Center. This is a fun area for kids created by one of their no doubt favorite artists.

Next, there was an exhibit on Zac Brown that I enjoyed and then a whole hallway on the history of the music.

The best part for me was the super funny band names that they had in the early days of country. For example, Coon Creek Girls was a personal favorite of mine.

The area is overflowing with memorabilia, including a car owned by Elvis that had a TV and a record player inside.

There is so much to see in this museum that you could easily spend a day if you are a real fan.

Heading down to the next floor, you are greeted by a wall of gold and silver records that is at least three stories tall.

The first exhibit on this floor was about Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, with a lot of information about how their styles influenced each other and so forth.

One of my personal favorite exhibits was an interactive one where you got to “become a star.”

This exhibit had lots of different things you had to do to create your persona, including recording the vocals to a country song and then mixing your vocals in with the track. It was a total blast to do with friends.

There was also a guitar built for a giant that you could take your picture standing in the middle of. This floor had another hundred or so displays with lots of information on the different stars for the genre and its history, but I won’t bore you by relating all of that here.

The last thing you need to see before exiting the museum though is the room with the bronze plaques of all those who have been inducted into the actual country hall of fame.

This room looked like something you would see in an immaculate church, with sunlight streaming in and a large art piece in the middle. It was really impressive to see. All the walls had the bronze plaques which had each of the inductee’s names on them, and it was fun to see some of the historic people.

After that, you will proceed back to the lobby of the museum, and you can either head to the gift shop or go on to your next stop in Nashville. All in all, I enjoyed my time here, and I would encourage you to visit even if you are not a fan of the music. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Grand Ole Opry: A Backstage Tour of Country’s Famous Music Venue

The Grand Ole Opry is one of country music’s most famous venues, whose stage has been graced by everyone from Garth Brooks to Johnny Cash. While it is no longer…

The Grand Ole Opry is one of country music’s most famous venues, whose stage has been graced by everyone from Garth Brooks to Johnny Cash. While it is no longer in its original location, the new spot across the river is incredibly impressive and worth the visit. The best way to see it (if you aren’t going to a show) is to go on the backstage tour they have every 30 minutes during the day. I got a chance to check it out recently and here is all the information.

Details

  • $25 a person (discount for AAA members and military)
  • Tours every 30 minutes
  • Location: 2804 Opryland Dr, Nashville, TN 37214

Getting There

The Grand Ole Opry is located in the heart of Opryland, which is the area with the huge hotel and mall across the water from Nashville. There is parking outside in the mall lots, and be sure to check out the massive guitars on the way in.

The Tour

We got the venue about 10 minutes before the 4 PM tour was heading out. After grabbing tickets and passing through security, we were ushered back to begin our tour.

The tour begins with a history of the venue and its influence, which is shared by Blake Shelton via video. Read more about the history here.

From there the tour guide will walk you through the lobby and outside to begin the tour.

Our tour started with information on how / where the artists enter the venue from. It is fun to learn about all of this and it is interesting to see how low-key it is.

Next, we heading into the large back lot area they have for filming shows and which is completely sound proof.

From there we went into the security area where they have plaques for all the members of the Opry. I found membership to be rather odd; you can read more about that here.

This is also where they have mailboxes that artists can receive fan mail from.

The next stop was at the dressing rooms backstage. They were all open when we went and it was awesome to see how gaudy they all were. Here are a few photos:

The green room is also back here, and it features art, beverages, and couches for the artists to relax at while waiting to go on stage. It also has a line on the wall that shows how high the flood got that came through a few years ago.

From the green room, we got to go out on the stage.

This was the best part of the tour as it is fun to be on an iconic stage like this.

The stage has a 6-foot wooden circle that was cut out of the original Opry and which artists can stand on when they perform today.

I thought that was a fun addition to a historic place like this and they even let us stand on it for a photo.

To end the tour we wrapped around the backstage and went out into the crowd. This is your last view of the venue, and it is fun to see it empty from here as well.

I liked the tour as it never felt too rushed and you got to get a good understanding of what it was like to play here. As someone who knew nothing about it before I came, I really enjoyed myself, and I recommend you check it out as well. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments.

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