Hola Y’all! Kentucky Fried Travel took a trip to the mountains recently to unwind as well as cure some of the travel withdrawal we were experiencing since our last trip in February. Dawn and I had not visited the Smoky Mountains in 20 years or more, so we were excited to see the changes and experience them as only the Traveling Bradburys can. Honestly, we travel very well together. She is patient and careful and I am her polar opposite, so we balance well. Simply put, we have fun. We always have fun, whether going to the park or the grocery, you will always catch us smiling, laughing and having a good time. This trip would be no different…except it was to the mountains.
Instead of a hotel, we rented a cabin in the woods for our long weekend and feel like we found a hidden gem. There are a lot of ways to search for cabins or chalets in the Smoky Mountains, but it turned out Expedia saved us time and money by sending us to Homeaway.com. Our accommodations fit our plans perfectly! Pet friendly, one bedroom with a jacuzzi bath and a hot tub on the porch. The decor was what I would describe as Cabin Romantic. Small reminders that you are in an area inhabited by Black Bear, Elk and many other wildlife species you don’t find in the city adorned the walls and cupboards. A large fireplace was visible from the King Sized Bed adding a nice romantic background, and some lighter touches like draped mosquito netting in some of the more private areas added to the romantic feel.
Location Location Location
One of my worst memories from my past trips to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, TN was of the traffic in Sevierville. As a kid I remember the frustration of being so close, only to bog down in traffic. As a driver later on, I remember trying to hurry through a traffic jam that there was no way to hurry through. After getting through Sevierville you would hit the parkway in Pigeon Forge and come to another standstill. So it was only after enduring bumper to bumper traffic that would you eventually find your way clear of the bustle and finally feel like the mountains had welcomed you in.
Our cabin location on this trip took all of that traffic out of play. There are plenty of cabins located between Knoxville and Pigeon Forge and the Scenic Bypass is the way to get there! Traffic was light even at rush hour on a Thursday afternoon, and Google Maps took us along beautiful backroads that curved their way through the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains. My iPhone led me directly to the street that our cabin was on, but I didn’t want to believe it at first. The turn in was a bit steep and didn’t seem overly inviting, but once we figured out that our driveway was just down the way, we had arrived! No traffic, no frustration! And we would be nestled into a valley in the hills for four days of peace and seclusion. What a perfect way to start the trip!
We would also find every restaurant or adventure by traveling back routes instead of being trapped on the parkway for long stretches of time, so if you can find a spot in the Wears Valley area I would book it for sure. Our trip to Cades Cove was pretty much a straight shot across the highway that led to town and the roads were lined with breakfast restaurants and antique shops, as well as the new Cades Cove Winery that we happened by during their Grand Opening.
The Local Goat
After dropping off the bags and settling the dogs into the cabin we decided to head into town to grab a bite to eat. A friend of Dawn’s had recommended the Local Goat and we decided to give it a try. Our GPS took us directly across the street from the eatery, so we did have to play the adult version of frogger in our car across the parkway, but we got across safely enough and added our name to the waiting list. Having spent a lot of years in the service industry, I was a little anxious after seeing the number of people waiting and the crowded parking lot. I honestly expected slow and probably inattentive service. Thankfully, this place had their staff on point! The wait was almost exactly what they had told us at the hostess stand, so we were able to enjoy a drink and appetizer at the bar and settle up there, before moving over to the dining room and ordering our meal. Dawn fell in love with their “Snickertini” and the Spinach and Artichoke dip was fantastic. The house lager was excellent as well. I am not a big hops guy, so I don’t get into the IPAs and other Ales that have become popular. I like stouts and porters on occasion, but if I am going to have a few, give me a light lager.
Our server was there when we wanted anything, but not in a way that was intrusive. He was either really lucky, or really good, but he seemed to be in the flow and had our drinks fresh and our order right. The food was fantastic! Again, I expected to wait a bit longer than normal, but the food was out to us very quickly. The Fish & Chips was incredible. Cooked to perfection, the large flakes of beer battered cod literally melted in my mouth. Across the table, my beautiful partner went with a gourmet burger. The BGT had goat cheese, crispy onions and a bacon jam. Let me repeat that…Bacon Jam. Yes, it was awesome and yes I was jealous! I can’t say I would trade the fish for the burger, but I would order both! Having a cabin allowed us to take the leftovers with us and enjoy a little late night snack instead of having to leave all that yummy food behind.
If you get a chance to check out the Local Goat, do it! From Deep Fried Deviled Eggs to The Elvis (a peanut butter, smoked bacon and fried banana sandwich) this tavern has a lot to offer. The menu is full of options for a variety of tastes and the atmosphere makes the time spent there feel like time well spent.
Cabin life in the mornings can be tricky
Peace and quiet took center stage as we took advantage of our screened in porch and the hot tub. The temperatures in the Smoky Mountains are fair year round allowing nightly temperatures to fall into the low sixties which is perfect for enjoying a hot soak and then settling in front of a low fire.
The lighting played tricks on our senses the next morning as we got started on our day. Because we were nestled in the valley among the trees, you really couldn’t tell that the dawn was turning into morning and morning into day. I could have easily lost track of time, but realized while walking the dogs that the day would be slipping away if we didn’t get moving. So we had our breakfast, packed up and finally headed off. Be forewarned that if you don’t have direct exposure to the east, the mountains will let you sleep the day away.
Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of the items on our to do/see list was Cades Cove, a large valley in the Smokys. I had been there as a child, but didn’t really know much about it other than it was a valley that had some settlements. Today it is the single most visited destination for park visitors and boasts camping and recreation areas. There is a general store where you could purchase gifts, or souvenirs, or the small essentials you forgot to pack. You can rent bikes or even get an ice cream sundae at the little shop. We actually visited the shop on the way out for the restrooms and it was evident that they got fairly busy on the weekends and holidays.
You tour Cades Cove on a one way road, with an abundance of areas to pull over to the shoulder for photo ops, that stretches for 11-miles around the perimeter of the valley. There are cutouts that will allow you to shorten the trip by several miles if you decide not to take the entire trip around, but you would be missing out on several of the best views and most interesting parts of the experience. There are several old churches including Cades Cove Baptist Church that was erected in 1887 and the Methodist Church that was erected in 1902. John Oliver’s cabin was erected in 1822-1823 and still stands today. There are many more houses and barns, and even a grist mill that were all erected in the late 19th Century, but remain today due to the preservation efforts that are mostly funded by the visitors generosity and donations.
Ignorance is bliss and as we wound our way through the park towards the valley, we didn’t realize that we were getting there just in the nick of time. After walking the dogs at the entrance, we were one of the first cars onto the loop and for the first 30 minutes or so we were able to take our time and go as slow as we pleased. However, later on, after pulling over for some photos, a line of traffic developed and we were quickly surrounded by other tourists hoping to spot that elusive bear or elk. For the most part we still beat the crowds and get some fantastic footage of the whole valley. I read that on the weekends it can take as much as four hours to navigate the 11-miles due to the popularity. We were there on the Friday before Fathers Day so I expect it had quite a few more folks than usual, but in the end we didn’t spend half that much time in the area and we made quite a few stops along the way. We didn’t tour all of the structures or get off the beaten path too far. I am sure if you wished, you could easily spend an entire day hiking/biking around Cades Cove and find little treasures at every turn.
Gaucho Urbano – Anniversary Dinner
I had made reservations at the Gaucho Urbano Brazilian Steakhouse for our wedding anniversary, and kept it a surprise until we pulled into the parking lot. Once again our cabin location played perfectly into our plans as our trip took about ten minutes from door to door.
Gaucho Urbano is new and fresh and it shows in the enthusiasm of the staff. From the excitement of the person taking our reservation months in advance, to the hostess and bartender that greeted us, everyone seemed genuinely glad we were there and excited to show off their restaurant. The ambiance is very nice with a lot of white and fresh open space. White cloths adorn the tables and the large windows allow an abundance of natural light without baking you in the sun. The view is of the parkway so it isn’t the highlight, but the food and service more than make up for what is not out the window.
For those that are not familiar, a Brazilian Steakhouse usually features churrasco-style dining, or what I call meat on a stick. Various cuts of meat are slow roasted on a spit and then one of the cowboys brings it to the table on a skewer. You decide if you want what they offer and can signal them to stop by, or move on past with a red/green button on the table. Simply flip to the green side and they will come to your table in shifts with everything from bacon wrapped chicken thighs, grilled pineapple or leg of lamb, to marinated ribeye or smoked sausage. The full experience includes 17 cuts of meat as well as the Harvest and Chef’s bars. If you leave here hungry, that’s on you, since it is all you can eat. More than we could eat actually, and at that point you flip your button to the red side and they will leave you be until you are ready for more.
The hospitality was fabulous and the food was wonderful. Gaucho Urbano is definitely worth the ticket and we will definitely go back. Luckily, their sister ship flies out of Louisville, KY and we can get there without traveling 5 hours.
The Old Mill Square
Our next item on the to do/see list was The Old Mill. Built in 1830, the Historic Old Mill takes you back to a time when life centered around the general store and mill, both of which are still in operation, although no longer the social epicenter of the area. Plenty of little shops also adorn the square offering everything from wonderful old books in an eclectic bookstore called A Long Story Short, to beautiful pottery pieces made on-site at Pigeon River Pottery. Before doing too much walking, I managed to drag Dawn into the Old Mill Creamery for some hand dipped ice cream. It was tough, but I finally got her into a chocolate waffle cone with Salted Caramel and we sat out on the sidewalk to enjoy the people and landscape.
We walked out to the bridge that crossed the Little Pigeon and got some great photos. The area is definitely a time capsule. Take a moment to listen to the roar of the small falls that would have turned the grist wheel over a hundred years prior. The backdrop is great for a selfie with the family, so don’t miss walking out onto the bridge or even down to the river itself.
Before we headed out, we made our last stop at the Old Mill Candy Kitchen. While there were plenty of the popular candies available on the shelves, Dawn was thinking FUDGE! Everywhere she looked she had seen signs for fudge and the subliminal seed had sprouted into full blown fudge desire. Ok, maybe she just wanted some fudge, but it seemed important and this was the place to get it. Hand cut and delicious, you can sample from several options and buy it by the pound. We didn’t get that much. Maybe 8 oz. but it was awesome. I had never even heard of orange creme fudge, but I will have it again I assure you.
The Island Pigeon Forge
One of our favorite things to do is enjoy some adult beverages during the daylight hours while we travel, or when we hang out at home. OK – We like to Day Drink! Time waits for no man! So we decided to check out the offerings at the Island which included Dicks Last Resort, The Mellow Mushroom and Dude’s Daiquiris, a Paula Deen Restaurant and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Bar and Resort. There are also a lot of small shops, boutiques and even a distillery for tastings of moonshine, all offering plenty of shopping opportunity. If you are out for adventure, there are laser tag options, an escape room, a ropes course with a 30 ft free fall and at the center of it all – a Giant Ferris Wheel. A huge central fountain with plenty of seating offers a free show at night as they light up the jets of water and sync them to music. The fountain spray during the day can be just as fun to watch, but it gets a little hot out in the sun, so we mostly walked around shopping and of course, eating and drinking. We didn’t try Paula Deen’s spot since we were mostly looking for appetizers and drinks, but my parents said they loved it.
Dicks Last Resort
Now, I must admit that while Dawn wanted to try this place, I was more than a little reluctant. I knew the theme and it wasn’t the humor or attitude that I was worried about, I just had not heard anything about the food. I had heard a lot of funny stories, but nothing regarding quality. The gist of the concept is that the waiters are blunt and sarcastic without being overly crass or rude. I was very impressed by the actual service standard, the cleanliness, the quality of the drinks and the quality of the food. I expected far less and was shocked by how much fun we had in the short time we were there. The appetizers were pretty much the bar standards, but they were prepared and presented far better than your standard bar snacks, so I would not hesitate to return for a full meal. This place may not be for everyone, but it definitely has it together. So whether you are there to party, or just enjoy some good food in a fun environment try to check it out.
Attached to the Mellow Mushroom, this Daiquiri Bar has a nice spot at the Island. Frozen concoctions are the way to go and I fell in love with Jack and Coke Slushies. We didn’t try any food, but the atmosphere was groovy and the service was excellent. We would stop by here several times throughout the day as our souvenir cups came with $6 refills. You could sit at the tables under an umbrella and people watch, enjoy the entertainment on the ropes course, or even order from the Mellow Mushroom menu. The souvenir glasses are actually a hit and we wish we had gotten more. Next time for sure!!!
Prior to our trip, I had not been to a Margaritaville Restaurant, and now I can’t wait to try them out again – though next time it will be in the Caribbean at Grand Turk. I must say that this place is World Famous for all the right reasons! The patio bar would be our last stop of the day, and that is probably a good thing! I pride myself on being able to handle my liquor, but this place could easily catch an unsuspecting amateur off guard . The margaritas are real. They are not watered down with filler or sugar. They are perfect examples of what a good margarita should be! I had two and knew it was my limit that late in the day. We ordered an appetizer of Lava Lava Shrimp to soak up some of the booze and it was a great choice. The atmosphere is awesome. The service was perfect and I can’t wait to go back.
Sadly – Back to reality
We both had a great time relaxing in the mountains and taking advantage of the cabin amenities, and we can’t wait to do it again. Cabins in the woods will not be replacing cabins on a cruise ship anytime soon, but we will return far sooner now that we have some idea of how to beat the traffic. One thing about traveling is that if you don’t book it, plan it or take the trip, you will always wish you had. We have one more trip in our book and now we can’t wait for our next adventure. At the time of writing, we are 96 days from our next cruise adventure. We will be joined on the Carnival Sunshine by my brother, my other brother from the United States Air Force, and their wives. This should be definitely be interesting…I will keep you posted.