After a work conference in Nashville, we decided to make the most of our trip and squeeze in a quick visit to the Great Smoky Mountains. We made the three-hour trek east to Gatlinburg and arrived late on Thursday evening. This meant we had only one day to enjoy the mountains before returning home on Saturday.
Check out photos from our trip below and see how we spent the day!
Morning Mountain Fun
We will preface this by letting you know that Gatlinburg is built to be a larger than life family attraction. To give you some perspective, the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge is most famous for Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood. You can imagine the level of showmanship needed to compete, but Gatlinburg does not disappoint! In the spirit of good fun, we embraced every ostentatious tourist trap we had time for.
We started with a hearty breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. This frontier themed diner was decorated with taxidermy animals, prop provisions and lots of cast iron. It felt like we were eating breakfast in the queue of Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain Railroad.
We continued the fun by visiting Rowdy Bear Mountain Theme Park. This “theme park” is actually only two rides: an alpine coaster and glider that runs through rural back woods. Although the rides were clean and safe, you couldn’t help but feel a spark of adventurous thrill while rushing through the mountains on such a homespun attraction.
A Nature Filled Afternoon
After boosting our adrenaline levels, we decided to head toward Smoky Mountain National Park. It was a wet weather day, so we drove through the park. If you are lucky enough to visit in good weather, you can get out into nature and hike around some of the park trails.
While you’re there, be sure to visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center, where you can learn about the park’s diverse plant and wildlife populations or shop around the park store. We were able to pick up a beautifully written Cherokee storybook to bring home for our nephews.
End Your Day The Smoky Mountain Way
And what better way to end the day in the Smokies then to enjoy its most infamous product? Moonshine!
AKA hillbilly hootch, white lighting or mountain dew; this recently legalized spirit has a long history in the Appalachians. Because distilling your own liquor has always been looked down upon by the law, producers were known to conduct business by the “shine of the moon”. To secretly distribute their product on Indian reservations, many traders hid bottles in their boots, hence their famous “bootlegger” nickname.
By prohibition, business was booming and moonshiners needed a faster way to escape law enforcement. They began souping up their stock cars and ended up creating the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
You can now legally taste this colorful piece of history at three locations in Gatlinburg.
If shine is a little too strong for your liking, we recommend stopping by Gatlinburg’s various wine cellars instead. Southern wine is famously fruity and served ice-cold. Our favorite was Tennessee Homemade Wine, which offered 4 complimentary tastes. The staff was as sweet as their selections!
The first distillery we visited was Ole Smoky. They have been operating the longest and had the largest selection of moonshine to choose from. We were especially impressed with their store which sold delicious treats like 40 proof pickles, moonshine peaches, and Ole Smoky BBQ sauce. The large “holler” was shaped like a horseshoe and had a stage with live entertainment in the center. Although it was touristy, it was good fun!
Next, we went to Doc Collier’s, which was the smallest moonshine distributor in town. Unlike Ole Smoky, there were no stills or frills. Doc’s was set up like a general store and offered the most authentic experience. Even their flavored shines like ‘naner and muscadine tasted more natural and less syrupy than the others we tried.
We finished our evening with a tour of Sugarland’s Distilling Co. We booked a tour that included two delicious moonshine cocktails, served on the back patio. Tastings at Sugarland were conducted around a hexagonal bar so that you could see all of the other guests. Our tasting room host counted down each shot so that everyone could lift their glasses together and laugh at his witty toasts. This was by far the most social experience in Gatlinburg and it was a perfect way to end the evening.