October 11, 2014 by Briana
Day 87 (8/26/14): Nashville, TN | Sevierville, TN
Some days on the road just aren’t that eventful. The most exciting thing about today was finding cheap gas. Haha! As we headed east through Tennessee from Nashville to Sevierville, we stopped for gas outside of Baxter, TN and were happy to discover the cheapest gas we had come across so far at just $3.19/gallon. It was even better in Sevierville though at only $3.15/gallon! Score! Another interesting discovery of the day was the fact that the campground we’re staying at has a cross at the entrance and meeting place for church on Sundays. We’re definitely in the Bible Belt.
Day 88 (8/27/14): Sevierville, TN | Pigeon Forge, TN | Gatlinburg, TN
We decided to explore the area surrounding the Smoky Mountains today. We had been jonesin’ for some mountains and finally saw the Great Smoky Mountains on our way to Gatlinburg. Although, what’s considered to be “mountains” in the east would be called “hills” in the west. Haha! Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a variation of height in the landscape.
From Sevierville, we passed through Pigeon Forge, TN and were entertained by all the dinner show advertisements and cartoonish buildings. It was as if the town had taken the amusement park theme and ran with it. They ran a little too far with it though, reaching a high level of hokeyness. However, I’m sure it’s fun for children and families as there’s plenty for them to do between all the shows, arcades, museums, go carts, rides, etc. Pigeon Forge was obviously built on tourism.
When we reached Gatlinburg, we realized that it’s very similar to Pigeon Forge but on a smaller scale. Gatlinburg seems to be geared more towards adults though with it’s moonshine distilleries and whiskey tastings whereas Pigeon Forge has more child-friendly activities. With it’s many Las Vegas-style attractions, Gatlinburg could be considered the “Vegas of the South.”
Day 89 (8/28/14): Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Gatlinburg, TN
We had seen the Smoky Mountains in the distance yesterday, but we’ve been looking forward to seeing them up close. Time for another National Park! We entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and were pleasantly surprised to discover that we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee for the park. All of the other National Parks we’ve been to so far have had a fee, which has typically range from $20 to $25. That adds up. It was nice to just drive into the park without having to shell out any cash.
We crossed the Tennessee-North Carolina border in the park and made it up to the observation tower at Clingman’s Dome. At 6,643 feet high, Clingman’s Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies, as well as the highest point in Tennessee, and the highest point along the Appalachian Trail. To give some perspective though, Mount Rainier in Washington reaches 14,410 feet, more than double the height of Clingman’s Dome. As I mentioned before, the Smoky Mountains aren’t as large or impressive as the mountains we’ve seen out west. However, the view from the tower at Clingman’s Dome provided a lovely 360 degree panorama of the surrounding ridges with their bluish haze.
Next we drove through Gatlinburg to the the Roaring Fork Nature Trail, a 5.5-mile-long one way road looped through a dense forest. We noticed imposing spider webs covering tree branches and wondered how big the spiders must be that spin them. Creepy! We also passed a historic log cabin when it started raining. We were going to hike to Grotto Falls, but the rain quickly evolved into a torrential downpour. With water streaming down the narrow, single-lane road, we weren’t sure how safe the trail conditions would be and figured it would be best not to hike in the stormy weather.
Since we didn’t do the hike as we originally planned, and the Roaring Fork Nature Trail is accessed through Gatlinburg, we stopped in the town after we finished the scenic drive. We decided to end the day with some moonshine tasting. Gatlinburg is home to two moonshine distilleries, both of which offer free tours and tastings. Yes, please! 🙂 When we were in Kentucky, we had our first tasting of their signature alcohol – bourbon. Now that we’re in Tennessee, we wanted to try some authentic moonshine!
We started at Ole Smoky, the original Gatlinburg moonshine distillery. They offer a self-guided tour where you can view their open-air operation through screens from the outside. There are signs along the way explaining the history and process of making moonshine. We then entered their retail store where we were able to taste as many of their 20 different varieties of moonshine as we wanted. After testing several (okay, we tried most of them…haha!), we decided that Peach was our favorite flavor. We purchased a Mason jar of the Peach Moonshine to try to recreate the Peach Tea we had at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant back in Franklin, TN.
Next we headed a short way up the street to the other moonshine distillery, Sugarlands, where they offered a behind the scenes tour. The guided tour was quite informative, and it was nice to be able to ask questions and have them answered. We were even able to sniff different proofs of moonshine ranging from 40-180 proof to smell the variation in alcohol content. The tour guide told us to stick with the 40-80 range of proofs though for drinking because 180 proof has caused people to go blind (no joke!). We believe it too because when we got a whiff of the 180 proof version it nearly singed off Justin’s mustache!
After the tour was complete, we circled around one of the bars in their retail store to taste their moonshines. While they only have 7 flavors, they poured us a sample of each of them, which we enjoyed. After trying multiple flavors and proofs of moonshine, we were feeling pretty good and decided to get something to eat to soak up some of the alcohol. The restaurants in Gatlinburg seemed really touristy though and didn’t sound that appetizing, so we stopped at Five Guys to grab a burger. You know you’re in the South when you go to Five Guys and the guy at the cash register offers you bootleg 180 proof moonshine! We passed though because we weren’t in the mood to lose our vision. 🙂