Hiking, Biking, Tubing and Riding Through Tennessee

From Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee offers a variety of activities and adventures. Tennessee is a landlocked state in the southern USA and borders 8 states including Kentucky and Virginia to the north, North Carolina to the east and Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to the south. Grab your bear spray, put on your hiking boots and come with us.. you are going on an adventure !

Getting There

You can fly from many major airports into Nashville or Memphis , but we opted to drive from NY to Gatlinburg Which took about 12 hours . The good news; my son just got his license and could share the driving. The bad news; my son just got his license…..

Gatlinburg

I developed a love-hate relationship with Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I loved the access it provides to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I did love some of the activities nearby . I hated the fact that it was so commercialized. I hated that I couldn’t find any food that was not deep fried, ( they would have deep fried fruit if they actually had any fruit in that town ) and I hated how the town was so commercialized …, oh wait, I already said that !

Things To Do

Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What an amazing park! There were so many hikes that it was hard to choose which ones to do. We hiked Abrams Falls, a pretty challenging 5 mile hike over several switchbacks to an average waterfall. We also did Laurel Falls hike ( 2.2 miles r/t) to a more impressive waterfall (size does matter) with some rock scramble opportunities as well as a chance to put your toes in the water…. now we are talking!

Be “bear aware” when visiting the park. We encountered 3 separate bears during our 2 days in the park .. one was a mom and her babies . They advise hikers to make a lot of noise while hiking and try to appear scary if confronted with a bear. This is a challenge for someone like myself who tends to panic in stressful situations….Never run away screaming in fear. Easy peasy.

Mommy with babies

We also went horse riding inside the park which was a great experience ! Sugarland Stables offers several different riding options . We chose the 2 hour trail ride which is where we encountered our third bear. We also saw wild turkey and deer during the ride.

Does a bear sit in the woods????

Where to Eat

Cherokee Grill . Actually ate here twice . Both times were excellent . One of the only restaurants that was not a chain/fast food in town.

Smoky Mountain Brewery. Relaxed atmosphere, great music, good burgers!

Townsend, Tennessee

The town of Townsend is about an hour drive from Gatlinburg . It’s another great place to stay to access the Cades Cove area (a different section of the park) in The Smoky Mountains N.P. And offers a variety of other outdoor activities as well.

What to Do

“Can we go river tubing?” My son asked during our first day in Townsend. In a moment of temporary insanity I said , “Sure… we can go in the morning.” So river tubing we went. River Rats was the local company we went with. What kind of name is that for a company?? I never knew how terrifying this activity was. There were giant rocks that would randomly appear while I was barreling out of control down rapids in icy cold water. I like how they told us to keep the tube facing forward. Did they mean when it wasn’t spinning out of control? The highlight of this 2 plus hour adventure was when my son got wedged between two rocks and was greeted by a very large snake . I was about 60 feet ahead of him, but would have heard him scream from 2 states away. Like those lizards that run across the water, he leapt from his tube and made it to land. Needless to say, he eventually got back in his tube and we finished the trip without further incident. During all of the commotion he managed to lose both his life jacket and his dignity.

Dark Island Swinging Bridge is one of the last public access swinging bridges left in the area. The name alone made me want to go! I couldn’t help but feel like I should be wearing an eye patch and carrying a treasure map…There is a very small parking lot and it’s free to cross… you can also hike down to the water and go for a swim or sit on the rocks. Worth a stop . Spoiler alert; There were no real pirates at Dark Island Swinging Bridge!

I like how they have to indicate that the bridge is only for pedestrians…Do they think a car could fit?

Where To Stay

The Dancing Bear. We stayed in an adorably cozy cabin here. There are free bikes to borrow and a great trail to ride that runs for several miles starting in the parking lot and running parallel to the main road. There are several neat shops at Dancing Bear as well as a cafe and an ice cream shop. They also have a big bonfire at night and provide guests with all of the ingredients needed to make the perfect s’mores. As if this isn’t enough, there is a winery right next door !!!! Need I say s’more? Sorry. I couldn’t help myself……

Where to Eat

Brianna’s Italian for a very casual pizza place (emphasis on “casual”) with other Italian dishes as well.

Knoxville, Tennessee

About an hours drive from Gatlinburg is the city of Knoxville. Although comparatively small when coming from NYC , it was a neat little city to spend some time in!

Things to Do

The World’s Fair Park in Knoxville has a really cool building (The Sunsphere) that was designed and constructed for the 1982 World’s Fair. You can take the elevator up for free to gain a view of the city below. There’s also an amphitheater and a fountain inside the park . Fun fact: The Sunsphere served as a restaurant during the World’s Fair. The menu included a “Sunburger” and a rum drink called the “Sunburst” . Hold the Sunburger and bring me two Sunbursts please.

The Gay Street Bridge and Henley Street Bridge have pedestrian walkways and also provide great views. There’s also a great little restaurant right on the river when you cross over heading north on the Gay Street Bridge.

If you are up for a little adventure, Ijams Nature Center is a short drive outside of Knoxville. We spent several hours hiking the trails and exploring the boardwalk built along the rocks. One hike led us to an abandoned and secluded quarry where workers used to extract huge blocks of marble to use in construction . They also have zip lining, boat rentals and a ropes course at Ijams.

Where to Eat

Cruze Farm Ice Cream . This place was the best!

Cafe 4. We ate here twice. I had some kind of shrimp and grits dish one night… Delicious!!!

Nashville

Whether you are a country music fan or not, Nashville is a fantastic city to visit! Downtown offers a plethora of bars and restaurants. There’s also a riverboat, The General Jackson Showboat, that will take you down the river and offers both day and night trips. Of course, I cannot leave out an evening at the Grand Ole Opry or a visit (if you are lucky, an overnight stay) to the Opryland Hotel. This hotel actually has its own boat ride inside the complex!! You can get tickets to the Grand Ole Opry right at the Opry box office and also online at Grand Ole Opry – opry.com.

Day Trip from Nashville

If you want to take a serious horseback ride out in the back country, drive about 30 minutes outside of Nashville to Juro stables ranch. This is as real as it gets. Rustic, no frills, no nonsense. The best part? The horses are all rescue horses. I rode a tennessee walker that I fell in love with at Juro Ranch. He told me the feeling was mutual.

Where to Stay

The Opryland Hotel if you can score a good deal….

The Holiday Inn a few blocks away if you can’t.

Elsewhere in Tennessee

There is a cool little town right on the border of Virginia and Tennessee on the way to Gatlinburg called Bristol. The state line actually runs down the center of Main Street. So technically, you can have dinner in one state and walk across the street to the other state for dessert! This little town was worth the stop!

Where to Eat

We had a great lunch at Stateline Bar and Grill. Great food with a fun atmosphere!

So if you are planning a trip to Tennessee in the near future, be sure to remember my safety tips;

—- Beware of snakes in the rivers.

—- If you encounter a bear, make loud noises and try to appear larger than you are. Never run.

—- If you are hiking in the woods and you hear a banjo playing in the distance…..RUN !!!

3 comments

  1. I loved your trip! I am so grateful for the write-up. I was afraid to travel during Covid and with this detailed blog, it was as if I was there with you but I still have money in the wallet! Keep on blogging your trips, I cant wait to read about the next adventure. P.S. you really need someone to sponsor you as you travel the world!

    Like

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