Some of you are here for the anxiety tips, some are here for the Smoky Mountains family vacation tips, and maybe some are here for both. And if you found this blog on accident, welcome. I believe there is a divine reason for it.
Allow me to do a quick introduction. My name is Christy Boulware, and I am the founder of a nonprofit organization called Fearless. After being diagnosed with severe panic and anxiety disorder in 2011, I decided to turn that pain into purpose and help people overcome fear and anxiety. The vision of this blog provides weekly tips to help you do just that! So let's get started.
The mountains provided great anxiety relief for me.
A screenprint with a verse I wasn't familiar with greeted me when I entered our VRBO rental in the Smoky Mountains. "The earth trembles at his glance; the mountains smoke at his touch (Psalm 104:32; NLT). WOW! God called them the Smoky Mountains before we did. The rest of Psalm 104 captivated me, and I studied it during our vacation in my quiet time.
Are you ever curious about the origins of the mountains? Hang with me; I'm going somewhere with this.
You placed the world on its foundation
so it would never be moved.
You clothed the earth with floods of water,
water that covered even the mountains.
At your command, the water fled;
at the sound of your thunder, it hurried away.
Mountains rose and valleys sank
to the levels you decreed.
Then you set a firm boundary for the seas,
so they would never again cover the earth.
Psalm 104: 5-9
I need to remember that God placed the world on its foundation when I'm anxious, and Psalm 104 (in its entirety) helps me with that. He set the world in motion, and the world is in His gracious and loving hands. He is in control, and I am not.
Staring at the mountains puts that all into perspective for me. When I gaze into the miles of magnificent mounds, I think about how only God could be in charge of something so beautiful. His control helps melt my worries, anxieties, and fears away.
Today's tip: fears become small in the hands of a mighty big God!
With that in mind, I enjoyed our family vacation!
To break up the drive we stayed in Clarksville, TN on day one. We wanted to stay outside of Nashville to save a little money on hotel costs so we stayed at the brand new Clarksville-Holliday Inn. The bathroom had great lighting so we snapped a quick pic there.
We headed out early to make our 11 AM Bike rental appointment for Nashville's Bike The Greenway. Steve, the owner, was great and very knowledgeable about the Greenway. The bikes were all in great shape!
We were bound and determined to make it to the city of Nashville via bike, and we did it! We were most impressed with Miss Lila, our almost nine-year-old, because she didn't have gears on her bike and had to work a lot harder! She is the real MVP for this trip. The total distance from start to finish was about 12.5 miles!
We wanted the kids to see downtown Nashville and all it's crazy, so we stopped for a quick lunch at Chicken Guy.
There were many better places to eat, but everything was so busy, and we had to get back on the road, so this was the next best thing. My original plan was to eat at The Stillery, but it had well over an hour wait, we stuck our heads in and looked at the menu, and it looked amazing! So, I recommend getting a reservation, here.
We arrived just in time from Nashville to catch the sunset off our deck in the Smoky Mountains!
About our place.
It was a charming three-story, two bedroom, two bath, older but super comfy house IN the mountains.
There are two king bedrooms that are very comfortable with bathrooms attached! My two youngest shared the king bedroom in the loft on the third floor, and my oldest put the queen pull-out bed on the floor in the basement, which also served as the playroom where we challenged each other in pool and darts. It was a little musty in the "Man Cave," as the owners call it, but the dehumidifier in the basement helped a lot. This home is not a luxury home, but it is very comfortable, safe, and has everything you need at a GREAT price point. All the floors have TVs, and the main floor had Netflix logged in.
Our absolute favorite part of this home was the hot tub on the deck with extraordinary views! Troy and I even snuck in a little date night.
We used the hot tub literally every day! It was especially nice after hiking when all of our muscles were sore.
This home was a part of a small subdivision called Chalet Village in Gatlinburg, TN. We went over spring break (March 18th-25th, 2022), so the pool was not open yet, but the pool looks like it will be a big bonus in the summer! You can find the place we rented here, but the next-door neighbor gave me their card, and it's located here. I bet all the houses in this subdivision are fantastic, and I can tell they all have great views too.
We liked being away from the hustle of the city and truly enjoying the mountains. It took at least 20-30 minutes to get to anywhere we went. Not because the miles were long but because the roads were curvy and steep. Every drive we took was beautiful! If you are not a curvy driving fan, I recommend you stay in a hotel in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, and you won't have to do as much driving, but our family LOVED the scenic drives.
To save money, we grocery shopped at Food City and Kroger. Ask for the tourist card to get you discounts when you shop. We packed lunches every day and tried to make it back home for sunset, around 7:45 PM. Then we cooked a late dinner. Our family is late-night people. So we sleep in too. Our routine is to go to bed around 11 PM and wake up around 9 AM. So we didn't get on the road for the day until about 11 AM each day. That's a vacation schedule for us, and we LOVE it!
We slept in the first full day and then made our way to Pigeon Forge.
We stopped at The Island for some excellent sightseeing, free samples of treats, and a quick kid-friendly roller coaster ride.
We didn't ride the wheel, but it did make for a cute picture! There is a water fountain show every hour and half-hour set to music that is quite entertaining to watch, the best part is, IT'S FREE!! We went during the day, an evening tour to The Island might be even better if you plan your day right!
We did ride the SkyFly Soar America. It's a virtual reality ride that takes you through amazing places in the United States. I am NOT a fan of virtual reality rides. I got pretty sick on the Harry Potter one in FL and was a little anxious to ride this one. If you want the honest truth, I almost unbuckled and got off the SkyFly before it started. I'm so glad I didn't because it didn't make me sick at all, and it was spectacular! Budget for this one it's not cheap, but in my opinion, it's well worth it.
Our next stop was to the Chocolate Monkey; you can find them just about on every block in Pigeon Forge. They also have free samples, so we all felt very confident about our ice cream selections before we made them.
One of our favorite parts of the trip was The Pink Jeep Tour through the Smoky Mountains!
The tour we picked was called the Foothills Parkway at 4PM. Being a past photographer, it is ingrained in me to pick times that have good lighting. So, I chose the 4 PM tour hoping the lighting would be better than the high noon light. The tour ended with an off-roading track that the kids thought was thrilling. We lucked out and had a private tour because no one else booked our time slot. I suspect they are much busier during the summer, so you might want to budget extra money if the private tour is more up your alley. Cruising through the Smoky Mountains in an open jeep with someone who knows the mountains on the first day was perfect for getting tips and tricks for the rest of our trip.
The Foothills Parkway is beautiful! We stopped for this family pic that I adore.
I even snuck a quick one of my boys taking pics for the Gram too!
In the Smoky Mountains, bear sightings are pretty common. So we had a family bet. The first one to sight a bear gets $10. If you saw a mom with her cubs, it was worth more. Crazy enough, my son Landon spotted one on our Pink Jeep tour. We caused a bear jam on the road, while lots of other people stopped off to see as well. Come to find out, it was a mom with her cubs, so Landon won BIG on this bet!
We packed our cooler for lunches and snacks the next day, and headed to our first hike in the Smoky Mountains. I didn't do much research about the hikes because that is just how I roll. So I kind of randomly picked the Alum Cave Trail. Here is the deal, had I done more research, I think I would have steered clear of it. The hiking blogs say it's "hard" on the difficulty meters. I am so glad our family pushed through and did this hike because it was worth it. Now, we did not make it to the top, Mount LeConte, but we did make it to the cave which round trip was about 4.89 miles on my AppleWatch. It took about three hours. We were not prepared and only brought two bottles of water and no snacks. My oldest son refilled his in the stream because he was desperate. Please don't follow in our footsteps. Pack a backpack and bring more water than we did and some snacks. Also, my tennis shoes got pretty dirty. I think hiking boots would have been better, or shoes you don't care if they get dirty. I know I sound like an amateur, it's because I really am.
TIP, Google maps has these trails loaded, so you just need to enter the trail's name and it will map you correctly to it. But do it before you enter the park because service is non-existent once you get inside (at least for me, it was).
So here are some highlights of the Alum Cave Trail. The entire way, you are walking along a stream which is so peaceful. There are plenty of places along the stream to step off and explore.
It seems pretty easy for the first mile or two. About halfway, you come to a pretty neat arch with steep steps. After this arch, the climb is pretty steady and decently difficult until you get to the cave. Again, we are beginners and could do it, so I believe you can too!
After the arch, you come to a beautiful overlook right before the cave.
Out of breath and thirsty, I managed to get the GoPro out and take this still from the video I got of the cave. We made our way to the top of it and sat and rested for at least a half-hour before we made our way back down. This is a very busy trail so be prepared to share it the whole way there. Just remember going down is so much easier. It took us two hours to go up and one hour to get back (not counting our resting at the top of the cave).
We were all starved after that hike, so we pitched a picnic in the back of our car. Then, since we were pretty close to the Newfound Gap, we made our way there next. We didn't do any hikes (mainly because our legs felt like jello) off this stop but the kids did climb on the rocks, and we took some really cool images. There is also a bathroom at this stop. Not all the stops have bathrooms so you need to be mindful of that, especially with children or if your morning coffee gets to you. (You know what I mean, folks!)
We decided to leave the park from the Newfound Gap and check out the mountain coaster our Pink Jeep tour guide suggested, called Goats on the Roof Mountain Coaster. The coaster was a blast and had a cool vibe with the ability to feed the goats on the roof. My hubby filmed the ride on the GoPro if you want to check it out prior to riding. The kids liked it so much they rode it a second time, I asked the lady at the ticket counter if she would give us a discount for going again and she did take about $8 off.
We got back to our house just in time for another beautiful sunset.
The next day we picked an easy but very popular hike called Cataract Falls. The kids and I decided to hike to the top of the waterfall. Troy stayed back to make sure everyone was safe. These two pics show the bottom and top of the waterfall. You can see my oldest son really small in the bottom image.
The boys saw a nice basketball court on the way to the mountain coaster, so we decided to leave the National Park and play some ball. Change things up a bit. Lila enjoyed the playground, and I rested. Wear Farm City Park is a nice place to stop if you need to change it up.
Then we heard of a theme park called Anakeesta. The park has a deal that you can enjoy the park and come back the next day for FREE if you arrive one hour before close. The Chondola rides to the park's top were the kids' favorite part! At golden hour it's even better with breathtaking views! Here are some highlight images, but if you want to see video footage start at min 3.52.
The next day we went back to Anakeesta but ran into trouble. There was a high wind warning. Winds topped out at over 70 miles per hour. They shut everything down. So unless we wanted to wait on a very long bus ride to get back down, we needed just to enjoy our time being stuck on the top of a mountain. We ate, played, and enjoyed our time together for about six hours.
On our final day, we packed in the fun! We decided to take a hike that was less traveled. Baskin Creek Falls is not a very busy trail, and it has some unique things about it too. It's downhill to get there and uphill back. My apple watch clocked about four miles round trip. It was equally as hard as the Alum Trail, in my opinion, even though the trail guides say Alum is harder. Maybe it was because I was more tired being the last day? But my family agrees it was just as hard.
Here is a great pic of my daughter next to the beautiful waterfall.
We were all done with hiking after that. We had a picnic on a rock and then headed to Pigeon Forge to shop. We found a great outside mall called The Mountain Mile. There was a Nike Clearance Outlet and lots of great outdoor play areas for the kids. Then some new Crocs called my name so we headed to Tanger Outlets to check out the Croc store among others.
Then we had an hour to burn before Dolly's Stampede, so we stopped at The Listening Room. Sometimes, the unplanned stops are the best. The concept of this place is incredible. They invite singer-songwriters to perform in a concert area where you can purchase tickets to listen and then it's broadcasted over the speaker in the bar/restaurant area so everyone can hear it. When we walked in the performer was talking about his love for Jesus, so that was major bonus! The owner, Chris, just happened to be there when we stopped in too.
We ended our trip with a bang, seeing the Dolly Stampede. They also had great gluten-free dinner options. Our whole family loved the entire show and dinner.
The Great Smoky Mountains did not disappoint. This was one of our favorite family vacations. If you are more of a video person and want to see the whole trip documented, check it out here.
I hope you find time to slow down and enjoy life but most importantly, enjoy your creator.