Last month, I fulfilled the “Travel Out of State” requirement of my August Bucket List by visiting my friend Sarah in Tennessee! If you recall my June Wrap Up post, Sarah was one (out of 3) of my friends that moved out of state that month. However, one of the great things about my friendship with Sarah has always been that though we don’t get to see each other often, we always have a great time when we do. She’s also one of my very few tv soulmates, but that’s another conversation.
Keeping in mind that I was only staying for the weekend, Sarah crafted the perfect itinerary of things to do while I was in her neck of the woods. The drive was about 7 hrs away and I totally recommend the activities below for a weekend getaway.
So, follow me to Tennessee:
Relax at the Lake
Confession: I have never been to a lake. Or at least, I hadn’t been until this trip. Sarah insisted that it was the best way to unwind after the 7hr drive, so I dutifully donned my swimsuit and followed her out of her family’s back door. Y’all. I finally know what all of the fuss is about! The water temperature was perfect (like relaxing in a bath)! While I am sure there were plenty of living creatures beneath me (the lake gets as deep as 90ft in some areas!), the water only softly rippled and there was none of the yuckiness of coming in contact with seaweed. Minus the near-death by horsefly situation, my lake experience was pretty positive!
Sarah’s dad also took us all out on the pontoon boat on Sunday morning. We toured the massive lake and I was shown all of their favorite spots, including their favorite places to cliff/rope jump. We even stopped for snacks and to feed some carps (so weirdly cool). I will always be more comfortable in metropolitan areas, but lake living def has its perks.
Day trip to Gatlinburg
Did y’all know that Gatlinburg, TN is home to Dolly Parton and a surprising amount of flapjack restaurants? Neither did I! While we didn’t make a stop at Dollywood this trip, we did explore the main strip of Gatlinburg and man was I surprised by all of the family fun attractions that the city has to offer.
It may not look like much from the outside, but the Mountain Mall on the main strip is a treasure trove of unique stores. One of my favorites was Pepper Palace, which was a store for spice lovers. In case you didn’t know this about me, I am a HUGE fan of spicy foods. When we first walled it, I was immediately drawn to a challenge that they had posted. The challenge was simple: survive their hottest hot sauce. I didn’t even think before I signed the waiver (yes, there was an actual waiver!), I just knew that I had to try the sauce. Yall, that sauce was SO HOT. There was a 2-minute spice build and I got an uncomfortable amount in the back of my throat, but overall I handled it like a champ. For my challenge win, I was given a sticker and crown that I wore proudly for a full 20 minutes.
Spice doesn’t have to be your thing to enjoy the Mountain Mall. There are lots of natural products, candy, souvenir, and other novelty stores inside.
Our next stop was the ski lift to Anakeesta. I have never been on a ski lift before, but it seemed like perfect practice for the skiing item my 30 Before 30 list. I thought that it was a fun and efficient way to get people up the mountain! There were also other options available for those who need alternative modes of transportation.
The tickets to enjoy the park in the mountain cost about $25 per adults (and slightly cheaper for children). A park in the mountain is definitely an accurate way to describe the experience. That is if all parks are outfitted with gorgeous views, delicious (albeit a little pricey) food options, and a beer garden. The attractions don’t stop there. There is also the option to ride a rail runner, which happens to be the only single-rail mountain coaster in the United States and it whips you down the mountain. Though we didn’t ride the rail runner during my trip, it looked amazingly fun!
My favorite part (besides the views) was walking through the treetops. Anakeesta is home to the longest treetop skywalk in North America. Between bridges, there were landings that shared interesting facts about wildlife in the Smoky Mountains. For example, did you know that the Smoky Mountains has the greatest number and diverse salamander population!? I like to collect random facts in my head, so I added that to the list! While on the skywalk, we also got to grab a glimpse of some zipliners going by (another activity offered on the mountain!).
Before we headed back down the mountain, we spent some time in their botanical garden. The Vista Gardens housed more than just plants (though the number of flowers alone was impressive–about 3000!). There was also seating, play areas, and sculptures. I enjoyed chasing the butterflies and reading the nature-inspired quote plaques that sprinkled the garden.
We spent nearly our entire day at Anakeesta and still didn’t do all of the activities available. Definitely worth the admission fee!
Let me preface this section by saying that I had VERY low expectations for this portion of our day trip. Moonshine didn’t sound particularly appetizing (my previous experience with moonshine was very limited, but it was always super strong), but Sarah insisted and I trusted her as the planner of this trip. Boy was I in for a surprise! We started our moonshine tasting at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery Holler (note that there is another Ole Smoky tasting room in Gatlinburg, but we specifically went to the Holler). The tasting was just $5 to join and included samples of a large range of their flavors as well as a coupon for a purchase. Y’all, I did not expect it to taste as good as it did! One of my favorites that Ole Smoky offered were their pickles. Yes, pickles soaked in moonshine! I won’t disclose how much merchandise I left with, but let’s just say that it was enough to get me a free cooler. Sarah and I also got cute matching shirts that we thought were perfect for fall.
Our next (and final) stop on the moonshine tasting tour was Sugarlands Distilling Co. This seemed like a popular destination because when we arrived at the line was out the door! We took some time to do some shopping, then returned to the tasting a little later. The Sugarlands moonshine tasting was also priced at just $5 and offered roughly the same number of samples. Compared to Ole Smoky, I would say that the atmosphere was a little more lively, but the moonshine had a much stronger taste. Though there was plenty of merchandise available (including super cute campfire mugs), we left empty-handed and went in search of dinner.
If you ever have the chance to venture out to Tennessee for a weekend trip, you should definitely take it. The drive, while on the longer side, was breathtakingly pretty. I still can’t get over the views of the mountains or the tranquility that comes from being exposed to the beauty of nature. Special thank you to Sarah for showing me a great time and her family for welcoming me into their home!