Dan and I spent our 4th of July weekend in the Smokies, along with my parents. We stayed in Sevierville (hometown of Dolly Parton) and explored the adjoining towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
On our first morning in town, we headed to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to hike the Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls. The place was packed; get there early, because everyone had the same idea for the holiday! It was a good way to burn some calories and enjoy the mountains.
That night, we had dinner and a show at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. It's kind of a rite of passage if you make a trip to a wholesome, family-friendly vacation town like Pigeon Forge (or Branson, Missouri where the other Dixie Stampede is). Dan was probably not as mentally prepared for this extravaganza... There is no alcohol, you are served food, including soup, with no utensils, and there's an odd North vs. South storyline that is not historically representative of just about anything. If you get too caught up in any of that, you won't like it. But if you like rodeos and animals, this is kind of fun. I enjoyed the horses, pigs, and things like that! It's pricey, and the food is just okay, but you won't leave hungry and it's very family-friendly.
Afterwards, we headed to The Island, which is a kind of Downtown Disney-type place. Total tourist trap, with a Margaritaville, Paula Deen restaurant, and Moonshine store. But it was clean, pretty, and not a bad place to hang out! I saw they have an Escape Game there, which is something I really love, so I wish we'd had time to do that as a family.
Our favorite touristy stop during the trip (Dan's fav for sure) was the awesome Aquarium of the Smokies. So many great things to see! Mom loved the sea dragons. Dan loves aquariums, especially, sharks, sea turtles, and rays. The layout was great, and while it was crowded, you could still go at your own pace and enjoy the animals. It was nice to have the air conditioning on a hot weekend, too! It's not cheap, but it's worth the cost of entry. I even ran into my boss and her kids there!
I think my favorite meal during the weekend was at Applewood Farmhouse Grill. You get to start with apple fritters, after all! It was a cute restaurant, and the food was good. Kind of reminds you of a Cracker Barrel in terms of the offering (I got chicken and dumplings) but in a good way. Really friendly waitstaff and good service, and we had no trouble or wait to get a table even on the holiday weekend.