The Great Smokey Mountains were devastated by a fire set by two teenage boys on the Chimney Tops mountain trail back on November 28th, 2016. This is only 20 miles from the center of downtown Gatlinburg.
Truthfully, when we decided to plan a family trip to the area, we didn’t know what to expect. I visited the Smokies many times as a child, so it was hard to wrap my head around the damage reports I was reading. But that didn’t stop our plans, and it turned out to be a wonderful time, just as I remembered from my childhood. Get ready for a whole bunch of pictures and proof that you and your family should plan a trip to the Smokies, too!
Early on a Friday, we were happy and ready to begin our vacation. We were headed down with my mother-in- law, my husband (Matt) and my daughter ( Ellie) – in one car, for 6 hours, Lord help us. Matt’s brother, his wife and kids were coming down a little later.
We stopped at the Tennessee Welcome Center and snapped a few pictures, in memory of my recently passed father-in-law.
We arrived at our Golfview Vacation Rental and our room was really nice. It was a two bedroom, two bathroom, 4th floor condo, called the Mountaineer. It’s located in the center of Pigeon Forge, not far from Dollywood. HERE is a link to where we stayed.
We were anxious to see Gatlinburg and the effects of the fire., so we unpacked our things, and headed into town. We headed into ” The Spur,” the road between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. My mind flashed back to the images I saw on TV, it was a tunnel of fire. Literally INCHES away from peoples’ cars. So scary!
As I looked around me, the first thing I noticed was the bright green, new-looking grass on the side of the road. I also noticed the hundreds of black scorched trees lining the roadway. So sad. We pulled into the Gatlinburg Visitors Center to get some info (and coupons of course) for the trip.
We learned that many areas were closed off because of the fire. HERE is a website listing all the up-to-date closings.
With some info and our coupons in hand, we decided to head up to the Gatlinburg bypass to see some of the damage first hand. Boy did we. Here is the Gatlinburg overlook…
Here are some pictures I took around me:
A lot of burned trees
But, look at these beautiful purple flowers growing on the mountainside.
We headed down the mountain to drive through Gatlinburg; you can really see how CLOSE it came to the actual downtown. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing, that the majority of downtown was left untouched. God was protecting the town, that’s for sure.
Many surrounding cabins were damaged, Here is one that you can see from downtown.
The ski lift. The entire shop on the top of the mountain was gone. The ski lift is closed for repairs.
The downtown is beautiful, and functioning like normal! It was busy! It was amazing to see that. We decided we would head back down the next day, because our other family just arrived in town. We wanted to try the Smokey Mountain Brewery, in Pigeon Forge. It was SO good.
The next morning we headed to breakfast and then it was time to do some shopping in Downtown Gatlinburg for a few hours. Here are some pics:
Uncle Mike, I’m pretty sure she thinks he’s a superhero. <3
We decided to head up to the Island (click here for website) for some lunch and shopping. We tried Paula Dean’s Bag Lady. I wanted to try her other restaurant, but the wait was crazy. I have a 4 year old, who was hangry. Yes. That’s a word. When she’s angry and hungry its a bad combo.
Ellie wanted to ride the “chew-chew” train….
Happy girl! Love these mother/daughter moments.
Fun! Then, she wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel. I was nervous at first. Not gonna lie. This thing is HUGE. It is well worth the price of admission folks. The views are amazing. Ellie loved seeing the top of the Margaritaville Hotel because it has a pool. I enjoyed the views of Pigeon Forge and the mountains.
We walked around and did some more shopping before heading back to the room. Ellie was exhausted. We tried to get her to nap, it wasn’t happening. So we did what any smart parents would do – we took her swimming. After resting for a few, we headed to Mel’s Diner with the family. (click here for website) And of course, she fell asleep at dinner… #momlife.
We woke up early the next day, and had one thing in mind. We wanted to go to the top of Newfound Gap. As we got higher in elevation, we passed by the Chimney Tops Mountain:
Chimney Tops Mountain, scorched from the fire.
Burned trees, near the trailhead of Chimney Tops.
The more and more we climbed, my ears began to pop. I looked over at Ellie and she was holding her ears. Poor girl. She wasn’t used to the elevation change. I tried to get her to drink something or yawn, it wasn’t working. I held her hand and it reassured her.
Fog began to appear as we were higher, we turned into the Newfound Gap parking lot. I was a little bummed because the views I wanted to see were covered in dense morning fog. The Newfound Gap area was untouched by the fire, which was great to see. Clingmans Dome area was closed when we went. It’s still awe-inspiring to stand on top of a mountain- God made this!
Yay we made it!
Foggy on the top of the mountain.
It was about 35-40 degrees at the top. It was chilly!
Entrance to the Appalachian Trail.
We headed back down, did a little shopping. We made a stop at the Rock and Roll Arcade to let Ellie blow off some steam. Then we decided it was time for some lunch. We ate at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant (Here are the Yelp reviews), near the Apple Barn. It’s adorable, with rocking chairs lining the outside. After you sit down, they give you apple fritters and julip’s (orange juice and pineapple juice) FOR FREE! Free is for me. They were very busy, but the waiter was kind and our order was filled fast.
Apple fritters, yummy!!
Julips. So yummy. The glasses are adorable.
Daddy and his mini-me.
That evening, Mom wanted to stay in, so she watched Ellie for a few hours while we headed back out. My husband and I enjoyed walking up and down the Gatlinburg strip, shopping, for about an hour…alone! We made a stop at The Donut Friar, which is a MUST SEE. So good. Bring cash (no credit) and enjoy the yummy smells of donuts and coffee.
Donut Friar Doorway
Pretty rainbow we saw while shopping.
We left the next morning – our trip was great! It just goes by way too fast! If you are thinking about making a trip to the Pigeon Forge/ Gatlinburg area- GO! The area could use our support as they rebuild and get back to normal.
Family time is so important to me. Life is too short. I try my best to enjoy the small moments. Be silly. Laugh. That’s what its all about. And we did so much of it on our trip that we are already planning on next stay in the Smokies.
This right here, means everything!