The Great Smokey Mountains In Less Than A Day

In 2020 The Covid-19 Pandemic had shut down the world in mid-March, by May things were starting to open back up.  My trip to the Great Smoky Mountains was my first trip post shutdown but was very brief.

2020 was going to be a year of travel for me.  I had plans to make at least one trip if not two trips per month starting with a trip to Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona March 13-16.  However, after President Trump hinted at possible shutdowns and the NBA suspending a game and their season at halftime on March 11, I quickly cancelled my plans as well.  We were in a world of the unknown and traveling didn’t seem like a good idea at the time.

Fast forward a few weeks.  Everything shut down.  I began working from home and used delivery services for everything.  The only place I went was to pick up my twins from their mom’s house on exchange days and the only person outside of them that I saw was a babysitter I hired so I could work.  The projections from public health officials were like out of a movie, tens of thousands predicted to be dead in my home state of Kentucky by summer with projections of thousands of cases.  Travel was the last thing on my mind.  Thankfully the worst case scenario that public health officials worried about never happened and after consultations with all my doctors they put my risk down a few notches from what the news had scared me into.  By the end of May things started opening up somewhat across the country as Memorial Day weekend approached.  After seeing Facebook posts from friends that were in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, I decided very last minute to make a quick trip to the Smoky Mountains.   Noon on that Friday I booked a hotel and by 4pm after work I was on the road for one of the quickest vacations of my life as I had to be back to work on Saturday night by 7pm in Cincinnati.

Hotel – Black Fox Lodge

When I travel and stay in Hotels I almost always choose Hilton branded hotels.  I have found that they are the cleanest with one of the better reward programs out there with plenty of affordable options along with higher end hotels and resorts.  In the Smoky Mountains there is an independent hotel The Inn At Christmas Place that is my usual choice though for this trip using the free night from HHonors made more sense.

The Black Fox Lodge was  very nice.  But since I was only there one night I didn’t get to experience any of the amenities other than the balcony in the room that overlooked the small river that runs through Pigeon Forge. 

Black Fox Lodge, Pigeon Forge TN
Black Fox Lodge, Pigeon Forge TN balcony view


Still if you are looking for a nice hotel in the region this is one that I would recommend.  It’s in walking distance to The Island and restaurants.  This hotel does not have free breakfast though does have an on site restaurant.  However, the area  is known for it’s pancake houses and restaurants that specialize in breakfast so this should not be a deal breaker.

Dinner: Big Daddy’s Pizza

As this was a quick trip there was no time to stop for food on the way down.  Also I was getting into town much later than expected as there was an accident at the Kentucky/Tennessee border that Waze sent me through the back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee to avoid.  It saved me time but added an extra 30 minutes to the planned time.  When traveling on short duration stays the impact of traffic delays is magnified at a much greater rate.

So as soon as I checked in the hotel and took a look around the room, I was off to walk to Big Daddy’s Pizz a just down the street.  Big Daddy’s is one of my favorite pizza places in the area.  Ingredients are fresh and its a wood fire oven so every item on the menu has excellent flavor.  This was the first restaurant I had eaten in since the start of the pandemic and I felt the precautions they were taking gave me a feeling of being safe.  Paper menus were now the norm and gone were community shakers of parmesan and red peppers.  I ordered a peperoni, sausage, and mushroom pizza which was excellent especially since I had not eaten since noon that day.

When I left the restaurant I started walking towards the Island but it looked like rain was starting to move in so I headed back to the hotel.  As soon as I walked in the doors a thunderstorm moved in and it started pouring down rain.  The Island would have to wait for another time.

Day 2: Reagan’s Pancake House

Breakfast is definitely the most important meal of the day in the Smoky Mountains as there are so many great choices for the first meal of the day.  Usually my choice is either Flapjack’s or Crockett’s Breakfast Camp in Gatlinburg but this time I decided on a place I have never been to.  They had a buffet option where you chose what you wanted and they brought it to you.  I went with an omelet and of course, pancakes rather than the breakfast buffet.   Food was great, service was good, and I would definitely recommend this place if you are hungry.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After breakfast not a lot of the attractions were open yet so I headed up the mountain into one of the best national parks in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was one of the few parks in the system that does not have an entry fee and has plenty to see and do in the park.  Since my time was limited my goal was to go up to Newfound Gap for some pictures stopping along the way.  The border of TN and NC is at this point so I was able to visit two states on this one trip.  There are lots of opportunities for hiking in the park but today my time was limited as I needed to leave around noon in order to make it back to Cincinnati on time.


The Island

The Island has become a must visit attraction in the Smoky Mountains as they have lots of great shopping, restaurants, and a really cool musical fountain.  They have rides and amusement attractions for kids, a giant sky wheel, and moonshine tasting for adults.  This trip was a quick stop for me as I watched the fountain and picked up some gifts for the twins at Paula Deans.

The Island Pigeon Forge

Mountain Coasters!

One of the most fun activities in the area are the Mountain Coasters.  What started out as just a few coasters a few years ago has blossomed into multiple attractions.  The next time I visit with more time and without the kids my goal will be to ride them all.  But on this trip I had time for only two.

First up was a new coaster for me called The Rocky Top Mountain Coaster.  This coaster’s selling point was that it was 9 minutes long!!!  The coaster took extra precautions to make the attraction as safe as possible with clearly marked spaces to maintain distance, requiring visitors to wear masks (at this point it was not a government mandate), and they wiped down each coaster between rides.  The course itself was different.  It was fun, it was long with 4 lift hills, however it was a lot of stop and go versus a lot of prolonged speed.  Still the theming of the course was great and it was a lot of fun and I will definitely be back.

And before I left town I absolutely had to hit up my favorite, Goats On The Roof.  Here they were doing the bare minimum as far as Covid precautions went.  But this is still my favorite mountain coaster in the area.  A long relaxing ride up the hill with the thrill of 30mph+ speed on the way down with lots of turns.  Definitely recommend this spot plus they have goats!

Lunch and go

Unfortunately my trip was coming to an end.  But one last stop before heading home to go to work.  For this stop I decided to eat at the Sunliner Diner.  I had ate at the one in Orange Beach the year before so I knew the food was good and was usually quick.  Unfortunately as I was leaving everyone else was coming into town as it was a holiday weekend.  They were at half capacity so there was a bit of a wait.  I ordered a sandwich and chili.  The diner has huge and awesome desserts but I was full from the huge portion sizes of the lunch.

While I didn’t get to stay long I did have an awesome time.  The Smoky Mountains are always a great place to visit with endless things to do and places to eat, shop, and play.  Whether its for less than a day or for a full week you definitely won’t be bored here.


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