“Once a year go somewhere you have never been before”
(Writing this post because with the world in chaos and three kids all our traveling hopes for this summer are probably canceled… So why not reminisce on last years wild adventure!)
You ever just decide to pack up the car and drive a few hundred miles? Because in my family thats pretty common. Last year, on the 4th of July we packed up the car and hit the road headed for Tennessee to see the Great Smoky Mountains!
One of my bucket list items is to visit all of the National Parks. So when we were deciding where to head that was in a “reasonable” driving distance we decided on the Smokies. As we set out on our journey we were excited and anxious to get to our destination. Leaving pretty late in the day on the 4th we figured we wouldn’t arrive until late day on the 5th. We pulled off into a rest area for a brief break somewhere in Virginia, slept for a few hours and started again. Once hitting the southern states it was an instant temperature and humidity change … it is disgusting down south in July. Once we arrived in Tennessee we began to look for campsites and found a small one off the main road just outside of the park. We unloaded some of our stuff and headed out to explore the downtown area of Gatlinburg, which is super cool! However, it was extremely crowded and congested; which in on hot day isn’t exactly fun. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and explored a bit before heading into the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.
Heading back to the campground we popped up the tent, put the kids to bed and planned our day ahead.
The Great Smokies have SO MUCH to offer! It is hard to choose where to hike and what to see. We read about Clingmans Dome and decided to head there later in the day, we first went and explored the part of the park that was right near the campground. The Great Smokies are the most visited National Park in the US and I can see why; everywhere we went was PACKED. Luckily in the forest you are able to find some peace and quiet from people, as many people do not venture in.
After exploring the forest around us we headed towards Clingmans Dome. As we headed up the twisting, winding roads we were graced with beautiful fews of the mountains and forests below. Upon arriving at the parking lot (which was, yet again, PACKED) we were lucky enough to find a parking spot. We ate a quick snack and packed up ready to see the views from the top! To get to the actual observation tower you walk up a paved path that is highly crowded and decently steep. In the hot, humid Tennessee weather it is definitely a serious trek (especially carrying a 7 month old!) As we got closer to the summit the weather finally began to cool off and some clouds began to appear in the sky helping as well. Unfortunately our “views” from the observation tower were completely socked in with fog and clouds.
You do get to cross the a portion of the southern half of the Appalachian Trail, which for me is exciting! I would love to complete the Trail one day!! As we made our way down it began to rain super lightly, which was refreshing and much welcomed. We decided to end our day here, head back to the campground, and go swimming. We hung low this night and planned our following day to head out to Nashville, because we had never been and it was only a few short hours away.
Our drive to Nashville was pretty quick driving through congested cities wasn’t the most exciting but we were excited to see Nashville. upon arriving it started down pouring heavily on us so we kind of hung out in the car and waited it out. We happened to land a parking spot right where all the murals are located (lucky us!!).
Who would have though that there would be basically nobody in Nashville, in July a few days after the 4th of July. We didn’t have to wait in line anywhere which was great, but walking around was HOT! So we took pictures in front of the murals, grabbed a late lunch and headed to our campground to check in and set up. We stayed at the Nashville KOA, which if you have kids KOAs are the way to go there is so much stuff for kids to do! It was a little stormy all night so we hung out in the tent and headed to bed early, so we could enjoy the pool in the morning before heading back towards the Smokies.
Along our way back I read about a state park that looked super cool, so of course, we detoured to go see it! Rock Island State Park is super cool and what the locals use as a swimming hole on hot summer days. There was a beach area but if you went further down there is another area in which people go. I am not sure if it is “recommended” to swim here as it was a bit dangerous and there were signs posted saying the water was from a power plant. This place was super cool though, you hike down into the rocks where the water is and you can explore for hours all different parts of it!
We explored here for about an hour and then made our way back up to the parking area, where we attempted to fly the drone….. Of course as soon as we took flight park ranges pulled up and threatened to take it from us for flying in restricted areas. So make sure you know where you are flying before you fly! But here are some pictures we got first 😉
After leaving here we managed to find a last minute campsite at a campground that had a small waterpark inside it, located just down the street from our original one. So we journeyed, for real this time, back to the Smokies. When we arrived back it was already late so we set up and hung out for the remainder of the night. The following morning we packed up and hit the pool and park for a bit before starting our journey back home.
Overall, we had a great time but we definitely learned a lot about road tripping with kids. When we went cross country in 2014 we didn’t bring any kids with us, but we thought it would be a great experience to take them along. This year if we are able to venture on our long anticipated road trip – we will be masters of traveling with small children! Lesson one is travel for a certain number of hours each day and make enough stops that the kids can get out and stretch. Lesson two – you need a plan when your traveling with kids, plan out where you want to stop along the way, but of course make spontaneous stops as well. Lesson three pack healthy, filling snacks that are easy to eat on the go – we ended up stopping at stores a lot more than planned along the way, it would be way better had we planned ahead and packed most of our food. Lesson four have enough entertainment for all the kids, make sure they have things of interest to do in the car when you are going for longer stretches.
Traveling with kids can be intimidating and stressful but the way I see it is you just need to go do it and make the most of every experience! The kids had the best time and got to experience something completely different.
Tennessee you had so much beauty to offer! I can’t wait to see where we end up next!