Map of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, girlhood home of Dolly Parton and tourist-trap capital of East Tennessee.
After you have decided where you are going and what you would like to do, the next most important step in vacation planning is deciding where to stay. Lodging is usually the greatest expense in a vacation (unless you spend money like water during the vacation).
The first thing we ruled out was something that many people do when visiting a national park, namely camping. I have never been a fan of camping. I'm just too much of a city slicker I guess.
Next, we ruled out a hotel. With a total of six people in our family, we would be tripping over each other in a hotel room. We would really need two rooms, and this would drive our nightly cost to very near $200 a night, after all the many taxes and fees are added in. When we were still thinking about going to San Antonio, I looked into an extended stay suite. But again, the cost per night would be pushing $200 per night, and this was considerably more than we wanted to pay.
After we decided to go to the Smokies, Jennifer had a brilliant idea. She Googled "Cabins near Gatlinburg, Tennessee" (Gatlinburg is the only decent-sized town near the national park). She found several agencies that rent out cabins, and we quickly decided on one called Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg. Mountain Rentals offered a very large number of cabins, with nightly rates as low as $85. We decided on one a little more upscale, with 2 bedrooms and a full kitchen. We had planned to spend at least some of our time just relaxing in our cabin and wanted to be able to cook our own meals as much as possible, so this cabin was an excellent fit.
We had planned to take two days to travel the almost 1000 miles from our home to the cabin, stay five full days, and then take two days to come back. So we booked six nights. Soon after we did so, however, a person at the agency was kind enough to call us and tell us that with our six-night rental, we were entitled to an additional night free. This meant a whole extra day that we could spend in the area, but it required us to make the 1000-mile trip in one day (I had to be back by the 23rd to do a wedding rehearsal on the 24th). So, with a little bit of dread, we decided to do it.
In order to make it there on time to be able to get our key, we had to leave at 3 AM. That hurt, especially since Jennifer and I only got a couple hours of sleep. Still, the trip was blessedly uneventful, if very long and grueling. The kids didn't whine and complain too much, thanks in part to the portable DVD players that we had bought (I can't believe how cheap they are nowadays!) We were all excited when we were on I-40 and saw the exit sign for Gatlinburg.
Soon after we exited, we saw something that none of us expected. At about 9:30 PM or so we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic as we entered the town of Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge is the town in which Dolly Parton grew up, and it is now the home of three of her entertainment enterprises: Dollywood, Dollywood Splash Country, and The Dixie Stampede. In addition to these touristy places, Pigeon Forge also has hundreds of other ways for a fool and his money to be parted. We had never seen so many putt golf places, museums, rides, shops, restaurants, pancake houses, ice cream stops, and other types of tourist traps packed into such a small place. At nearly 10 PM, the town was abuzz with activity. We (well, those of who were awake anyway) just stared with our mouths wide open.
We continued staring as we entered Gatlinburg itself. Gatlinburg is a smaller version of Pigeon Forge. It seemed like it took us forever to get to our cabin, but we finally did around 10:30 or so. Exhausted, we put the kids to bed and soon afterward collapsed into bed ourselves. We were beat, but glad to be there and ready to start exploring the Smokies!
Here are some pictures of our cabin.