The excitement of a new school year ran out quickly as soon as the homework assignments started rolling out and the first test and project dates were set. The kids aren’t the only ones fighting the back to school blues, though, and the line, “I am not going to ask you again to do your homework,” has already been worn out. Maybe you’re on the other side of this as a teacher. The kids have seemingly forgotten what desks are used for, you’ve already had to clean the classroom more times than you can count, and the wine aisle gets more tempting every day.
You are not alone and, more importantly, there is a creative and memorable remedy for the back to school blues: a mountain getaway. One weekend, tucked into the long stretch of weeks leading up to the holidays, is more than a simple escape. It’s a rejuvenating experience for everyone. Whatever your vision of a perfect family vacation is, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, have tons to offer. From the beautiful scenery of the Smoky Mountains and the lively downtown happenings to the relaxation of cabin life and the family-friendly focus, a weekend mountain escape from home is a beautiful change of pace.
If the idea of a Smoky Mountain getaway sounds so good that you are ready to head for the hills without much of a plan or want to try something new in the Smokies this time around, here is a great list of the most exciting ways to make memories while reenergizing everyone in the mountain towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. (And since this is one of my family’s personal favorite vacationing destinations, I’ll also drop hints from personal experience.)
1.Leave your worries on the banks of the Little Pigeon River.
The Little Pigeon River is the perfect place to take the whole family to enjoy the beauty of running water through green forests while entertaining everyone. River excursions vary from completely relaxed in the warm sun and cool waters while tubing to the more active experience of kayaking. No matter what your chosen level of energy to be expelled during your time on the river, it’s a great bonding experience time for your kids and/or significant other. Hint from experience: It also encourages naps back at the cabin.
2. Disconnect from technology, reconnect with each other.
Hiking is not only great exercise with beautiful views, but also a way to bond with your loved ones. The Smokies offer hundreds of trails varying in difficulty. If the younger ones can’t navigate the steeper paths, there are plenty of easy trails by winding creeks to keep them excited during the adventure. Hint from experience: create your own scavenger hunt using items in nature like – a rock that looks like a heart or a leaf as big as your face. Time in the woods is less time with a screen, which all our relationships could use a little of.
One of my personal favorites and a popular trail among visitors of all ages is Laurel Falls. Because it’s a crowd favorite I would recommend making this trip in the morning as the crowds usually flow in during the late morning and afternoon!
3. Shop ‘til you drop.
Shopping is one of the most appealing experiences of the mountain towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The main roads are lined with unique shops selling beautiful local art, breathtaking metalwork and handcrafted jewelry, farmhouse decor, and the always-tantalizing candy shops with fresh-made fudge. Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, these cities are characterized by their local restaurants and the all-time-favorite attractions. Here’s a list of a few favorites:
4. Unlike school, make it all about fun and games in the Smokies.
Pigeon Forge is home to an unbelievable amount of go-kart tracks and arcades within a couple miles on a single stretch of road. There are height requirements for some rides, but most offer options for kids and adults of all ages. Even the younger ones can sit in the kart while mom or dad show them a taste of NASCAR-esque excitement. Dollywood is notoriously fun with its numerous theme park rides, interactive museums, and uniquely Southern attractions.
Want to watch a large pond equipped with high-powered fountains and hundreds of lights put on a show to all your favorite songs? Yeah, didn’t even know that was something you wanted, right? The Island in downtown Pigeon Forge has that! The captivating musical fountain is surrounded by rocking chairs to relax and watch the show while out on the town. The Island also has a giant metal jungle gym unlike any you’ve ever seen. The kids are harnessed to a zip-line course, where they make their way through dozens of obstacles before ending in an exciting bungee jump!
After a day full of exciting theme park rides, top it off with a ride that zips through the forests on a mountainside, properly named The Alpine Mountain Coaster. You can partake in the unique coaster experience while the sun is out or wait for night when the entire track is lit up in neon rainbows! I let my sisters persuade me to get on this unusual 1-person coaster and, man, is it an adrenaline kick…
5. Sit back, relax, and unwind.
The best reason to escape to the Smokies is the cabin experience. There is nothing quite like walking out on the back porch to a jetted tub, rocking chair, or hammock and soaking in the beauty of the vast mountain views. The warmth of all the exposed wood of the cabin and the hints of coolness in the mountain air are enough to rejuvenate a soul of any age. Some of the best and most enduring memories of vacationing with family aren’t the meals you ate or the souvenirs you bought, but the laughter you shared.
Bring the kids’ (and your) favorite board games and let the laughter fill the cabin as the bonding begins. Someone always gets caught cheating, another is incredibly bad at strategy, and winning only ever meant bragging rights. Hint from experience: Crafting together and movie nights are also exciting in the gorgeous mountain homes away from home. I still remember cracking up with my siblings in a pillow fort while watching the Pixar movie, Robots.
When the road ahead in school seems long and the workload gets hard and heavy, remind your kids (and yourself) that you can relax and play hard, too!