I couldn’t wait to get to the top of the mountain.  The ride to the top was both exciting and a tortuous, slow process.  Why couldn’t this chair lift go any faster?  The faster we got to the top, the faster I could race my Dad down the mountain.  I just KNEW I could beat him this time!

I did beat him.  Although I suspect now that he may have let me win.  I was 8 years old that summer. 

Many summers have past since then, more than I would like to count.  But this summer, this summer I felt the nostalgia as if I was racing my Dad all over again. That moment. That feeling. That pure joy of innocence and fun. I WAS THERE!  Only this time…I was the parent.

It was my turn to relieve it all through new eyes.  What happened was unexpected.  It wasn’t just a new experience; it was a multiplied experience.  

Here are some tips to multiply your family experience.

Make it a Family Pilgrimage

Every region has “that place”, that destination where family pilgrimages are passed down through the generations.  For our southern family, and so many East-Coasters, it has been Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains.

From the changing of the leaves to the mountain-tempered heat of the southern summer, we return year-after-year to a familiar, yet changing place to share our memories; laugh; and leave the cares of our daily lives behind.

Lodging is key to the whole family pilgrimage experience.  Gone are the days of squeezing the entire family into a space the size of mom and dad’s bedroom at home.  In Gatlinburg you don’t have to sacrifice your comfort.  The abundance of rental cabins and multi-room hotel suites makes it an ideal destination. Many cabins and chalets are actually spacious and well-appointed houses with breath-taking views across the mountain range and even overlooking the city. Enjoy your coffee watching the sunrise over the mountains; have a glass of wine in the hot tub after the kids go to bed; or enjoy a movie with your feet up, while the rest of the family cavorts in the game room downstairs. A quick trip to the grocery store and you have all the comforts of home.

You might even find that perfect spot, that perfect getaway cabin that you want to call home visit after visit.

Be Adventurous

Maybe it’s the prevalence of the Ripley’s brand and the “Believe it or Not” mantra or just the wide spectrum of choices. Whatever the actual secret is, Gatlinburg compels you to try the unexpected. 

Spend the morning wildlife watching in the serenity of Cades Cove, and then ironically follow it up with an afternoon eating funnel cakes and playing putt-putt. Walk the Gatlinburg Parkway without having planned out your activities for the day, just to see what happens. 

Free yourself and your family from the everyday ruts. The exhilaration of stepping out of the norm will open a new set of opportunities that will only serve to deepen the memories.

Enjoy the classics

While some parkway businesses come and go, some have stood the test of time to be enjoyed by young and old. These are those gems that really hit home, the ones that multiply their memories with each visit. Don’t skip the long-standing musts.

  • Spend the day at Ober Gatlinburg. Ride the tram to the top. See the bears. Take the chairlift up and the Alpine Slide down. Twirl your kids around the ice rink.
  • Eat breakfast at the Pancake Pantry. Yes, it only takes cash. Yes, it often has a line down the street. Did I mention the giant bowl of homemade whipped cream that is used on almost every order? I have three words for you- sweet potato pancakes.
  • Walk along the Riverwalk area. Feed the ducks. Watch the fly fisherman. Just enjoy the sound of the water.
  • Buy a souvenir. Yep, you have to. Take home an air-brushed t-shirt. Have an old-time photo taken of your family. Watch an artisan mold a perfect piece of pottery for your house. Find whatever makes you giggle or smile and just do it.
  • Have a homemade foot-long corndog, dubbed “Ogle Dogs”, at Fannie Farkles Family Fun Parlor. The classic video and amusement games are a perfect reprieve if you need to duck in out of the weather.
  • Go in at least one Ripley’s museum. Ripley’s Believe it or Not or their Guinness World Record Museums are both family-friendly attractions that will engage your senses and emotions. Their hands-on interactive exhibits will keep you laughing, and the odd and amazing exhibits provide the perfect backdrop for family snapshots.
  • Ride a chairlift.  Whether the one atop the mountain at Ober Gatlinburg or Skylift in downtown Gatlinburg, a feet-dangling ride to higher elevations is a must to get that quintessential picture.
  • Eat at Calhoun’s. The giant waterwheel guarding the entrance to the Shoppes of Calhoun Village is the tell-tale sign you have arrived. Generous portions and a more upscale, yet kid-friendly environment provide a welcome respite from the funnel cake indulgences you had earlier in the day.  Don’t miss their “Ale” steak, Thunder Road wings, and beer cheese dip.
  • Watch taffy logs being made at the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.
  • Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The park sits right on the doorstep of the City of Gatlinburg. Take a hike. Explore the Visitor’s Centers. Take a drive along one of the scenic motor nature trails, such as Cades Cove or Roaring Fork.
  • Take a ride on the Gatlinburg Trolley.  Use it to give your feet a break or to get you from one end of the parkway to the other quicker.  Kids love that they don’t have to be in a carseat and can even sit on their knees and look out the back window; remember what that was like? 

However you fill your time, just have fun.  Be intentional.  The memories you make may linger well past your mind’s ability to recollect.  They may just be the foundation for generations of your family to come.

Sponsored by Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau