By Kristy Tolley
This summer, my daughter’s national dance competition took place in Sevierville, Tennessee. We’d visited the area before, but didn’t get to explore as much as we would have liked. This time, we decided to roll into town a couple of days early to do just that!
Our pre-conference accommodations were at Hidden Mountain Resort (east location), beautifully situated just off Apple Valley Road. Family owned and operated for 38 years, the resort is an ideal home base for families seeking a low-key getaway in the Smokies. You can choose from Old Home Place farmhouse cottages, log cabins and mountaintop villas — each uniquely themed and lovingly decorated. It truly felt like a home away from home (only much cleaner and cuter than mine).
Our two-story, two-bedroom cabin included a full kitchen, living room, a washer and dryer, a screened in balcony and a massive Jacuzzi tub. Our balcony looked out into the woods and the mountains beyond. It was such a peaceful place to enjoy my morning coffee.
The resort also boasts seasonal outdoor swimming pools, picnic pavilions, a fire pit, a stocked fishing pond and walking pathways and throughout the property.
Wilderness at the Smokies
Our dance competition events were all in the Sevierville Convention Center. Booking a room at the connecting Wilderness at the Smokies’ Stone Hill Lodge was a no brainer. It was so convenient to pop over to our room between dances. Also, not having to drive somewhere else after a long day of competition was a plus. It’s part of the Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort and Family Adventure Center, which is a perfect year-round spot for non-stop family fun.
The resort is home to Tennessee’s largest indoor waterpark, Wild WaterDome. In addition to that, they offer two outdoor waterparks. Don’t feel like getting wet? Head to the Adventure Forest which features a three-story ropes course, black light mini-golf, a huge arcade and multi-level laser tag (among other activities).
Onsite dining options include the Thirsty Miner, Firefly Bar & Grill, Hidden Trail Bar & Grill and the Mountain Marketplace Deli. You can also grab a bite at one of the waterparks or inside the adventure center at Grizzly’s Grill, Coyote Cove, Bluegill’s Cove, or Billy Jack’s Snack Shack.
RainForest Adventures Zoo
This small zoo showcases more than 600 temperate-zone and tropical animals that represent more than 130 species. It’s a great outing for families with small kids, but my 16-year-old and I really enjoyed ourselves here.
We saw several types of reptiles, mammals, birds and amphibians. Our favorites were the Capuchin monkeys, ring tail lemurs and the Pygmy goats. You can even feed the goats (and emus if you’re brave enough). Pro tip: Don’t get so distracted taking a selfie with an emu that a sneaky goat snags your entire bag of food.
The zoo is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Christmas Day). Also, kids age three and under get in free!
For a different perspective of the Smoky Mountains, book a biplane ride with Sky High Air Tours. It’s located at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport and near the Tennessee Museum of Aviation (which we also visited). I’ve never flown in a biplane, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was amazing, and easily the most fun thing I’ve done so far this year. I was definitely channeling my inner Amelia Earhart.
Our plane was a beautifully restored 1927 Model 10 WACO Straight Wing biplane. Marc Hightower, our pilot, was fantastic. He was funny, engaging and put us at ease immediately. We wore headphones so we could communicate with him during our 30-minute Barnstormer ride. We soared above the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and enjoyed views over Pigeon Forge. It was like driving in a convertible, but a hundred times better. You should totally do it!
Tennessee Museum of Aviation
50,000-square-foot facility includes a 35,000-square-foot aircraft hangar that holds military vehicles, restored vintage Warbirds and even two Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (there are fewer than a dozen of them remaining in the world).
The museum teems with a collection of aircraft engines, military vehicles, helicopters, fighters and impressive aviation exhibits. The Exhibit Gallery showcases varied artifacts that trace aviation and military history — including a 40-inch piece of the USS Arizona, which was bombed during the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, killing 1,177 men aboard the USS Arizona. The relic was salvaged in 1942, but the wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and the USS ArizonaMemorial.
In addition to this display, there were uniforms, a fantastic selection of memorabilia and displays depicting aviation milestones and timelines.
You can tour the museum Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winter hours vary, so call ahead before you head over. Also, AAA Members receive $2 discount on admission to the museum!
Adrenaline pumping attractions, a three-story indoor rock climbing wall, an arcade and two mini golf courses — this park has it all. Whether you opt for the Competitor’s high banking and side-by-side racing in go-karts or Baby Bristol’s 200-foot starter track, there’s something for visitors of all ages.
When you need to refuel, head to the Pit Stop Grill for lunch or a quick snack. Choose from burgers, chicken tenders or create your own pizza. Top it off with ice cream or flavored shaved ice.
We always look for a deal wherever we go, and this trip was no exception. There’s a variety of shops at Tanger Outlet, and we hit many of them. Scouring thrift stores is also a favorite pastime for us, so we sought those out as well. We scored some great shirts at KARM, Salvation Army and Goodwill stores.
Sevierville is loaded with numerous and distinctive shopping opportunities. Specialty stores with local goodies, flea markets and home decor shops — there’s something for everyone. Sadly for us, we just didn’t have time to devote to more retail therapy during this trip.
Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant
Our breakfast at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant was a real treat. The restaurant is Sevierville’s oldest. I learned so much about its history chatting with Gary Ledford, the general manager. He shared that the farmhouse that originally stood here burned down. It was replaced in 1921, and that six-room house is the centerpiece of the restaurant.
The floors and built-in oak woodwork are original to the home, and the wall murals were designed to reflect the style of what you would have seen in a home in the 1920s. Wait staff wear period dress, which certainly adds to the historic charm.
And the food? You won’t go hungry, that’s for sure. They serve up authentic farm-style southern cuisine. It’s not surprising that approximately 300,000 dine here each year. We kicked off our breakfast with a glass of their homemade Applewood Julep – a blend of apple, lemon and orange juices. It was refreshing. We made quick work of the complimentary apple cinnamon muffins and apple fritters with homemade apple butter. Breakfast offerings include Belgian waffles, pecan pancakes, Smoky Mountain Biscuit Benedict, biscuits and gravy, country fried steak and country omelets.
They serve breakfast and dinner, too. The Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant is also part of a larger complex that includes the Applewood Farmhouse Grill, a creamery, candy factory, cider barn and a winery.
Another morning, we ate breakfast at the popular Flapjack’s Pancakes. Open since 2000, they serve a variety of egg platters, omelets and skillet dishes. However, the pancakes are king here. They’re stacked four high and fluffier than you’ve ever seen. You can order the Sticky Bun (cinnamon swirled with pecans and drizzled with icing), the Reese’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip (chocolate and peanut butter chips, topped with peanut butter sauce and whipped cream) or get crazy and create your own.
Two of our favorite dinner spots were Five Oaks Farm Kitchen and No Way Jose’s Cantina. Five Oaks Farm Kitchen was born from the legacy of Dr. John and Blanche Ogle, who established Five Oaks Farm in 1925. They were well known throughout Sevier County for their hospitality. Here you’ll find hearty soups, fresh vegetables, fried chicken, meatloaf, pot roast and lots of other country staples.
I could eat Mexican food every day of the week, so I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur (especially when a margarita is involved). Their Caribbean veggie fajitas were to die for, and the Tijuana Cadillac margarita was on point. I highly recommend ordering the guacamole, too.
Plan your Sevierville getaway today! Go too AAA.com/GoTravel to start planning!
(Photos: Hidden Mountain Resort, VisitSevierville, Kristy Tolley and Tennessee Museum of Aviation)
(Go Magazine Sept/Oct 2019)