Tennessee Vacation: heading home

Unfortunately, it was time to go back home. We loved our trip to Tennessee and we will be back again. On our way home, we drove to Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky on the advice of a nice couple we met while hiking up to the observation tower on Clingman’s Dome. This was a nice break in the drive on the first day, well worth going to visit if you’re in the area. It doesn’t require much walking to get to it, so it was a quick stop.

Our last day on the road, we made a quick stop at Fair Oaks Farm. It’s a farm-themed attraction. Even the rock climbing wall was in the shape of a milk bottle. Once we reached Chicago, the trip was basically over.

Tennessee Vacation: Newfound Gap Road

Day two in the Smokies was the Newfound Gap Road.  This 33 mile drive goes through the park from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. The views along this road are amazing. The whole drive is mountain views and there are lots of scenic overlooks to pull over and get photos. The day was cloudy and hazy, so our views weren’t as far as what they might have been, but they were still spectacular.

At approximately 14 miles into the drive, you get to the Newfound Gap and the scenic overlooks in that area. The Rockefeller Memorial is here as well as the Tennesssee-North Carolina State Line. It is also here where the Appalachian Trail crossed our way and we hiked on the famous trail for a bit. Shortly after leaving here, we turned off on the road to Clingman’s Dome. This is the highest point in Tennessee, and on a clear day we are told you can see 7 states. As you can see, our view was a bit more limited from the top of the observation tower.

At the North Carolina end of the road is the Mountain Farm museum. This outdoor museum contains several pioneer buildings that have been moved here to preserve them and allow visitors to experience them. We were told that as sunset approaches, there area is taken over by elk, but we were too early for that and only saw one or two.

Tennessee Vacation: Cades Cove

Our first day of sightseeing in the Smoky Mountains was spent doing the Cades Cove loop. The drive to Cades Cove had it’s own beautiful scenery. We stopped and hiked to Laurel Falls. This was a fairly easy, 2.3 mile (round-trip) hike. The incline is fairly consistent, with no real steep ups or downs. The 80 foot waterfall is beautiful. This is a very popular hike, so it is busy and the parking lot is typically full.

After hiking to the falls, it was on to Cades Cove. The Cades Cove road is an 11 mile, one-way loop. At times, the road is quite narrow. There are plenty of places to pull off the road and enjoy the scenery, but it is still possible to get behind somebody going slower than you are. It’s a very popular drive and gets very busy. We were fortunate the day we went and it wasn’t obnoxiously busy.

Besides beautiful mountain scenery, there are several buildings remaining from early settlers of the area. Old houses, barns and churches dot the area. One of our favorites was the Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church. It wasn’t anything more special to look at than the other buildings along the way, but when we arrived, there was an actual service going on. We got to join in the singing (a capella) of favorite old hymns and hear a short sermon. What we thought was going to be a quick photo stop turned into a 45 minute treat.

On our way back “home” after leaving Cades Cove, we saw one more waterfall. This one, Meigs Falls, was right off the road and no hiking was necessary to see it. We would have missed this one if there hadn’t been other people stopped at it.

Tennessee Vacation, Days 4 and 5

On our second day in Nashville, we drove a bit south to go to the Stones River National Battlefield. This memorial to the Civil War was very interesting. It’s not one of the well-known battles, but it was one of the bloodiest. We did the cemetery tour. A park ranger walked with us to the cemetery and told us about the battle and also about national cemeteries in general. After an hour in the cemetery, we did the self-guided car tour and stopped a several key areas of the battle.

After the battlefield, we went back into Nashville. Our plan was to go the the agriculture museum, but that was closed. So, we went instead to Centennial Park. The main attraction there is a full sized replica of the Parthenon. We walked around the park for a while and then drove around Vanderbilt University.

We spent one last night at Poole Knobs Campground before heading East toward the Smoky Mountains. On our way out of the Nashville Area, we made a quick stop at the dam that creates Percy Priest Lake. There were so many ducks in the area and all were fairly tame and let me get close enough to get photos.

Our last stop before the Smoky Mountains was at Cummins Falls State Park where we did a quick hike to the falls. The hike to the overlook was fairly easy. If, like most of the people there on that hot day, had decided to hike all the way down to the river, it would have been a considerably harder hike.

img_19181

 

Tennessee Vacation, Day 3: Nashville

After a relaxing night at Poole Knobs Campground, we went to do some sightseeing in Nashville. Our first stop was Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. The different gardens were beautiful. There was a lot of color and a lot of different trees and fountains and streams.

The mansion was gorgeous (and air-conditioned which was a welcome relief on this very hot day). The second floor of the mansion is decorated as it was when the Cheek family lived there. I loved the  elaborate and elegant staircases.

The third floor of the mansion has an art museum. The exhibit when we were there was called Cracking Art. It really wasn’t our kind of art. Throughout the museum, and around the gardens, were a bunch of plastic animals. In our opinion, the bright plastic animals detracted from the beauty of the gardens.

After leaving Cheekwood, we went to downtown Nashville and walked around for a while, catching a few of the highlights–the At&T building (aka Batman Building), Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, the Capitol, the farmers market and more.

Tennessee Vacation, days 1 and 2: Heading to Nashville

We spent the first day driving. We made it to Kentucky, Moutardier Campground, to be exact. Our first official vacation activity was going to Mammoth Cave National Park, which was about a 30 mile drive from the campground. While waiting for our cave tour, we did a little hiking around the park, and we had some amazing views of Kentucky.

We did the Frozen Niagara Tour, which is one of the shorter tours available. We weren’t disappointed, however. The cave is beautiful. There were so many stalactites and stalagmites and interesting formations. Our tour guide was hilarious. Or, that could just be me because I have the same dumb sense of humor.

From the cave, we drove to Nashville. We spent a little time driving around, looking at the city. We had thought about going to check out the Opryland Hotel, but didn’t feel like paying $28 to park. We went to Long Hunter State Park, to walk around their arboretum, but due to the heat, didn’t see the whole thing. We did see this deer, however, before heading to our campground.img_1801

 

Moutardier Campground

Our first night on vacation was spent at Moutardier Campground in Leitchfield, KY. It was a last minute decision to stay here, and we are so glad we did. We had a site right on Nolin River Lake. We had neighbors on one side, and their site was right next to ours, but that didn’t really bother us. We had our tent set up on the side on the campsite that was farthest from our neighbors and we hardly even knew they were there. This campground is run by the Army Corps of Engineers. It was well maintained and the bathrooms were clean, although they were a bit of a hike up a fairly steep hill. We could have had a site closer to the bathrooms, but that would have meant giving up the lake view. Who would give up waking up to that view? The site was only $15 a night and it was less than a 30 minute drive to Mammoth Cave National Park, which was our first destination on day 2.