I spent the summers in my childhood years traveling to East Tennessee and staying in my uncle’s cabin on Fort Loudoun Lake. We always ventured into the Smokies—to Cades Cove for a bike ride or to the parkway for some family fun—but never took a Smoky Mountains vacation to Sevier County until my adult years.
Three years ago, SVV’s family journeyed out to Tennessee from California during peak foliage season, and we rented a cabin right outside of Sevierville near Wears Valley. It was my first time staying in the thick of all the action, and I loved being so conveniently located to both the park and the area attractions.
Last month, we went one step further to stay in Sevierville—well, less than a mile off the parkway, that is—while still enjoying views such as these:
Sevierville, of course, is most famously home to Dolly Parton, reigning queen of country music, honorary patron saint of the arts and all-around angel with a petite stature and huge heart (and yes, I’ve interviewed her, and yes, she’s amazing). You won’t find a Tennessean who doesn’t adore this woman who has done more for the state when it comes to education than many people know, yet she chooses to live locally still despite five decades of international fame. That alone says something about the area, doesn’t it?
But you don’t have to be a celebrity to live it up in Sevierville; it’s both affordable and family-friendly—not to mention, peppered with adventure parks and ziplines that active vacationers will eat up. So if you’re headed to Dolly’s neck of the woods this summer, I’ve got the ultimate Smokies getaway planned for you—simply follow the itinerary below to recreate SVV’s and my perfect summer weekend.
Adventuring in Sevierville
If you’re flying into Knoxville, the closest airport, it’s just a half-hour drive east to Sevierville. We were driving in from Nashville, which is just three hours by car and put us in Sevierville around lunchtime.
We were staying just 10 minutes south of downtown at Hidden Mountain Resort, a stone’s throw from the parkway, yet surrounded by green wilderness and cloaked in quiet. Early June just after Memorial Day is an excellent time to visit the Smoky Mountains, I must say; crowds were few and rates were excellent.
Our two-story, two-bedroom stay charmingly dubbed the Sunflower Cottage was massive, pet-friendly (yes, Ella joined this time), outfitted with a hot tub—and under $150 a night (one-bedroom units started even lower).
For larger groups, there are a number of other cabin configurations: five bedrooms, seven bedrooms, as big as a 14-bedroom lodge! We’ve already decided we’ll be returning to Hidden Mountain Resort with my family one Christmas very soon.
After you get acquainted with a cute cabin of your own, head five minutes up the road to Adventureworks, the most comprehensive aerial ropes course I’ve ever seen. I never think I’m scared of heights until I’m already up there, dangling precariously by little more than a line and a carabiner, but something about Adventureworks having two different levels instilled confidence in me—I started at the lower level and pretty soon was monkeying around the obstacles at the very top, forgetting how high above the ground I was.
The Adventureworks course is composed of 55 elements, including tightropes, ziplines, balance beams and more, spread out over the two-acre park. Allot yourself a solid two hours if you want to give both levels a go and do the full loop—we had a blast while we were there, but I could have stayed much longer.
In the afternoon, unwind with a little sipping along Sevierville’s own wine trail, comprising five wineries and one moonshine distillery. We worked our way backwards by starting our boozy excursion at the brand new Smith Creek Moonshine with tastings—our friends at yTravel were in town and joined us, and we sampled a total of 12(!) different flavored moonshine (no big surprise, the chocolate was my favorite)—which is housed within the Tanger Outlets, straddling Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. (And yes, we had a DD—worry not.)
As a college student, I used to come to Tanger to stock up on clothes each season; it’s got all my favorite brands (Banana Republic, LOFT, J. Crew, Old Navy, etc.) and is positively massive. I can’t say the moonshine helped curb my shopping habits, as I definitely walked out of the outlet mall with a couple cute tops and a pair of summer beach hats to boot (sorry not sorry).
Next, our sextet moseyed over to Applebarn Cider Mill & General Store, which is basically Mecca for all apple goods. On site, they have a cider mill, restaurant, general store, creamery and, yes, even a winery—and the wine was made out of apple, too! Caz and I each had a flight, then sat down for dinner next door at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant with our husbands and the kids for one gluttonous and delicious meal (they serve you a basket of apple fritters before your meal even starts!).
Donuts, ziplining and a spa day in Sevierville
The next morning started with my most exciting activity of the trip. Several friends had posted about Foxfire Mountain; however, it was a completely new attraction to me that only made it to my radar recently. But first, there was something we had to do, and that was return to Courthouse Donuts for actual breakfast. Because guys, their make-your-own donut bar is pure genius.
SVV and I split a half-dozen with banana pudding and Fruity Pebbles being the frontrunners. And I’m not gonna lie: We went back there once more before heading back home!
From there, it was east into the foothills of the Smokies to Foxfire Mountain. And what I thought was just the ultimate adventure park had a pretty interesting story behind it, too.
After a horrible drought in 2009, Marc and Marion Postelwaite were ready to sell their 150-acre cattle farm because it wasn’t profitable. But first, they went on one last vacation to Alaska. It was there that Marc went ziplining for the first time; he was hooked. He immediately had Marion call the real estate agent to take the property off the market and committed to transforming the farm into an adventure park. The rest is history.
A seven-line waterfall canopy zipline opened in 2010. The next year, Marc added ATV tours; the year after that, the 330-foot-long Bridge to Prosperity, the longest swinging bridge in the United States. Foxfire Mountain now also boasts a climbing wall, an aerial adventure course, a cidery, a five-line Goliath zip course, a BBQ shack, a museum, hiking trails, a couple llamas and one shy but polite African Watusi.
Aside from checking out the swinging bridge and walking some of the trails, we also went on an ATV tour, which was a lot of fun, but I think next time, ziplining is in order as I was so jealous of all the folks zipping through the canopy above us. I love me some ziplining, and the Goliath is one of the highest, fastest and longest in the country. We only had three hours to explore, but honestly I could have spent all day here!
That afternoon, we unwound by heading back to the downtown square to check out some of the cute boutiques and galleries. As we headed up the parkway past the iconic Smoky Mountain Knife Works, we got mighty excited for our last stop of the day.
If you know anything about SVV and me, you’ll know that when it comes to self-care, we’re on it. Sure, we don’t always eat as we should (or sleep for that matter), particularly when on the road, but while at home we get regular triggerpoint therapy and sports massages to address lingering injuries. And when we heard about The Spa at Oak Haven, it wasn’t an if but rather, what treatments were we going to get?
We settled on the Ultimate Couples Retreat Package, which included 50-minute side-by-side massages followed by 50 minutes of reflexology. I don’t think I’ve ever had a full 100 minutes of pampering—it was heavenly! If SVV’s blissful snores next to me were any indication, he liked it alright, too. 😉
Somehow I missed the memo that the package also came with an Ice Cream Pedicure, which was the cherry on top of an already perfect afternoon. What’s an Ice Cream Pedicure, you might wonder? A pedicure while you’re eating an ice cream sundae, of course! There was also a Dreamsicle version, which I insisted SVV get, you know, so we could share our treats.
Funny enough, it was SVV’s first ever pedicure and he confessed to being nervous (side note: men!). But our friendly, Southern technicians put him right to ease, one buffing his toes while the other polished mine just in time for the wedding we were attending a few days later.
That evening, after a full day and with a pup waiting for us back home, we picked up pizza on the parkway and ate it in the cabin before passing out early.
Horseback riding and waterfalls
Our final morning began with horseback riding at Five Oaks Riding Stables where we went on an hour-long group ride (at a walk pace for those of you who may be horseback riding novices) with some epic views. The stables are located right smack in town on 70 acres of wooded terrain, and you climb up, up, up to eventually see Mount LeConte in the distance.
After we were done, we grabbed lunch at Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ—a place that had been recommended to us by myriad locals—before checking out of our cabin and heading home via the southern route, along the fringe of the Smokies.
Wears Valley is one of my favorite spots in the area, and the area surrounding Wears Valley Road is stunning with plenty of arteries to pull off and explore. I wasn’t about to miss a chance at a dip (or should I say, wade?) in the creek!
While we did make it to Metcalf Bottoms, we ran out of time before reaching Laurel Falls, one of the only paved trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Sinks, both of which are high on my to-do list. Oh well, next time!
What would you add to your Smoky Mountains vacation itinerary?
It looks beautiful! Your remark about driving 3 hours to reach Sevier from Nashville triggered me to google the size of Tennessee. It’s 2.5 times the size of the Netherlands! I always thought Tennessee was a smallish state, silly me 🙂
Nope! Seventeenth biggest state (of 50), so a decent size. It takes eight hours to drive from the western edge to the east 😉
Donuts… yum… I’m adding that place to our trip to Sevierville this fall. And we love zip-lining! Never knew that place existed! Love your website/blog!! So much information and good stuff!
Have you tried 5 Daughters Bakery Donuts in Nashville? I just seen them on a food travel channel and I instantly thought of you! ha!
Ha! I have, and I must tell you: Five Daughters donuts are awful!!! Nashville has a dearth of great donut places, and my friends and I are always scheming about opening a legit one like you’ll find in New York or Boston or Chicago. There’s an old-school one, Fox’s Donut Den, that is awesome, but it’s got your standard glazed, cake, eclairs, etc.—nothing fancy.
And thank you for the nice words, Tish!
Sounds like an amazing weekend! And an ice cream pedicure sounds like a dream… although I could go for a wine tasting pedicure too! 😉
I think you’re onto something, Noelle! That NEEDS to happen—wine for you, bourbon for me. Everybody wins 😉
I love reading about “random” US destinations. Really refreshing to learn about something other than NYC or LA 🙂
I love anything with apples, so this might be a great destination for me! Plus it just looks gorgeous!
Ha! Well, the Smokies are the most visited park in the entire US with 9+ million visitors a year so not super random, but I do know what you mean 😉
I feel like a bad Southerner because I’ve never really spent time in the Smokies. This looks like my ideal weekend though! Ziplines, donuts, and a spa? Yes please.
Wait, WHAT?!?! How is that even possible? So close to Georgia, too!
Shameful I know! I was thinking I’d make it at least to Nashville this year but it doesn’t look good. Maybe early next year!
What a wonderful weekend getaway in The Smokies! Been wanting to go for awhiles now! This is a detailed and well-organized post, and I’ll be sure to refer back to it when I finally make my visit to this beautiful place!
Thank you, Jin! I hope you make it there soon!
This looks like such a lovely destination with so many fun activities! Lovely photos too. Will keep this on my bucket list for my next visit to the US. 🙂
You definitely should! You should do a national parks road trip if you haven’t yet =)
This looks like a really fun way to spend a family vacation. My kids would love that adventure park (why aren’t there more places like that around?!) and the make-your-own donuts (genius!).
There are a TON of adventures parks like this one in East Tennessee. Clearly you just need to bring them to the Smokies for family vacation! =)
I cannot even get over how AMAZING this place looks! It’s like a summer paradise!! Ugh I’d so love to go… Added to the bucket list!!
It really is! Hard to believe it’s essentially in my backyard!
Your photos are SO beautiful! I just added Sevierville to our bucket list! It’s the perfect place where as Italians who love the States would feel the “American vibe” we’re always looking for! Besides, how could I say no? Horses, good food, awesome nature…we need to plan our trip there!
I like the way you think, Dany! Definitely screams “Americana. =)
Wow, you brought back some great memories of our trip to Sevierville several years ago. We took a breathtaking helicopter ride over the Smoky Mountains and stayed at Wilderness at the Smokies, which has an indoor waterpark. So. Much. Fun. Can’t wait to come back and try Foxfire Mountain!
Helicopter ride?!? Now, I’m green with envy! When are we going to make one of our trips overlap already?!
This looks way cuter than Gatlinburg, which is where I stayed when I visited the Smokies years ago. I love the cottage! (and those donuts…)
I think you really just have to know where to go in that whole area. I like to stay away from the Parkway, so we know several of the back routes to travel to avoid the traffic and whatnot.
Great post! I’ve been totally introduced to this area of the world by you, and was eagerly awaiting these photos and stories after you told me about this trip in person. Looks like a lovely getaway.
I’ll take you here on your third visit to see me, I promise 😉
I haven’t traveled around the US enough. This looks so charming, and I love the idea of an adventure course!
Your photos are beautiful! The Sunflower Cottage sounds wonderful. I haven’t been to this part of the country yet (Tennessee or Great Smoky Mountains National Park), but I have wanted to for a long time! The scenery and culture look amazing. I’d love to check out the Applebarn. Also, a make your own doughnut bar!?
What a cool place to visit! I’ll have to add it to my ever growing list of places to visit in the U.S. – also I love the decor of your accommodations they are so gorgeous!
The Smoky Mountains looks wonderful. I can see why you would have liked it in your youth!
The best bit as far as I can see, are the cabins and horse-riding! I’m not an expert by any stretch, but I do like a little trot, every now and then!
Wow! Those pictures are breath-taking!
Love this blog – what an exciting trip full with a mix of adventure and relaxation. The donuts look light a highlight too!!
Enjoyed reading this. Your pictures are great. What kind of camera takes such beautiful pictures?
Thanks so much, Deborah! This is the camera and lens that I’ve used for yeaaaars:
I want to do a high ropes course with you after seeing this! Looks like a great trip!!