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?