Tennessee Vacation to Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains

Tennessee Vacation to Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains

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Over Halloween weekend, I took a Tennessee vacation to Knoxville and visited my friend Katie. I had been to this area as a kid and was very excited to see it as an adult. Katie was an excellent tour guide! We drove around Knoxville, ate BBQ, walked around the University of Tennessee Campus, walked around Knoxville downtown areas, ate BBQ, visited Smoky Mountain National Park, went to a Haunted Corn Maze, ate BBQ, walked through the woods, were attacked by geese and puppies, ate Biscuits & Gravy, saw the World’s Only Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum and the World’s Largest Rubik’s Cube, walked around World’s Fair Park, ate BBQ, and talked for 72 hours straight.

All the photos below are from Flickr because professional photographers do a much better job at taking pictures than I ever could.

A Tennessee Vacation is a Cheap Vacation

For the personal finance nerds out there, this was a very cheap trip. My lodging was covered by sleeping on Katie’s comfortable sectional and I scored a decent deal for airfare.

Excluding the plane ticket and factoring in that we ate every meal at a restaurant, I spent $144 on this trip.

Let me give you an example of a meal in Knoxville, TN:
BBQ Sandwich + 2 Sides + 1 Beer = $14.50 (incl. tip)

Needless to say, food did not contribute much to my spending. We walked around the University of Tennessee campus store where I spent $50 on some shorts and a hat (Go Vols!). Then I spent $18 on the cutest salt & pepper shaker at the World’s Only Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum. Had to!

Geese Attacks

My first day there, Katie and I walked along the Tenneessee river that flows through Knoxville. We were disappointed by not seeing any ducks to feed. So, by her husband’s suggestion, we drove down to this little pond with a loaf of bread.

We pull up and, I swear, at least 50 geese come charging at our car once they see we have food for them! I was terrified and hid in the car with my window opened just barely enough to throw the bread out of it. I’m a country girl at heart but damn, geese are scary!

Attacked by geese!
Imagine this times 50

Tennessee River

We spent some time walking along the Tennessee River. I had BBQ at Calhoun’s which had a beautiful view of the river and two bridges. The weather was perfect. Low 70’s, not too humid. Much better than the 50 degrees I left behind in New York.

Calhoun's on the River in Knoxville
Calhoun’s on the River in Knoxville
Tennessee River Bridge in Knoxville
Bridge across the Tennessee River
Gay st Bridge in Knoxville Tennessee River
Tennessee River in Knoxville

Ijams Nature Center

We walked through the Ijams Nature Center, which Katie had never been to. There is a small visitor’s area with trail maps. The closest trails are easy & short at less than half a mile. Some farther trails are steeper and longer. Guess which ones we hiked? Of course, we took to one of the steepest trails that looped around an old quarry. The views were great!

We also took a quieter river trail that went right along the Tennessee River. Relaxing and beautiful.

Tennessee River at Ijams Trails
Walking along the trail at Ijams

Mast General Store

We spent some time walking around downtown/old city Knoxville. Including checking out Mast General Store. This place is like a cracker barrel store upstairs and a small ll bean downstairs. With bonus bulk candy!

Mast General Store Knoxville Tennessee
Mast General Store in Knoxville
Bulk Candy at Mast General Store in Knoxville Tennessee
Bulk Candy at Mast General Store

Sunsphere & Largest Rubik’s Cube in World’s Fair Park

I was embarrassed at how little I knew about Knoxville. I didn’t even know that the city hosted a World’s Fair in 1983. World’s Fair Park is highlighted by the Sunsphere built specifically for the fair. You can see the 24-karat gold dusted globe rising into the sky from anywhere nearby.

There is an observatory in the sphere that is free for public viewing. It is unattended (totally surprised me as a new yorker) with lots of history about the park and sphere. The view is beautiful though slightly vertigo inducing (being inside a sphere threw me off a little).

Sunsphere from UT Campus Knoxville
Sunsphere from UT Campus
World's Fair Park Sunsphere in Knoxville
World’s Fair Park Sunsphere in Knoxville
World's Fair Park Amphitheater Knoxville
World’s Fair Park Amphitheater

A giant Rubik’s Cube was built for the World’s Fair but was only put on display a few years ago. It is actually housed in the downstairs lobby area of the Holiday Inn hotel across the street from the park. There are no signs outside about it. You can either ask the front desk or, as I did, just wander around a bit until you see it. You can’t miss it! It was mechanically moving for the fair but since is just for display.

Largest Rubik's Cube on display in the Holiday Inn Knoxville
Largest Rubik’s Cube on display in the Holiday Inn Knoxville

UT Campus

Knoxville is home of the main University of Tennessee campus. In sports, they are known as the Tennessee Volunteers.

University of Tennessee Volunteers
University of Tennessee Volunteers
Neyland Stadium at University of Tennessee
Neyland Stadium at University of Tennessee
The Hill at University of Tennessee
The Hill at University of Tennessee

Smoky Mountain National Park

Our visit to Smoky Mountain National Park was predominantly spent driving around the 11-mile loop of Cade’s Cove. We took breaks, hiked some small trails, got lost… typical national park stuff.

The day began wonderfully because as soon as we entered the cove we saw 3 bears right by the side of the road! A mama bear and two not-so-small cubs. They were just hanging out eating some grass. It was great (scary!).

If you’re going to visit the park, I have to recommend going in October/November. The fall leaves are absolutely incredible! I swear we went on a peak color weekend. Everywhere you looked was fire red, sun yellow, or flaming orange. Every leaf was vibrant with color. The mountains looked like the colors of a sunset. It was so beautiful! I know the mountains are beautiful all the time, but I was very grateful to be able to see them so alive with color.

I don’t regret not taking photos because the colors looked exactly like in the pictures below. The view was so picturesque I knew I’d find beautiful pictures of it.

Cade's Cove In Autumn Smoky Mountain National Park
Cade’s Cove – Smoky Mountain National Park
Cabin in the Woods at Smoky Mountain National Park Gatlinburg Tennessee
Cabin in the Woods at Smoky Mountain National Park
Cades cove in Autumn - Smoky Mountain National Park
Cades cove in Autumn
Smoky Mountain National Park - Peak Fall Colors
Smoky Mountain National Park – Peak Fall Colors
Driving through Smoky Mountain National Park
Driving through Smoky Mountain National Park
Beautiful Autumn Colors Smoky Mountain National Park
Beautiful Tennessee Autumn Colors
Tennessee Mountains in the Fall
Tennessee Mountains
Smoky Mountain National Park Fall
More Beautiful Fall Colors
Leaves the Color of Sunshine Smoky Mountain National Park
Leaves the Color of Sunshine

Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge

We drove through Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge. A pit stop was made at The Christmas Tree Shop (because, why not?).

Christmas Tree Shop in Gatlinburg
Christmas Tree Shop in Gatlinburg

Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum

We grabbed lunch at the Alamo Steakhouse where I chowed down on nuclear orange velveeta mac n cheese – haven’t had that stuff in years! After stuffing our bellies, we decided to walk around the WORLD’S ONLY Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum. Right there in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

What’s amazing about this museum (what isn’t amazing about it?) is that the 20,000 shakers on display, are just one woman’s collection!

The museum is looking for a new curator, so if you’re interested in kitschy gifts and good ole American tourist attractions, this might be the job for you.

World's Only Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg Tennessee
World’s Only Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum
Just one of the huge wall displays of shakers gatlinburg tennessee
Just one of the huge wall displays of shakers

Haunted Corn Maze

Katie and her friend Amy were nice enough to take me a to a real Haunted Corn Maze! I grew up in a very rural area so, event aside, it was great driving through the countryside again. And not just “small city” countryside. But areas where there are few houses, fewer stores, lots of open space, and actual darkness.

The maze was spooky and fun. But the real highlight of the night for me was the 20 minutes I spent craning my neck to the sky just looking at all the stars. Living in NYC means I never get to see real stars in the sky! There are millions of star in the sky every night and I never get to see them! This is one of my favorite things to do on any trip out of the city – just stare at the sky looking into darkness.

Spooky corn maze in Tennessee
Not our corn maze but it was this spooky
Haunted Corn Maze in Tennessee
The “maze” was actually a trail cut through the corn so you couldn’t get lost but that didn’t mean it wasn’t scary.
Darkness Night Sky
A sky without light pollution

Biscuits & Gravy

I had the chance to meet Katie’s mom, Mary, who is absolutely wonderful! I enjoyed my visit with her family (mom, dad, the puppies). Katie’s parents made us a huge country comfort breakfast! Biscuits and gravy (the best I’ve had), sausage, bacon, and eggs. Everything was so delicious I couldn’t stop eating – no regrets.

biscuits and gravy are the best
Photo representation of the OMGDELICIOUS biscuits & gravy Katie’s mom cooked for breakfast.

Airports

A quick shout-out to Charlotte airport which was one of the nicest, most relaxed, airports I’ve ever been in. Their eating/atrium area has rocking chairs for public seating. Rocking chairs!

Rocking Chairs at the Charlotte Airport Atrium
Rocking Chairs at the Charlotte Airport Atrium

Smoky Mountain Vacation

I had such a great time visiting with Katie and her family, visiting the Smoky Mountains, exploring Knoxville, and eating my weight in BBQ. I would recommend this area for anyone wanting to go on a cheap adventure vacation. I know the weather gets quite warm in the summer but October/November was absolutely perfect. Not too chilly, not too warm, beautiful colors on the trees, and just off season enough. I’m already getting ready for a visit next year to take better advantage of the river (and to eat more bbq).

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4 Replies to “Tennessee Vacation to Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains”

  1. How cool you had a bear sighting! Those pics of the fall colors are amazing!! I miss living in an area where the leaves change color. Michigan was pretty, but nothing compared to that. I drove through Pennsylvania in the fall and that was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

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