Tag Archives: Tennessee

Small Towns You Need To Visit This Summer

I grew up in Atlanta and lived in cities such as Orlando, Chicago and Charlotte- so no one will ever mistake me for a small-town girl. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t LOVE to visit! In fact, when we travel I actually prefer small towns. I want my kids Continue reading Small Towns You Need To Visit This Summer

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Best Small Town Theme Parks To Visit This Summer

Birthdays are always a hot topic at my house. It doesn’t matter if your birthday is 364 days away, we’re planning for it. Ironically, it’s not me (anymore)- it’s my children who’ve taken over the topic. They love discussing their pick for birthday meal. There’s always running conversation about Continue reading Best Small Town Theme Parks To Visit This Summer

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A Visit To The Lost Sea

When my husband was in fourth grade he went on the most memorable field trip of his life. For years I’ve listened to him talk about The Lost Sea. His fond, and somewhat larger-than-life recollection of the destination came up often in conversation. Despite the best of intentions to visit, we’d never made it happen.

Amazingly my children retained their knowledge of stalactites and stalagmites!

Last year we visited Luray Caverns during a trip to Virginia. My kids, literally, have not stopped talking about how much they love exploring caves. In listening to them talk, you would definitely think they’d done it more than once. In fact, on a questionnaire my daughter actually listed “cave explorer” as one of her hobbies. Between my husband and my kids, I knew I needed to add The Lost Sea to our travel priority list for our next trip.

Sweetwater, Tennessee (1 hour north of Chattanooga, 45 minutes south of Knoxville) boasts America’s largest underground lake. Guests to The Lost Sea take a guided tour through one of the best caves in the country.

300 feet underground!

The tour takes roughly one hour and fifteen minutes and you will walk about 3/4 of a mile round trip. Descending to the bottom of the cave is not bad; however, the walk back up feels twice as long! The tour guides are knowledgable, and do a wonderful job making the tour entertaining. Our tour guide interacted with all the children and made sure they were learning  throughout the experience.

America’s largest underground lake.

The cavern remains a consistent 58 degrees year round. Ironically, it was much colder outside and we were a bit overdressed in our heavy coats! According to our tour guide, the cave temperature attracted many early settlers. They remained warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. We also got to take a boat ride on the 4.5 acre lake.

I think this makes us official “cavers.” We can’t wait to find our next one!

In addition to daily tours, The Lost Sea also offers overnight “Wild Cave Tours.” I can confidently say I’m not ready for THAT, but my kids are on board!

To find out more about The Lost Sea and to plan your trip, visit their website.

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5 Things To Do With Kids In Knoxville, TN

 For years Knoxville, Tennessee has been an important dot on my map. For starters, my husband grew up in the area. Later, I joined him at The University of Tennessee for 4 of the best years of my life. Finally, I spent a year living in Knoxville with an active toddler. To say that the city is special to our family would be an understatement.

However, it’s only recently dawned on me the true impact Knoxville has on travel. Perhaps, one of the major cross-road cities in America, Knoxville connects the North to the South and the East to the West via interstates 75 and 40. Not only that, Knoxville sits just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park- the most visited National Park. Additionally, Knoxville is within a days driving distance from two-thirds of the population east of the Mississippi River!

So it’s not surprising, I’m often asked for family activity ideas in Knoxville. The possibilities are numerous, and there are countless attractions in the surrounding area. However, if you’re spending time right in the city, here are my top 5 favorite things to do with kids:

  1. Knoxville Zoo: The Knoxville Zoo boasts an impressively large collection of animals (over 800!) The habitat designs are both animal and guest friendly. Despite being a contained environment for the animals, the exhibits maintain a very natural look. The Knoxville Zoo also ranks #1 in the world for Red Panda conservation. For more information, visit their website.

    Love all the up-close animal experiences at The Knoxville Zoo!
  2. Ijams Nature Center: There are very few things my children love more than dirt and wide open space. The Ijams Nature Center provides families with an opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous Knoxville landscape and learn a little about the area. Inside, children can visit indigenous animals brought to the center for rehabilitation. Additionally, there are many walking trails, a ropes course, and a butterfly conservatory on property. Visit their website for more details.

    Whether we have an hour or a whole day, the Ijams Nature Center always makes our list when we visit Knoxville.
  3. Sunsphere: In 1982 Knoxville hosted The World’s Fair. Despite being the smallest city to ever host, over 11 million people visited Knoxville that summer. The iconic Sunsphere is one of the only structures remaining from the Fair. Today visitors can ride an elevator up to the observation deck and get 360 degree views of the city and surrounding mountains.

    We love the bird’s eye view of Knoxville.
  4. University of Tennessee Sporting Event: Knoxville has a phenomenal sports scene. I realize there is a tiny chance that statement is a tad bias, but in all seriousness- it’s pretty fantastic! Neyland  Stadium, home of UT Football, consistently ranks among college’s best venues. In addition to football, Knoxville offers countless other sporting events. The city is also home to The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Nothing better than a football Saturday in the fall!
  5. Three Rivers Rambler: I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t love trains. In fact, I’m not sure I know an adult that would turn down an opportunity to ride a train. The Three Rivers Rambler takes guests from Downtown Knoxville to the start of the Tennessee River (and back, obviously!) The steam train provides families a way to enjoy the beautiful Tennessee landscape. For information, visit their website.
    It’s a great day when you get to go for a train ride!


    What is your favorite thing to do with kids in Knoxville?

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Prayers For Fire Relief


For weeks, several states in the South have been battling wildfires. Dry conditions led to unprecedented acreage burning out of control.

As of 9:00PM last night, mandatory evacuations went into effect for Gatlinburg, Tennessee due to a nearby fire.  Gatlinburg attracts 11 million visitors each year and boasts many awards for being one of the top tourist destinations in the US.

In addition to the wildly popular town, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been forced to close several trails and areas.

We visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park earlier this fall. It's one of our favorites!
We visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park earlier this fall. It’s one of our favorites!

Join us in praying for the firefighters, those in affected areas, and for favorable weather conditions!

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Dollywood- Pigeon Forge (Part 2)

We are ready for a fun day at Dollywood
We are ready for a fun day at Dollywood

Yesterday I posted some of the highlights of our day at Dollywood. As I mentioned, the park has so much to offer, you’ll want to maximize your visit. If you missed it, go back and check out yesterday’s post (part 1) that included 5 things to be sure not to miss at Dollywood.

Here are 5 more things you’ll want to check out:

  1. Country Fair: This section of Dollywood is designed to be reminiscent of a country fair with bumper cars, swings, and all sorts of carnival games. This area also contains a variety of rides for toddlers. Additionally there are a few rides in the Country Fair section for families to enjoy together and a few that are for the thrill-seeking family members. The Country Fair section has the largest variety of rides in a very contained space which makes it an ideal place for families of various ages to spend time!
    TONS of action in the Country Fair section of Dollywood
    TONS of action in the Country Fair section of Dollywood

    2. Seasons: Dollywood does seasons…we’re talking ALL.OUT. The whole park gets decked out for all the various holidays and seasons. Our visit fell during fall and we were blown away by the attention to detail (although the weather still very much resembled summer!) From what we’ve heard, Christmas at Dollywood is something you shouldn’t miss!

    Beautiful fall decorations all over the park
    Beautiful fall decorations all over the park

    3. Dolly’s Home On Wheels: At one point we’d stopped to look at our park map. The kids were anxious to go on (yet another) water ride. Suddenly a man stepped out of an RV next to us (that I honestly hadn’t even noticed until the door almost hit me.) He assumed we were waiting our turn to tour Dolly’s Home on Wheels. Seeing an excuse to stall the water ride, I agreed to climb aboard. And we were so thankful we took the accidental opportunity. It was very cool to tour Dolly’s old RV and hear stories about her time on the road. We genuinely enjoyed the history lesson and seeing a glimpse into Dolly’s world!

    A peak inside the bus that carried Dolly all across the US on her tours
    A peak inside the bus that carried Dolly all across the US on her tours

    4. Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread: There’s really nothing to say about this except for “yummy.” It’s so delicious. If I lived in Pigeon Forge I’d be at the park gate every morning for a loaf (or 5) of this bread. We got a hot loaf to share almost immediately after arriving at the park and we also purchased 2 more to take home with us (taking advantage of the complimentary package pickup service that I mentioned yesterday.)

    Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread is to die for!
    Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread is to die for!

    5. Photo Card: Although a slightly extravagant souvenir, Dollywood makes purchasing a photo card well worth it. For $39.99 guests can purchase a photo card to be loaded throughout the day with photos of your fun. All of your roller coaster photos, plus any additional pictures snapped during your day can be added to the card. Additionally, with purchase you receive one 5×7 print of your choice. Dollywood allows you to select this picture at the end of your day. If you are in inclined to purchase one or two prints, this photo card is well worth the price!

    Making Memories
    Making Memories

    What are your “can’t miss” things at Dollywood?

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Dollywood- Pigeon Forge, TN (Part 1)

Dollywood Theme Park- Pigeon Forge, TN
Dollywood Theme Park- Pigeon Forge, TN

A few weeks ago our family had the opportunity to visit Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Less than an hour into our visit, I decided I would buy a season pass if we lived closer. It’s the kind of place you could visit over and over without it getting old.

Dollywood combines the feel of a quaint mountain town, with thrilling rides and captivating shows. Between the shows, shopping and food, I could easily spend a whole day there without going on a single ride (not that my kids wanted to try!)

Here are 5 things to be sure not to miss at Dollywood:

  1.  Measuring Station: As with all other theme parks, most of the rides at Dollywood have height restrictions. Just inside the gate kids can get measured and tagged with a color coded bracelet. This will prevent employees from measuring your children at every attraction and allow you to plan height appropriate rides."<yoastmark
  2. Eagles: Dollywood boasts the largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles in the country. Their 30,000 square foot home delights guests with close encounters with the beautiful bird. Through demonstrations, staff members, and signs, you can learn all about the bird that is our country’s mascot.

    Education at the bald eagle's mountainside sanctuary
    Education at the bald eagle’s mountainside sanctuary
  3. Southern Food: It is worth going to Dollywood for the food alone. EVERYTHING we tried during our visit tasted amazing. There is no shortage of southern staples and dessert in the park. We highly recommend eating at least one meal at a sit-down restaurant.

    BBQ Nachos at Backstage Resturant
    BBQ Nachos at Backstage Restaurant
  4. Roller Coasters: Dolllywood’s roller coasters are known throughout the country for being some of the most unique and exciting. Although the biggest roller coasters have height restrictions, several of them were designed for smaller children (42 inches and taller.) Another fantastic feature of the theme park- many of the big roller coasters have playgrounds nearby for smaller family members to enjoy while others in their party ride.
    Roller coaster fun for the whole family!
    Roller coaster fun for the whole family!

    Perfect playground placement close to the big roller coasters.
    Perfect playground placement close to the big roller coasters.
  5. Shopping: Again, like the food, you could come to Dollywood JUST to shop. The Dollywood stores contain a variety of touristy, local and trendy items. Truly you can find something for everyone. Also, be sure to take advantage of their awesome (and complimentary) package pick-up offer. Rather than carry your purchases around the park, have them sent directly to the front entrance for easy pick-up on your way out!
    Great shopping at Dollywood!
    Great shopping at Dollywood!

    There are so many great things to do and see at Dollywood! Later this week I will post 6 more things not to miss during your visit.

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Best Places To See Fall Foliage

Best Places For Fall Foliage

As much as I hate to admit it, fall is officially in full swing. Even in the south, leaves are changing and the calendar keeps moving deeper into September.

Though I dislike the cooler weather, even I will admit there’s nothing more beautiful than fall foliage. And nothing cuter than kids with leaves!

I love photographing my kids with leaves!
I love photographing my kids with leaves!

Although I won’t even pretend to understand the complexities behind this weather phenomenon, rumor has it that this year’s fall foliage is expected to be the best in decades.

If you’re looking for some great spots to leaf-view this season, here are 18 places I recommend:

  1. Skyline Drive (Blue Ridge Parkway), Virginia
  2. Napa Valley, California
  3. Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
  4. Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Tennessee
  5. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
  6. Adirondacks, New York
  7. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
  8. Aspen, Colorado
  9. Acadia National Park, Maine
  10. Lost Maple State Natural Area, Texas
  11. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
  12. The Ozarks, Missouri
  13. Lake Champlain Islands, Vermont
  14. Fayetteville, West Virginia
  15. Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia
  16. Glacier National Park, Montana
  17. Bardstown, Kentucky
  18. Leavenworth, Washington

I know, 18 is an odd number of places to recommend. 10 wasn’t quite enough. Then I ambitiously decided I’d do  50 before realizing there are some states that don’t even deserve honorable mention when it comes to fall foliage (hello, Florida!)  Also, I decided not to duplicate any state. Although, I could have easily listed Vermont locations for all 18 places on the list!

Road trips are my favorite way to view fall foliage. We always try to plan travel during peak leaf changing season even if the foliage itself isn’t our destination. Taking scenic routes on the way to your destination will provide beautiful backdrops.

Always pull your car over at an overlook to snap pictures and capture all the fall colors! And, of course, get a few pictures of your kids with the falling leaves!

Kids + Leaves
Kids + Leaves

Where is your favorite place to view fall foliage?

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Local Goat- Pigeon Forge, TN

Billy Goat Tavern

In an area known for having 5 restaurants on every corner (and 10 more across the street), it’s hard to stand out. Yet, Local Goat does just that.

Local Goat boasts a ‘farm to table’ style dining experience. In other words, every ingredient they use is fresh. Their meat comes from Continue reading Local Goat- Pigeon Forge, TN

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