Traveling To and From the Smoky Mountains

My family spent the holiday weekend in a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We traveled from our respective homes in Nashville, Tennessee, Washington, DC, and northwest Indiana. Some of the drives were easier than others, but our weekend together was great!

Leaving from Indiana
New Bridge, Old Bridge,
Louisville, Kentucky

One of my daughters traveled with me on the trip from northwest Indiana. We had intended to drive the first three hours of the trip on Wednesday evening, but my daughter was able to change her schedule so we could leave earlier than planned. Instead of driving to southern Indiana, we drove through Louisville and into Kentucky.

We stayed at the Econo Lodge in Shelbyville, using my hotel-owner’s discount. Although not fancy, the hotel was clean. There was no pool or hot tub, so we just relaxed and knitted in the room until bedtime. Breakfast included make-your-own waffles that are uncommon in economy hotels.

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail

After a quick stop at the nearby Walmart for some additional supplies, we were on our way. We didn’t realize we would be traveling on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail until we saw signs along Interstate 64.  Several years ago we had toured some distilleries near Bardstown, Kentucky and found them interesting, so we exited the highway to see what was there.

Buffalo Trace Distillery,
Frankfort, Kentucky

Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Wild Turkey distilleries were all accessible from the exit. The one that caught my eye, though, was Buffalo Trace Distillery. This distillery is not listed as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but prefers to do its own marketing. We drove toward the town of Frankfort and soon saw the large distillery on the left.

The Buffalo Trace distillery has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It is the oldest continually operating distillery in America – it was even open during prohibition, distilling bourbon for “medicinal purposes.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery,
a National Historic Landmark

The distillery offers six different tours – all free – but only the basic one is available on Sundays and holidays. We were there on July 4th, so we took the basic tour. Although it was very interesting, I was a little disappointed that the distillery was not in operation (because of the holiday). I’d like to go back sometime.

Barrels of Bourbon, Buffalo Trace

We started the tour outside in view of the distillery buildings and warehouses. Here our guide told us about the history of Buffalo Trace. We then entered a small building where we watched a video explaining the distillation process. We walked through one of the warehouses and saw rows and rows of oak barrels. Next, we saw one of the bottling rooms. We ended the tour with a small taste of bourbon and of course, a visit to the gift shop.

Arriving at the Cabin

After a quick lunch, we continued our drive to the cabin. Our A-frame rental was located in the Chalet Village area, just outside of Gatlinburg. We drove through winding roads uphill and found the cabin. The driveway was extremely steep, causing the car’s tires to spin every time we drove up.

Our Rental Cabin

The cabin itself was nice. We spent most of our time on the main level where there was a kitchen and eating area, living room, a bedroom with two double beds, and a bathroom. There were doors leading out to the deck that ran along the entire length of the front and around to both sides. One side led to the stairs to the parking area; the other side held the hot tub. The upper level had a loft bedroom and bathroom. The lower level had a large game room and another bathroom.

Leaving Three Days Later

I’ll write more later about our time in the area – it deserves a post of its own. We had part of the day on Thursday, all day Friday and Saturday, and a little while on Sunday morning.

A Bear!
Photo Credit J. Kamper

One daughter and her husband left first. They planned to go into the town of Gatlinburg before heading home. As they were leaving, they spotted a black bear nosing in the garbage of the cabin next door. When my daughter and I left a little while later, the bear was gone, but the garbage was strewn across the road. When the last daughter and her husband left ten minutes later, though, the bear, or rather bears, were back – a mama and her cub. Cute, but dangerous. Pictures were taken through the car window before leaving the area.

Traffic, Traffic, Traffic

Several years ago my daughter and her friend had gone to the same area over the 4th of July and ran into terrible traffic on the way home.  We were glad to see Google Maps predicting an easy ride home.

Unfortunately, we thought too soon. Again, there were traffic problems throughout all of Kentucky. One terrible accident happened near a rest area, so all traffic was routed through the pull-off. We saw that later they closed the road entirely. Another accident was causing a delay of nearly an hour. Google suggested we leave the highway to take an alternate route where the delay was “only” a half hour.

Going Off-Road

As we waited in a never ending long line of traffic, the vehicle behind us turned off to a side road. My daughter looked at the map and saw that although it was way our of the way, that road would eventually get us back to the highway. We were so sick of barely moving, that we decided to try it.

Pretty Gravel Road

After several winding miles on a narrow paved road, we found ourselves on a well-maintained gravel road. After several more miles, we finally turned on to a larger paved, but still winding, road.

I don’t know if we saved any time by traveling “off-road,” but the views were much better. For awhile we drove along a creek, we often had a tree canopy above us, and we saw a couple of old interesting bridges.

Old Bridges

We eventually did get back on the highway. The drive home with two short stops for meals took twelve hours – three hours more than we planned, but an hour less than it had taken my daughter and her friend when they had a similar experience.

Enjoying Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park

We had an interesting time traveling to and from the cabin in the Smoky Mountains, but we had a much better time actually being there. Other than driving through a small part of the park last fall, this was my first visit to Great Smoky National Park. We did some hiking, relaxing, tubing, knitting, and more. Look for a recap in a future post.

 

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