Of the 22 states I’ve been to (about to be 31!), Tennessee is in the top 5 due to its picturesque Smokey Mountains, dope-ass cities, people with great vibes, and some really nice roads (when you drive as much as I do, you notice the roads). I’ve been to a handful of places in this state: Twice to Pigeon Forge, Nashville, Fort Campbell Army base in Clarksville, and once to Memphis. I have yet to have a bad time in Tennessee.
Pigeon Forge is fantastic, and there is plenty do to for both adults and children. It’s definitely a resort town; I feel terrible for people who actually live there, because it is positively infected with tourists. I’m assuming most who work in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg live in nearby Sevierville (I would). There’s only one main road through Pigeon Forge, which takes you into nearby Gatlinburg (another mega-resort town) and that’s the only main road through that town as well. So yeah… you could say that congested is an understatement.
Both times I went was with a group of friends and we rented a cabin through one of many rental companies. They’re extremely easy to find on Google; all you do is type in ‘cabins for rent in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg’ and boom, bam you’re done. Our cabin cost around $600 for 2 nights and 2 days, which wasn’t bad at all spread among 7 people. Our cabin was 3 stories, 5 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, with a loft area on the 3rd floor with a pullout couch. It was plenty big. It was an extremely nice cabin which didn’t feel like we were living inside an IKEA store or Lincoln Logs children’s toy set, although it was very cabin-ish (so if you’re looking for the log cabin experience, look no further). We had some difficulty getting the washing machine to work, but we got a partial refund for that.
During our first trip here, we mostly partied and rode a handful of rides. It was just for the weekend and we had some wet blankets among us, so we didn’t get to do much. We came back almost a year to the date, and managed to snag the exact same cabin. This time we went with fewer people (and some different people), and had a much better time. We arrived into town too early to check in, so we headed to Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant located on ‘The Island’. The Island is billed as a “family fun center and entertainment complex”. There are restaurants, rides, and shops (it’s actually a pretty cool place). Located at 131 The Island Dr, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, Dick’s Last Resort is a themed-chain restaurant whose niche is that they’re rude to people. It’s open daily from 11am to 10pm, Monday through Friday, and from 11am to 11pm on Saturday and Sunday. They give you large paper hats and the waitresses will write semi-mean messages on them for the entire restaurant to see. I’ve been to this one in Pigeon Forge, as well as one in Indianapolis. If you don’t have a sense of humor or get easily offended, then avoid this place like the plague.
After we finished eating, the guys went their way and we girls went ours. They went to drink (naturally) while we four girls wanted something more productive and educational, so we headed to the Titanic Museum. Located at 2134 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, its open daily at 9am but has widely differing closing hours throughout the week, so best to check the website before you go. Tickets are $29 for adults and $13 for children. The adult tickets were pretty pricey, but we paid it anyway.
I don’t have any pictures from inside the museum because photos were strictly prohibited. If I were truly my mother’s daughter, I would have sneaked a picture, but I was still scarred from my scolding at the Alamo 5 years prior. If you ever go to Pigeon Forge, I highly suggest a visit here.
Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, and most people have seen the movie, so it’s very interesting to view actual objects from the ship (especially for history buffs like myself). They had clothing and other various personal effects from passengers, as well as documents and furniture from the ship. There is also a complete replica of the famous staircase that you can use to walk up to the second floor (there’s also an elevator) with more exhibits, including a full-scale replica of what a first class cabin would have looked like. Another great part of the museum is a room that’s set up to resemble where the captain and crew would have been steering the ship, and you can walk “outside” onto the front deck to feel exactly how frigid it was that night on April 15, 1912. They have water out there, and you can feel exactly how cold the water was too. It’s pretty unreal to think that’s what they had to go through that night.
Once we were done at the museum, it was off to find the boys and head up to our cabin. After we finally made our way up all the winding twists and turns of the mountain, we arrived at our cabin in the pitch black. Of course nothing can go easy, and the coded lock on the front door wouldn’t work. So we had to wait outside in the dark for 40ish minutes until a maintenance worker could get to us (we were all the way on top of a mountain, and the roads are extremely twisty).
The next morning we set off to head down the mountain and actually do stuff this time. We decided we’d go zip-lining and horseback riding, and chose Jayell Ranch, which is located at 1131 Jayell Rd, Sevierville, TN 37862. Nearby Sevierville is only about a 15-minute drive from Pigeon Forge. The hours are 9am to 5pm daily. We chose to do the Horseback riding plus 3 zip-lines was $55.99, but they offer more: 6 zip-lines, ATV rides, off-road go-carts, all within various packages, including with horseback riding. Horseback riding was no big deal to me because I grew up owning, riding, and showing horses and I know exactly what I’m doing with them, however I was shitting my pants thinking about the zip-lining. I’m terrified of heights and I kept replaying the zip-line snapping because my butt was too big for the line to hold. Luckily we went horseback riding first, so I was able to not worry about it for a while.
We didn’t get to go riding far back into the Smokey Mountains, but we still got an amazing view of them. We rode in a line through the various trails on the land that the ranch owned during the approximately hour-long ride. One thing I liked about it was they didn’t require us to wear helmets (thank God). After we were done riding, it was time to gear up for the zip-line.
I do full disclosure in my blogs (and in life in general) because truth is the only way to go. So full disclosure: I was… larger. Long story short, I had been in a very unhappy place in my life for some time and was eating my feelings away. I was terrified they were going to tell me I was too heavy to zip-line because I’d break the line, but the weight limit is like 350 pounds. The reason I’m telling everyone this embarrassing information is because I know a lot of people worry that the line will snap while they’re up there, even if they aren’t fat at all. So if this line could hold up my fat butt, it can hold up your butt too (the good news is that I’ve gotten much healthier, woo hoo!!).
Since my friends are jerks, they insisted that I go first all 3 times because “Gotta face your fears, Steph!” I am glad to report that I did face my fears, and went first all 3 times. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. I’ve heard people say that zip-lining is “lame” (I’ll never forget South Park’s episode about it) but I thought it was a good time. Maybe because I’m so terrified of heights, it was like a super adrenaline rush to me.
Once we were done horseback riding and zip-lining, it was time for lunch and drinks (for them, not me; I’m not a fan of alcohol), so off back to The Island we went to eat at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Located at 130 The Island Dr #6101, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, its hours are 11am to 9pm, Monday through Friday, and 11am to 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. This place is alright, but it’s not somewhere I’m dying to eat at again. When we were done, we decided to roam around The Island and head to the Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine store. They have moonshine in every flavor imaginable, and in all different levels of proofs (meaning, how much alcohol is in it). Since I’m not a big drinker, I just bought a t-shirt and called it a day.
This was pretty much all we had time to do in Pigeon Forge because we had to be up early the next morning to start the 7-hour drive back to Illinois. I firmly believe that Pigeon Forge is a trip one must take over a 4-5 day period, particularity if you have young children. There is a ton to do there for kids and you could easily spread it out over several days.
I’ve been to Nashville twice, but just like with Pigeon Forge, both trips were two entirely different experiences. The first time I went, it was just for an afternoon with my road trip partner Kristi (you guys will probably remember her from my cross-country road trip blog, as well as my upcoming New England road trip). Kristi works nights, so we headed to Nashville that morning with the notion that she could sleep on the 3-hour drive there. Well, she didn’t sleep much, so by the time we rolled into Nashville, she had been awake for coming up on 24 hours. We headed to the Opry Mills, which is a humongous circular mall (for all my SoCal people- think Ontario Mills, but on steroids), to eat at the Rain Forest Café there. Restaurants like that are a rare treat in those parts of the United States and I’d be lying if I said one of the main reasons we came to Nashville wasn’t just to eat there.
Located at 353 Opry Mills Dr, Nashville, TN 37214, its hours are 11am to 7pm, Monday through Thursday, 11am to 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and from 12pm to 6pm on Sunday. For those who haven’t been to a Rain Forest Café, just picture what a rain forest would look like in your best dreams and plop a bunch of booths and tables everywhere. Add in some animatronic elephants, tigers, and birds oh my, as well as multiple gigantic aquariums, and you’ve got it. To be honest, the creators of this place did a good job bringing the rain forest to life, even if it’s a bit cheesy at times. The food and drinks are a little pricey but nothing major, and the food is good (not great, but not bad). It’s fun to experience the place at least once and small children lose their f’ing minds over it. Every Rain Forest Café also has a cute little store in the front, where you can purchase knick-knacks and t-shirts. After we ate, we just headed back home because Kristi was tired and didn’t want to go downtown. Luckily I had the chance to go back 2 years later, for a longer time.
The second time I went to Nashville was with two friends with whom I had gone to Pigeon Forge, and it was much longer (a weekend) and a more traditionally touristy trip. After getting into town we headed straight for the Nashville Parthenon, which is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Greece. Located at 2500 West End Ave, Nashville, TN 3720, it’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 4:30pm, on Sunday 12:30pm to 4:30pm, and closed on Mondays. I was completely overwhelmed with the sheer enormity of the place. It really is a sight to behold. It costs only $6 to enter, and on the first floor there is a mini museum with artifacts from Greece, as well as an art gallery. On the second floor is a gigantic 42-foot tall gold statue of Athena, surrounded by various Greek artifacts and information boards.
After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we headed to downtown Nashville to do some shopping and sightseeing. We went into various shops which were rather pricey, as well as to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum. Located at 222 Rep. John Lewis Way S, Nashville, TN 37203, if you want to go to the museum part of the Country Music Hall of Fame it costs money, but there are other parts of the building you can wander about for free. They have *some* stuff from various country music stars inside glass containers that you can view for free, but not that much. You can go up the staircase to the upper floor and stand outside the room where they hold the Country Music Awards, but alas, you cannot go inside.
The Johnny Cash Museum was NOT one of the more favorite things I’ve ever done. Located at 119 3rd Ave S, Nashville, TN 37201, it’s open Monday through Sunday 9am to 7pm, and costs $19.95 per person. If you’re a huge fan of Johnny Cash then you cannot miss this museum; however if you’re a wishy-washy semi-fan like me, save your money and go somewhere else. While there is a lot of stuff in there that belonged to Cash and June Carter, as well as a lot of information about them, it was so unbelievably crowded. Claustrophobic and overwhelmingly crowded. PTSD-triggering crowded. It was a small victory every time I was able to get close enough to an exhibit to see or read it, and even then I felt so uncomfortable because of all the people surrounding me. Granted, this could have been because we went on a July weekend but still. If you don’t like having people surround you in a small space, be advised.
That night we decided to go out on the town to downtown Nashville. Many hotels in the area have free shuttles that take you to and from the downtown scene. We went to dinner at Brugada Bar and Lounge, located at 204 Commerce St, Nashville, TN 37201, which features Mediterranean food, along with live entertainment and a hookah section. If you like Greek or Turkish food, you’ll like this place, but they have some “American” options as well. After eating, we hit 2nd street, the location of all the bars and partying.
We went to several bars, including the infamous Coyote Ugly, and they’re all pretty much the same: crowded with drunks and loud music (can you tell yet I’m not a fan of the bar scene?). After a few hours I was ready to call it a night and head back to the pick-up spot for the shuttle. My friends being the excellent friends that they are, didn’t want me going alone even though I was sober, so we all called it a night. We wanted to do one last thing though, take a horse-and-carriage ride around the downtown area and get dropped off by the shuttle that way. It was fun, but being the horse lover I am, I felt terrible for the poor horse.
Overall, Nashville is very fun and a fan-favorite of bachelor and bachelorette parties (we. saw. so. many) and if you’re a country music fanatic, you MUST visit this place at least once.
Memphis & Fort Campbell
Even though I don’t have much to write on regarding Memphis and Fort Campbell, I feel they deserve an honorable mention. I went to Memphis once to attend a Daniel Tosh comedy show, and only got to spend a few hours there. We were supposed to arrive several hours prior to the show to do some sightseeing, but my friend left the tickets in her car and didn’t realize it until we were already an hour away. So we had to turn back, and that took out 2 full hours we had planned to piddle paddle around Memphis. We barely made it there in time to grab a quick bite to eat and then head to the show.
Fort Campbell is just like any Army post, to be honest. Military posts are kind of like, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They’re all mini-towns with their own grocery stores, furniture stores, post office, doctors’ offices, schools, and so on. It’s fun going to one because they charge no tax on anything. However civilians cannot purchase anything on post. Someone with a military i.d. must do it (family of a military member, a veteran, or an active member; just must be someone with the proper i.d. because of the no-tax rule). It’s easy to get around though; have whomever you’re with that has the military i.d. purchase it (you can’t get on post anyway, unless you’re with someone with a military i.d. or who has special clearance).