BREAKFAST: Grab a full-blown Smokies breakfast at Log Cabin Pancake House ( www.logcabinpancakehouse.com). You’ll be fueled to climb a mountain (even if you don’t).
9 A.M.: Options overflow at Dollywood ( www.dollywood.com), one of the country’s top theme parks. Rides range from the new Wild Eagle winged coaster to a 5-mile scenic steam train trip. Singer Dolly Parton’s a local, so there’s mountain culture, too. If sinking all day into one attraction doesn’t appeal, board the Titanic, a massive replica “docked” on Parkway in Pigeon Forge ( www.titanicattraction.com). Actual artifacts add to this exciting re-creation.
LUNCH: Old Mill Square ( www.oldmillsquare.com) is the historic cornerstone of Pigeon Forge – an 1830 grist mill on the National Register of Historic Places. At Pottery House Cafe and Grille ( www.oldmillsquare.com/cafe.htm), have a fried green tomato BLT and a tempting piece of pie or cake.
1 P.M.: Explore the Old Mill, meet the miller, buy freshly ground cornmeal, flour, grits and more. Watch potters at Pigeon River Pottery ( www.oldmillsquare.com/pottery.htm) – you just ate on their plates.
3 P.M.: The Smokies are all about views, so take the tethered balloon 400 feet in the air at Wonders of Flight ( www.wondersofflight.com). The entire Great Smoky Mountains jut a jagged mile into the sky. The park is more than a backdrop. For an afternoon drive, take Wears Valley Road from Pigeon Forge, a left on Lyon Springs Road, to a best-kept-secret back way into the park to loop Cades Cove.
DINNER: No more country cooking ... Aptly named Bullfish Grill has black angus beef and flown-in fresh seafood ( www.bullfishgrill.com).
WRAP UP: Catch a show. The Comedy Barn ( www.comedybarn.com) is a low-brow blast for families, and Country Tonite ( www.countrytonitepf.com) is a solid country revue. Or just ply the glittering Parkway strip. Where else can you race go-karts at midnight?
BREAKFAST: The Donut Friar ( www.thevillageshops.com/donutfriar.html) is up at 5 a.m. with the Smokies’ best baked goods.
8 A.M.: Time to tackle the Great Smoky Mountains ( www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm)! Take Newfound Gap Road to the Sugarlands Visitor Center for the excellent 18-minute movie about America’s most-visited national park. Stroll the inspiring Sugarlands Nature Trail nearby – or hit the road higher to Clingmans Dome. The summit’s a stiff half-mile hike – worth every huff. Or leave town a different way for the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Loop ( www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/roaringfork.htm), complete with historic cabins, wildlife, and waterfalls.
LUNCH: Take your pick of hearty fresh-ground burgers and micro-brewed beers at Smoky Mountain Brewery ( www.smoky-mtn-brewery.com/locations.html)
2 P.M.: Want to explore more in the area’s outdoors? Nantahala Outdoor Center ( www.noc.com), the massive destination outfitter, has all the gear, guided trips, and added info you need.
3 P.M.: Gatlinburg is home to an amazing array of kitschy attractions – believe it or not. One of the coolest is Hillbilly Golf ( http://www.gatlinburg-attractions.com/hillbilly_golf_.html). Take an incline tram up and play down though a holler full of fun. Or soar up to great views at Ober Gatlinburg ( www.obergatlinburg.com). A tram rises to the town’s winter ski area where summer family options include an alpine slide, water rides, Wildlife Encounter animal exhibits, ice skating and more (all-day, all-activity passes available).
DINNER: Celebrating 75 years in 2013, Buckhorn Inn ( www.buckhorninn.com/home.htm) is a Gatlinburg classic (built without electricity!). The four-course, prix-fixe dinner menu changes nightly. Thankfully, the sunset view of Mount LeConte does not.
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