My Life: Tennessee Family Vacation to Nashville and Gatlinburg

Every year, we like to explore a new city as a family.  So far we've done Boston / Newport, RI / NY, DC / NY, and last summer Denver / Breckenridge, CO.  This summer, I was drawn to Tennessee.  I feel like a lot of people have been visiting there lately, and it has intrigued me, and seemed interesting and fun.  We decided to spend 2 days in Nashville and 2 days in Gatlinburg.  It's kind of a whirlwind, but enough to give us a feel for the city.  I typically plan a morning, afternoon, and evening activity, so we really pack it in and make the most of our travels!

Day 1 - Travel to Nashville

I started off the trip shooting!  With my kids having been at camp all summer, I was excited to capture them just being themselves.  We got great direct flights on Southwest.  It happened to be my youngest's birthday, and they really made him feel special.  They turned down the cabin lights, had everyone turn on the flight attendant call light so the cabin was illuminated, sang happy birthday, and had him blow out the 'candles'.  His in-flight birthday celebration was completed by a crown they made out of peanuts and coffee stirrers.  I'm sure it's a happy birthday we'll never forget! 

When we arrived, we wanted a snack, and were told Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams was the place to go, so we did!

Day 2 - Nashville

On quick trips, I've found bus tours to be a great way to get a feel for a city.  In my research of Nashville, I found that JoyRide offered these cool golf cart tours, so we started off the day with one.  We had lunch at Dick's Last Resort.  Totally touristy, but totally humorous, which is right up our alley.  We're not big fans of country music, but were told the Country Music Hall of Fame was a must-see, so we visited, walking along Broadway on the way.  We had dinner, I did some line dancing, and we experienced some of Nashville's music scene at Wildhorse Saloon.  

We really lucked out, because the Thursday night we were there, was the first night of the free Live on the Green Music Festival, which runs Thursdays in August, through Labor Day weekend.  We walked in that direction, stopping in a fun old timey candy store called Rocket Fizz.  Then, we walked into Museum Hotel because we had to use the bathroom, and it turned out we'd stumbled upon another gem, because it was a free modern art museum!  Apparently there was more to see on the floor above and below us, but we only had time to explore the main floor.  Then we headed over to the park to listen to Michael Franti and Spearhead.  The kids weren't interested in standing in the concert crowd, but did enjoy some cornhole, giant Connect 4, and a photobooth.

Day 3 - Cheekwood and Paddleboarding

Since we explored downtown on Thursday, on Friday, we wanted to explore some of Nashville outside of downtown.  We had breakfast in the lovely airbnb we stayed in, where the light in the kitchen was amazing every morning, so of course I had to take a pic.  Our morning activity was exploring the Cheekwood Mansion and gardens.  The mansion was slightly underwhelming compared to the gardens, where the kids enjoyed throwing rocks into the lake, watching leaves flow down a stream, and model trains, but we enjoyed our visit overall.  

For our afternoon activity, we went out to the Hamilton Creek Recreation Area for Stand Up Paddleboarding, a sport I have enjoyed in several cities.  It's always interesting to explore the water, as well as the land when travelling.  The water was the perfect calmness for SUP, and the perfect temperature for swimming.  We headed back for showers, and then to East Nashville for the Tomato Art Festival.  The festival was to take place on Saturday, with a preview Friday night.  There was a bandstand, music, and a bunch of people trying to break the Guinness World Record for most people dressed like fruits and vegetables in one place, but not much art set up yet, so we had some dinner, and hung out at Soda Parlor and played games.  We introduced the kids to Cards Against Humanity, censoring some inappropriate cards, and answering questions about others, and they really had a blast with it.

Day 4 - Drive to Gatlinburg, White Water Rafting

On Saturday, we woke up and drove to Gatlinburg, stopping for lunch on the way, and headed straight for our white water rafting excursion.  I had gone once on a family vacation in North Carolina when I was my kids' age, and my husband had gone a few times with his sleepaway camp in North Carolina, and it was the kids' first time.  Our guide with Smoky Mountain Outdoors was excellent, and we were treated to some serious rapids, since the river had seen much more rain this summer than they usually do. 

We had dinner in downtown Gatlinburg.  Now, I chose this city for this trip b/c I had heard about the interesting kitschy things here, but holy tourist, it is well beyond what I could have imagined, and I have quite an active imagination.  Basically the entire strip is restaurants, souvenir shops, and tourist activities.  We had dinner on the roof of a Mexican restaurant, and headed back to our cabin, where I enjoyed looking at the stars, and the boys enjoyed some pool before bed.

Day 5 - Laurel Falls Hike, Zipline, Alpine Coaster, Island

We started our morning with a hike to Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We were slightly fearful of seeing bears on our hike, but were excited to see a baby bear on the drive in!  We chose this hike because it wasn't too deep into the park (and we had to be at our ziplining appointment early in the afternoon), it was one of the shorter trails, and it was paved.  This made it very popular, and there were a lot of people there.  It was steep and uphill, and didn't feel terribly adventurous because of the paved path and tons of people, but, the humans did frighten away any bears.  

In the afternoon, we ziplined at Foxfire Mountain, and then enjoyed some of their rope bridges.  They had more hiking trails which would probably be lovely to enjoy in the fall or spring or first thing in the morning, but by that point we were a bit burnt out from the heat and our morning hike, so we stopped at the Alpine Coaster, which we'd done the previous summer in Colorado and loved, and headed over to The Island in Pigeon Forge to enjoy their musically choreographed fountain, and dinner.  

Day 6 - Lane Motor Museum and Home

Since any flight from closer to Gatlinburg would have required a layover and pricier tickets, we made the drive back to Nashville for our flight home.  By now, you can tell I like to pack it all in and see everything, and the Lane Motor Museum had been on my radar, and something we missed in our 2 days in Nashville.  It was also close to the airport, so we were able to swing by for a quick visit before heading out of town.