My short response to the title of this blog is DON'T GO and conjure in your mind what you imagine the best of Gatlinburg to be and that, my friend, will be the best of Gatlinburg.
My long response to the title of this blog will be this...
In a recent trip to the mountains, I learned two things...
1. There are more people in this world who LOVE pancakes than I originally had thought.
2. My disdain for Gatlinburg has surpassed my diresion for St. Louis, Missouri and Kyle's scorn for the entire state of Kansas.
But first let's back up and see how we got there.
A Decision is Made
After my mom died, my dad decided that we should meet up with Kyle in the fall and travel somewhere, so we could all be together.
We bounced around a few ideas - Chicago, Colorado, Charleston, SC - BUT we settled on some place better. Some place more beautiful. Some place more brilliant. Some place more buttery?
The logic behind it was that it was some place in the middle for Kyle to easily fly to and for the crew in North Carolina to easily drive to for a long weekend.
However, my alarm bells should have sounded when my dear cousin said to me, "Have you ever been to Gatlinburg? You're in for a treat."
I like treats, so I was excited!
Arriving to Gatlinburg
After leaving the quaint and charming town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, I was looking forward to some more rest and relaxation in the city that claims to be the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains.
We've already established that I don't like gateways (i.e. The Gateway Arch) but no red flags seemed imminent yet.
We packed up the car and headed out on the Blue Ridge Parkway where we took in the sights of the fall foliage and gorgeous mountain vista views, but not before I spilled my stupid Stanley all over the backseat floor, and my feet were now resting in a sopping puddle of water.
As I was soaking it all in figuratively and literally, the vibrations of my IPhone startled me out of my dreamlike stance.
It was my brother.
"Lauren, it's Kyle. Please pray for me."
"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ALL THINGS HOLY, WE ARE NOT DOING THIS ANYMORE!!"
As a side note, for some strange and unforeseen reason, Kyle booked a separate flight on a separate day from his girlfriend. So Kyle flew into Knoxville, TN a whole day before we even arrived, then Ubered to Gatlinburg the following day, and now was on the side of a street in downtown Gatlinburg at restaurant/bar where we had to pick him up. He'll always remain a mystery to me in the way he thinks and does things.
Upon entering the outskirts of Gatlinburg, it didn't take immensely long for me to see why Kyle needed prayers.
We were in bumper to bumper traffic inching along the parkway to get into the main part of the city. And on the sidewalks were crowds of people...walking? No, walking doesn't seem to be the right word for what they were doing. Shuffling. Yes, these hordes of people were all collectively shuffling about from one end of the strip to the next.
And lining the sidewalks were TOURIST TRAPS that were seemingly swallowing the shuffling souls.
RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT
THE TRUMP STORE (I did have to pause here and giggle as I imagined each president having their own store. THE FILLMORE STORE. THE PIERCE STORE. THE CLEVELAND STORE. THE ARTHUR STORE. hehe)
These traps were swallowing these poor souls and spitting them out as a different washed-up specimen. Muwhahaha.
I gasped. As a child who grew up in West Virginia, I've seen this horror film before.
"Oh my God! Gatlinburg is the Myrtle Beach of the Mountains!"
Cue Halloween theme song.
Having been to Myrtle Beach several times as a child, I'm all too familiar with the drive down there.
First, you hit a point of no return. It's when you realize you have entered the horror movie and there's no turning back .
For travelers driving along I-95 on route to MB, that point of no return is South of the Border, the Gateway to Myrtle Beach, and the roadside attraction where you can get two things - sombreros and hepatitis.
For Gatlinburg, the point of no return is when you see the Gatlinburg Space Needle, oddly reminiscent of SotB's Sombrero Tower and Arcade. Getting closer, I looked around and realized that there was no escaping. We were being sucked in.
We found Kyle on the side of the road, picked him up, and sped off to our AirBNB.
The Best of Gatlinburg
To start, the best Gatlinburg could offer us was sending us our keycode at 3:56 PM and allowing us to check in four minutes early for our 4:00 PM check in time!
We decided to spend the rest of the evening not leaving our place of residence in order to gear up to venture out into the wild tomorrow.
The next day commenced with Kyle getting lost for three hours because he had to find a gym. He called to ask for directions, but his phone died as I was explaining how to get back.
Not confident in Kyle's directional and spatial skills both my dad and I drove around looking for him. My dad finally found him on the side of the road stomping up a hill.
At this point, we were ready for some mountain air and gorgeous views located in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Getting in the car, we started our travel to the park.
And that's when we saw THEM.
LOG CABIN PANCAKE HOUSE
LITTLE HOUSE OF PANCAKES
FLAPJACK'S PANCAKE CABIN
Each of these pancake pavilions had people lined up outside and around the corner as they shuffled closer to the puffy perfections, awaiting the simple taste of a buttery bite.
It was a sight to behold.
Don't get me wrong. I like me some pancakes every now and then, but the scene unfolding before my very eyes was ethereal. One our eyes couldn't make sense of.
Never once during my short time on earth have I ever encountered a creature hither or tither that has quite loved pancakes in the way that the breed of humans I saw that day must love pancakes.
I was afraid Gatlinburg had drugged these unassuming souls.
I momentarily put the Pancake Panorama out of my head and got ready for some hiking.
The best Gatlinburg has to offer on that front is sitting in more traffic to go three miles in 30 minutes and then another 20 minutes to find parking to hike an overcrowded trail to see a waterfall and then sit in another hour's worth of traffic to get back to the AirBNB.
At this point, we were seriously considering our entertainment for the rest of the trip to be having races to see who could make their way from one end of the main drag to the another the fastest while we battled the crowds of people standing aimlessly, shuffling, and standing still.
However, the next day we decided to give Gatlinburg one more shot with a trip up to Ober Mountain.
To get to Ober Mountain you ride an aerial tram. You can purchase tram only passes for $19.99 or an all access pass for $49.99 (Kids 5 and under are free). We all got the access passes.
On our way we once again passed the Pancake People and took a few seconds to marvel at their mysterious ways.
The aerial tram was actually pretty cool. Once we got there, we started with the animal exhibit and then I took my son on the carousel and the ice bumper cars while the rest of the gang got food.
The line for the ice bumper cars was long and moved slowly but luckily there were benches along the wall to rest our weary legs. A large party "didn't notice" all the people sitting and tried to get to the front of the line, but the people in front politely pointed them to the back of the line.
After a half hour and the third round of waiting, it was looking like we would finally be next. The large group behind me had taken to sitting on the benches this time, and they were suspiciously creeping their way to the front. They wouldn't dare cut us, I thought.
Well, I'll be damned, those mfers did cut us when our turn finally arrived! Usually a demure and dainty person who balks at the face of too much confrontation, I said to myself, "No."
Gatlinburg and life, in general, had beaten me down far too much lately. I wasn't going to stand for this.
"NOT T-T-T-TODAY, JUNIOR!" I made a squealing noise, gave those bitches a glaring look, and pushed my way in front of them.
"BOO! This ain't no child's play. Who's the real villain now, Gatlinburg? That's right, me. Muwhahaha."
I got on that ride, and it was the best freakin' ride of my son's life.
Until moments later when my son got to ride the mountain coaster with my husband and everyone else who had been waiting in line while we were at the ice bumper cars (The line was too long for me to wait), and that ride was the best thing everyone did in all of Gatlinburg.
You win, Gatlinburg, you win.
Oh yeah, my dad and I saw a random bear walking just walking on a side street, and it went into a parking garage. But we were so in awe that we didn't get any pictures. So I guess it doesn't count?
My goal now is to become a certified sleep and anxiety coach and as part of that I developed a mini STRESS FREE SLEEP email course.
I highly suggest checking it out if you struggle with sleep and panic.
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And if you're a parent, check out my parenting guide Now What? Mindful Parenting Checklists for Life’s Hard Moments.