What started as a bucket list trip to Sedona, AZ last year over Memorial Day weekend quickly turned into an annual tradition! My husband and I, and my cousin Krista and her husband Greg, had such a great time on our getaway that we decided we needed to make a list of different places in the U.S. (although the list does include some international travel!) that we want to explore. We love to be outside, hike and enjoy good food and drinks so we set a goal to cross a new place off the list every Memorial Day!
We originally planned to go to Lake Tahoe this year, but the rising gas prices and flight costs had us researching other options that included Salt Lake City, Denver, and the Great Smokey Mountains among others. After weighing our options, we decided that hiking in the Great Smokeys (our first trip to a National Park!) was perfect for this year.
We booked our flights and got to work searching for lodging via Airbnb and VRBO. We knew we wanted a cabin up in the mountains with amazing views and a hot tub but wanted it close enough to town that we could Uber home after enjoying downtown Gatlinburg. Thankfully, the sites make it so easy to filter based on requirements and we found the perfect cabin with awesome reviews!
We were flying out on a Wednesday morning and planned to hike that afternoon when we arrived, as well as Thursday, Friday and then head back on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, Delta had other plans for us. We had been hearing from other friends that traveled recently that Delta was canceling a lot of flights due to a pilot shortage. Nothing had changed on our flight, so we were crossing our fingers and hoping for the best! Unfortunately, the night before our flight, we got a text around 5:30 PM from Delta saying our flight was delayed (significantly) which would have resulted in us missing our entire Wednesday in the mountains. We decided last minute to cancel our flights (at least Delta made it easy and with the click of a button, they were canceled and refunded immediately) and make the 12-hour drive to Gatlinburg.
We packed up the car and headed out around 2 AM! Bonus – we got to pack a lot more than we would have if we were flying with just backpacks!
The drive down was uneventful, and we made the best of it by catching up, listening to some podcasts (murder mystery of course!) and stopping along the way for stretch breaks and driver changes. We used the Waze app as our GPS which was helpful as it rerouted us based on construction, traffic, etc.
We arrived at the cabin after about 14 hours in the car and thankfully, the reviews on our VBRO cabin were not wrong. The views were truly incredible. It made the travel worth it as we took in the breathtaking views of the Smokey Mountains and explored the peaceful cabin.
We got ready, hung out on the deck for a bit and tried to get an Uber or a Lyft. Surprisingly, they are not available in that area, but we found a great taxi service and were picked up within 15 minutes. We headed downtown to Gatlinburg Brewing Company for a few well-deserved beverages! We played some cards and decided to head next door to Blake Shelton’s Ole Red for dinner. After a wonderful meal and a few more drinks, we decided to head back to the cabin to enjoy the hot tub and head to bed early so we could get up and hike in the morning.
Again, the reviews on this cabin did not lie and the beds were some of the most comfortable we had ever slept in! We all slept like rocks and woke up feeling refreshed and ready for a new day. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans. The forecast called for rain all day, so we headed downtown for breakfast and to figure out what we wanted to do for the day. We went to Ruby Sunshine which had good reviews on Yelp. They had a variety of drinks and food, and it was okay but not as good as Yelp made it sound.
By the time we were done with breakfast, it started to rain so we looked into renting ATV’s for the day so we could still be outdoors and explore the mountains. We headed to Off-Road Gatlinburg where they matched a deal we found for buy 4 hours, get the 5th free. The staff was very friendly, they got us all setup and we were off! We decided to do the 4-hour roundtrip adventure over to Cherokee, NC. The drive through the mountains was fun and took us all the way to the top and through the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was a little foggy, but we were able to take in the views for the most part. Once we got to Cherokee, we stopped in at Native Brews Tap & Grill to get out of the rain for a bit. While we were there, we did some research and found a trail nearby where we could check out some waterfalls. Thankfully there was a break in the rain, so we headed over. The hike up was pretty short but nice after sitting all morning in the ATV! The weather was getting a little sketchier, so we decided to make the trip back to Gatlinburg before the storms got worse. On our way back, we saw a couple cute little bear cubs! It was so fun to see them right in front of us.
We returned the ATV’s and walked back to where we had parked the car earlier in the morning. We grabbed cold brews from the Coffee Shack which was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. With some renewed energy and a break in the rain, we decided to stop in at Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina for a rooftop cocktail and some tableside guacamole. It was just what we needed! We knew more rain was coming so we decided to head back to the cabin to play cards on the covered deck and enjoy the views. We grabbed pizza from Gatlinburg Brewing Company on the way and got home just as another storm rolled in. We had the best afternoon playing cards, laughing, and eating pizza on the deck with the best backdrop! We headed upstairs to the loft to play some shuffleboard on the cutest shuffleboard table! After another dip in the hot tub, we headed to bed to rest up for (finally!) some hiking in the morning.
The All Trails app was the best when we were in Sedona so we used it again to plan out our hikes. We decided to look for a moderate 5 mile-ish hike with good reviews and Rainbow Falls fit the criteria. We grabbed protein bars for breakfast and headed to the trailhead early to beat the crowds. We got there around 8 AM and easily found a parking spot. The hike itself was mostly wooded so didn’t provide the best views but because of all the rain the days before, there were so many waterfalls and fun ponds and such to cross via stepping stones. It felt so good to finally be hiking! We made the 2 ½ mile trip to the top and enjoyed the waterfall for a while, had some trail mix and headed back down.
The trail got busier as we were ending our hike, so we were glad we got there when we did. We headed to 3 Jimmy’s for lunch and a well-deserved Bloody Mary. While we were there, our waiter recommended we head over to Pigeon Forge and told us a few places to check out. It was such a beautiful afternoon, so we decided to make the most of it and go explore.
We made the 20 minute drive over to Pigeon Forge which was such a fun area – more modern than downtown Gatlinburg. After an early morning, we decided we needed another afternoon pick-me-up and headed to the Coffee Armory in the Tower Shoppes at Mountain Mile (an outdoor mall) in Pigeon Forge. They serve Black Rifle Coffee (veteran founded and operated!). We all grabbed cold brews and did a little shopping for our kiddos. So many fun stores in that mall! We then drove over to The Island which is a huge, free, outdoor family fun area. We headed to Yee Haw Brewing Company and had fun selecting our first flights! It turned out to be a gorgeous day, so we had fun playing cards, soaking up the sunshine and good beer. We did a little more shopping, got a growler to go and headed back to the cabin to continue the fun. We knew we wanted to finish up our leftovers and head to bed early since we had a 5 AM wake up call to hit the road back to Wisco.
We enjoyed the rest of the evening, did a few loads of laundry, and headed to bed. We woke up, packed up and headed back home. The National Park Predators podcast (how appropriate!) kept us entertained and the drive went fairly quickly.
As we were driving through Kentucky, we saw a sign for Buccee’s which I had learned about from The Sister Studio. I knew we had to stop! Prior to arriving, we did some quick research via Google and learned about the top 10 things you must get at Buccee’s but we were not at ALL prepared for what we were about to walk into. The place was GINORMOUS. I’m not even kidding, it had to have about 100 gas pumps? We parked the car and headed inside to the brightest, biggest, friendliest convenience store we had ever set foot in. The bathrooms were immaculate and being cleaned constantly. The fountain soda (weakness!), the coffee bar, the deli, the bakery, the BARBECUE… everything about it was top knotch. It was almost overwhelming… but in the best way. We stocked up on some breakfast sandwiches and snacks and got back on the road. Krista and I were just joking recently about how a road trip back to Buccee’s would definitely be worth it! It may seem strange to add a visit to a convenience store to your bucket list, but you must!
The rest of the drive home was uneventful and while we were pretty bummed out about the travel issues and the weather, since we didn’t get as much hiking in as we would have liked, we made the best of it and had a blast.
We may have already decided that we are going back to Sedona every other year since everything about that trip was amazing… but we will see what next Memorial Day brings us. Hopefully we can get another one of our destinations crossed off the list!
MMSM partners with affiliate platforms where commission may be earned based on clicks and or purchases. Affiliate links help bloggers like us to fund the free content that we provide on our blogs.