We made the choice to RV Tennessee for some outdoor adventure as well as some of the popular destinations and attractions. We just scratched the surface and it was great fun!
RV Tennessee – Pigeon Forge:
We went to Pigeon Forge to see Dolly Parton’s Dollywood and to do some hiking in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We stayed at a small campground, Alpine Hideaway, part of our Happy Camper discount club. It turned out to be an economical choice, conveniently located at the end of the Pigeon Forge strip closest to the National Park.
RV Tennessee – Dollywood:
Dollywood is a popular stop on an RV Tennessee trip. Dollywood is well worth the time and expense if only for the entertainment. We were there during the National Gospel & Harvest Celebration, which featured a number of Southern Gospel performances. We were fortunate in catching the Makameys and the Galloways. Both were inspirational and great fun to listen to and watch. This was our first real exposure to Southern Gospel Music and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was apparent that these performers not only sing of Christian values but also live them. A fine example was the Galloway’s involvement with The Bridge Ministry in Nashville – they even brought a talented, formerly homeless man with them to Dollywood as guitar accompanist for their show.
A visit to Dollywood requires you to do some homework so that you can familiarize yourself with the layout of the park and show schedules. The best way is to go on-line as part of your RV Tennessee trip planning, to http://www.dollywood.com. Download the show schedules for the period you plan to be there and start planning. We were able to take advantage of the park’s “After 3:00 PM” program, which allows you to enter Dollywood after 3:00 PM and get in FREE to Dollywood the next operating day. We caught a few shows that afternoon to make the most of our ticket. It would be impossible to see and do everything in one day. We can both walk very fast yet we were hard pressed just to see the entertainment. Had we wanted to do the rides we would have had to purchase another full day or get a season pass to make it cost effective.
The park may not offer the “After 3:00” deal during their Christmas festival, but we suspect that the holiday decor and festivities make it a great time to visit Dollywood. Consider the season pass if you plan to spend more than a day.
Whenever you go, realize that it is a popular attraction, and allow time for lines for major shows and rides. We were surprised at how long the lines were for some of the Gospel shows, but we were equally surprised at how quickly they moved once the doors to the theater opened. You may want to consider the Q-bot program, which waits in line for you. We didn’t find it necessary, but it is an option for some of the shows, rides and even some restaurants.
Another point worth mentioning is that Dollywood is a popular place to find an RVer job. So you might want to check it out as part of your RV Tennessee travels.
RV Tennessee – Pigeon Forge Area Shopping:
Shopping is not something either of us likes much, but on a day with mediocre weather, we decided to venture into the world of shopping. For those of you interested in knives, there is a huge shop that specializes in all sorts of knives and accessories for knives or the making of knives. It is located in the northern part of Sevierville (the next town north of Pigeon Forge).
Another draw is the tool outlet right across the parking lot from the knife place. After visiting those two places, we drove south to the Tanger Outlet center and browsed for the rest of the day. A word to the wise, the outlet shops collects 9.5% sales tax on everything.
By the way, there is plenty of shopping in Dollyworld, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and elsewhere in the area.
Pigeon Forge Attractions abound. Beyond Dollyworld, there are tons of attractions – mini-golf, helicopter rides, themed dinner shows, WonderWorks, and so on. Stop at one of the Visitor Centers (near traffic lights #0 and #5 on Rt. 441) to get some info on the various attractions, discount coupons, a good map of the strip and trolley stops and so on.
RV Tennessee – Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Just south of Pigeon Forge, near Gatlinburg, lies the entrance to The Great Smokey Mountains National Park. A great RV Tennessee destination and entry into the park is free.
Be sure to visit the Sugarlands Visitors Center to get maps and a newsletter highlighting attractions and programs in the park. There is also a film worth seeing. The information and brochures we obtained really helped us make informed choices for what we wanted to do.
In addition, you need to check the weather for the park, since it is likely to change at higher elevations. We highly recommend making as many of the drives and hikes that you have time for.
We were lucky to be here at the height of the fall foliage change of color. This is truly a beautiful park. There are many pull-offs to catch the views, plenty of hiking trails and numerous “Quiet Pathways” for a leisurely and peaceful walk in the woods. Be prepared for slow drives, as people tend to cruise the park looking for wildlife, overlooks and interesting sights.
Two of the drives we took (in the tow car) were the Cades Cove Loop Road and the Newfound Gap Road. We also managed to get in two strenuous hikes – one to the Chimney Tops, and the other to the top of Mt. Le Conte. We also had time to do two other trails – a short hike through some old growth forest that started at the Chimney Tops Picnic area and a short ½ mile trail to the top of Clingmans Dome. If you go to the top of Clingmans Dome, be prepared for a steep but short climb on a paved path to the observation platform – this is the highest point in the park and is definitely best on a clear day.
Cades Cove Loop Road:
The drive on Cades Cove Loop was very nice if somewhat crowded and slow going. The road leads you on an 11-mile circuit where you can stop to see the early setter’s homes, farms, and churches. A worthwhile place to stop is the Cades Cove Visitors Center (about halfway around the loop road) where they have several restored buildings and a working mill. During the summer, the loop is closed to vehicular traffic from 8:00 to 10:00 AM on Wednesdays and Saturdays to allow walkers and bicyclists to do the loop. Because of traffic and the stops we made, it took us about 3 ½ hours to do the drive once we were at the beginning of the loop.
Newfound Gap Road:
The Newfound Gap Road affords the best opportunities to see the mountain views. It has many pullouts for fantastic vistas and picture-taking opportunities. Make sure you check out the weather before you go. The Smokies tend to mist over and become cloud covered, spoiling the views a bit – but even on a poor weather day the Smokies are awesome. This drive took us most of the day because of all the stops we made and some of the short hikes we took.
Chimney Tops Trail:
This hike is about a five-mile round trip. For you hikers, this is a nice warm-up for the more strenuous hike to the top of Mt. Le Conte. The ranger told us that this trail had the steepest climbs in the park and compares to climbing out of the Grand Canyon, although certainly not as long of a climb as out of the Grand Canyon. There is one section of about 1½ miles that was very steep. Near the top (about 100 feet from the summit), you have to figure out a way to climb up the steep rock face, we found that by staying to the left the last part of the climb was not too scary or difficult. Once you are at the summit, the views are great. Go early in the day and take your time to enjoy the challenge.
Alum Cave Bluff trail to Mt. Le Conte:
This is really two hikes in one, because it combines a hike to Alum Cave Bluffs and a hike to the top of Mt. Le Conte. The hike is about 10-11 miles round trip and takes about 5 – 8 hours to do. If you plan to do it in one day, you should start off early – 8:00 would not be too early to start. This hike proved to have better views than the hike to the Chimney Tops.
It was strenuous because of the long climb with very few breaks in the climb. Take plenty of water and food because there is nothing on the trail and it is a strenuous hike. Bring a camera because you will want to take pictures of the magnificent views from the trail, the lodge near the top of the mountain, and of the views from the summit. Be sure to climb the extra bit to the summit – across from the lodge – for the best views.
Make your RV Tennessee hike a treat – take a picnic lunch with you to enjoy when you reach the Lodge… it makes for a pleasant rest, and gives you incentive while climbing. The Lodge has primitive toilet facilities and drinking water to refill your bottles. It is designed for hikers who reserve the cabins and meals in advance, so don’t expect to find a snack bar when you get there. The lodge does not serve lunch to day-hikers.
The Alum Cave Bluffs were OK to us it was not something spectacular it was just an oddity. However, about half way to Alum Cave Bluffs is an interesting arch-like formation that was caused by erosion; the trail takes you right through the middle of it. And the early part of the trail crosses the stream a few times.
RV Tennessee – Gatlinburg
On our RV Tennessee stop in the area, we didn’t have time to do anything but drive through Gatlinburg. But it looks like a charming town with lots of restaurants, shopping and attractions. Next time we make an RV Tennessee trek, we plan to make time to poke around and spend some time. We will also make a trip over the mountain to Cherokee, North Carolina.
RV Tennessee – Nashville:
We really enjoyed our visit to Music City. We stayed at the Nashville Country RV Park, which turned out to be a workable location for visiting both downtown and Music Valley area. There is plenty to do in this area on an RV Tennessee trip. We toured a few key sights this time around.
As usual, we recommend going to the Visitor Center. It is downtown on Broadway. Get a good map of downtown. Grayline bus tours has one that shows all the major sights and has a brief description of them. There is a Total Access pass available at the Visitor Center that will get you into 4 attractions. Do some research on that, as well as bus tours, to see what will work best for your individual preferences and budget. For us, we opted to forego the Total Access pass, do the driving ourselves and take in a few sights – the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame, the Wildhorse, Grand Ole Opry, the Opryland Hotel, Nashville Palace and some of the honky tonks downtown.
You will have to pay for parking in downtown Nashville. There are meters, but at many you need to move by 6 pm. There are garages and lots operated by ticket machines. It seems to be the norm that you can pay by the half hour during the day (or a flat rate for the whole day) and then at 6 PM, the lots have a flat rate of about $10 for the night. The Baptist Church parking lot near the Visitor Center had better prices (as of Oct. 2007, it was a $4 flat rate for the day, and $5 flat rate after 6 PM). When there are special events (like Predators games) going on, rates may be more.
East of the Visitor Center on Broadway and running north on 2nd Avenue, there are lots of bars with plenty of music. You can spend hours (or many nights) bar-hopping to catch different bands.
A popular tourist stop is the Wildhorse Saloon on 2nd Avenue. Check their schedule and call ahead to make sure they aren’t closed for a private function. We spent an evening, ate some ribs and enjoyed the free lessons and dancing.
On Broadway take a few minutes to pop into Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest known letterpress poster shops in America. Hatch has been in business since 1879 and continues to use the same technique. Over the years, their posters have featured a host of country music performers ranging from Hall of Famers Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash to present-day stars Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd and Shania Twain. Also along Broadway, make a stop into Ernest Tubb Record Shop, to browse or buy.
Don’t miss the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame. We spent a full day there and highly recommend it as part of the RV Tennessee experience. Take time to take it all in. It is downtown around the corner from the Visitor Center.
Skirting downtown is the Briley Parkway, which takes you to the Music Valley section of Nashville. We spent a couple days here. Be sure to spend some time strolling through the gigantic Opryland Resort. There are shops and restaurants inside, but the main thing is to take in the beautiful atriums. You can park at the Opry Mills Mall parking lot and walk over.
Opry Mills itself is a huge mall with an IMAX, Regal Cinemas, Rain Forest Cafe, an Aquarium-themed restaurant and pleny of shopping.
The Grand Old Opry is also right next too Opry Mills. Be sure to visit the free Opry Museum and spend an hour or so looking at the exhibits. It is a great thing to do in advance of attending a performance, as it provides an appreciation for the history and tradition. You can also take a backstage tour (admission charged).
Definitely attend one of the Grand Old Opry peformances. We saw the Saturday night show, and also took in the free Midnight Jamboree held over at the Troubadour Theater near Ernest Record Shop 2, which is right near the Opry on Music Valley Drive.
If you plan to attend between November and February, be sure to verify the location where the performances are held. As of this writing, the Opry was being held at the historic Ryman Auditorium downtown for these winter months.
This was our first RV Tennessee trip. We will definitely be back again, visiting Memphis and more. The official state site will be a help when we plan our next journey to RV Tennessee.
Jill Miller is the founder of Your RV Lifestyle. Trading corporate America for the open road, Jill, along with her partner Jose, began their RV journey, making an unconventional start by wintering in New Jersey. A natural adventurer, she was motivated by a desire to explore the USA and beyond, embracing the varied landscapes, communities, and cultures across the country.
For Jill, the allure of RV living was not about material accumulation, but rather the pursuit of an adventurous, fulfilling lifestyle. A lover of golf, bicycling, hiking, and line dancing, she has carried her passions across the country, engaging with them in diverse settings. Jill’s commitment to the RV lifestyle came after years of careful research, numerous consultations with RV owners, and personal trials, including living in a rental RV.