Spring Break in Gatlinburg & a Trip to Dollywood!

smoky mountains - gatlinburg - park vista hotel

We decided very last minute - as in, the night before - that we would spend a couple of days in the Gatlinburg area and go to Dollywood. Waves is now tall enough to ride some of the bigger rides and rollercoasters so we knew that she would have blast!

I want to take a minute to talk about the fires that happened in Gatlinburg back in November and December of 2016. Watching all the videos - this one by Michael Luciano is insane - and seeing the images as it was happening was absolutely unreal. Here's a video from the same hotel we stayed in this trip. People were trapped in there because there's only one, very steep road going to and from the hotel. Firefighters worked for hours without breaks to keep the fire from taking over the hotel.

The fires caused so much devastation and while you can still see some of that here and there in the form of burned down buildings and burnt trees, the town is back on its feet and thriving. If you're looking for a fun family vacation where you can visit one of the greatest national parks - that's completely free, by the way! - then definitely give Gatlinburg a thought and help support the town.

Okay, now onto our stay! We booked a two night stay at the Park Vista Hotel and arrived to a gorgeous view. The photo above was from the balcony in our room on the 13th floor! I didn't zoom in or edit it at all.. the mountains are just that beautiful.

smoky mountains - gatlinburg - park vista hotel

Here's a view from inside the Park Vista. They had a lounge area that opened at night that featured a fire pit on the patio outside and a fireplace inside which was really nice. We ended the day there both nights with a beer while talking for awhile. There is also a restaurant on site that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and pizzas you can get to take to your room.

We ate lunch there the first day and dinner on the second day. For vegetarians, they had a black bean burger, fries, a really good house salad, and a hummus plate. The kid's menu had a cheeseburger, grilled cheese, and mac n' cheese served with fries and applesauce.

gatlinburg - arcadia - smoky mountains

After lunch on the first day, we headed the mile into downtown Gatlinburg. We initially booked the hotel because it was so close to downtown which meant we could walk. Upon arrival, we realized there is only one road to and from the hotel but it is very busy, curvy, and extremely steep with no sidewalk for walking. The lady at the front desk told me there used to be a trail that went downtown so you could walk, but that it hasn't been maintained since the fires. Just a tip in case you're wanting a room where you can walk to all the attractions.

Parking in downtown is incredibly reasonable though - $5-$8 for all day parking. The lot we parked at was cash only so make sure you have some on you!

Once we got downtown we went to Arcadia, a super fun arcade that shares space with a pizzeria. We stayed here for a couple of hours and Waves was in heaven with all the claw machines they had. We ended up winning 3 Beanie Boos so that was fun.

We ate dinner at the Five Guys across the street and then walked around.

gatlinburg - village shoppes - smoky mountains

We made a stop at the Village Shops that I love because it is just so cute. There's a huge fountain with beautiful flowers in the middle of the shops with seats to stop and take a break on while you drink coffee and eat doughnuts from one of the nearby shops.

gatlinburg - village shoppes - coffee & company

We stopped by Coffee & Company where we got a couple Americanos and I picked up a sample bag of coffee to try since they roast everything in Gatlinburg. Then Waves and I got a couple of doughnuts from The Donut Friar which were awesome.

pigeon forge - dollywood - whistle punk chaser

pigeon forge - gatlinburg - dollywood - whistle punk chaser

The next morning we were up around 9am to get ready for Dollywood! Dollywood is Dolly Parton's theme park and I grew up going here each summer. I'm always down for a return trip because it's always a good time. Waves was able to ride a a lot this year and she loved it! Whistle Punk Chaser was her favorite rollercoaster and she was also a fan of Blazing Fury which will always be my number one theme park ride EVER because it is so completely creepy and insane haha. Check out this video of the ride.. it's awesome.

If you go to Dollywood with small kids, there's a booth to left right when you walk in where they will measure your child and give them a wristband with their height on it. That way you're not stopping to get measured at every ride and you don't waste any time in lines for rides that they won't be able to get on.


This chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick was most definitely a highlight of Dollywood. Prices here aren't terribly outrageous.. the cheesecake was $4.50, coffee was $2.49 for 12oz, and the pad thai I had for lunch was $12.99. The Festival of Nations was going on while we were there so they had a lot of food that's not normally at the park. We ate at the Front Porch Cafe and they were able to make pad thai with tofu instead of chicken and it was pretty good! I was happy to have an option other than side items.

We stayed at Dollywood from 10:30am - 6pm and were exhausted when we left. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, had a beer in the lounge, and went to bed around 10.

gatlinburg - park vista hotel

This was the view from our bed the next morning. I still can't get over how beautiful it was!

gatlinburg - crockett's breakfast camp

gatlinburg - crockett's breakfast camp

For breakfast on the last day, we stopped by Crockett's Breakfast Camp. I noticed that they use Chattanooga's Aretha Frankensteins pancake mix which is amazing. I got two pancakes not knowing how massive they'd be! I'm so glad I didn't order 3 of them like I was going to do.

gatlinburg - park vista hotel

And here's one last shot of the mountains before heading home. We had such a great trip. We are planning to go back sometime during the summer and maybe do some hiking then too. If you have any questions about Gatlinburg I'd be happy to answer them or check out Visit My Smokies or Gatlinburg's website to help plan your trip.

11 comments

  1. This guide was perfect timing for me! I'm heading to a Gatlinburg AirBnB to hike the Smoky Mountains in two weeks to celebrate my 30th birthday! Do you have any other restaurant (veg-friendly) suggestions or favorite trails in the national park?

    Thank you! <3
    Juliette | https://namastaytraveling.com

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    1. You are going to have so much fun!! There's a Mellow Mushroom downtown with tons of veggie, and even vegan, options. There's also a tiny natural grocery store that has little cafe in it - Whole Earth Grocery. Also, Smoky Mountain Brewery is really nice and has a great veggie burger!

      As far as trails go, I've hiked Mount LeConte, Charlie's Bunion, and Andrew's Bald which are all fantastic trails! Try to go to Cades Cove while you're there. It's a large loop that you drive through - there are spots to get out and park too - and you're guaranteed to see a ton of wildlife. We've seen deer, turkeys, and bears every time we have gone through! If I think of anything else I will e-mail you!

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    2. Also, if Clingman's Dome is open you should definitely go! It's an incredible view and really neat.

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  2. This looks like a ton of fun - definitely adding to my list of "to-visit"!

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  3. I love Gatlinburg! My husband's family has a place there so we visit very frequently. We actually got engaged there. I haven't been to Dollywood in YEARS though! I definitely need to add it to my list next time we go!

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    1. That’s so nice that you have those memories there and are able to go back often! We went on a slow day but the lady working the ticket booth said they get 30,000 people a DAY in the park during summer! Isn’t that crazy?!

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  4. I have never heard of Dollywood! I enjoy her music but have ony now discovered Dolly has theme park. Cool. Rollercoaster are not really my thing, BUT i'd go there every year for that chocolate covered cheesecake ha!

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    1. There's a lot there like a Dolly and country music museum and a huge bird rehabilitation center. She does a lot of work on rehabilitating injured eagles, hawks, etc. and releasing them. When we were there they said they've been able to release 159 bald eagles back into the wild! There's some cool eagle cams where you can watch here: https://www.dweaglecams.org

      But yeah.. the cheesecake is one of my huge motivators for going back this summer :]

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  5. I feel like such an ignoramus, but I didn't know Dollywood was an amusement park! Seems like a cool place. I also wanted to comment on the little village shops that you pictured. I love going to little boutiques like that. Did you buy anything?

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    1. Haha! There's a lot more there than just rides so I can see how you wouldn't realize it! I love little shops like that too :] All I bought was coffee and a couple of donuts.

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