On Wednesday night, I drove to the Knoxville airport to pick up my parents for a four-day trip with me in the Smokies. They’re flight got in pretty late, and I was a little worried about accomplishing our early morning schedule the next day. But we were happy to see each other, and they were eager to get into the park.
After about five hours of sleep, we woke up, got ready, and headed out to Cades Cove for a morning bike ride. I was a little over zealous about how early we should get there, and we had an hour to kill waiting for the bike shop to open up on their new fall hours. But we eventually got our bikes and were ready to go.
I’m wearing Chucks because my Keens weren’t acceptable, closed-backed shoes, but Chuck Taylor’s are appropriate for biking, I guess.
I have probably gone to Cades Cove more times than anywhere else in the park, but this was my first time biking the loop, and it was great. We were there early enough that there weren’t too many cars, and the feeling of the cool mountain air on your face was well worth the lack of sleep.
I think they really enjoyed it, too.
Barely a mile or two into the eleven-mile loop, we came over a small ridge and out of the brush came the head of a little black bear cub. His ears were all perked up and too big for his head, and the way it looked at us almost seemed like a playful, “Oh no! They spotted me!” As we fumbled for cameras, the bear jumped up, ran across the road, and quickly disappeared into the forest. While we didn’t get any photos, it was such a neat experience, because up until now, most of my interactions with wildlife have been through a car window or surrounded by tourists. I was also very happy to check “See a bear” off the Cades Cove checklist early into my parents’ ride and not have to worry about it all day.
Happy to see a bear.
Since we were taking our time and weren’t rushed by a motorcade of tourists, I actually got to stop and enjoy some of the buildings my first time. It’s crazy to think that so many people called Cades Cove home before the implementation of the park. I did my best to educate my parents about the history and culture of the people who lived here, but (not)Ranger Mike only has so much to offer. Admittedly though, I have been learning a lot in the time I’ve been here, and now I’m not making things up as much as just trying to remember.
We made a lunch stop at the Cable Mill visitor center, and my parents got to hear Carl (remember him?) play some old time music, and, of course, they bought some CDs. They also fell in love with many of the home made jams and preserves, and now I think I’m taking extra things home that won’t fit in their luggage.
My mom, being even more of a photographer than I am, was snapping photos constantly. So I decided to take them down one of the side roads in the hopes of seeing some wildflowers and butterflies. It was bumpy on the gravel road, and my dad almost leaned his bike onto a patch of poison ivy, but my mom got to see some pretty things and take some photos of the views.
Taking pictures of people taking pictures is a common theme on family outings.
Overall, it was a great bike ride and a great way to start the trip. Getting around Cades Cove in a different way helped me find a new appreciation for the place, which I had sort of lost.
For dinner on our first night, we decided to splurge a little bit. Since I picked up my parents from the airport so they wouldn’t need a rental car and they are just staying at my apartment in park housing, it seemed like the right thing to do.
So we headed to The Lodge at Buckberry Creek. It’s a rustic looking place, a big log cabin restaurant and hotel complex on a mountain overlooking the Gatlinburg area. But when you walk in, it’s as if you’ve stumbled upon the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World’s personal getaway in the mountains. The whole place is decorated in a way that both the most gritty and the most stylish mountain men could agree on. It’s just awesome, and the food was even better.
I’m not about to write a restaurant review, because I wouldn’t do the place justice. But if you’re in the Smokies, and you’re looking for a fantastic dining experience, or even a great place to stay and avoid Gatlinburg, check out the
The view from our table