When you wake up to see the sun rising over the Great Smoky Mountains, there's only one thing that can make life more perfect - pancakes!
Another one of our longtime favorites from our time in East Tennessee, the Log Cabin Pancake House was just a short drive from our motel - right beside the Gatlinburg Space Needle.
DAY 3 - REALLY Exploring Gatlinburg and the National Park
I know this makes me a goober, but at the last minute I wasn't up for pancakes. I ended up with the biscuits and gravy, which weren't bad... but trust me, go with the pancakes. There are pancakes for miles in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area, and the Log Cabin Pancake House is quite possibly the best of them all. I have missed this!
After we were good and full, we decided to check out the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail that was tucked away nearby. It wasn't particularly crowded, and the people we did encounter along the way were so pleasant and great to chat with. There were a number of pull-offs and places to just stop and explore. We discovered overlooks, settler homes, streams, and even a very quaint gift shop at the end of the trail run by a very sweet local woman whose family has been peddling handmade mountain wares for generations. We managed to snag a lot of souvenirs here for very little spend - even something for our beloved cat back home!
Since the combination drive/walk seemed to be working for us, we decided to head out to explore one of our favorite spots in the National Park - Cades Cove. Unfortunately, we weren't the only ones with this in mind and the drive-through nature area was very congested. No complaints from me - I had plenty of time to snap some gorgeous landscapes and even stroll around. Cades Cove is a very popular location for spotting black bears, and we did manage to catch a glimpse of a mother and three cubs in a field toward the end of the scenic drive.
The back-up at Cades Cove ended up taking most of our day, but we didn't mind. It was amazing to be surrounded by such sights all day long, and swarms of huge, colorful butterflies kept guiding our path the whole way. Again, we snuck a few conversations with others who were visiting. We had honestly forgotten what it was like to be around strangers who just shared pleasantries for no reason at all - or just to share a common appreciation of the beauty around them.
We had dinner at the Five Oaks Farm Kitchen - an Ogle-run eatery (if you're local or localish - you know "Ogle"). While I completely failed at photography this time, I did not fail to notice what a good choice this was. The menu is limited, but it is all farm-to-table fresh southern comfort food selections, and the value can't be beat. For about $20 per head, we each received a large meaty entree, bread, soup, salad, two sides AND mashed potatoes - WHAT? The setting was charming and the staff was beyond pleasant. Make this one a priority!
Back "home" to Gatlinburg!
This time, we took the bypass around Gatlinburg, and while this IS an optimal shortcut, it's also a hidden gem with an incredible overlook! Here, you can look down on the town of Gatlinburg below, and you have a direct line of sight to Mt. Leconte!
Sitting on our balcony had given us some ideas. Maybe day 4 would be a good day to split from our natural, off-the-grid getaway. Maybe it was time to do something a little more... touristy!
For a more visual recap of our 4-state road trip, check out our two-part video: