Back to the Smokies

When we got home from our beach vacation (which Matt had to miss due to his first nursing clinicals), the first thing he said was "I need a vacation". His summer term was just about to end and I was just about to go back to school, so we would have to find a place fast!

We looked at Michigan first, because I have been dying to go. No luck. We knew we wanted a rental house, cabin, or cottage, so to speed things up, we just looked straight to Gatlinburg. Not too far away (7ish hours), the best cabin selection, stuff to do, and mountains! Check out last year's Gatlinburg trip here.

I wanted a place with pool access because as much as I like to relax for a few hours in a cabin, keeping kids inside a vacation home or hotel room for any longer than a few hours is torture. We stayed at Twin Cedars' Mountain Patriot and I have zero complaints. We would book there again and recommend it to anyone. Look at the view from our deck and dining room window...

Also, grocery delivery from Smoky Mountain Grocery saved us a lot of room in the car and the annoying task of grocery shopping as you enter the city (along with everyone else). You order on line, they call to confirm, they shop and stock your food. There is a delivery fee, but the groceries were not marked up. Next time, we will order a lot more!

Our favorite house feature...the "chacutsie", as Larkyn called it, between the kitchen and living room.

That night, we stayed in and made ourselves comfortable with a lot of Olympics and a lot of s'mores (it was national s'mores day, of course).

That night was ROUGH putting them to bed for some reason, but we all made it out of bed the next morning for Dollywood!  I used a highly reliable and scientific method to gauge whether or not we should go to Dollywood: Facebook. People love it, and now I know why. Clean, adorably Southern-themed, the nicest staff ever, and just fun things to do and ride all over the place. Of course, we paid about $100 in food and a few souvenirs, but we all know that happens at amusement parks.

If you need an AC break, the gift shop right by the Country Fair area is a perfect indoor play spot.

I wanted to take the kids on the train, but it had the loudest whistle in the history of the world. Trauma.

The photographer didn't offer to try again. Oh well. 

Larkyn was in heaven, riding ride after ride. She switched between Matt and I riding with her, since most of the rides required an adult for her height. There was one section of 4 rides that little man could try.

I'll admit that I haven't been on rides in years, and probably not a roller coaster in like 15 years. Oy! That whole gravity thing is interesting when you grow up. The swings are her favorite and were always mine too, but looking down was not smart.

I was dying to get into the National Park (I don't think the rest of the family was, but I made them). You can't go to Gatlinburg without actually entering the park, come on!  I picked the Gatlinburg Trail, a simple path with water access.

The kids were in their element (and later we learned, poison ivy), and having a blast. The lowlight of our trip though, was packing up this fun and the whining and crying that ensued over the muddy shoes. If you go on this trail, watch out for poison ivy and 100% bring a change of clothes and shoes.

More hanging around the house to decompress from hiking drama.

And the aquarium the next day!  I was hesitant, thinking this was a strange place in the middle of a mountain range to put an aquarium. Would it really be that fun? YES. The kids loved having everything at eye-level, the selection of animals was fantastic, and the shark tunnel was amazing. Instead of people just going in and standing around, all jeopardizing precious viewing spots, you travel through on a slow people-mover. I want these installed everywhere.

As we (literally) soaked up our last night in the hot tub, Matt quietly said "Hey, there's a bear" and I didn't believe him. Yep, there he/she was! Just casually walking down our driveway, eating grass. The bear didn't seem to notice us or didn't care that we were freaking out. But it was definitely the most exciting part of the trip.

We weren't ready to go home at all, but school started up for the ladies in the house.

Vacations have changed a lot for me, and sometimes that is hard for me to accept. When I travel, I want to LIVE the city--the food, the drinks, the shopping, the landmarks. And 5 and 2 year olds have little patience for that nonsense. Of course, my favorite part is watching them explore new places and experience things that they love. But I am ready for a vacation where we can do some adulting at some point. Any advice?

Battelle Darby Bison and Nature Center

It has been on our list forever, and we finally made it out to visit Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park and it's showstoppers: the bison. I was covering the story for (do you read it? You should if you want to know about and plan cool things to see allllll over Ohio).

Anyway, we were excited to go on a guided tour with a naturalist to see the bison. This Bison Walk is offered once a month and does not require registration.

The drive was interesting. I will say I had a general idea where the park was, and as soon as my map app started leading me astray, I should have shut her down. Others in my tour group agreed that their GPS did not take them to the right place as well, so the simple directions are: West Broad Street to Darby Creek Road (turn left). Drive until you see the Nature Center entrance. 

The nature center is modern and gorgeous, with a photographer's dream lighting inside. We listened to Tim Taylor, Battle Darby's Naturalist, give a 30 minute talk about bison. A few fun facts I didn't know:

  • The leader of the herd is always the oldest female (theirs has the awesome name "Big Mama").
  • They can weigh up to one ton!
  • They eat only grass, and they typically die of starvation when their teeth wear out from use. 
  • Bison are NOT buffalo. It has been a longstanding case of mistaken identify, started by the French, who likened them to water buffalo. 
You will get a chance to feel some fur samples, see pelts, skulls, and learn much more about their background. Before you head out on the hike, stop in the Family Restroom (that has paper towels instead of hand dryers--a child's dream!) and a changing table. 

The gravel path to the pasture did not seem to be a problem for families with wagons and strollers, and it was a very easy (but HOT) walk. That said, the bison move all over the place and have 50+ acres of pasture to scour. So, they may not always be in plain sight. That's the tricky thing--you are not guaranteed viewing. But the staff has cameras that can help them locate the herd and they know their habits, so you are better off consulting with them or joining a tour than trying to be a trail guide and find them yourself. 

Once you find them, yay!  Take a few photos, get brave and walk through the weeds and grass to the fence, and marvel at North America's largest land mammal. 

After your tour (or before, if you aren't perpetually arriving 20 seconds before anything starts), take some time in the air conditioned nature center. The clear tanks hold many surprises for those patient enough to find them.  There is a room with a few kid-friendly items (too many children who weren't mine to photograph it) and one room full of pelts, skulls, etc. 

That's an observation window in that little cave, looking up. You have to go in!

Can you see the frog's head to the far left? She wanted him "to feel the ocean waves". Hmm.

The volunteers in yellow shirts can answer any questions and are always friendly. And if you are Junior Explorers, you can fill out a card to earn a patch after completing a few park programs. 

If you want to picnic, you can load back in the car and drive one mile south, to the Cedar Shelters. There, you can find picnic areas and playgrounds. Enjoy!

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