A sleepy family boarded the AA flight from DFW to Knoxville, TN. We usually travel light and this was trip was no different with two small carry ons. The flight was an express jet with two seater in two columns. The 2.5 hrs flight was uneventful and we were en route to Gatlinburg by 11:15 am.

We stopped for lunch at a small Thai restaurant near the airport called Lemongrass, in Maryville, TN. The building looked small and unassuming but the staff, ambience and service were commendable. The restaurant boasted a steady stream of visitors. Being vegetarians, sometimes finding a good spot to eat can become a challenge. The menu offered several veggie options for sushi. We tried the peanut avocado roll that was delicious. I enjoyed the Lunch Box special and the others tried the Pad See Eu and the Penang curry that were satisfying and tasty.

The drive after lunch from the airport area to Gatlinburg was just over an hour-long. The drive itself was very picturesque. cell phone reception in many areas was non-existent. Luckily we already had taken screenshots of our route and were able to manage without much difficulty.

Our first stop was at Laurel Falls. Named for the shrub that grows along the trail, this falls has an upper and lower portion. The trail was about 1.3 miles each way but felt longer and was moderately difficult. It was well populated and there was a communal sense of empathy and encouragement on the trail. We enjoyed the upper falls but did not explore the lower branch. The return trip offered beautiful vistas of the Smokies.

After a short break at the Visitors’ Center, we proceeded to Gatlinburg which I found very quaint. It reminded me of Fredericksburg, TX in some ways and Whistler, BC in others. The streets were busy with visitors and locals. There was a party atmosphere in the air.

I was looking forward to the Smoky Mountain resort vacation club home, but to my chagrin, discovered that we had been booked into the newly built Holiday Inn Express next door on the same property. The hotel had been opened that week, the staff was courteous. The room itself was standard and overlooked the parking lot. My only issue with the stay (other than that I had originally booked a vacation home) was that the housekeeping left a lot to be desired. The bathroom had hair from the previous occupant on the floor and the tub and remained an issue throughout the stay despite my complaint.

Following a siesta, we set out to explore Gatlinburg. It’s a small town with one major thoroughfare, the Parkway, around which all the action is located. There is a tram system that is also easily accessed although we didn’t need to use it. The weather was in the upper 90s and very pleasant. After walking the entire length of the street once, we stopped to eat dinner at the Mellow Mushroom. The Spinach-artichoke dip was warm and appetizing. The Thai Dye pizza with tofu instead of chicken was slightly tangy with a hint of sweet. Very filling! The atmosphere at the Mellow Mushroom was light and colorful, I loved the long booths that can easily seat up to eight adults.

The Ole Smoky Moonshine is America’s oldest distillery and the Ole Smoky Holler hosts concerts in the courtyard. We enjoyed some good old country music before making our way down the Parkway again to walk off the pizza. There were people of all ages, of all ethnicities and languages that we passed. For one evening, we were all travelers at the gateway, brought together by a sense of happiness and camaraderie, while the mountains stood silent and majestic around us.

A few days after our trip, I came across this interesting post from Business Insider on Gatlinburg that captures the spirit of this mighty town.