As another year comes to a close, I want to reflect on a time when my mind wasn’t consumed with Gatlinburg, and the impact the town and surrounding area now has on my family. Just six years ago we were planning our very first trip to the tourist town, and while we were excited, we didn’t quite realize what was to come. The following is the story of how it came to fruition and why it keeps us coming back.

The year was 2010, and we were overdue for a real vacation. The trips to Columbus every October for our anniversary were fine, but they could hardly be considered a getaway vacation. It was merely a chance to do some Christmas shopping before the big seasonal rush, and since Lima, Ohio is not a big shopping mecca, we could get a lot accomplished here as it is just an hour and forty-five minute drive. Needless to say, it was not going to cut it for us anymore

My wife and I decided to get some vacation ideas at the local AAA office in Lima on a day we were both off from work. Our first ideas for the trip were Hershey, PA. and Washington D.C.; we aren’t big city people, so places like Las Vegas, New York City, and Chicago didn’t appeal to us — simply put, we wanted somewhere that was within reasonable driving distance, like six hours. Well, wouldn’t you know, the first thing I saw when I stepped inside the building was a Sevierville brochure with Dolly Parton on the front. That immediately made me think that Gatlinburg was close; and that I knew of some people that were married there. Since it was about a six or seven hour drive — and we thought seeing the mountains would be cool — we had our destination settled.

We were just giddy with excitement when the time came in June 2011 of our first real vacation since 2002. The drive — while seeming to be a bit long — wasn’t that terrible, the payoff was gazing at those Smoky Mountains for the very first time on the outskirts of Knoxville. It truly does take your breath away, as it is a stark contrast to the flat terrain of my home state.

It is difficult to really describe the feeling of being in those mountains and taking your very first hike there. One of our first hikes was to Grotto Falls, and it was amazing to get to walk behind the Falls after the mile and a half trek. The idea of a vacation took on a whole new meaning for us in those very moments. Some people’s idea of a vacation is stimulation and information overload: loud gaming sounds, bright lights, pounding music, roaring crowds. Don’t get me wrong, you can find a little of that in Gatlinburg at times; but the difference here is that you can take yourself out of these situations and into your own peaceful little utopia that you thought only existed in your dreams.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

My love for Gatlinburg runs deeper than the Mountains of East Tennessee. There is a certain kind of genuine kindness that is on display with the people here; a kind that I don’t normally sense at home. Whether you are walking into a restaurant, or any small business in the area, you feel like you are being welcomed into their home; a place where you feel like a family member that you haven’t seen in a while. I have come to adore this Southern hospitality, as I believe it to be tangible; it is a feeling like no other, one that I would like other visitors to feel, which is why I’ve started this blog and connected with like-minded people on Twitter over it. Twitter has been valuable, since it has led me to meet people that make their home here with their own local business; here I can thank them by making purchases to support them and telling them I’ll see them again next time, which is never soon enough.

The front of a shop in The Village

I wouldn’t be doing my love for Gatlinburg justice if I didn’t talk about something else there that is near and dear to my heart — the food. Yes, that’s right, you heard me. The food is excellent and I’m not afraid to say it loudly and proudly about a tourist town. Some may say it’s overpriced — wrong! The only thing that reminds you it’s a tourist town is the tax, which is around 10%. Not only do they have better pizza here (Best Italian), they also have better steak (Cherokee Grill) than my hometown offers. Of course you have to mention breakfast in Gatlinburg, and each of them offers some excellent, jaw-dropping, and belt-popping meals. I can remember my first experience with eating these foods as memorable, wanting to come back and wishing I could re-create the feeling upon returning home — a feeling on which my family agrees.

Healthy Mountain Waffle from Crockett’s Breakfast Camp

All of these reasons combined are why my thoughts are with this place every single day when I work, when I have downtime, or when we discuss what we should do on our next trip. As long as I live here in Lima, Ohio, this will not change, and it will also not lead us to make plans to travel anywhere else on vacation. It is our perfect and ideal vacation.