Weekend Road Trip Guide: Chicago to Nashville, The Smokies & Beyond!
I’ve always had the heart ♥︎ to travel the world & see new culture/creation. I have been blessed so far to have traveled to a number of places in my life already-with my camera right along side to document it all too! It brings me so much joy & internally refreshes me in my creative & artistic ways! Thankfully, my husband shares the same heart (even more now that we are 1! ☺︎), so we decided to plan a road trip…our 1st official one! WHOO! For my birthday, my hubby gifted me with tickets to the Ed Sheeran concert, but to my surprise, Ed would be performing at the Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN.! It was a brilliant gift because it forced us to plan a trip around it all! Before we knew it, the time had come! We grabbed our hard-earned vacay $, filled up the car with a cooler, snacks, a couple of travel bags (mine a full-size suit case hehe. Options people!), & my camera (of course!)!
☆ Chicago---> Indiana---> Kentucky---> Tennessee! ☆
If you have done this road trip, or are planning to follow this route one day, it goes a little like this:
The journey starts off in the urban city (obviously) & then it feels like by the time you click your heels (Dorthy of Oz) you’re surrounded by cornfields in the good ol’ rural country lands. Past the wind mills ҉ & beyond the horse-filled farms, you cross over into Kentucky where you notice the terrain start to fluctuate! Hills turn into mountains & when you crack open your window, the air is just too fresh to roll it back up again!
(The Smoky Mountains! ♨︎)
To get to Gatlinburg, we 1st had to pass through a town called: Pigeon Forge. It was dark out at this point in our trip, but one thing was for sure-the downtown area we drove through here was definitely not! Tons of lights & entertainment all around- definitely a hot target for tourism!
About 15 minutes out from Pigeon Forge we arrived at our hotel in downtown Gatlinburg! When it comes to boarding/where to stay, there are definitely many options through the means of Airbnb, camping, cabin rentals, etc.! BUT to play it safe, we went ahead booking a hotel for our 1st experience (since we had no idea what to expect)! We did our booking through our account on Expedia.com (cha-ching! #travelpoints #saving$)!
Gatlinburg was in ways similar to what Pigeon Forge looked like, but a much toned down version. Restaurants, bars, mini golf, arcades, candy shops, & a few ski lifts off of the mountains-all things that one can find occupying this downtown area! To me, I would describe downtown Gatlinburg as having somewhat of a carnival feel! The best part is that from our hotel we could walk to any of these places (on the “strip”) by foot! It’s definitely convenient to be able to hang out in the town for a day or so (especially if you are there visiting with family & kids)! We were surrounded by mountains on all sides, which is what the hubs & I ultimately came there for (The Smokies, baby!)
WHAT WE DID IN GATLINBURG:
(in a 1.5 day timespan!)
⭐︎ Shared a steak dinner combo for 2 at Howard’s Steakhouse; amazing food & got to enjoy our meal on the back patio aside a beautiful natural creek!
⭐︎ Participated in a tasting for Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine-who would have known how many flavors they have to offer! We brought home a flavor called: “Luau!”
⭐︎ Bought a combo ticket for mini golf/mirror maze! (Definitely bumped into our reflections more than once! haha)
⭐︎ Had a sweet tooth (or I guess I had the sweet tooth!) so we each indulged in a giant double scoop ice cream waffle cone from Kilwin’s Chocolates! It was soon darn yummy (I’m craving it now that I’m reminiscing…)!
⭐︎ Walked the streets & wandered into random shops-both chains & locally owned (we found pockets of little places right off the main strip that have an almost fake-y movie-set-type of feel with cobble stone pavement & little barista table set ups!)
⭐︎ Found a photo booth & jumped right in! #RamosTraditions
⭐︎ Listened to some live music while stuffing our faces with some wings & burgers at Smoky Mountain Brewery!
⭐︎ Asked around for the best hiking trails! Ended up venturing off to a spot called “Hen Wallow Falls” to enjoy a nature adventure! (the whole reason why we stayed in Gatlinburg!)
Hen Wallow Falls! (about):
• 30 min drive from downtown Gatlinburg
• Moderate in difficulty
• Mostly shaded from sun ☀︎
• Rocky paths with tree root vines
• 2+ miles each way, 4ish hours total
& the best part?: a beautiful waterfall at the end of your hard-earned hike! A zen place to regain strength for the treck back to the starting line!
Note: Bring plenty of water & small snacks because you definitely exhaust some energy & will need some fuel to make it back!
Ok now, lace up those hiking boots & lather on that bug spray! It’s time to take a hike!
(Or at least imagine you were right there along with us!)
That was fun! Now Off to…
We said goodbye to the smokies & 3.5 hours later we arrived in Nashville! Let. me. tell. you!-things were popping in Nashville the weekend we went, so our only affordable option for stay was 15 minutes away at a hotel in Cool Springs, TN (not too shabby! & our hotel @ Aloft was very lovely might I add!).
When I would imagine Tennessee, I always thought of it as probably being pretty old-school-country-style (you know old saloons, maybe a few horses on the streets? etc.)…whatever that even means! Visiting it for the 1st time, I was definitely surprised to see that it oddly resembled my hometown of Chicago with all of the tall buildings, but smaller in scale! Even though it may have turned out different than what my brain had dreamt up, it was still pretty amazing with its own unique characteristics that make it so special to the thousands that flock to visit!
WHAT WE DID IN NASHVILLE:
(in a 1.5 day timespan!)
⭐︎ First things first, we ATE. Peg Leg Porker was somewhere my husband Josh had wanted to take me so we went with rumbling bellies! It was a lunchroom type of set up where you stand in line, order & take your tray to a table of your choice! Casual, reasonable ($), the option to buy local brews (if you so choose), & of course-amazingly DELICIOUS BBQ!
⭐︎ Bought tickets online with Nashville Ghost Tours & took a stroll around the city! Stopped at at least 5 different hot spots where ghost activity was claimed to have went down! Can someone say creeeeepy!
⭐︎ Stumbled into Broadway Street, which we identified immediately when we saw the amount of human beings swarming the streets! We found the least crowded spot, grabbed a drink & did a little dance while we listened to some live music! It’s basically one big row of entertainment restaurants & bars-back to back! Find an open door & boogie your way on in!
⭐︎ Spent a good 1/2 day at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens! It was fall themed & offered so much including: grabbing a bite to eat at multiple food vendors, listening to live music (we had a bluegrass band!), gardens to explore (even a zen garden!), ponds to admire, a pumpkin patch, a museum in the estate itself, etc! We decided we will definitely be coming back here next time around!
⭐︎ With the goal of going out but being somewhere not as busy as on Broadway Street, we ended up on Printers Alley at an English pub called Fleet Street Pub! It was super authentic-from the food, to the drinks (they even had my favorite one from London, “Pimms!”)-&&& they had darts (score!)! You bet your bottom dollar we played until we couldn't play any more!
Here are some Tips & Tricks for visiting Nashville!
✎ Plan ahead!
There is a lot to see! History & unique nooks & crannies around every corner! Research before you travel & plan for at least a few activities for while you are out there! (*it helps with any trip you take to have options in mind & not waste time stopping to think of what to do when you get there!)
✎ Heaps of peeps!
Nashville is definitely a hot spot for tourism, which = a busy & bustling downtown! There are always some sort of events going on so book well in advanced! We waited too long & missed all the cute Air Bnb opportunities we could have had (now we know!)!
With this being a “hot spot,” this also means the price$ can go up ☝︎! For example, hotels downtown were at an average rate of $300-400/night! Even taking an Uber can make you cringe when you see the price! Our last night there, our 15 min. Uber ride was going to be $137! (OMG. I’m not lying, we even have the screen shot to prove it!). Be prepared for surging prices, & if anything just wait an hour or 2 & try the app again!
There really is no public transportation here, which is kind of a bummer (I like using p.t. to see a city like a true local!)! We had our car with us, which we chose to drive around most places, however when we went downtown for the concert we took an Uber to and fro! As we discovered, if you choose to drive downtown, street parking can be kind of tricky! There aren’t very many places to park, therefore making parking lots your next best & only option!
*If you’re taking the day to walk around downtown & need to catch your breath or get somewhere on the fly, check out Bird scooters! Download the app, scan a scooter nearby & ride away! (Similar to Divvy bike rentals in the Chi!)