National Civil Rights Museum | Tennessee

For the past thirty years, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, has been educating visitors about the American Civil Rights Movement. Through interactive exhibits, historical collections, and special events, the museum gives visitors the chance to walk through history and hopefully inspires change for the future.

pin image for national civil rights museum with kids

Though we’ve driven through Memphis several times, we’ve never made a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum underwent a MAJOR renovation in 2013-2014, and I knew it had to be one of our stops on this trip (2015). We bought a membership before we left because a family membership was cheaper than paying for all of us to get in! This is no longer the case, although the membership is definitely worth it if you’re planning to visit more than once a year.

Lorraine Motel sign with smiling kids

The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968. While the museum covers his life and death, it also provides a comprehensive explanation of the entire American civil rights movement.

the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated

As could be expected for a museum of this type, some of the exhibits’ materials are of a sensitive nature. There is a phenomenal family guide available that walks you through those sensitive materials and encourages talking to your kids about what could be troubling content.

MLK memorial plaque at the Lorraine Motel where he was shot

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated while speaking with colleagues on the balcony of his hotel room at the Lorraine Motel. The wreath is a permanent fixture on the railing where he was shot.

National Civil Rights Museum window where MLK was shot from

“I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the Promised Land”- Martin Luther King Jr, the day before his assassination.
James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King with a single rifle shot from the bathroom window (the window on the far right) of a rooming house across the street from where King was staying.  While Ray was arrested and convicted, conspiracy theories abound and can be explored in the Legacy Building.

View from the window from which MLK was shot

This is the view from the window next to the bathroom window in the rooming house.  The bathroom itself and the bathroom window have been preserved and encased in glass- you can’t go in, but you can look in and see what it looked like on that fateful day over 50 years ago.

National Civil Rights Museum signage regarding slavery

The inside of the Lorraine Motel has been converted to an amazing museum, and it begins with a graphic look at the global impact of slavery.

4 kids at a soda shop counter pretending to do a sit-in

We learned about sit-ins and had a chance to sit on barstools at a replica 1960s lunch counter. This exhibit was nowhere near as intense as the one at the Center For Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, but the video footage playing on the wall does show a great deal of violence.

Replica Birmingham jail cells National Civil Rights Museum with kids

The kids ended up jailed in Birmingham, which they thought was fun, and as an adult, brought back memories of being in the jail cells at Alcatraz.

4 kids in the back of the bus

All the kids squished in the back of the bus (with Rosa Parks at the front). While some of these exhibits touched on aspects of the Civil Rights Movement that they’ve heard of, like Rosa Parks and the bus, others were completely new information and opened up the door for more discussion.

National Civil Rights Museum with kids

We had the chance to watch civil rights news on TV, and the kids were both shocked and appalled that back in the day, TVs really were that small AND the programming wasn’t in color.

Protesters and marchers at National Civil Rights Museum

We learned about the March on Washington in 1963 and the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968.

Interactive exhibits at National Civil Rights Museum with kids

The kids LOVED all of the interactive displays- museums are a lot more fun when you can touch and interact with the material. Ellie’s favorite was the phone with a recording of President Johnson and King discussing the Voting Rights Act.  Technically she didn’t listen to any of the recordings because she had the phone upside down, but she did say “hi” a lot. Ben and Lexie liked the “Join the Movement” smart table and learned about women’s rights and poverty. Nick really liked the typewriter from the voter registration exhibit (mainly because he really wants a typewriter).

Lorraine Motel sign on a blue sky day in Memphis

The museum ends with a look at the preserved Room 306- the room that King was staying in on his trip to Memphis. While I think that our kids had a relatively good understanding of the civil rights movement both from school and from being exposed to it at home (we do like our documentaries and American history!), this museum brought it to life and showcased the cruel injustices in American history in a way that they had never seen before.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel sign

The National Civil Rights Museum was one of the highlights of our trip, and we will definitely be back again. We spent about two hours exploring the museum and grounds, but you could easily spend four to five hours if you want to read everything.


  • The museum has reopened!!
  • Timed tickets are sold online, and walk-ups are taken based on availability.
  • Adults are $17, Seniors 55+ are $15, Kids ages 5-17 are $14, and 4 and under are free.
  • Free parking is available – to access the lot, turn north on Mulberry St from G.E. Patterson Ave.
  • The Family Guide is a must-read if you’re bringing younger kids.

Top Five Things to Do in Pigeon Forge for Families

With a wide range of attractions- including a theme park, dinner shows galore, and access to one of the best National Parks in the country, there’s truly something for everyone in Pigeon Forge! Since it’s only about four hours from our house, it’s one of our favorite places to get away for a long weekend– or even longer because there’s so much to do!

There's so much for families to do in Pigeon Forge and the opportunities to make memories are endless; pack up the kids and embark on a Pigeon Forge adventure!This post is sponsored by the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism. For more information on Pigeon Forge, visit their official website. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.


Five smiling kids standing in front of the Dollywood sign.

You can’t go to Pigeon Forge and NOT go to Dollywood– well, you can, I just wouldn’t recommend it! It’s the first place that our kids wanted to go in Pigeon Forge and it did not disappoint. With thrilling rides (including rides for the younger crowd), amazing food, and great entertainment, Dollywood is the perfect place to spend a couple of days!

Giant wooden roller coaster in front of green trees. Lightnin' Rod at Dollywood.

Dollywood opens for the season in March and is open until just after the new year. One of our favorite rides, Lightning Rod, was the world’s first launch wooden coaster. Even though it doesn’t have any inversions, this one still packs a punch!

The Dollywood Express (big black train) running through Dollywood with billowing black smoke, amidst the green trees and flowers.

Dollywood manages to combine thrilling new rides and old-time charm into one BEAUTIFUL park. The grounds are vibrant and well-maintained and the theming is exceptional. Soaking up the atmosphere is part of the fun of visiting.

Amazing Dollywood cinnamon bread in front of the Grist Mill

You absolutely should not miss the world-famous cinnamon bread from the Grist Mill. You can order it to enjoy right away or get it packaged to go- and honestly, just do one of each- it’s that good!!

The Old Mill

Five smiling kids in front of the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge.

Our family loves to incorporate historical attractions whenever possible while traveling and at home. The Old Mill, a water-powered gristmill, is a Smoky Mountain treasure and is the only building in Pigeon Forge listed on the National Register of Historic Places! A gristmill is any mill that grinds grain and the one in Pigeon Forge is nearly 200 years old.

Young girl and miller tying bags of cornmeal in an old mill

Inside the mill, the millers fill the bags of stone-ground grain by hand, just like it’s been done for the last 190 years. Working 6 days a week, the millers bag about 1000 pounds of stone-ground grain a day- some of it is cornmeal, some are grits, some are mixes, and all are delicious!

Corn being ground into cornmeal

In addition to learning how the mill operates, we also learned about the history of the building. Would you ever have guessed that The Old Mill was the site of the first Post Office in Pigeon Forge?! The Old Mill is full of Pigeon Forge history from the front door that served as a notice post in the 1800s to the third floor that was a Civil War hospital. It’s definitely worth a stop on your Pigeon Forge trip!

Drive through Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Five smiling kids in front of Clingmans Dome- the highest point in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Part of the appeal of Pigeon Forge is the proximity to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There’s plenty to do in Pigeon Forge without ever venturing into the park, but IT IS the most visited National Park in the country for a reason.

Snow and ice covered walkway up to Clingmans Dome.

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in GSMNP and well worth the drive. Make sure to check the road conditions before heading out because it’s only open from spring through late fall (depending on the snowfall). We went in mid-April, and while it was totally green throughout GSMNP, as soon as we started climbing toward Clingmans Dome, the trees were covered in ice. The half-mile hike up to the observation tower is paved but oh my gosh, it is STEEP!! The climb gradient is nearly 13% and man, I could feel it, but the views are totally worth the hike!

Beautiful sunrise over fields in Cades Cove, part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Another popular Great Smoky Mountain National Park stop is Cades Cove and it’s especially beautiful at sunrise! The Cades Cove Loop road officially opens at sunrise so make sure to check times if you’re planning to go early. We were the only people on the road for this mid-April sunrise and the stillness was amazing.

Deer hanging out on the side of the road in GSMNP.

Like many animals in a national park, the deer were accustomed to vehicles and did not frighten easily. However, they are still wild animals and should be treated accordingly so stay in your car and leave them alone. As we drove around Cades Cove, we saw more deer and turkeys than I can count…

2 bear cubs climbing a tree with mama bear watching from the ground.

And then we finally saw what we’d been searching for… BEARS!! Or rather, we saw a bunch of cars pulled over to the side of the road (so we did the same), and then we saw a group of photographers with BIIIIIG lenses- so we hopped out to check out what was going on. The group of photogs was kind enough to point out the cubs scampering up the tree and mama bear watching from the bottom and we watched in awe for about an hour as the cubs went up and down the tree.

Check Out a Dinner Show

Pirates Voyage dinner show- acrobatics

Dinner shows are big in Pigeon Forge and there are plenty of options including the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show, Dolly Parton’s Stampede, and the Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show. I’m bummed that we didn’t have time to try them all- I guess we’ll have to go back again soon- but Pirates Voyage was fantastic!

Young girl watching the Pirates Voyage dinner show

Enjoy a four-course feast while watching all the swashbuckling action and amazing stunts. The kids were seriously enthralled with the show, like to the point that I had to remind them to eat their feast!

Pirate themed dinner show featuring acrobatics and stunts.

Our kids LOVED the aerial stunts- watching the pirates do these giant flips and acrobatics was amazing. We had so much fun cheering along with our team; the competition aspect really gets the audience involved!

See Snow!

Three smiling kids in front of giant icicles in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Since it’s located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge does get occasional snowfall in the winter, but did you know that you can play in the snow year-round?! Pigeon Forge Snow is the first indoor snow park in the United States and it is open all year. There’s tubing and a HUGE snow play area so that you can get your winter weather fix, even in July!

There’s honestly SO MUCH to do in Pigeon Forge and the opportunities to make memories are endless. It’s one of those places that you can have a fantastic visit on your first time in town or your fiftieth! Have you been to Pigeon Forge before?? Where do you want to go first??

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies | Gatlinburg, TN

We never would have thought that the landlocked Tenessee would have a great aquarium, but Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the most popular attractions in Gatlinburg and for good reason! Located on Gatlinburg Parkway, in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a fun place to spend a few hours on your next trip to the Smoky Mountains.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is great for fun in Gatlinburg with kids

Thanks to Visit Gatlinburg for hosting us on our Spring in the Smokies getaway. We received complimentary admission to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies but as always, all opinions are honest and my own.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies entrance

We walked across the street to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies after our rainy morning at Anakeesta. It seemed like everyone else in Gatlinburg had the same idea since it’s one of the few indoor attractions in town and it had been raining all morning. The line wrapped around a few times but moved quickly and before long we were getting up close and personal with the fishies.

Gatlinburg aquarium

Every time we go to an aquarium, we HAVE to get a picture of the five kids in front of the giant aquarium wall. It’s so much fun to look back at them and compare how big the kids have gotten over the years. Because of all the rain, the aquarium was PACKED and parts seemed to have wall-to-wall people but for whatever reason, the crowds parted and I was able to easily get this picture which totally made my day!

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies tunnels

One of my favorite things about Ripley’s Aquariums (including Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach) are the tunnels through the Shark Lagoon. It’s not very often that you can go underwater without getting wet and get a totally new perspective of the creatures swimming beneath the surface.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is one of our favorite things to do in Gatlinburg with kids.

We absolutely lucked out and they were having issues with the moving walkway through the Shark Lagoon so we were able to go at our own pace. The kids LOVED watching the fish swim around, especially as they swam right over their heads!

Touching the rays at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg

Like most kids, ours love Touch-A-Ray-Bay and we spent more time here than any other place in the aquarium (with the exception of Shark Lagoon). You can reach over the low walls – or lay on them if you prefer – and touch a stingray as it glides by. For an additional charge, you can actually get into the water with the stingrays for a much more immersive experience (Splash With Stingrays)! Have you ever touched a stingray? Would you hop into the water with one??

We had a great time at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and I suspect it will continue as a must-do on future trips to Gatlinburg. It’s not the biggest or most elaborate aquarium in the country, but it’s entertaining and a great way to spend a few hours. We went on a rainy day and while it was nice to have somewhere indoors to get away from the bad weather, everyone else had the same idea and it was significantly more crowded than usual. If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, go first thing in the morning and don’t go when the weather is bad outside.

What’s your favorite aquarium? We’re always looking for new places to explore!!

Dollywood for Families | Pigeon Forge, TN

Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll find the award-winning Dollywood, a theme park that will satisfy any thrill junkie as well as entertain the younger set. While the park went through several name/ownership changes from its opening in the 1960s, it’s been operating as Dollywood since the 1986 season. Once considered a regional park, Dollywood now draws crowds from around the world and has nearly three million visitors annually.

Dollywood for Families

A huge thanks to Dollywood for hosting us for the day. We received complimentary admission but all opinions are honest and my own.

Dollywood for Families

The kids, especially Nick, have been begging to go to Dollywood for the past few years, so they were super excited to check out the park. While we go to Disney (World and Land) fairly often, the older kids love the bigger thrills and number of roller coasters at parks like Dollywood.

Lightning Rod Dollywood

We started the day with Lightning Rod, the world’s first launched wooden coaster, since it’s one of the most popular rides in the park and we knew it would have a long line later in the day. That turned out to be a great decision since it had a 60-minute wait in the afternoon!

Dollywood with Kids

Since Ellie wasn’t tall enough for this one, we mapped out our day while Jacob took the big kids and they all gave Lightning Rod two thumbs up! We could have used Parent Swap (more details to follow) in this situation so that both adults could ride, but I wanted to move on to something that the whole family could enjoy.

Dollywood with preschoolers

Rockin’ Roadway was next on the to-do list since it was something that Ellie could ride, too. Ellie (and even the big kids!) had fun driving the classic cars around Jukebox Junction.

Dollywood water rides

We continued counter-clockwise around the park to Smoky Mountain River Rampage, a white water rafting adventure full of twists and turns and LOTS of water! The rafts only seat six so I volunteered to skip this one so that we didn’t have to split the family into two rafts, plus it meant that I stayed dry while everyone else was soaked. Win-win for me!

Dollywood train

The Dollywood Express, a twenty-minute train ride through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, should not be missed. The fully narrated train ride takes you across the park as well as through some beautiful Smoky Mountain scenery. We even caught a glimpse of the newest area of Dollywood, Wildwood Grove, which opens on May 11.

Dollywood with preschoolers

I love that Dollywood has rides for the preschool (and younger) set interspersed with the thrill rides. Even though Ellie (at 42 inches) wasn’t tall enough to ride everything, there were enough rides that she could go on, like the Village Carousel, that she didn’t feel left out.

Dollywood with kids

On Sky Rider, you soar 70 feet in the air and have control of the rudders making each ride a different experience! This one is not for the faint of heart since you’re up in the air and spinning the whole time.

What to eat at Dollywood

We decided to have a late lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham & Beans, and we definitely made a good choice! We love doing sit-down/full-service meals for lunch because it can be a great break during the heat of the day and it’s a great opportunity for us to map out are afternoon plan.

what to eat at dollywood

Instead of each person ordering their own meal, we ordered several options and enjoyed them family-style. I love doing that, especially when we go somewhere new because we’re able to try a greater variety of meals and we waste less food. We ordered two of the Fronie’s Sampler (slow cooked beef, pit ham, mashed potatoes, turnip green, coleslaw, and Granny Ogle’s pinto beans seasoned with ham) and one Meatloaf Stacker (meatloaf with brown sugar tomato glaze topped with mashed potatoes and served on butter crust bread with coleslaw and beans). It was all delicious though I think the Meatloaf Stacker was the winner with our crew- unless you ask Ellie, in which case the beans were bowl-licking delicious and the only thing she wanted to eat!

Dollywood Grist Mill

We were excited to see the Grist Mill at Dollywood, especially since we did the tour at The Old Mill the day before! Just like at The Old Mill, the grist mill at Dollywood grinds corn and wheat and is powered by a giant water wheel.

Dollywood Cinnamon Bread

Inside the Grist Mill, the bakers make cinnamon bread and cookies by hand and you can watch them while you wait in line. This place definitely does have a line that can go out the door (we probably waited about twenty minutes) but it moves quickly and it is SO. WORTH. IT.

Dollywood Cinnamon Bread

When it’s your turn to order, make sure that you get the world-famous cinnamon bread. You can order it to enjoy right away or get it packaged to take home– you better believe we did both! For a bit extra you can get icing or homemade apple butter to have with the bread and you can’t go wrong with either (or both!).

Dollywood with preschoolers

While Jacob took the big kids on a couple of the big roller coasters, Ellie and I waited by the Grist Mill to get pictures of the train passing by. She’s finally old enough that she can help out with the blog/social media by taking pictures on my iPhone while I take some on my DSLR. Train photo credit goes to Ellie!

Dollywood with Preschoolers

We did have a few tears in the afternoon because I thought that Ellie was tall enough for Blazing Fury (42-inch height requirement) but she was just a SMIDGE too short. However, it did give us a chance to try out Dollywood’s Parent Swap. After waiting in the line as a group, Jacob took the big kids on the ride while Ellie and I waited near the exit, then we swapped and I took the big kids on the ride again (note: other group members are not ALWAYS permitted to ride again) while he took Ellie outside.

We made the Fire Chaser Express our next stop since it only has a 39-inch height requirement. Ellie was thrilled that she could go on a “big” roller coaster and absolutely LOVED it! It was the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster and goes forwards AND backwards!

Dollywood Mystery Mine

Mystery Mine is the main reason that Nick has been begging to go to Dollywood and I have been hearing about this ride non-stop for the past several years.

Dollywood with Kids

Mystery Mine, the heavily themed ride through an abandoned mine is absolutely thrilling! While it’s not the fastest or longest ride in the park, but because you ride in an 8-person mine cart instead of a traditional coaster train, it really ups the thrill factor and it was the absolute favorite ride of the day for our coaster enthusiasts!

Dollywood with Preschoolers

We wrapped up the day with a ride on the Whistle Punk Chaser, or rather the kids did! This junior coaster is perfect for the preschool crowd and is a great introduction to the bigger coasters that Dollywood has to offer.

Dollywood with Kids

Thanks again to Dollywood for a fantastic day! We were at the park from open to close (10am-7pm) and definitely didn’t have time to see or do it all. Even with a great game plan, you’ll have to pick and choose if you’re going to do Dollywood in one day- we definitely recommend doing at least two!

Things to Remember When You Go To Dollywood

  • Dollywood is open from March through the end of the year. Make sure to check the Dollywood Operating Calendar for all the details about opening dates and hours.
  • If you want to exit and return later the same day, get your hand stamped on the way out and then scan your ticket for re-entry.
  • If you’re planning to visit for more than two days in a season, go with a Dollywood season pass and save some money! Plus, you’re entitled to additional discounts and perks.
  • Make sure to utilize Parent Swap if you have little ones in your group. This ensures that all of the adults get a chance to ride and eliminates the need to wait in line twice!

Best Places to Eat in the Smokies

One of the most common questions we get asked is where do we like to eat when we travel. We try and avoid national chains and eat at local places as much as possible so that we can get a real taste of where we are. But at the same time, as a family of seven with kids ranging from 5-15, we definitely take into account the average meal price since meals for 7 can add up quickly. After visiting the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area several times over the past few years, we can confidently say that these are the best places to eat in the Smokies!

Places to eat in the Smokies

Best Breakfast Buffet in the Smokies

best breakfast gatlinburg

A big thanks to Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que for hosting us for breakfast. We received a complimentary meal but all of my opinions are honest and my own.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and what better way to start your busy day in the Smokies, than with a hearty breakfast buffet at Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que. With locations in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, you’re never far away from the best breakfast buffet in the Smokies. And, they have pulled pork and smoked sausage on the buffet making it a great option for a late breakfast that also serves as lunch! One of our favorite ways to keep dining costs down when we’re traveling is to have a BIG breakfast at around 1030am and then we can just have an afternoon snack instead of lunch- we employ the same tactic when we’re at Disney, too!

best breakfast buffet smokies

New to the Bennett’s breakfast buffet is the Belgian waffle bar! The kids loved making their own waffles and then topping them with chocolate chips, caramel, and fruit. We have a waffle maker at home, but we don’t pull it out as often as the kids would like, nor do we have such fun toppings. Fancy waffles are a vacation treat and the ones at Bennett’s did not disappoint!

Best Pizza in the Smokies

best pizza in gatlinburg

Pizza is one of our go-to dinner choices when we’re on vacation. If you follow Love Dwells Here on Instagram, you know that Friday Night Pizza Night is a big thing at our house (and if you don’t follow us, you should!), but at home, we usually just keep it simple and get pepperoni pizza. When we’re out of town, we step up the pizza game and try new things and Big Daddy’s Pizzeria was the perfect choice for our pizza fix!

We visited the Sevierville location because it was closest to our resort, but they also have locations in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. We always order a pepperoni pizza so that we can compare across pizzerias- the crust had a nice snap and the sauce was tasty so it was already a winner in our book! We also ordered the Taco Pie (refried beans, ground beef, cheddar cheese, cooked warm and yummy, then topped with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, jalapeños and cheese sauce) and the Bee Sting (marinara, mozzarella-provolone blend, Genoa salami, and red pepper flakes baked and then topped with honey). All 3 were delicious but the Bee Sting was the clear winner with our crew!

Best Comfort Food in the Smokies

old mill restaurant pigeon forge

Also, thanks to The Old Mill for hosting us for a delicious dinner. We received a complimentary meal but all opinions are honest and my own.

After our amazing tour of the gristmill at The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, we returned later in the week for dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant. They specialize in hearty, Southern comfort food, and wow, it was amazing! Dinner at the Old Mill starts with a cup of corn chowder, a house side salad and their AWESOME corn fritters with maple butter.

old mill restaurant pigeon forge

Entrees are served individually but the green beans and homemade mashed potatoes are served family style (and you can get more if you’re so inclined). We ordered the Southern Fried Pork Chops, Southern Country Fried Steak, Homemade Meatloaf, BBQ Country Ribs, and the Fried Gulf Shrimp, but I’m not sure that we could pick a clear favorite!

old mill restaurant pigeon forge

Every dinner entree also includes dessert! When we were there, the dessert choices were: blackberry cobbler à la mode, pecan pie, banana pudding, and chocolate cake. They received rave reviews from our crew and they were the perfect end to an amazing dinner.

Best Island Inspired Food in the Smokies

Landshark Grill Gatlinburg

The Landshark Bar & Grill is part of the new Margaritaville Resort in Downtown Gatlinburg and serves up island-inspired fare every day. In addition to having Landshark on tap, they have a full bar and an extensive drink menu. We had the Hawaiian Luau Burger- complete with grilled pineapple!- and the Jerk Chicken Wrap and would definitely order both again! While Landshark doesn’t scream “mountain cuisine,” it was a nice change of pace and a delicious meal.

Best Barbecue in the Smokies

corky's ribs pigeon forge

Thanks to Corky’s for hosting us for dinner; while we received a complimentary meal, all opinions are honest and my own.

We’ve been fans of Corky’s Ribs and BBQ since we first visited the original Memphis location in 2015, so we were super excited when we found out that there was a Corky’s in Pigeon Forge! Their perfectly smoked ribs are always a crowd-pleaser- Jacob likes his “dry” and Nick and Ben split a rack of “muddy” ribs. The pulled pork loaded baked potato was delicious, as always!

corky's pigeon forge

Ellie ordered chicken tenders but as soon as the ribs came out, she changed her mind- lucky for her, she has a nice dad! Lexie went with the barbecue chicken wings and declared them her absolute favorite wings EVER!

Best Breakfast in the Smokies

crockett's gatlinburg

On the main drag of Gatlinburg, Crockett’s Breakfast Camp is one of our favorite restaurants and we go for breakfast each and every time we’re in town! After spending several hours driving the Cades Cove Loop, the kids were starving so we headed over to Crockett’s for a late breakfast. We arrived a little after 11 and didn’t have to wait long for a table, which was a nice change of pace– normally we get there around 9am and have an hour(ish) wait! Crockett’s Breakfast Camp is known for their griddle cakes; they’re easily an inch thick and oh, so delicious!

best breakfast in gatlinburg

My absolute favorite breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp: Grandma Hattie’s French Toast topped with bananas and brown sugar. OMG, this is the stuff dreams are made of!

Best Donuts in the Smokies

Donut Friar Gatlinburg

Tucked away in The Village Shops in Downtown Gatlinburg, is a tiny shop serving the best donuts around. The Donut Friar, a Gatlinburg institution, makes the most delicious donuts and pastries fresh each and every morning and opens daily at 5am. We lucked out and arrived just as a large group was leaving so we had the place to ourselves for a bit. During peak season, the line snakes out the door with people waiting for a taste of their amazing donuts and world-famous cinnamon bread.

best donuts smokies

If you go early (before 9am) it’s free to park on the Parkway, and you stand a much better chance of being greeted by a full display case of treats before they start to sell out of the most popular flavors. The donuts really are worth getting up early and making a special trip into Gatlinburg to grab a dozen and then enjoying them in the comfort of your resort or cabin!

There are so many choices when it comes to restaurants in the Smokies and while we haven’t tried them all (or even close to it!) these have been some of our favorites thus far! We hope that you’ll check them out– and let us know what you think when you do!

Do you have any favorites in the Smokies? Recommendations for places we should check out on our next trip??

More About Visiting the Smokies:

Anakeesta: Family Fun in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is one of the most popular tourist towns in Tennessee, and it is packed full of attractions. Since there’s so much to do, it can be hard to know where to go first, especially if you’ve never been! Here’s the list of our top five Gatlinburg attractions, but newcomer Anakeesta probably deserves the crown as our all-time fave!

Anakeesta Gatlinburg

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting LDH!!

A huge thanks to Visit Gatlinburg for hosting us on our Spring in the Smokies getaway. We received complimentary admission to Anakeesta, but as always, all opinions are honest and my own.

What Is Anakeesta?

Anakeesta is a magical place, high up in the mountains above Gatlinburg. There’s truly something for everyone with shops, food and drink, and family-friendly activities like the Tree Canopy Walk and Rail Runner. As of May 2022, tickets are:

  • $32.99 for adults
  • $19.99 for kids 4-11 (3 and under are free!)
  • $25.99 for seniors (60+)
  • There’s also an annual pass option ($59.99 for adults) that gives you unlimited access to the Chondola for a year and a 20% discount on many of the activities!

Anakeesta Chondola

Currently, there are two ways to get to all of the fun at Anakeesta. The first is to ride the one-of-a-kind Chondola to the top of Anakeesta Mountain- you can choose between the open-air 4-person chairlift or 6-person enclosed gondola. As part of the 2019-2020 expansion, Anakeesta added another way to reach the top – a drive through the forest in a military truck! The Ridge Rambler is included in the price of admission, and you can ride as many times as you’d like.

Anakeesta Gatlinburg

The only day that we had available to visit Anakeesta turned out to be dreadfully rainy. While it did limit our ability to explore everything Anakeesta has to offer, it also meant that we dealt with way fewer crowds.

As a family of seven, we opted for two of the enclosed gondolas, mainly due to the rain. Even with the poor weather, the chairlift was still an option, but no one in our group wanted to get THAT wet! Now, it is important to mention that one side of the gondola is open (for ventilation, I assume), so the people sitting on that side did get a bit wet.

Firefly Village

Anakeesta Firefly Village

Once you’re at the top of Anakeesta Mountain, you’re in the whimsical Firefly Village, high above the town of Gatlinburg. There are Adirondack chairs for relaxing, a firepit perfect for making s’mores (when it’s not raining), shops, restaurants, and AMAZING views of the Smoky Mountains.

Anakeesta Gatlinburg

The Children’s Treehouse Village Playground looked like so much fun and somewhere we could have easily spent a couple of hours. We only skipped it because it was pouring rain, but I know the kids, especially Ellie, would have loved playing there.

Firefly Village also offers the Dueling Zipline and Rail Runner (mountain coaster) for an additional charge. While the Dueling Zipline was open even with the rain, it’s an extra $59.99 per person, which adds up really quickly for a family of 7, so we decided to skip it this time. The Rail Runner was closed due to rain, though the extra $15 per person would have been easier to swallow!

Anakeesta Tree Canopy Walk

Anakeesta Tree Canopy Walk

Even though it was raining, like pouring rain, not just a drizzle, the kids still wanted to do the Tree Canopy Walk. Ellie begged and pleaded to go with them, but I had her hang out with me because I was concerned she wouldn’t be able to complete the walk in the rain. There’s no age/height requirement, but kiddos do need to be able to walk unassisted and cannot be carried.

Anakeesta Gatlinburg

The big kids set out with Jacob and headed across the first bridge, high above the forest floor.

Anakeesta Tree Canopy Walk

The Tree Canopy Walk is a series of 16 bridges and observation platforms 40-60 feet above the forest floor. While they could easily manage the bridges, they said that many spots were quite slippery, and Ellie would have had trouble. In hindsight, I wish they had worn their hiking boots instead of just their regular tennis shoes.

Anakeesta Gatlinburg

We had the Tree Canopy Walk to ourselves for over an hour because of all the rain, which allowed the kids to stop and take in the views. I’ve heard you can even see animals out there from time to time- even bears!

Anakeesta Tree Canopy Walk

Every so often, clouds would settle on the mountain, making it harder to see the kids crossing the bridges from my vantage point. They thought it was awesome to be walking through the clouds!

Eats at Anakeesta

Anakeesta Ice Cream

After the Tree Canopy Walk, we made a quick stop at Pearl’s Pie in the Sky and had ice cream for lunch- always a vacation must-do for our family! These single-scoop waffle cones were only $4 each, perhaps the best deal on ice cream in Gatlinburg! Plus, they serve Blue Bell ice cream!!

We were initially planning to check out the BBQ at Anakeesta Smokehouse, but we didn’t stay as long as we’d planned due to the rain. It’s definitely on the list to try next time we visit! The menu at Cliff Top Grill & Bar looked great as well with their 1/2 pound char-grilled burgers- definitely something that our crew would love. Kids’ meals at both Anakeesta Smokehouse and Cliff Top Grill & Bar are only about $10 each, so they’re both reasonable price-wise, even for bigger families!

Goodbye, Anakeesta

Anakeesta Gatlinburg

Since it was still raining, we decided to call it a day at Anakeesta and headed back down the mountain in an enclosed gondola. One of the best things about Anakeesta is that your ticket is good for the whole day! I’d recommend getting there first thing in the morning to beat the crowds and do the Tree Canopy Walk with fewer people and then going back in the evening for the firepit and sunset views. We had a fantastic time at Anakeesta – even with the rain! We’ll definitely be back again to explore everything that we missed!

The Old Mill | Pigeon Forge, TN

I’m a HUGE fan of US History so I take every opportunity to incorporate a history lesson into our traveling. The Old Mill, a water-powered gristmill, is a Smoky Mountain landmark and chock-full of history- in fact, it’s the only building in Pigeon Forge listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking yourself “What in the world is a gristmill?” I was surprised to learn that it’s any mill that grinds grain- but historically, it refers to those in small farming communities where the farmers could bring their grain and get back the ground meal/flour minus the “miller’s toll”.

Old Mill Pigeon Forge

A huge thanks to The Old Mill for hosting us on this tour and showing us around Old Mill Square! As always, all opinions are honest and my own.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

We met up with Jimmy here on the front porch of the Old Mill General Store and after a round of introductions, we jumped right into the history of The Old Mill. The original plot of land belonged to the Revolutionary War veteran, Mordecai Lewis, who moved to Tennessee from the Shenandoah Valley (VA). Following his death in 1817, his son-in-law, Isaac Love, constructed an iron forge on the land.

In 1830, the water-powered gristmill was built next to the iron forge by Love’s son, William. The new gristmill allowed local farmers to grind their grain (corn, wheat, rye, and buckwheat), and also served as a gathering spot for those living in the area or just passing through.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge gristmill

As soon as you walk through the front door of the mill, you’re greeted by bags of cornmeal, grits, and all the mixes they make with them, and the millers working away. Just like in the 19th century, the work is done by the resident millers that fill, weigh, and tie each and every bag of stone ground grain.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

Miller Chuck showed us how to tie the bags of grain and then let the kids try their hand at it! The “Miller’s Knot” is not quite as easy as the millers make it look but with some practice, the kids got the hang of it- and they still remembered how to tie it once we were home!!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge gristmill

The millers bag about 1000 pounds of stone ground grain, six days a week!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

We headed into the back with Miller Chuck to see how the pair of one-ton French Buhr millstones grind the corn. The husked and dried corn is dropped by gravity into the feed-shoe and then goes through the central hole and is ground between the runner and bedstone before coming out ground- and the whole thing is powered by water!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge gristmill

The stone ground grits are coarsely ground the old-fashioned way and are the most popular product from The Old Mill; they’re a popular dish at The Old Mill Restaurant, too!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

In addition to corn, The Old Mill also makes wheat flour the old-fashioned way.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

Stamps and labels for many of The Old Mill’s products line the walls. I love that everything is done by hand- nothing is commercially produced here!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge history

The stairs, and really everything in the mill, are covered in a fine, flour-y dust. In 1841, the first Post Office in Pigeon Forge opened, with William Love as the first postmaster, and it stood in the corner where the stairs to the second floor are today. When the Post Office opened, the town was officially named Pigeon Forge after the iron forge located on the bank of the Little Pigeon River (which was named after the pigeons that roosted in the trees along the river on their southern migration).

The door to the mill was used as a notice post and you can still feel the nail holes from all the notices that hung from it over the past (almost!) two hundred years. Births, marriages, Declarations of War, and the lists of those that were called to serve, as well as those that made the ultimate sacrifice, were posted on the door for the whole community to see. That door was really the Facebook of its time!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge waterwheel

The shafts, belts, and pulleys within the mill are still powered by the giant water wheel and at the end of their day, the millers use this iron lever (made by an apprentice in the iron forge) to turn off the wheel.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

After making grits and cornmeal (and supplying the distillery with corn mash), what is left of the corn then goes to farmers to use as feed. Nothing is wasted here!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge history

Tennessee is home to the second most Civil War sites and battlefields in the country (following only Virginia) and though no Civil War battles were actually fought in Pigeon Forge, The Old Mill has a rich Civil War history. Loyalties in the Confederate state of Tennessee were divided with Western and Middle Tennessee supporting secession and Eastern Tennessee remaining pro-Union. Those living in the Smoky Mountain area tried to stay neutral for as long as possible.

While neighboring Gatlinburg was eventually occupied by Confederate troops, The Old Mill helped the Union, thanks to the owner, John Sevier Trotter, an ardent Union supporter. The third floor of the mill (pictured above) was used as a hospital for Union troops and looms were installed on the second floor so that the women in town could make uniforms for the Union.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

Once we were done exploring inside the mill, we headed outside and down to the river.

Little Pigeon River

The kids had a blast skipping rocks from the riverbanks- in fact, they asked several times during our trip if we could go back for more rock skipping fun!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

The remnants of the old iron forge are to the far left- it was dismantled and sold in the late 19th century. The Old Mill is one of the most photographed mills in the country and it’s not hard to see why- especially with such cute kids posing on the rocks!

pigeon river pottery

We made our way through Old Mill Square to Pigeon River Pottery and watched Jason work his magic with clay. The potters have been making one-of-a-kind hand-crafted pottery here for over 70 years

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

It was mesmerizing watching him turn the 4-pound balls of clay into bread bowls.

pigeon river pottery

He did one after another with such speed and skill- he probably completed about ten of them while we chatted and watched. The kids had so many questions about pottery and he patiently answered each and every one- yes he enjoys it, yes it took a lot of practice, and yes the clay feels weird- kind of like cold peanut butter!

old forge distillery moonshine

And finally, we made our way to Old Forge Distillery where the kids learned ALL about how to make moonshine– and received a great chemistry lesson from the Head Distiller. They use freshly-ground grain from The Old Mill to craft their small-batch moonshine.

old forge distillery moonshine

The Tasting Bar at Old Forge Distillery is open daily. The moonshine tastings are free though there is a small charge if you want to try the bourbon, rum or vodka. We’ve done several moonshine tastings in the Smoky Mountains area (moonshine is a way of life here!) and I can say without a doubt that Old Forge Moonshine is the best!

We had a fantastic afternoon touring Old Mill Square and I highly recommend it if you’re in the area! The kids were a bit hesitant at first, especially since we were having so much fun in Gatlinburg, but as soon as the tour started, they were captivated and wanted to know more. I love when they’re full of questions because that engagement leads to understanding and retaining the information.

Do you incorporate educational activities into your vacations? If so, do you have any recommendations for places we should check out??

Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is one of our favorite getaways for a long weekend or even for a full week + because there’s so much to do there! It’s only about four hours away from us PLUS we get to go through Great Smoky Mountain National Park on our drive to Gatlinburg. We just got back from our Spring in the Smokies trip over spring break and we had so much fun exploring Gatlinburg and spending time together as a family. There are so many fun things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids and we always make sure to check out some new (to us!) attractions while still visiting our old favorites.

Things to do in Gatlinburg with kids

A huge thanks to Visit Gatlinburg for hosting us on our Spring in the Smokies getaway. We received complimentary admission to the attractions listed but all opinions are honest and my own.


Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, affectionately referred to as the Gatlinburg Aquarium by our crew, is one of those places that we visit each and every time we’re in Gatlinburg. Even though there were no big additions since our last visit, it’s still a fun aquarium to explore- and we HAD to update our picture of the kids in front of the giant wall of fish.

Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids

The tunnel through Shark Lagoon is one of our favorite parts of the aquarium. You hop on the moving walkways and travel through 340 feet of underwater tunnels as schools of fish, sharks, and sawfish surround you.

Spring in the Smokies gatlinburg aquarium

Another favorite for our family is Touch A Ray Bay where you can actually TOUCH a stingray. The kids love leaning over the edge and sticking their hands in the water for the chance to touch a stingray as it glides by.


Ripley's Mirror Maze

The rest of the attractions that we visited on this trip were new to us! We checked out Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, and the kids thought it was ah-MAZE-ing! I think they would have been content to spend the whole day there if we’d let them. Your ticket to the mirror maze gets you in as many times as you’d like for the entire day so we stopped by again after dinner for a few more trips through the maze which seemed like a fair compromise.

Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids

After getting suited up (in plastic gloves!) they entered the mirror maze and had to find their way through the twists and turns- and spinning doors! We were the only people in the mirror maze for about fifteen minutes so the kids were able to race through and compete to see who could complete the maze in the least amount of time. Ben was the winner in our group and finished in 18 seconds!



Another new to us attraction, Anakeesta, quickly became a family favorite and I can say without a doubt that we will be back! To get to the top of Anakeesta Mountain you board their one-of-a-kind Chondola- either a 4-person chairlift or 6-person enclosed gondola for the ride 600′ up the mountain. Since it was raining, we opted for the gondola, or rather two of them since we’re a family of seven. It is important to note that the backside is somewhat exposed for ventilation so the girls got a bit wet on our way up but they didn’t seem to mind.

Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids

Jacob took the big kids on the Tree Canopy Walk, a series of 16 connected bridges, 40-60 feet above the forest floor, and they had so much fun! While Ellie was big enough to go (there’s no height requirement other than they have to be able to walk unassisted and cannot be carried), I was concerned that it would be really slippery since it was pouring rain. It worked out for the best because it was a bit slippery/steep and she would have gotten soaked, and I already promised her that we’ll go again so that she can experience the Tree Canopy Walk, too!


Rowdy's Mountain Coaster

The Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster was a huge hit with our crew!

Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids

The gravity-propelled alpine mountain coaster goes up to 35 miles an hour is it twists and turns down the side of the mountain. Ellie wasn’t tall enough to ride alone (need to be 54″+), but she was tall enough to ride tandem with dad (38″+).

Spring in the Smokies

She had her hands up in the air the whole way down the mountain! The driver can control the speed by applying the brakes if needed, but I don’t think they used them at all!


Guinness World Records Gatlinburg

Another Ripley’s attraction, Guinness World Records Adventure was surprisingly fun! The kids got a kick out of seeing all the weird world records- and a bit grossed out by the longest fingernails.

Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids

Before you get started, you set up a pass with your profile so that if you do any of the Guinness World Record Offical Attempt activities, you can scan your pass and there’s a record. The fastest virtual hopscotch time was Lexie’s favorite and she did it over and over and over. The world record is just under 3 seconds and Lexie did it in a little over 4 seconds- not bad at all!

We had a great time exploring Gatlinburg on our Spring in the Smokies trip and added some new attractions to our must-do list (I’m lookin’ at you, Anakeesta!) for future trips. I love that our visits allow us to spend time together as a family and get out and explore all the fun things to do in Gatlinburg.

The Resort at Governor’s Crossing | Sevierville, TN

The Resort at Governor’s Crossing is a fantastic place to stay on your Smoky Mountain vacation and definitely somewhere to consider if you’ve ever asked yourself where to stay in the Smokies! It’s located in Sevierville, Tennessee, just outside all the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but within easy driving distance of all the fun. And there are great dining and entertainment options (including a HUGE outlet mall) within a mile of the resort so there’s plenty to do nearby.

Since we’re a family of seven, it can be very difficult for us to find resorts that accommodate our whole family in one room. Enter The Resort at Governor’s Crossing and their wide range of accommodations: they have king and queen studios as well as one, two and three bedroom condo units! The three bedroom condo sleeps up to 14 people comfortably making it perfect for a large family gathering or families traveling together. We stayed in a Two Bedroom Bunk Condo and it worked out absolutely perfect for our family of seven!

Resort at Governor's Crossing Pin

A huge thanks to the Resort at Governor’s Crossing for hosting us on our Spring in the Smokies getaway. We received a complimentary stay but all opinions are honest and my own.

Two Bedroom Bunk Condo
The Resort at Governor’s Crossing

Where to stay in the Smokies

I absolutely love staying in condo units because of the full kitchen and the one at The Resort at Governor’s Crossing did not disappoint! While I love checking out new restaurants when we’re traveling, I also love being able to save money by cooking in the room. We enjoyed breakfast in our room most mornings of the trip and the full-size refrigerator was big enough to hold everything we needed for a hearty breakfast- plus we had a full-size stove to cook on!

where to stay in the smokies

The living room was spacious and a welcome place to relax in the evenings after our full days exploring the Smokies. The couch was actually a sofa bed, meaning our Two Bedroom Bunk room could comfortably sleep up to 10!

Resort at Governor's Crossing condo

The master bedroom was nice and roomy and the bed was super comfortable– always important!! I hate sleeping in hotels where the mattresses aren’t comfortable and you don’t get a good night’s sleep!

where to stay in the smokies

One of my favorite things about the master bathroom was all the counter space on the vanity- Jake and I were able to spread our stuff out and it never felt cluttered!

Resort at Governor's Crossing

The second bedroom worked out great for the kids! The three boys had this room to themselves and definitely enjoyed their two queen beds and flat screen TV- and plenty of outlets for all of their electronic devices (or so I’m told!)!

Resort at Governor's Crossing

Perhaps my favorite thing about staying in a two-bedroom condo is the extra bathroom! With seven of us, the extra bathroom space isn’t just a want, it’s a NEED!!

Hanging Out at The Pool
The Resort at Governor’s Crossing

where to stay in the smokies

When we’re traveling with our crew of kids ranging from the preschooler to the teens, the pool scene is VERY important and The Resort at Governor’s Crossing does not disappoint on the pool front!

Resort at Governor's Crossing family-friendly resort

At the indoor pool complex, there’s a small kids’ area with water features and a small slide for the toddler set as well as lots of life jackets for the under 48″ crowd.

Resort at Governor's Crossing pool

There’s a super shallow, zero-entry pool with an umbrella water feature for the littlest ones and a regular pool for the bigger kids (and adults!).

Resort at Governor's Crossing waterslides

These two water slides start and end at the indoor pool, but actually leave the building! The kids had so much fun racing down the slides– tip, the yellow one is quicker!

Resort at Governor's Crossing

Once you venture outside, there’s a 250-foot lazy river that our kids had a blast on- they floated around and around and around.

where to stay in the smokies

But the outdoor kids’ area was probably the highlight for Ellie (and Ben and Lexie, too!). She had SO. MUCH. FUN. playing on the slides and we had to drag her away at the end of the day!

Resort at Governor's Crossing

There’s another big water slide for the 36″+ crowd at the outdoor pool along with plenty of room to play and swim, and another toddler pool with umbrella water feature.

In the Room
The Resort at Governor’s Crossing

family-friendly resort Sevierville TN

We brought along some board games to play in our room- the kids particularly enjoyed National Park Yahtzee!

Resort at Governor's Crossing

Since we had a full-size freezer, we stocked up on snacks to enjoy during our stay. There’s nothing like having a quick treat before bed when you’re on vacation!!

where to stay in the smokies

The girls slept on the bunk beds (located in the hallway) during our stay and LOVED not having to share space with the boys- and having a bit of space to themselves since they each had their own bed!

We would absolutely stay at The Resort at Governor’s Crossing again on a future trip to the Smokies! It was close enough to all of the action of Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge and allowed us to spread out and really enjoy our time in the room- plus, the kids LOVED spending an afternoon at the pools! If you’re looking for a family-friendly resort close to all of the action of the Smoky Mountains, then look no further!

Amazon Associates Disclosure

Love Dwells Here is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to