of J.B. TOLS.
I am an interior designer, photographer, blogger, advocate, adventurer, wife and mom to five boys. I love advocating for others and exploring new places--both near and far.

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Jennie

March 20, 2022

Home » Blog » RV Trip To The Great Smoky Mountains
An RV parked by a river

We had two options for Spring Break: an RV trip to the Great Smoky Mountains or fly to Saint Thomas Island. Since we would have to board our dog to fly to Saint Thomas, we opted for taking an RV; We thought that this would be a vacation that he–the dog– could participate in. That is how I ended up in an RV with four boys for a week in the Great Smokies.

**If you would be interested in finding out How Our Dog Nearly Died in The Great Smoky Mountains just click on the title.

Let the RV trip commence!

DAY ONE: Travel Day and Walmart Parking Lot

We were able to get our RV at 1:00 pm from Williamson RV in Seymour, Indiana. I chose to rent from an RV rental that was on our way to our destination to save mileage driven on the RV (you pay per mile). However, that didn’t turn out being the most efficient way of doing it. It may not have been so bad if I had my Suburban to haul all of our gear; however, my car ended up with a mechanic. So, I had to borrow my sons car and my moms truck to deliver our supplies to the RV. I would have done better at packing the RV if it had been sitting outside of my house.

The other concern for day one was that it was very cold and snow was in the forecast. I have watched too many videos of car pile ups on the interstate. So, I wanted to get on the road and get to our first stop as quickly as possible.

I didn’t have a campground or RV resort for day one. I knew that we would be getting to our destination late at night and it did not make sense to pay for a place to stay when we would be arriving so late. Plus, it is good etiquette to not pull into a campground so late at night.

SLEEPING IN AN RV IN 15 DEGREE WEATHER

On our way down, we stopped at a grocery store and did enough grocery shopping to keep the boys content. My plan was to sleep in a Walmart parking lot the first night. Then, wake up the next morning and do my final shopping. That ended up being a risky decision considering that the weather was going to dip down into the teens on our first night in the RV.

The very first page of the users guide that the RV rental gave me said that I was legally responsible to make sure that all of the liquid tanks on the RV (fresh water, black tank and gray tank) did not freeze. So, I watched a couple of YouTube videos on best practices to make sure that we were safe for the night. But, even with watching the videos and doing everything correctly, I could not sleep soundly that first night. Every sound that I heard had me awake inspecting the RV and the kids to make sure that everything and everyone was warm and comfortable.

While businesses such as Walmart, Bass Pro and others allow for RV overnights, I have to admit that I was a little skittish about staying out in the open. I was very aware of every sound most of the night. But, I did settle in and realize that we were going to be okay, eventually. There were a lot of third shift employees that were coming and going all night. So, we had plenty of people around in case of an emergency.

When we woke up the following morning, our liquid tanks had survived the night. I was a bit irritated to find that a car had parked right up under my side pull-out though. I checked our gas levels and nothing had been tampered with!

It will continue on as a mystery.

DAY TWO: Cades Cove and Camp Margaritaville

CADES COVE

I thought that my check in at our first RV resort was not until 4:00 pm. So, I decided to take the boys to Cades Cove while we waited (it turned out that check in was at 2:00). It probably was not the most efficient decision, but I thought that we had a lot of time to kill. When renting an RV, you pay for extra miles driven.

The park was beautiful! The entire place was snow covered. Nearly every spot where I could have pulled the RV over to take pictures was full of tourist. So, I didn’t get to stop to take any professional images; but, boy, I sure wish that I had done so. It was so gorgeous.

We did stop in Cades Cove and grabbed a handful of iPhone pics. So, this is all that I have to offer from the day.

Camp Margaritaville Resort and Campground

Our overnight was in Sevierville, Tennessee which is just outside of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

We figured that gasoline and groceries would be cheaper there. So, we made that our first stop and overnight.

When we pulled out of Walmart, we made our way to Cades Cove in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then into Pigeon Forge to stay at Camp Margaritaville Resort and Campground.

We were plenty happy with the campground. Everything was brand spanking new, pristine clean and fresh!

The only drawback was that there really wasn’t anything to do there based on our interests and the weather. They didn’t have any recreational amenities outside for campers. There was a nice swimming pool with a slide, but our first day there was going to dip below freezing again. So, we couldn’t use the pool–even though there were kids still jumping in it!

We aren’t big tourist shoppers. So, we didn’t really venture into Pigeon Forge much either.

ACCESS TO THE TROLLEY WAS A MUST

It was super nice and convenient that the trolley system did come through and pick up and drop off at our location every 15 minutes, though. That alone was worth staying there for us. We did not bring a vehicle with us. So, anywhere that we wanted to drive to had to be accessed via the RV. The trolley made it to where we could keep the RV parked at the campground while still being able to get into town.

IMage of my boys sitting outside of our RV on our RV trip to Great Smoky Mountains

BOARD GAMES AND CARDS

Luckily for me, it doesn’t take much to entertain my guys. They are at the age where they are completely content with Poker, Texas Hold ‘Em, Splendor and Clue.

They spent a lot of good family time playing games together.

RV trips gently force them to have concentrated time together, which they do very well at.

If you would like to take a walk around Camp Margaritaville with me, check out my blog post CAMPGROUNDS AND RV RESORTS IN THE GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE AREA.

DAY THREE: The Island, The Titanic Museum and The Pirates Voyage Dinner Theater

Don’t be fooled by the shirtless kid; it didn’t warm up until our third day–and, even then it was just in the 60’s. But this was to be our last night at Camp Margaritaville and our night to go to The Pirates Voyage Dinner Theater and The Island.

This was, also, our first test leaving Max alone in the RV.

I have to admit that I was extremely anxious about leaving Max in the RV alone. So many things could go wrong, as I saw it. He could do so many things:

  • Anxiously claw the RV screens or upholstery
  • Bark obnoxiously until someone reported us
  • Get overheated and sick

None of the above was rooted in anything rational, though (except the barking). He isn’t one who claws (but we took out the screens just in case) and it was not hot outside, at all.

So, our only true concern was his barking. So, we did our best to cover all of the windows so that he couldn’t see people walking around outside—people to bark at.

THE ISLAND, PIGEON FORGE

Our first stop was The Island. There was plenty of parking. So, we just parked near the back of the lot and took up two spots.

Dogs are allowed at The Island. So, we were able to take Max with us, which limited the time that he had to be in the RV. This made me happy. However, when we got there, he was allowed to walk around, but he was not allowed inside any of the buildings. So, he and I ended up sitting on a bench most of the time.

Personally, I was not impressed with The Island. Again, it is just a spot with a lot of random tourist shops/stores; and, a lot of restaurants. It reminded me of a country take on Disney Springs.

We ate some ice cream and the boys did a laser tag game and then we left. Again, we were a bit bored with it. I felt like it was more geared to younger families, anyway.

THE TITANIC MUSEUM

Since we spent so little time at The Island, we had some time to burn before our dinner theater. So, I tried to find something to do that had some substance to it–and, somewhere that had sufficient parking for the RV.

Oh, holy toledo! I was nagging everyone to do The Titanic Museum with me, but only my son Tad wanted to go. When they charged my credit card, I was glad that only the two of us ended up doing it.

It cost us $35 per person to go inside The Titanic Museum! I thought that was extreme and about gave me a heart attack when I was charged $70+ to go inside.

Honestly…and, I am going to give you my Gods Honest opinion here…unless you are a history buff or only paying for yourself, it was not worth the money. Granted, it is really very well done inside and they have true actual artifacts from the wreckage of The Titanic on display; but for a family to go through this museum would cost over $100–maybe over $200!

That makes absolutely no sense to me.

The Pirates Voyage Dinner Theater

But, the day was saved when we did The Pirates Voyage Dinner Theater! We made sure to arrive about 45 minutes early so that I had the parking lot to myself; which, I did, for the most part. We had more than enough space to park in the very back long ways against the back curb.

And, this is where we were going to be tested on Max’s ability to be left alone in the RV. Luckily, we were so far in the back of the parking lot that even if he was barking wildly, possibly, no on would notice him. We covered the windows so that he couldn’t see outside, crossed our fingers, prayed and hoped for the best!

Image of a family at a dinner theater

We had a blast at the dinner theater! It was quite the hit.

It did not disappoint. The kids were all smiling from ear-to-ear, laughing, clapping and having a downright blast!

The food was average. My only true gripe about the food was that I never did have any access to salt and pepper (and, it needed it) and the drinks that come with the meal are super limited.

So, if you would like something besides Coke, lemonade or tea grab it from the bar as you come in.

OUR LAST MORNING AT CAMP MARGARITAVILLE

A mom and kids sitting in an RV park

The following morning was our last morning at Camp Margaritaville. It had been my intention all along to boondock most of this trip; but the campgrounds within The Great Smoky Mountain Park booked up before I had a chance to reserve anything. And, there were no other open places to stay besides another Walmart. So, I had to make reservations at another RV campground/resort. That blew my budget considerably, but it ended up being worth it, in the end.

DAY FOUR: Ober Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster and Greenbrier Campground

OBER GATLINBURG

If you are taking an RV trip to Gatlinburg, be warned that you are NOT to follow your GPS to Ober Gatlinburg! DO NOT DO IT!

GPS will take you to the actual service road that climbs the mountain to the very top–and, you cannot take your RV up the mountain. They will ask you to turn around and it is no easy feat.

You will need to drive your RV downtown Gatlinburg to the Ober Gatlinburg Downtown site, park (plan to spend as much as $30 to park an oversized vehicle) and ride the Tram system to the top of the mountain.

Trust me, I did it the incorrect way and it was difficult and a nuisance. But, if you go downtown and ride the tram, you will have a beautiful ride to the top of the mountain and back.

At Ober Gatlinburg, it is like a small ski resort/carnival area. It is supposed to resemble a Christkindle Mart from Germany, I think. It seems old and in need of some updates or upgrades; a nice refresh would do it some good, in my opinion. Small children would absolutely love it.

There is skiing, tubing, ice skating, a small zoo (of sorts), shops, mountain coaster, snack food and more.

We went for the mountain coaster ride! If they only have one worker loading people into their cars and sending them up the mountain, plan on your ride taking one minute for every single person who is in front of you. Meaning, if you have 40 people standing in line in front of you, it will be no less than forty minutes before it will be your turn. It wasn’t even very busy when we arrived, but it took forever to get to our turn on the ride.

You can see our RV in the bottom left hand corner of the last image. Sweet Max had to go another day locked up in the RV, but he did great.

IS DOWNTOWN GATLINBURG DOG FRIENDLY?

Your dog is welcomed to walk along the sidewalks with you. However, if you go during a very busy time, the sidewalks are completely full with people.

Be aware that your dog will NOT be allowed inside any of the shops. So, if it is hot outside, there will be nowhere for your dog–OR YOU–to seek shelter.

I didn’t find anyone aggressive about Max being with us, but I wouldn’t call it pet friendly, per se.

GREENBRIER CAMPGROUND

We found the campground that I wish that I had stayed in the entire vacation. Now, this was Great Smoky Mountain living. Besides a little mishap with our dog, Max, this place was the absolute best!

Who would have thought that during a fun RV trip to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg our dog would nearly die. To find out what happened to our precious Max, check out my blog post HOW OUR DOG NEARLY DIED IN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS.

If you would like to take a walk around Greenbrier Campground with me, check out my blog post CAMPGROUNDS AND RV RESORTS IN THE GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE AREA.

DAY FIVE: Stayed around campground

DAY SIX: Downtown Gatlinburg and Pancake Pantry

There were so many things that I had planned for this trip that just did not end up happening because of the RV and the dog. I did want to make sure that we made it to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast one morning–which we did end up doing.

The day at Gatlinburg, it was packed out! I wanted to take the kids to Anakeesta, too, but the line to go up was hours long; and, I am not good at standing in lines like that. So, we opted out of Anakeesta.

The other issue was parking since it was so busy. I finally did find parking, but I had to pay $30. Ouch.

But, we got to enjoy yummy pancakes and the boys were able to buy swim trunks. So that they could go back to the campground to play in the stream (The Little Pigeon River, to be exact).

We were not supposed to stay another night in this campground, but I fell in love with it and asked for one more night. The only way that we could stay longer was to move our RV to a new spot. I didn’t mind because the new spot ended up being even nicer.

And, for a last night send off, I rented a golf cart for the boys to run around on. It helped me transport all of my camera gear from the RV to the waters edge, too, for our group portraits. So, it was a win-win!

NO HIKING

My only frustration during the trip was that I planned to hike a lot until I found out that we could take our dog, Max, on two trails, only. Even still, I planned on leaving him in the RV while we hiked the other trails; However the trailheads were right on the roads edge. To hike, we would need to park the RV right on the edge of the road—and, there was no room to do that.

So, we did not even hike one trail the entire trip! That was super frustrating.

Our final night at the campground concluded with our traditional family portrait. My son had a friend along who wasn’t all that excited about being apart of our tradition, but he conceded and took part.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

And, If you’re looking for a fun and affordable way to see some of the most beautiful scenery in America, consider taking an RV trip through The Great Smoky Mountains. This region is home to rolling hills, crystal-clear streams, and lush forests All of these are set against the backdrop of the majestic Appalachian Mountains. There’s something for everyone in The Great Smoky Mountains; hike or bike on miles of trails, explore charming small towns, or just relax by the side of the road. You’ll be able to enjoy the scenery while spending time with your loved ones. And don’t forget to bring your camera – the views are simply breathtaking! Have you been to The Great Smoky Mountains? What was your favorite part? Have questions about the area or RVing? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do our best to answer them.

Also, please, Keep scrolling to see the final of our images.

FINAL IMAGES OF THE TRIP

And, as is tradition, I get to have at least one posed group photo as my souvenir from the kiddos!

A posed family photo on our RV trip to Tennessee

As a reminder: Have you been to The Great Smoky Mountains? What was your favorite part? Have questions about the area or RVing? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do our best to answer them.

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ULTIMATE GUIDE: RV Trip To The Great Smoky Mountains

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