We just got back from a fun and relaxing trip to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and I wanted to share a little about our stay while it’s top of mind! We started planning our trip about a month out (I know, a little last minute!) and searched all over between Asheville and Gatlinburg before settling on a beautiful mountainside condo in Whittier, North Carolina at the Smoky Mountain Country Club. We wanted to find somewhere centrally located between my parents (who live on the Outer Banks of NC) and us here in Memphis so we would have a similar distance to drive and Whittier was almost exactly the halfway point.
Where We Stayed
I used Airbnb to find our condo since we’ve had two previous positive experiences traveling with Airbnb. Admittedly, I’ve heard some negative stories about Airbnb, but my rule of thumb is to make sure a place has ample positive reviews before I’ll even consider it. That means skipping over brand new properties on the site, unfortunately – while they could be fantastic, I don’t want to be the guinea pig figuring that out. 😉 You can sign up for Airbnb using this link and you’ll get $40 off your first trip!
The Smoky Mountains’ condo was even better than I anticipated and had all of the luxuries of home, including a kitchen fully stocked with every appliance you could need. We ended up cooking a majority of our meals since we had everything we needed! It was super spacious, too, which is often hard to come by in a mountain home. Our condo was located pretty far up the side of a mountain and we had a beautiful view of the changing leaves off the back deck, and my favorite part was the stone fireplace that we had going almost the entire time we were there. I highly recommend this condo if you’re looking for a nice mountain rental.
What We Did in the Great Smoky Mountains
We knew before we arrived that we wanted to find a place to get fresh apples and we wanted to take the girls to see a waterfall, but other than that, we didn’t really have any specifics. Until…
The Biltmore House
A few days before our trip, I had a brilliant idea of surprising my parents with tickets for all of us to visit the Biltmore Estate, as their anniversary was coming up and I knew they (like us) had always wanted to tour the home. I purchased our tickets on Reserve Gatlinburg and was able to save $10 per ticket. The only caveat was I had to then call Biltmore to reserve a specific tour time and date, because from the end of October through early January, tours are by reservation only due to the busy holiday season. Just keep that in mind if you go this route!
I scheduled our visit for Friday, since I figured it might be less crowded than the weekend. As it turns out, it ended up raining pretty much our entire trip, so it made getting to the Biltmore a little bit messy. Nevertheless, it was a good idea for a rainy weekend, since we were inside most of the time. The downside was not getting to explore the grounds by foot (though we were able to take a 4-mile route exiting the estate that was gorgeous), but we probably wouldn’t have walked that far with two little ones in tow anyways! A few tips:
- The site suggests a small umbrella stroller if you need to bring a stroller. I couldn’t agree more and I’m so glad we didn’t even attempt to bring our double BOB. You’re constantly going up and down stairs (some narrow), so it would be impossible to have a bigger, heavier stroller. We actually didn’t bring one at all – we carried Blakely and Blair held our hand. This was much easier to navigate with a crowd, too.
- With that said, the Biltmore is very family-friendly and they welcome kids. In fact, tickets for kids 0-9 are free and ages 10-16 are discounted. I was surprised at how well my girls did, but I will say that the Christmas decor probably kept their attention – so beware if you don’t go during the holidays! 😉
- Speaking of Christmas decor, we got super lucky in that the house was almost fully decorated when we toured it because Christmas at Biltmore begins November 3rd. I head they started decorating the first week of October, which is crazy. But it was already beautiful and I can only imagine what it looks like at night!
- We opted out of the self-guided audio tour since we knew it would be impossible to listen with two little kids. I’m really glad we made this call, because people who were using the audio guides stayed in rooms a really long time listening and I know the girls wouldn’t have had the attention span for that.
- If you’re lucky enough to visit on a nice day, be sure to take your time exploring the grounds. On our drive off the estate, we passed a beautiful greenhouse, the Biltmore winery (which is included in your ticket, but the girls had already fallen asleep in the car!) and a cute shopping and dining area near the Inn at Biltmore called Antler Hill Village.
Bold Rock Mills River Cidery
While we were in the Asheville area, we decided to make a trip over to the Bold Rock Cidery to have a drink. My parents had been to the cidery located in Nellysford, Virginia and wanted to check this location out, too. It was a bit off the beaten path, but nevertheless, a pretty drive getting there. We got two cider flights and took our time sipping them in their modern, open cidery. I was surprised at how family-friendly this was, too, and there were lots of other children running around. When we drove up, all I could think about was the Sweet Home Alabama line, “You have a baby…in a bar.” But really, it was totally a laid-back place and they had easily accessible kid-friendly water cups. 🙂
Apple Picking at Barber Orchard
There were lots of small apple orchards and farm stands in the area, but with all of the rain that weekend, we opted out of picking apples since it would be super muddy. We accidentally stumbled upon Barber Orchard on our way to the Biltmore House and returned on Saturday to pick up some fresh apples. This is more of a farm stand and they don’t actually have the option to pick your own apples, but they do have trees planted out front for photo ops. Still, the girls had a great time picking a variety of apples from the bins and we ended up trying one of everything on their bakery menu (the apple muffin and caramel apple cookie were super yummy!). They also have fresh cider you can purchase by the cup or bottle.
Exploring the Area
We did a lot of driving around during our trip, especially since it was so rainy. We had hoped to find a waterfall to hike to but it never cleared up enough to make it out there. Where we stayed was really out there and some of the mountain roads were downright scary in the foggy rain(!) so there was lots of sloooow driving. We were lucky enough to find a little bit of clear weather near Cherokee, NC and drove the Blue Ridge Parkway to check out the changing leaves. About halfway through our drive, the fog picked up again and we had yet another slow trip down the mountain. I also want to point out that cell service was SUPER spotty in this area, so we would be driving along and our phones would literally say “No service” for long periods of time. All of this made for a perfect spooky pre-Halloween trip, I must say. 😉
Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino
We ended up driving into downtown Cherokee and passed Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in amazement. I had no idea a casino that literally looks like it belongs in Vegas was located in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, since there was a Starbucks inside, we had to stop and get a cup of coffee…and explore. We ended up parking in the casino garage instead of the hotel garage, and obviously the casino is ages 21 and up, so just my husband, my dad and I went inside to grab Starbucks for everyone. While making our way through the massive casino, of course we had to play a slot machine, because #FOMO. Long story short, I lost $10 in a span of about 2 minutes…never again. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend checking this casino out, even if you don’t have the desire to ever gamble – it’s just mind-blowing to see in real life (especially if you’ve never been to Vegas, like me).
We also did a lot of hanging out at the Smoky Mountains’ condo, enjoying the game room and sitting by the fire watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies #truth. This was such a nice little fall getaway and I hope we make this an annual tradition. It really got me in the holiday spirit and now I’m so ready to kick off the holiday season in November!