^^ lawn decoration. ^^
^^ adidas duffel not included ^^
We entered Great Smoky Mountain NP from Georgia so when we drove through Gatlinburg on our way out of the park it was a bit of surprise. Whoa. I was not expecting such a built-up theme park type town just outside the park entrance. Besides LeConte Lodge – a hike-in only cabin/lodge – there were not any lodging options within the park. Outside of the park most of the lodging options were either concentrated in Gatlinburg or nearby Pigeon Forge (home of Dollywood, which was very very tempting to visit). I get why there were people here, I was just not expecting the town to be that built-up. It seemed weird to me that people would want to spend their time racing go-carts, riding 3D simulator rides or at wax museums rather than visit the park that was *right there.* I’m not saying I wasn’t completely fascinated by this town — the retro Haunted Mansion was really calling my name == it was just unexpected.
After late lunch at a Carlos n Charlies-esque type cavernous restaurant we hit the road, stopping along the way to pick up moonshine, visit a few outlet stores, and do a drive-by gawk of Dollywood. Initially we planned on driving straight home, but as the day dragged on that idea seemed less promising. I pulled up google maps, did a search for nearby hotels, and settled on a historic hotel in a small Virginia town that would make a good stopping point for the night. Another google search later and I had determined the hotel had one room available and was actually reasonably priced.
It only dawned on me while we were driving around town that we had actually been here before — on a previous camping trip to Hungry Mother State Park. when we had missed the turnoff to the park and instead drove found ourselves roaming around Main Street Marion. At the time, Marion struck me as being very quaint — one of those Mayberry-like towns–and I remember telling Sly that I wanted to return someday to explore it a little more. Funny how things work out because here we were, back in Marion, totally by coincidence.
Or, if you believe that there is no such thing as coincidence, then for some weird reason Fate brought us back, apparently to stay that the General Francis Marion Hotel (a total gem) and meet Frank the kitty at the Appalachian Spirits store across the street. Fate also led us to the post office the next morning where I discovered, and bought, a set of Harry Potter stamps that I’ll never us/will preserve for all eternity. And when we dropped by the VABC to pick up even more moonshine it was coincidence or fate that allowed me to pluck the elusive signed bottle of moonshine from a tower of ‘regular’ labeled moonshine that, according to the store employee, a guy had been searching for for hours the week prior.
I’m not the most spontaneous person. Left to my own accord I could plan the shit out of anything. I make lists within lists within lists of places that we need to see or do, so much so that by the time I’m done planning a trip I feel like I know so much about the place that visiting is purely optional. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to travel — no one way “better” than the other, but sometimes it’s nice to just let go of the reigns a bit and let Fate or Coincidence or Dumb Luck or whatever guide you to your next destination.
The General Francis Marion Hotel / Boutique Hotel, Marion, VA. / $100-$200/nt, includes parking and very basic continental breakfast // Beautifully and tastefully restored Prohibition era gem of a hotel located in small town Virginia. In addition to all the period details there is an outdoor mezzanine level dining area, a card room, and a wood-paneled ballroom. We fell instantly in love with this place — this hotel epitomizes the types of places we love to stay: small, locally-run, unique, historic, clean, and most of all, reasonable. In a larger city, a hotel like this would easily run 2-3x more a night. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend staying here. If you get hungry or want to get a drink, there is an attached restaurant/lounge — Black Rooster — that gets its name from the hotel’s card room. Legend has it that the black rooster was code during Prohibition for “Drinks Served Here.”
Hungry Mother State Park / Camping + Cabins, Stuart, VA // $75-$125 for 1-2 room cabins // The background of how this park received its name is pretty creepy but the cabins are like most Virginia State Park cabins: clean, wood-burning fireplace, outdoor fire pit and picnic area, fully functioning kitchen, indoor plumbing, etc. This park has lake access during the Summer months and great, not too difficult hiking. We hiked to Molly’s Knob — a short but steep hike with panoramic views.
Mysterious Mansion / Gatlinburg, TN / $10 admission // We discovered this place after we made a wrong turn in Gatlinburg and I begged Sly to go. I think he thought I was joking, but I was not. I LOVE old weird places like this and especially love haunted houses, scary movies, Halloween, etc. I really regret not checking it out, but from the outside, it looked totally kitsch-y cool. On my list for next time.
Lincoln Theatre / Marion, VA // Restored 1920s era theatre, and one of the last surviving Mayan Revival style theatres. The person responsible for building this beautiful structure was also involved with building the General Francis Marion Hotel. I don’t think it shows movies anymore — mostly a venue for live performances. It kind of blows my mind that this small Virginia mountain town was able to preserve two beautiful historic buildings.
Park Place Drive-in / Marion, VA // Seasonal / Drive-in movies are another of my favorites – whenever we find an operating one we love going. I noticed this place the first time we were in Marion. It was closed so we never were able to see a movie there. This time we arrived too late to see a movie so we’ll have to wait til next time.
Lodge Cast Iron Factory Store / Pigeon Forge, TN / When we saw the billboards on the side of the highway advertising for this outlet store we knew we had to make a pit stop. We love Lodge pots and use them daily — both at home and while camping. We especially love that many of their products are still American-made. The factory store is a Lodge Cast Iron lovers dream. While the prices weren’t quite what I would consider discount they definitely had a huge selection of cast iron cookware that you would probably not find elsewhere.
EAT + DRINK
No Way Jose Cantina / Gatlinburg, TN / Mexican, Inexpensive // Not the best Mexican we’ve ever had but definitely not the worst either. It was more than good enough to satisfy our craving for Mexican food though. We went on an off-hour and the place was still packed and filled with rowdy people. I would sort of compare it to a Mexican restaurant in a Spring Break locale, but with an older (though not less drunk) crowd.
Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery / Gatlinburg, TN // Good place to sample a well-known brand of Tennessee moonshine. Also a good place to get drunk. If you miss drinking moonshine here, don’t worry, every place and gas station in TN seems to sell moonshine.
Appalachian Mountain Spirits / Marion, VA // Local Virginia moonshine company located on Main Street right across from the Francis Marion Hotel and not to be confused with their actual distillery location. This general store style shop sells a bunch of random gifts in the front and has an awesome looking tasting room in the back. Unfortunately, at the time we visited they did not have the ability to serve or sell their moonshine in their tasting room yet. Damn VA liquor laws. To buy the moonshine you have to visit the nearby VABC. But the store is worth a visit, if nothing else but to say hello to their resident rescue kitty, Frank. He’s a sweetie.
Firefly Fare /Roanoke, VA / Healthy, Vegan, Vegetarian / Inexpensive // As we made our way back home we stopped for lunch in Roanoke. Neither of us had ever been and we were really surprised to find Iyet again) another cute Virginia town, and even moreso because Roanoke seemed to have a lot of healthy/hippie stores and restaurants. The food at Firefly was fresh and delicious. Exactly what we wanted to eat after eating not so tasty canned food w/a side of carbs while staying at LeConte Lodge.