“Race you to the top!” my 10-year-old son, Alex, shouted as he and his younger brother, Ben, ran ahead of us on the trail.
After a cold and snowy winter stuck indoors, my family suffered the worst case of cabin fever I’d ever seen. So when temps began to rise, my husband, Ethan, and I decided it was time for a great outdoor vacation to burn off some energy.
The Great Smoky Mountains
Right in Sevierville’s backyard is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with 800 miles of well-maintained trails to explore. It’s one of my favorite free things to do in the area.
We started out at Cades Cove and took off on the Abrams Falls Trail. The boys were excited to get to the waterfall, but I couldn’t help but meander. I was happy to just be outside in short sleeves, soaking up the warm weather. We wound our way along forest floors dappled with patterns of sunlight that were beaming through the pine and oak trees along the high ridges. Hiking down closer to Abrams Creek, we found ourselves weaving through beautiful rhododendron and hemlocks. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque place to stretch our legs and lungs.
We reached the broad pool at the bottom of the waterfall, and eight-year-old Ben came to a sudden stop and froze in his tracks. “Look,” he whispered. We all followed his gaze and saw a gorgeous deer along the shoreline dipping his head into the water for a cool drink. After he had his fill, the deer wandered back into the forest, leaving us with a feeling of awe and magic.
We neared the end of the trail, and the boys spotted a tree with low branches perfect for climbing. As they shimmied their way up, I warned them not to go too high. That’s when Ethan grinned and said, “How would you boys like to see the mountains from the tree tops?”
A tree-top adventure
Ethan had planned our next stop as a surprise for the boys (and me) and they couldn’t contain their excitement as we headed over to AdventureWorks, a full-on aerial adventure. The Climb, Zip, Swing Tree Top Challenge Course was a high-flying journey to say the least.
After taking the safety lesson and getting harnessed in, we ventured out onto the course, staying on the lower level, where the 14- to 22-foot heights were plenty high enough for me. “Look, Mom, I’m flying!” Alex shouted as he swung from a “grapevine” and soared above my head. I shuddered a little and Ben, who was climbing the cargo net beside me said, “I’m right here, Mom. You’ll be OK.”
“Thanks, bud,” I smiled at him, and my heart melted just a little bit.
We spent the afternoon crossing dangling bridges, swinging from vines and climbing to heights with spectacular views. But the favorite by far was ziplining. Heights aren’t usually my cup of tea, but even I was excited to try it after hearing the peals of laughter coming from my boys as they went before me.
Our guide, Carlos, double-checked my harness and clipped me in. “Just let go and have fun,” he instructed. I stepped off the treehouse platform and felt a rush of adrenaline as I soared like Jane of the Jungle through the trees. Ethan and the boys were waiting for me at the bottom with grins as big as my own.
“That was awesome! Can we do it again?” Alex asked.
“How about we fly even higher?” Ethan teased with a mischievous wink.
Scenic helicopter tours
“You weren’t joking when you said ‘even higher!’” Ben shouted over the whipping sounds of the helicopter blades as we stood outside Scenic Helicopter Tours.
“Are you serious, Ethan?” I asked. He was full of surprises on this trip, and he was definitely serious. We climbed into the helicopter, and though I was a little nervous, our pilot put me at ease immediately, explaining the tour and the process. He even showed the boys around the helicopter and explained what some of the levers and buttons did.
We splurged for the National Park Tour, and I’m so glad we did. As we lifted off the ground above historic downtown Sevierville, we were immediately greeted with breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains. We soared over Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg before moving away from civilization and out over the wilderness of the National Park.
“Just gorgeous,” was all I could keep saying. I was so glad I’d brought my camera. I started snapping away and prayed that my memory card wouldn’t run out of room. We saw Mount Leconte, Clingmans Dome and Cove Mountain. There were rivers and creeks and valleys. It all went on for mile after stunning mile.
“That was so cool!” Alex exclaimed as we landed and thanked the pilot with high-fives all around.
“Can we come back here on our next vacation?”
Ethan and I smiled at each other, and I said, “Sounds good to me.”