64th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, April 15-19, 2014

It’s the 64th year of the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Smoky Mountains. The wildflower bloom appears to be peaking with perfect timing for the thousands of wildflower devotees from all over the world who come to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park area at this time of year.

It’s a unique biosphere filled with over 1,500 different forms of flowering plants. And this is its magical time of year, when spring has woken up the energy of all growing things, but before the trees have had a chance to leaf out and block the sun with their abundant foliage.

This brief moment, lasting a little into May, is the time of the forest floor. Things will sprout and bloom in the spring sunlight and then die away in the shade of approaching summer, and not be seen again until next year. At this time of year we remember why the most visited national park in the USA is also sometimes referred to as “Wildflower National Park”. 

During the five-day period of the Wildflower Pilgrimage, participants will attempt to see as many of these rare and beautiful species as possible. Almost 150 events are planned for the occasion, from outdoor events in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to indoor events in Mills Conference Center (Pilgrimage HQ) in Gatlinburg, and Sugarlands Visitor Center at the Park entrance.

This is the perfect time to take guided walks and hiking tours for all ages and capabilities. A time to let the many local and visiting famous experts open up our appreciation of all things Smoky Mountains, and especially this mostly hidden world at ground level.

Wildflower Pilgrimage Information

The Wildflower Pilgrimage website has all the information you need, including the 26-page (pdf file) brochure of the event. Facebook page here. Costs range from $15 to $75, and accompanied children under 12 are free.

Online registration has ended but you can register by showing up at Mills Conference Center. You must be registered to take part, although there are some free events in the evenings, some especially good for kids. Also on Wednesday April 16 the kick-off luncheon is $25 and open to the public.

The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage is a non-profit event formed from the collaboration of several area organizations and made possible by the contributions of many individuals who donate their time and resources. Cabins of the Smoky Mountains is pleased to be a sponsor of this unique area event.

 

2014 Spring Rod Run

rod4Hard to believe it’s the 32nd year already of the famous Pigeon Forge Spring Rod Run, happening this Friday & Saturday, April 11-12, 2014. Hordes of classic cars and vehicles of all kinds, and thousands of enthusiasts have been pouring into town in preparation for this great event.

For two days and nights the town turns into a rolling display of every kind of muscle car imaginable, with live music, all-night drivebys, laid-back crowds on the street, total gridlock on the road and total fun in the air, as Pigeon Forge gives itself over to a two-day party of cruising the strip in endless, dazzling slow motion.

This year the heart of the event remains centered around Traffic Light #6 on Pigeon Forge’s Parkway, but the venue has moved one block away from the old Hotel venue, across the river to the new LeConte Center. This means LOTS more Free parking and LOTS more show space for vendors, hot cars and entertainment.

rod1This Spring there will $8,000 in cash prizes with the usual Top 25 Awards for the most outstanding vehicles, as well as the Ultimate 5 Awards for the truly mind-blowing productions.

A huge swap meet is staged again with your chance to pick up or unload those rare parts and accessories. Vendors will offer food, decals, signs and posters, as well as all kinds of apparel.

If you like a peaceful life, you may want to hide out in a cabin in the hills – and we have them all at Half-Price this weekend, those that remain available. Check our Specials page for offers and availability.

But if on the other hand, you feel like mingling with one of the nicest crowds of friendly people ever to grace such muscle car events, and strolling around on foot gawking at all the sparkle and shine and gorgeous custom paint jobs, then Pigeon Forge has a deal for you!

For more information check the Rod Run web site.

 

2014 Spring Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament

image courtesy of My Pigeon Forge

image courtesy of My Pigeon Forge

It’s the first full weekend in April (Sat-Sun) and that means it’s time to go fishing – for trout and money prizes! It’s the Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament held in the best fishing spots in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. 

This is the 15th year of the popular event, comprising this Spring tournament and a Fall tournament in September. Each year there are more than 10,000 trout stocked in over 20 miles of local streams for these 2-day events, worth over $10,000 in cash and prizes!

There’s a prize for Smallest Trout, as well as largest, with numerous shades in between, so the event is truly for the whole family. A fishing license is required, and State and local fishing rules do apply. For details see the Trout Tournament web site.

Fishing in the Smokies

Warren Bielenberg Photo courtesy of GSMNP

Warren Bielenberg Photo courtesy of GSMNP

With mountain topography and abundant rainfall, the unique biosphere of the Smoky Mountains is also an excellent habitat for freshwater life. Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone has over 2,100 miles of streams.

The Park holds one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States, and also offers a great variety of different angling opportunities, from headwater trout streams to large, cool water smallmouth bass streams.

Find out more, including times and requirements, at the Park’s Fishing page

 

Mountain Memories Retreat: 3-Bedroom Pigeon Forge Cabin

Let’s find a secluded 3-bedroom mountain getaway with gorgeous views of the Smoky Mountains and some peace and privacy. Let’s make it a chalet-style cabin with vaulting ceilings and lots of glass and light through the windows. Let’s call it “Mountain Memories Retreat“.

Tucked away in its own world but with good driveway access, and resort amenities close at hand such as conference center and wedding facility access, Mountain Memories Retreat is close to Pigeon Forge and Dollywood, yet far enough away not to care, unless you want to run and visit.

Three King bedrooms and full bathrooms – one with jacuzzi – and another half bathroom and three queen sleepers means the cabin can accommodate up to 12 people in comfort.

With three decks to rock your rocking chairs on, along with hot tub and gas grill for essentials on the outside, and with pool table and half a dozen flat-screen TVs on the inside – with wifi throughout – there are plenty of amenities on the inside as well to relax and have fun in comfort.

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Spacious 3-bedroom cabins such as Mountain Memories Retreat can also be perfect for the solitary couple looking for a quiet getaway. Even sharing is an option – cabins like this are big enough that two couples sharing a 3-bedroom, for example, means there’s plenty of space to spend private time AWAY from your friends, yet still have them around for outings, meals and fun things together.

So whether it’s just you, or you and the crew, Mountain Memories Retreat awaits, in quiet splendor, filled with light, and ready to entertain and accommodate. And we’ll keep the hot tub simmering for you!

Click here to check availability and book Mountain Memories Retreat  for your next trip!

Cabin Tips

The cost savings of sharing with other people makes it fun to grab friends or family and bring them along on your trip. Splitting the costs of a three-bedroom among two couples can often come out about the same as renting your own 1-bedroom.

This is especially true of the short-notice special offers such as half-price weekends, that often apply only to the 3-bedroom and bigger cabins. These deals can quickly bring the cost of a larger cabin down close to that of a one-bedroom cabin.

(Be sure to read our tips for finding your perfect cabin, and also for taking advantage of special offers.)

 

Mountain Memories Retreat cabin. CLICK HERE to book and for images, amenities and availability

Mountain Memories Retreat cabin. CLICK HERE to book and for images, amenities and availability

 

Bluegrass at the Holler: Ole Smoky Moonshine Presents the Soggy Bottom Boys & Dr. Ralph Stanley

A landmark bluegrass show happens Saturday night, March 22, in Gatlinburg at The Holler, inaugurating the 2014 summer music season of Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine Distillery. The talent-stacked show is FREE, it starts at 5 pm, it’s going to be live-streamed, and it features two of the signature sounds of the hit movie, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”

The Soggy Bottom Boys are a fictional band created in the movie, with actor George Clooney playing lead singer, which turned the traditional folk song, “Man of Constant Sorrow” into a national hit song.

Image courtesy "O Brother Where Art Thou"

Image courtesy “O Brother Where Art Thou”

Clooney was lip-synching to the real voice of Dan Tyminski, and if you’re a fan of Alison Krauss and Union Station Band you’ll have heard his voice many a time.

Brought together now for the first time in a stage performance the Soggy Bottom Boys consist of Dan Tyminski, Barry Bales, Ron Block, Stuart Duncan and Mike Compton – a huge array of talent holding between them 47 Grammys!

Also on the bill with a special performance is Grammy award-winning bluegrass legend and Grand Ole Opry member Dr. Ralph Stanley, currently touring the country with his band the Clinch Mountain Boys in a year-long Farewell tour, after which he proposes to retire from a lifetime of touring, at age 87. From this Nashville account last month he still commands the room with his voice.

“Man of Constant Sorrow” was probably a traditional song hundreds of years old, although it’s possible Dick Burnett wrote it a century ago. Burnett was a partially blind fiddle player from Kentucky, who said towards the end of his life that he couldn’t remember if he wrote the song or if it already existed. What is clear is that Dr. Ralph Stanley loved the song from an early age and kept it alive and prominent through his decades of performing, until the movie came and made it live forever.

So it’s a party on Saturday, and the live streaming starts here at 5 pm. The folks at Ole Smoky have pulled together a tremendous show, which they’re using as an excuse to roll out “Charred Moonshine,” their first barrel-aged premium moonshine. The Holler is a favorite Gatlinburg haunt, at the nation’s most visited distillery.

Bluegrass and moonshine go together like, well, bluegrass and moonshine, and you can put this theory to the taste test tomorrow night if you are so inclined – there’s usually a sample to be had at the Holler!

Now let’s play some clips as a warmup for tomorrow. First here’s George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson making “Man of Constant Sorrow” famous to a whole new generation (and a great excuse to play this favorite scene from the film):

Next, here’s Alison Krauss and Union Station performing the same number:

Finally, let’s hear Dr. Ralph Stanley, performing the haunting acapella song, “O Death” which he also recorded for the soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou?”

So the party is at the Holler tomorrow night, and you can find all the info you need at Ole Smoky’s web site.

See you there!

20th Annual Mountain Quiltfest 2014 in Pigeon Forge

Saturday, March 15 was Worldwide Quilting Day, in case you didn’t know, and bringing things closer to home, THIS week Pigeon Forge once again celebrates the great American folk-art of quilting with its 2014, 20th Annual “A Mountain Quiltfest” at the new LeConte Center.

The FREE show runs from Wednesday, March 19 through Saturday, March 22, while the information-packed series of over 60 different classes will start a day sooner, on Tuesday the 18th.

Here are some of the category winners from last year (images courtesy of Quiltfest)

 

This is a large event drawing around 20,000 people from all over for a tremendously captivating display of art, techinque and skill, fun for all the family.

Quilting groups come into town often days earlier and stay days after Quiltfest, sitting and sewing and swapping tales and techniques, in a truly heartwarming and uplifted festival.

The entire event is a celebration of tools, tips and talent, with lectures and demonstrations and advice for every level of ability, from beginner to advanced.

On display will be modern and antique quilts from across the country, and as usual a certified professional will be on hand to appraise the value of your own quilt (by appointment and fee).

Prizes totalling close to $20,000 are being competed for by entrants in over a dozen categories: small quilt, large quilt, machine, hand, specialty, youth, the list goes on, including viewers’ choice, where YOU get to choose the winner.

Three times each day (twice on the final day Saturday) there will be Antique Quilt Bed Turnings. What’s a bed turning? Ah, this is where the story behind the fabric gets told, revealing not just the artisanship of a quilt but the people involved, how it happened and why. You will be spellbound.

Friday night is an early Dinner Social, followed at 6:30 pm by Show and Tell, where quilters reveal more stories about their craftworks. Show and Tell is FREE to the public with tickets for a sewing machine drawing as well as lots of great door prizes.

Finally on Saturday evening the crowning touch of Quiltfest is a very special one-night lecture by Eleanor Burns, famous author, teacher and hostess of the Quilt in a Day television program. This engaging feast of quilting magic shared by Eleanor Burns in her humourous and unique way is not to be missed, as she shares techiques she has pioneered to help quilters of every level.

A Mountain Quiltfest is produced by the City of Pigeon Forge and hosted by the Piecemakers and Sevier Valley Quilters Guilds.

For more information call 865 429-7350 and check the Mountain Quiltfest web site.

 

Santa Parade in Gatlinburg: ClausFest 2014

image courtesy of ClausFest 2014

Santa Claus may run deliveries out of the North Pole but he hangs his hat where his heart is, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

The proof is in the parade – which happens this Saturday, when a whole convention of Santas and Mrs. Santas take to the streets of Gatlinburg to turn the seasons upside-down for all the Spring Break vacationers!

Santa needs a break too, and that’s why Santa families from across the country and around the world have descended on Gatlinburg again this year for the annual ClausFest, held at the Gatlinburg Convention Center March 15-19.

The event is by registration only, and creates a rare opportunity for inveterate and professional Santas to meet in joyous fellowship and share tips and tricks about the art and craft of being Santa and Mrs Claus.

The Santas have an action-filled agenda for themselves throughout the event, with workshops, vendor shows, variety shows and dinner celebrations.

But to kick off ClausFest in style – and ever generously – the Santa crews step out to give us a sight to behold in their Grand Santa Parade, complete with Mrs Clauses, helpers and elves. They say that the REAL Santa will be in the parade somewhere, but it’ll be the children who have to determine just who he is!

To close the ClausFest convention on Wednesday, March 19, from 11 am to 12:30 pm weather permitting, our jolly red friends will take to the snows again with snow-tubing Santa Races at Ober Gatlinburg!

The Grand Santa Parade starts at 4 pm this Saturday, March 15, at Traffic Light #10 and proceeds for an hour or more to Light #6.

For more information check the ClausFest 2014 web site.

UPDATE: Here’s a slideshow of photographs we took of the parade!

 

Winter Carnival of Magic & Gatlinburg Improv Fest, 2014: two great gatherings of talent in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

image courtesy of Carnival of Magic

It’s a weekend of fun and magic this weekend, with a magic convention in Pigeon Forge and a comedy improv festival in Gatlinburg.

The Winter Carnival of Magic returns today through Saturday to Country Tonite’s fantastic theater space in Pigeon Forge, gathering some of the greatest magicians in two fantastic shows open to the public on Friday and Saturday, March 7-8, at 8 pm.

During the days there will be lectures and workshops as well as contests for the up-and-coming magicians registered to the convention. There are ten contestants. The talent assembled for this event is world-renowned, and a complete list with descriptions appears on the Winter Carnival of Magic’s website.

Meanwhile at Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, the Gatlinburg Improv Fest 2014 has gathered many talented troupes to perform and teach during the 2-day event. 

image courtesy of Gatlinburg Improv

Show admission is $10 and shows are Friday 8pm & 10pm, and Saturday 6pm, 8pm, &10pm, March 7-8.

Saturday at the Improv Fest features a day of workshops each 90 minutes long and costing $15 each. As always, the first class at 9 am is a FREE custom-built improv class open to all levels of experience.

Country Tonite is famous for its own entertainment show, and its large-capacity, multi-million dollar theater. With great sound, lighting and two giant video screens, the theater is located at 129 Showplace Blvd just off of Parkway in Pigeon Forge, with good parking.

Sweet Fanny Adams showcases original work by a theatrical cast performing comedy that has been called as good as any on Broadway. The theater is located at Traffic Light #3 in Gatlinburg just around the corner from Ripley’s Aquarium.

So if you don’t laugh yourself silly or be magically entranced this weekend, it won’t be for lack of opportunity!

 

Rafting in the Smoky Mountains 2014

images courtesy of Big Creek Expeditions

images courtesy of Big Creek Expeditions

March 1st begins the start of rafting season in the Gatlinburg area. It’s a little chilly yet in 2014, but the skies are sunny and the vibrant stirrings of spring have already begun, with creatures and with plant life.

For those who love the thrill of the whitewater, or prefer quietly rafting down the river in the blooming scenery, it’s good news that some of the rafting outfitters are opening beginning March 1st, with limited trips increasing as the season advances.

Big Creek Expeditions will offer Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to begin. As prime Spring Break bookings draw closer, activities on the river will increase. 

Water release on the Pigeon River is unpredictable this early in the year - May begins the water releases from the headwaters dam that create the guaranteed whitewater – so it’s doubly important to check with your rafting company in advance for water levels and conditions before planning a trip.

river

The abundant Spring rains will certainly offer whitewater and the full river experience, but it’s the predictability factor that’s absent from the calendar in March and April. Outfitters will call the best days at fairly short notice so it’s important to stay in touch.

Be sure to see our Guide to Whitewater Rafting near Gatlinburg for more details on rafting in the area. Of our listed outfitters, Smoky Mountain Outdoors and Big Creek Expeditions are both opening March 1st.

All four seasons in the Smokies have their unique features and favorites, as well as the fleeting moments and mysteries of the in-between days and weeks as the seasons turn. Those who love to hike the winter trails and welcome the cool, crisp air would say it’s been a great winter with some good snows. But now the winter season is turning as it must, and here comes Spring, so let that ice melt – and bring on the water!