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10 low-key destinations to consider for Labor Day
Our cruel summer is coming to a close and the upcoming holiday weekend is one of the last chances for people to get out of the house and enjoy the long days of sunshine. Vacation rental manager Vacasa has released its list of top 10 destinations for Labor Day this weekend. ©Marc Muench/Getty Images1. Sun Valley, Idaho Small-town Sun Valley sits at the edge of the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests, and it gets a whopping 15 hours of sunshine per day during the summer months. Hike all the way up Bald Mountain west of town, then order some takeout from one of Sun Valley’s coveted restaurants. Browse rentals 2. Steamboat Springs, Colorado When you reach historic Steamboat Springs, you may feel like you’ve gone back in time. Reminiscent of the Old West, Steamboat is a naturally stunning escape tucked in the Rocky Mountains. Cool off by floating the Yampa River, or take a stroll through town and expect to be greeted (at a distance) by all the friendly locals. Browse rentals 3. Greenville, Maine Greenville rests on the 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake—the largest of its kind in the state. As the name of the lake would suggest, it’s home to many moose, so keep your eyes peeled for these majestic creatures as you hike through the woods or take a private flight. Browse rentals. 4. Eagle River, Wisconsin Along a large freshwater lake chain, you’ll find the laid-back northwoods town of Eagle River. Bike through densely wooded forests, or take a more leisurely method of travel—a guided horseback ride. Browse rentals. ©Keneva Photography/Shutterstock 5. Sevierville, Tennessee Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains, Sevierville has hundreds of forest trails and several jaw-dropping waterfalls. Boat along Douglas Lake, take a tour through underground caverns, or just breathe in the crisp air from the back deck of your cabin rental. Browse rentals. 6. Sugar Mountain, North Carolina Concealed in North Carolina’s range of Blue Ridge peaks, Sugar Mountain is a treasure of a village. If heights don’t make you queasy, visit the nation’s highest suspension footbridge, the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, or take a chairlift from the base of the mountain to 1,200 feet up. Browse rentals. 7. Ludlow, Vermont Tourists flock to Ludlow to enjoy snow sports during the winter, but the summer months are decidedly less crowded. Don’t be fooled, though: the tiny town is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise year round. Breathe in the fresh mountain air, and hike to the swimming holes at Buttermilk Falls. Browse rentals. 8. Angel Fire, New Mexico Often called New Mexico’s best-kept secret, Angel Fire is a small village rife with adventure in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Visit the largest bike park in the Rocky Mountains, charting 60 miles of terrain, or hike to New Mexico’s highest point, Wheeler Peak. Browse rentals. ©SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images 9. Helen, Georgia Venture to Helen in northeast Georgia and you’ll feel like you just touched down in Europe. A Bavarian village set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen has a storied past and unequivocal charm dating back to the 1800s. While you’re there, don’t miss 300-foot Dukes Creek Falls. Browse rentals. 10. Tannersville, Pennsylvania Nestled in the Pocono Mountains, Tannersville is the perfect destination for big families and honeymooners alike. Take a dip in a unique heart-shaped tub, or zipline through the treetops if adrenaline-pumping activities are more your speed. Browse rentals.
You Will Love These Fall Road Trips Across Tennessee
From Memphis to Nashville, from Chattanooga to the Great Smoky Mountains - and so much more - Tennessee's highways offer gorgeous vistas, welcoming cities and towns, and an array of activities for every member of the family. Here, three Tennessee road trips every traveler should take. Experience Unique Music and Culture: Memphis to Nashville In Memphis, jump-start your autumn excursion with a cup of java and a pumpkin duffin - a cake-donut-muffin hybrid - at Bluff City Coffee, before heading to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination now chronicles the Civil Rights Movement through films, artifacts, oral histories, and interactive media. The world-renowned museum is connected to the Lorraine Motel where a powerful exhibit shares Dr. King’s last hours, his iconic speech “Mountaintop” and Room 306 where he was staying April 4, 1968. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is also one of 10 Tennessee sites located on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. For audiophiles, the stretch of the Americana Music Triangle’s Gold Record Road that runs from Memphis to Nashville (aka “Beale to Broadway”) is especially fertile. Start at Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded his first song; then follow in the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s footsteps to his home, Graceland, where you can see the famous “Jungle Room,” the Racquetball Building and the pool room. Visit Elvis’ Memphis where you’ll encounter Elvis’ extensive car collection, hundreds of artifacts including jumpsuits in Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum and even his airplanes. Stroll down Beale Street, the epicenter of African-American jazz and blues culture in the early 1900s, where the music and dancing never stop from the clubs and venues lining the strip. Visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the world’s only museum dedicated to the genre. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institution, dives into Memphis’ global influence on music from the 1930s to today. Wrap up with a guided tour of the Gibson Guitar factory where skilled luthiers make some of the best guitars in the world right in front of your eyes. Jump on Highway 40 and head east until you reach the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, where a mecca of Tina Turner memorabilia is housed in the one-room schoolhouse she attended as a child; the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll grew up in Nutbush, not far away. Back on the road, it’s just under 30 miles to Jackson, home to both the International Rock-a-billy Hall of Fame and The Carnegie Featuring The Tennessee Legends of Music Museum which has exhibits on Sonny Boy Williamson, WS Holland and Carl Perkins. Outdoor lovers can visit Chickasaw State Park for a swim in Lake Placid or visit the stables for a guided horseback ride along a tranquil trail. From there, it’s an hour to Nashville, and Music City is not only the epicenter of country music in America but also a hotbed of world-class classical, jazz, and film music as well. Attend a show at one of the many music venues across the city where you’ll find not only country music but rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, jazz, blues and more. For a full history on country music visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Take a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry and take in a show during the live recorded show that “made country music famous.” See rising stars and music legends at the historic Ryman Auditorium or an up-and-comer at the Bluebird Café. See if you can stand the heat of Nashville’s hot chicken, prepared with secret spicy recipes from the grandfather of hot chicken, Prince’s or the more modern take, Hattie B’s and Party Fowl. Stay in a historic hotel like the Hermitage Hotel which has hosted presidents and famous musicians alike or rest your head in a museum hotel like Noelle or 21c Museum Hotel. Sixty-five miles east on I-40 is Edgar Evins State Park, a sprawling 6,000 acres on the banks of Center Hill Lake with fishing, kayaking, canoeing, 11 miles of hiking trails, and 57 species of butterflies. Drive half an hour further to Burgess Falls State Park, a natural area on the Eastern Highland Rim with sheer bluffs, narrow ridges, and four waterfalls. Snap some shots for Instagram and then head for Sparta, where you can visit the Coal Miner Railroad Section House Museum, take in views of four different counties from Sunset Rock. Enjoy a glass of wine at Tennessee’s oldest winery, Highland Manor Winery in Jamestown. From there, it’s a straight shot down I-40 to Knoxville. The Scenic Route: Nashville to Chattanooga Just 45 minutes south of Nashville is Franklin, a small town filled with music, history and boutique shopping. Keep an eye out for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Winona Judd at Puckett’s Grocery’s famed open-mic night; peruse the country-chic offerings at White’s Mercantile, a general store owned by Holly Williams, granddaughter of Hank Williams and a musician in her own right; learn the extensive Civil War history through carefully preserved battlefields and homes that were on the frontlines; and pick up sweet treats for the road from Meridee’s Breadbasket. Motoring south down US-41A, you’ll pass Tullahoma, the site of both the world’s largest wind tunnel and a former World War II POW camp. (Reserve at least two weeks in advance for tours of Arnold Air Force Base.) While you’re in town, have a meal at One22West, a former department store now slinging American classics with a local twist, and have a lovely night’s stay at the Grand Lux Inn, a refurbished 1905 home in the town’s historic district—both favorites of Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett. Aviation buffs should consider an October trip for the Beechcraft Heritage Museum's annual Beech Party, a celebration of all things antique aircraft. From Tullahoma, it’s 13 miles to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniel’s since 1866. Whiskey fans can tour the distillery and partake in a five-pour tasting, then hit Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House for a great Southern meal. Afterwards, pick up provisions and memorabilia at the Lynchburg Hardware General Store, then take Rt. 50 to 41A south until you hit the neighboring Cumberland Plateau towns of Sewanee and Monteagle. Stop for lunch and admire the mountain vistas over sandwiches at Mountain Goat Market or pulled pork at the 135 Cafe, a diner gem tucked away behind a gas station and a truck stop. From Sewanee, take I-24 through the mountains to Chattanooga, East Tennessee’s Scenic City. For great leaf-peeping, bike the Tennessee Riverpark Greenway, then spend some time in the Bluff View Art District, a vibrant one-and-a-half-block neighborhood overlooking the Tennessee River where you’ll find regional, local and nationally-known artists’ works at the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Houston Museum and the River Gallery. Treat yourself to a meal at the Back Inn Café, where dishes like smoked-duck flatbread and shrimp and grits impress as much as the water views. After dinner, swing by the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. for a tour, a tasting, or a drink in the lounge, then hit the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, an historic terminal station that now houses the Songbirds Guitar Museum, for a nightcap. Food and Fall Colors: Chattanooga to Knoxville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park From Chattanooga, it’s 36 miles northeast to Booker T. Washington State Park, a 353-acre water-lover’s paradise on the shores of Chickamauga Lake. Wander the walking trail, challenge yourself with a mountain bike ride, take a boat out on the lake and go fishing, or picnic by the waterfront. The outdoor activity is bound to make you thirsty, and the family-owned Morris Vineyard & Tennessee Mountainview Winery in Charleston is just under an hour away. Sip a glass of muscadine blush or blueberry wine, made with fruit grown on the property’s more than 50 acres, in front of a stunning mountainous backdrop. From there, take Rt. 11 to Athens, and cap off a tour of Mayfield Dairy Farms with a scoop of homemade ice cream in the old-fashioned parlor. Next, it’s on to Madisonville for a stop at Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham, where the renowned country ham and hickory-smoked bacon gets made for some of the top restaurants in the nation. Take a pound or two to go for the ultimate edible souvenir, and continue on to Knoxville, the football-mad home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. In October, join the rowdy crowd for a game, then stick around to watch an array of adorable pups compete for best costume in the UT Gardens’ Howl-O-Ween Pooch Parade. Head up to the 4th-floor observation deck of the Sunsphere, a 266-foot tower built for the 1982 World’s Fair, for 360-degree views of the city, then slip over to the nearby Knoxville Museum of Art. Explore the lively dining scene at Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, run by James Beard Award-nominated chef Tim Love and Oliver Royale, breweries like Balter Beerworks and Alliance Brewing Company; donut shops like Status Dough, and pet-friendly patios like Stock & Barrel and Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern , before bouncing back to your boutique treehouse at Treetop Hideaways, just outside of town. Known as the Gateway to the Smokies, Gatlinburg is just over an hour away, at an access point to the nation’s most-visited and biodiverse national park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take the winding Great Smoky Mountains Byway, but drive slowly to capture the many fall-foliage photo ops, especially in Cades Cove. (Don’t forget to check the park’s Weekly Fall Colors Update to catch the vivid autumn palette at its prime.) Get your fill of hiking, zip-lining, and rafting, but be sure to allow time for Gatlinburg proper, too. Take a tour and sample the spirits at Sugarlands Distilling Company, pick up some pottery or take a class at Fowler’s Clay Works, and don’t miss Anakeesta, Gatlinburg’s newest attraction, with its own mountain, dueling ziplining, canopy walk, shops, bakeries, barbecue, and stunning mountain views. Stop by Tennessee’s only ski park, Ober Gatlinburg, for the Oktoberfest celebration, and wash it all down with a shot of pumpkin pie moonshine from Ole Smoky Moonshine. For epic views on the way out of town, take the Gatlinburg Bypass and stop at the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook before continuing on to Pigeon Forge, where the main attraction is Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s amusement park. Make a day of it there, but don’t skip the area’s assortment of specialty museums. Located in Dollywood, the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates the pioneers of the genre; nearby, stop by the Titanic Museum to see relics and recreations from the legendary luxury liner, snap selfies with stars like Lucille Ball and Michael Jackson at the Hollywood Wax Museum, and learn about the criminal underworld at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum, where infamous artifacts like O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco and Ted Bundy’s VW Beetle are on display. In neighboring Sevierville, motorheads will love the collection of high-performance vehicles at the Floyd Garrett Muscle Car Museum, while warbird enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. Spend an afternoon running the obstacle course at the Sevier Air Trampoline & Ninja Warrior Park, take a scenic helicopter ride or go up in a 1927 biplane, and browse the merchandise at Smoky Mountain Knifeworks, the world’s largest knife showplace, where everything from collectible and antique knives to fantasy and superhero blades is on offer. Don’t miss gorgeous nearby Foxfire Mountain, and be sure to treat yourself at Tanger Outlets, the sprawling mall with something for everyone.
Top U.S. Water Parks
1. WILDERNESS TERRITORY WATERPARK RESORT AT WISCONSIN DELLS, WI. Near Madison, WI. (55 miles) The Wilderness Territory's most popular ride is the Hurricane: Riders experience the eye of the storm as they rapidly descend through a four-story funnel. Flashes of lightning, rumbling thunder, and drifting fog convey the sense of a full-blown natural disaster. Details 511 E. Adams St., Wisconsin Dells, Wis., 800/867-9453, wildernessresort.com. Kids eat free with adult purchase.Other Wilderness locations A new, 150-acre Wilderness resort in Sevierville, Tenn. Parks nearby Other water parks in Wisconsin Dells: Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park and Noah's Ark. 2. KALAHARI RESORT, SANDUSKY, OH. Near Toledo, OH. (60 miles) Kalahari doubled the size of the park in December 2007. The highlight is the Swahili Swirl. In a four-person inner tube, you'll be ejected from a steep tube slide into a 60-foot-diameter bowl; it's a dizzying three times around before you're sucked down the drain and dropped into a 50-foot-long landing pool. It's like a really fun toilet bowl. To mellow out, relax under the 40,000-square-foot clear Texlon roof, which houses tropical plants and allows guests to catch sun year-round.Details 7000 Kalahari Dr., Sandusky, 877/525-2427, kalahariresort.com. Look for "Beat the Clock" lodging specials on the website. Other Kalahari locations Wisconsin Dells Wis. And a new water-park resort is under development in Fredericksburg, Va. 3. AQUATIC BY SEAWORLD, ORLANDO, FL. Near Tampa, FL. (85 miles) The signature experience here is the Dolphin Plunge, 250 feet of clear underwater tubes that plunge riders into a lagoon populated by charismatic black-and-white Commerson's dolphins. For a split second, you'll feel as if you're swimming with them. Aquatica's attractions include something for everyone: 36 slides, six rivers and lagoons, and more than 80,000 square feet of white-sand beaches.Details 5800 Water Play Way, Orlando, 888/800-5447, aquaticabyseaworld.com. 4. DAYTONA LAGOON, DAYTONA BEACH, FL. Near Orlando, FL. (55 miles) Daytona Lagoon's most hair-raising experience is Blackbeard's Revenge. After you climb the 62-foot tower and mount an inner tube, you'll take a 15 mph, six-story tumble down a twisting, pitch-black tunnel slide. Don't miss the brand-new Kraken's Conquest, either: It's a four-lane, 55-foot-long ProRacer-series speed slide. Friends and families can challenge each other to high-speed, watery showdowns. Details 601 Earl St., Daytona Beach, 386/254-5020, daytonalagoon.com. The park offers a different special each day; for example, every Thursday you can get unlimited use of miniature golf, the carousel, and the rock-climbing wall from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for $10. 5. WATER WORLD, DENVER, CO. Near Boulder, CO. (30 miles) The 67-acre Water World's calling card is the Voyage to the Center of the Earth. Brave riders hop onto inner tubes and journey into the dark—where they're confronted by large, animatronic dinosaurs, including a 15-foot T. rex. If you're scared of the dark, but not much else, the TurboRacer might be more your style: Jump headfirst onto toboggan mats and race your friends down four stories, eventually launching—at more than 20 mph—onto a straightaway to the finish line. Each rider's time is recorded, so you can tell if you're the fastest waterstud in Denver.Details 1800 W. 89th Ave., Federal Heights, Colo., 303/427-7873, waterworldcolorado.com. Families can bring a picnic into the park; parking is free. 6. GULF ISLANDS WATERPARK, GULFPORT, MS. Near New Orleans, LA. (77 miles) The most popular ride here is the Horn Island Blaster water roller coaster. The attraction ferries two riders at a time through more than 500 feet of twists and turns, including some thrilling uphill blasts at angles greater than 45 degrees. Families with young children might opt instead for the Ship Island Wreck, a slide for kids as young as 2. Details 13100 16th St. Gulfport, 866/485-3386, gulfislandswaterpark.com. 7. WATER PARK OF AMERICA, BLOOMINGTON, MN. Near Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. (13 miles) Given that it's adjacent to the gargantuan Mall of America, it's no wonder that the Water Park of America is a year-round attraction. The highlight is its mile-long indoor Whitewater Family Raft Ride, which propels riders over a river suspended 10 stories above the cars and trucks zipping along Interstate 494. Other standouts include an immense video arcade and the Trillium Spa— the latter for those who would prefer to skip the action.Details 1700 American Blvd. E., Bloomington, 952/698-8888, waterparkofamerica.com. The Radisson, which connects to the park, offers packages that include tickets. 8. SPLISH SPLASH, LONG ISLAND, N.Y. NearNew York City, N.Y. (73 miles) The most popular offerings pitch you into darkness to up the thrill factor: Dragon's Den, Barrier Reef, Hollywood Stunt Rider, and the super popular Alien Invasion. The last ride begins by blasting your four-person raft down a steep slide before spinning it out of control and launching it into a dark pool. For raw intensity, try the Cliff Diver—you'll drop eight stories in three seconds. 'Nuff said.Details 2549 Splish Splash Dr., Calverton, N.Y., 631/727-3600, splishsplashlongisland.com. 9. MOUNTAIN CREEK WATERPARK, VERNON, N.J. Near Trenton, N.J. (89 miles) Vertigo, a fully enclosed water coaster, cannons riders around tight curves in total darkness. Passengers on the park's signature ride, High Anxiety, drop four stories in the dark before entering into a funnel at breakneck speed.Details 200 Rte. 94, Vernon, N.J., 973/864-8444, mountaincreekwaterpark.com. Season-pass benefits include two bring-a-friend-for-free days and free parking. 10. RAGING WATERS, SAN JOSE, CA. Near San Francisco, CA. (50 miles) The 23-acre Raging Waters includes the winding, 60-foot-long Blue Thunder/White Lightning tunnel slide, and the newest attention-grabber, Dragon's Den, which catapults a two-person tube through darkness before a sudden, gut-wrenching drop into calmer waters. Details 2333 S. White Rd., San Jose, 408/238-9900, rwsplash.com. Other Raging Waters locations San Dimas (near L.A.) and Sacramento, Calif. (season passes are good for all three parks). 11. WET 'N WILD EMERALD POINTE, GREENSBORO, N.C. Near Raleigh, N.C. (78 miles) Wet 'n Wild is well-known for its speed chutes like Daredevil Drop, with a hair-raising 76-foot plunge, and Double Barrel Blast, a ride which ends abruptly in midair—launching you from a four-foot edge before you hit the pool. Contrary to its name, Wet 'n Wild also lets you skip the water altogether: The Skycoaster combines the thrills of bungee-jumping and hang gliding, allowing up to three people at a time to experience the sensation of flying without getting even a little soggy.Details 3910 S. Holden Rd., Greensboro, 336/852-9721, emeraldpointe.com. Wet 'n Wild offers various promotions throughout the summer, from Girl Scout Day (June 20) and Home Educator's Day (August 20). 12. SPLASHTOWN WATERPARK, SAN ANTONIO, TX. Near Austin, TX. (80 miles) The 20-acre Splashtown features more than 50 rides and attractions, from simple wave pools to true screamers, such as the five-story Hydras tube-slide tower and the aptly named Wedgie, a precipitous speed slide that tugs on your trunks like an 8th-grade bully as it fires you into the pool below. Details 3600 N. I-35, San Antonio, 210/227-1400, splashtownsa.com. Special events include magic shows and "dive-in" movie screenings. Parking is free.Parks nearby Other area parks include Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas. If you find yourself in Dallas, Bahama Beach is an option. 13. SIX FLAGS WHITE WATER, ATLANTA Near Athens, GA. (73 miles) The nine-story Cliffhanger is one of the world's tallest free falls. It's so high that just peeking over the top might be thrill enough. But the signature ride is the Tornado, an intense four-person inner-tube nosedive of greater than 50 vertical feet—all while 5,000 gallons of water swirls around you. Details 250 Cobb Pkwy N., Marietta, Ga., 770/948-9290, sixflags.com/whitewater. Other Six Flags locations Six Flags has many Hurricane Harbor water parks adjacent to existing amusement parks; locations include Gurnee/Chicago, Ill.; Arlington, Tex. Eureka, Mo.; Jackson, N.J.; Valencia/Los Angeles, Calif.; Agawam, Mass.; and Largo, Md.
Explore the Secret Falls of the Smokies by Car
Eight hundred square miles of old-growth forest and quartzite crags, the Great Smoky Mountains make up the most visited national park in the country. Covered in that famously blue blanket of fog, these woods are like something conjured up by the Brothers Grimm—a natural wonder with a dash of fairy tale. But for all the park's appeal, most of its day-trippers, long-haul hikers, and Harley caravanners come looking for just one thing: autumn leaves. To them, waterfalls are a trickling Smokies side note. If only they knew... Once spring is within shouting distance, cascades suddenly begin tumbling from all over the place as the Smokies' 2,100 miles of streams swell with high-country melt and rain. Imagine it: Big, thundering falls and delicate, burbling cataracts. Some run for a few weeks, some for months at a time, but most are gone or vastly diminished by June. Instead of hunting color with the masses, during April you can chase falls in solitude, at their gushing peak. DAY 1 Chattanooga, Tenn., to Sevierville, Tenn. 153 miles Throw a rock from pretty much anywhere in the Smokies and it'll splash a fall in spring. With only two days to explore the region, I wasn't interested in quantity—I was more interested in being selective. To zero in, I downloaded maps from the National Park Service website, then talked to some experts at local outfitters in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This ridge city is a rising star, a Bluegrass-music and organic-bakery kind of place, similar in flavor to another of my favorite small Southern towns: Asheville, North Carolina. If I were to bookend my route with the two towns, I could cut straight through the park, past some of its prettiest falls. I arrived in Chattanooga for lunch at noon and headed straight for Warehouse Row, a former Civil War fort that's been converted into boutiques, galleries, and a modern comfort-food café called Public House. Their fried-chicken salad was topped with slap-your-knee-delicious hickory bacon from local curemaster Allan Benton. Driving east out of Chattanooga, I veered off I-75 near Madisonville (home of Allan Benton's smokehouse) and steered toward the park's western hub of Townsend. At the Smoky Mountain School of Woodcarving, I met the genial, white-bearded Mac Proffitt. Porch-sitting is an art in his family, which settled in the Smokies back in the early 1800s. With one of Mac's beginner Murphy knives and a block of soft basswood, I felt ready to channel my inner hillbilly between waterfall stops. I ignored Gatlinburg's taffy stores and T-shirt shops and instead pointed my wheels straight into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the unofficial heart of Appalachia, with more than 9 million visitors a year. As I traced the winding, 18-mile, Etch-A-Sketch-like Little River Road, foothills grew into full-blown peaks, cloaked in hardwoods at the base and spruce and firs on top. I'd heard good things about two falls in the area—Abrams near Cades Cove Loop Road and the 80-foot Laurel near Fighting Creek Gap—but I was eager to get on to Rainbow Falls, a notoriously gorgeous cascade along one of the park's top ascent trails. I parked at the Rainbow Falls trailhead off of Cherokee Orchard Road and hiked in. After a little more than an hour of low-grade climbing, I was rewarded: Winter's ice formations had melted into a misty, 80-foot veil. The continual collision of water with rock sounded like a turbo-charged, amplified washing machine. The large slabs had been smoothed by time, and dry, mossy nooks made awesome reading benches. Somehow I managed to sit for a solitary hour here, half of which I spent watching a family of black salamanders in a small pool. I could have contentedly whiled away the whole day but decided to press on, with a hike-in hotel in mind. Only the devoted climb the 6.5 miles to LeConte Lodge, set at the end of the trail atop the tallest peak east of Colorado. The cluster of seven cabins and three lodges has been a Smokies institution since 1926, with some of the best views in the park. If you can snag a reservation here—they tend to book up months in advance—expect the best of the South: rocking chairs, Hudson Bay wool blankets, family-style suppers, and, if you're lucky, a black bear sighting. John Muir would love these digs. How to goLodging: LeConte Lodge, Sevierville, Tenn., $79 per personFood: Public House, 1110 Market St., Chattanooga, Tenn., fried-chicken salad from $9.50Activities: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, free entrySmoky Mountain School of Woodcarving, 7321 Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, Tenn. DAY 2 Sevierville, Tenn., to Balsam, N.C.50 milesWith nearly 85 inches of annual rain, the upper Smokies qualify both as a temperate rain forest and one hell of a spot for showers. And Mingo Falls stands above them all. The 120-foot cascade, just a whisper off the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, is one of the tallest in the area. I slowly wound south down U.S. 441, stopping half a dozen times to take snapshots of overlooks, rippling creeks, and two napping elk. Twenty-one miles into North Carolina, Mingo sits on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Luckily, there's no strenuous hike involved for this one. Inhaling the brisk, ion-rich oxygen helped me forget that my legs were still throbbing from LeConte. About an hour south of Mingo Falls, past gemstone sellers and dream-catcher stands, I came upon the chill little town of Sylva, North Carolina. Sylva embodies that new breed of Southern town, in league with places like Black Mountain and Brevard, North Carolina. Its Main Street is lined with coffee shops and a fly-fishing outfitter. I rode a quick stretch to an inn that's over a century old, just short of Asheville, in the town of Balsam. If LeConte is the Smokies' old settler-style hangout, then the Balsam Mountain Inn is its Governor's mansion. Built as a summer getaway, the 50-room house has a two-story porch long enough to bowl down and rooms laid with heart-pine floorboards. It has, blissfully, little else—no phones, no TVs—and gives new meaning to the idea of a restful stay. Wood-carving block in my hand, a train calling in the distance, and nothing but foggy Blue Ridge views for miles—the Mountain Inn was exactly what I wanted after two days of waterfall trekking. Civilization could wait. How to goLodging: Balsam Mountain Inn, 68 Seven Springs Dr., Balsam, N.C., doubles from $145Activities: Blue Ridge Parkway SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: 16 Awe-Inspiring American Monuments 4 Tips for Tough Photo Scenarios The Ultimate Packing Guide
5 Amazing New Water Park Rides
Looking for a fun way to cool off? These five new water rides at parks and piers across the country deliver exactly the type of thrills and chills these dog days call for. Pirate's Plunge Log Flume Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, Galveston, Tex. It's been a long time since Galveston's 25th street pier saw this kind of action—51 years, in fact. The city's original Pleasure Pier, once the largest amusement park of its kind, was wiped out by a hurricane in 1961. This May, an all–new park opened with 16 rides spread out over an area the size of three football fields. The most refreshing one is the Pirate's Plunge Log Flume, which includes two drops—22 feet and 40 feet in height—and has plenty of bystander–soaking power. Pleasurepier.com, adult full–day pass $27, must be 42" tall to ride Pirate's Plunge. River Adventure and Wipeout! Morey's Piers, Wildwood, NJ This old-school (since the 1960s) waterfront amusement park introduced several new features for the 2012 season, including a souped–up lazy river called River Adventure, with waterfalls, geysers, and grottoes; and Wipeout!, a six–lane head–first race–style waterslide that harks back to the original 12–lane fiberglass slide the entrepreneurial Morey brothers bought in 1968. Moreyspiers.com, adult full–day water park access $38; River Adventure all–ages, must be 42" tall to ride Wipeout. The Wild Vortex Wilderness at the Smokies Resort, Sevierville, Tenn. The daredevil in your family will likely consider the just–opened Wild Vortex waterslide to be seven seconds in heaven. That's how long it takes to travel the crazy, translucent loop–the–loop tube that starts with a 39–foot free–fall (through a trap door, no less) and carries the rider through a full 360–degree vertical spiral at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. You have to be a guest at the resort to use the waterpark, but given that room rates are comparable to a single adult admission to some of the larger theme parks—and you get free access to the resort's indoor and outdoor water parks for the full day after you check out—we think it's still a deal. Wildernessatthesmokies.com, room rates from $99, must be 48" tall to ride the Wild Vortex. The Fishpipe Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria, Maui, Hawaii You might have seen its predecessor, the Zorb, in a recent Toyota commercial—or in any number of would–be–viral videos on YouTube. Now, the makers of that human–sized hamster ball have made a stationary, water–slicked version called the Fishpipe that spins up to three riders at a time at speeds of up to 11 feet per second. It's being snapped up by hotels and resorts across Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., and most recently arrived at Maui's Grand Wailea. Grandwailea.com, rides $15, ages 5 and up. Legoland Water Park Legoland, Winter Haven, Fla. The latest addition from the beloved toy company debuted May 26, 2012—an expansion of its less–than–a–year–old amusement park in Central Florida, about an hour southeast of Orlando. The water park has all the basics you'd expect—a wave pool, a lazy river, five slides, and a play area for the littlest kids—and adds just $11 to the cost of a day pass to the rest of the park. Florida.legoland.com, adult full–day passes to Legoland Florida and Water Park from $77. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 5 U.S. Theme Parks Under $50 8 Ways to Save Big on Summer Travel 25 Summer Travel Deals You Don't Want To Miss
Spring Food Festivals You Must Taste to Believe
Admit it. The words food and festival make your mouth water. I know, I know. You're picturing yourself balancing a plate of, say, gulf shrimp with a nice cool glass of local chardonnay. Add a balmy Southern breeze in your hair and you've pretty much got a perfect afternoon. Here, four of our favorite American food festivals coming up in May, served with a heaping side order of affordable hotels. Bloomin' Barbecue & Bluegrass (May 17 to 18). Sevierville, TN, has a lot going for it. Located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and a short drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Dollywood, the town is also host to an annual BBQ and bluegrass blast. Here, you'll meet barbeque cook teams who have been featured on the Food Network, free bluegrass concerts (including the Mountain Soul Vocal Competition featuring finalists from around the U.S. competing for a Nashville recording session), and witness an epic cook-off involving more than 2,800 pounds of meat that includes pulled pork, brisket, chicken, and ribs. Where to stay: La Quinta Inn & Suites Sevierville (2428 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville, TN, lq.com, doubles from $89) is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, near Dollywood, Dixie Stampede, and offers a free breakfast. New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (May 22 to 25). You already know this town knows how to throw a party. Now celebrating its 21st year, the NOWFF will include wine dinners hosted by more than 30 NOLA restaurants, the Royal Street Stroll through the French Quarter, and wine tastings from more than 175 wineries (including food pairings from local chefs). The event will also include the 7th annual Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, whose winner will represent the state in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, plus seminars about international cuisine. Where to stay: Holiday Inn French Quarter—Chateau Lemoyne Hotel (301 Rue Dauphine, holidayinn.com, doubles from $167) has a prime central location near Bourbon Street. Atlanta Food & Wine Festival (May 30 to June 2). The organizers of this fest in Midtown Atlanta like to say "the South never tasted so good," and you'll catch their enthusiasm quickly when you immerse yourself in a lavish extended weekend of learning experiences (cooking and cocktail demos, tasting seminars, and panel discussions), tasting experiences (chef-curated tasting tents serving Southern meals, snacks, sweets, sandwiches, and wines and spirits), plus evening dinners and other events. With an advisory council of more than 60 award-winning food pros from 14 Southern states and the District of Columbia, this festival has an additional "southern" angle—it celebrates the food of other southern regions of the world, including Southern Europe, South Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico. Where to stay: Westin Peachtree Plaza (210 Peachtree Street, starwoodhotels.com, doubles from $173) is in central Atlanta, near its Museum of Design, Centennial Olympic Park, and a short distance from the outstanding Georgia Aquarium. Taste of Cincinnati (May 25 to 27). America's longest-running culinary festival, dating back to 1979, this Memorial Day weekend bash celebrates the Cincinnati area's great restaurants and attracts 500,000 foodies each year. More than 40 locals restaurants typically participate, and in the weeks leading up to the event there is a Best of Taste Awards competition in which menu items are previewed and judged. This year's offerings are in the works, but last year's winners included Shrimp & Crab Dumpling with Noodle (deemed "Best Damn Dish" of the year), Fried Peanut Butter & Jelly, and Banana Cream Pie. Where to stay: Wingate by Wyndham Cincinnati (4320 Glendale Milford Road, wingatehotels.com, doubles from $92) is located in the Blue Ash business district. TALK TO US! We want to know: What's your favorite food festival?
More Places to go
Pigeon Forge is a mountain resort city in Sevier County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 5,875. Situated just 5 miles (8 km) north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge is a tourist destination that caters primarily to Southern culture and country music fans. The city's attractions include Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country as well as numerous gift shops, outlet malls, amusement rides, and musical theaters.
Gatlinburg is a mountain resort city in Sevier County, Tennessee, United States. It is located 39 miles (63 km) southeast of Knoxville and had a population of 3,944 at the 2010 Census and an estimated U.S. Census population of 4,144 in 2018. It is a popular vacation resort, as it rests on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park along U.S. Route 441, which connects to Cherokee, North Carolina, on the southeast side of the national park. Prior to incorporation, the town was known as White Oak Flats, or just simply White Oak.
The Tennessee Smokies are a Minor League Baseball team based in the Knoxville, Tennessee, metropolitan area. The team, which plays in the Double-A South, is the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Smokies Stadium, the team's ballpark, is located in the suburb of Kodak, and seats up to 8,000 fans. The team was based in Knoxville and called the Knoxville Smokies for many years before moving to Kodak and changing its name prior to the 2000 season. The team's nickname refers to the Great Smoky Mountains mountain range which permeates the region; mountains in the chain are often clouded in a hazy mist that may appear as smoke rising from the forest.
Knoxville is a city in and the county seat of Knox County in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2020 United States census, Knoxville's population was 190,740, making it the largest city in the East Tennessee Grand Division and the state's third largest city after Nashville and Memphis. Knoxville is the principal city of the Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had an estimated population of 869,046 in 2019.First settled in 1786, Knoxville was the first capital of Tennessee. The city struggled with geographic isolation throughout the early 19th century. The arrival of the railroad in 1855 led to an economic boom. During the American Civil War, the city was bitterly divided over the secession issue and was occupied alternately by Confederate and Union armies. Following the war, Knoxville grew rapidly as a major wholesaling and manufacturing center. The city's economy stagnated after the 1920s as the manufacturing sector collapsed, the downtown area declined and city leaders became entrenched in highly partisan political fights. Hosting the 1982 World's Fair helped reinvigorate the city, and revitalization initiatives by city leaders and private developers have had major successes in spurring growth in the city, especially the downtown area.Knoxville is the home of the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee, whose sports teams, the Tennessee Volunteers, are popular in the surrounding area. Knoxville is also home to the headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Tennessee Supreme Court's courthouse for East Tennessee, and the corporate headquarters of several national and regional companies. As one of the largest cities in the Appalachian region, Knoxville has positioned itself in recent years as a repository of Appalachian culture and is one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.