Year in Review: Highlights of 2018

2018 was an exciting, adventure filled year for my family. We started a bit early by purchasing a new 2018 Chevy Equinox, and to date-exactly 54 weeks later- we have over 26,000 miles on the odometer. We’ve been as far west as Texas, as far south as Florida, and as far north as Maine. We’re explored over a dozen states, over twenty National Parks Service locations, over two dozen museums, two baseball parks (that brings our total count to 24 out of the 30 MLB parks), and created countless memories.

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How to Explore the Great Smoky Mountains if You Don’t Hike or Camp

I’m saying it from the start: I am not a hiker. Or a camper. I think I like to hike and camp. I think I like being in the wilderness and communing with nature. I think I like to be without technology and modern day conveniences like running water. But when push comes to shove, I like it for about a day.

So here’s the disclaimer: I spent one day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I want to be up front: you could spend weeks- months- inside this national park that spans over 500,000 acres across two states (Tennessee and North Carolina). But I know my limitations, and I knew at the start of an almost four week road trip it was going to be a marathon and not a sprint, so I couldn’t get burnt out right away. I researched the Great Smoky Mountains and found the most manageable places to explore that would still give me the sense of accomplishment of hiking/camping/communing with nature. Here’s what I recommend if you want to get a feel for the mountains without camping for days:

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The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee

My family received most of their country music education when we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on a recent trip to Nashville. However, no education would be complete without a trip to the Grand Ole Opry. The backstage tour gave us an insider’s perspective to what it’s like for one of the 64 living, active cast members who perform at the Opry. Since its inception, the Opry has invited (invitation is a must) 215 musicians to become members, 74 of whom are women.

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Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Tennessee

Andrew Johnson, the 17th American President hails from Tennessee and there are several spots in the Greeneville, Tennessee area, approximately 90 minutes from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to learn about his life. Johnson started as the alderman of Greeneville, then became mayor, state representative, Tennessee senator, governor, vice president (to Abraham Lincoln) and ultimately, the 17th president.  Several sites related to Johnson’s life are overseen by the National Parks Service, which provides many ways to explore the area, including a self guided cell phone tour. While we only had limited time in the area (we were traveling from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park), we were able to learn all about Johnson’s life and infamous impeachment.

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The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee

We’re not huge country music fans, but while in Nashville this summer, we figured it was only appropriate to listen to what the locals listen to and blend in with the crowd. There’s no better place to listen to, and learn about, country music than the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s located in downtown Nashville, close to many area attractions. (I’ll have a full list of our fun in Nashville in the coming weeks.)

I was uncertain if my children would be engaged throughout our self guided tour ( we decided to forego the audio tour). I was so pleasantly surprised at how child friendly the museum is! There is plenty to see and do, even for younger, non-country loving kids. We spent over two hours inside the museum and could have stayed longer had we not had another reservation.

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