Free Family Fun Vacation Activity

Little River Railroad and Lumber Company

Carr’s Cottages prides ourselves on not only offering affordable vacations, but also for being knowledgeable about the sights and activities in the Gatlinburg area that will help you have a great family vacation.  You’re going to like this!

One unique, family-friendly activity is The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. Founded in the Smoky Mountains in 1901 by Col. W. B. Townsend, the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company (LRRC) built 150 miles of track and sawed over 2 billion board feet of timber before becoming part of the newly formed Great Smoky Mountain National Park in 1939.

Imagine the fun your kids will have pretending to be passengers or a conductor on the museum’s outdoor displays consisting of a 1909 Shay 2147 engine, a Frick steam engine, “Little Woody – a vintage caboose car, original flatcars, and a log loader. Inside the museum, housed in the original Walland TN Depot building moved to this site, are over 200 enlargements of vintage photographs, papers, tools, exhibits and small artifacts.  Don’t miss seeing the authentic “setoff” house – a movable block-like dwelling that workers lived in that could be picked up, placed on a flat car, and “set off” at the next working site.  We’d say that this is truly the first of “mobile” homes.

Each year, the The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum celebrates Railroad Days.  This year’s event is Saturday, September 27 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.  Activities include museum tours, hand car rides, walking tour of old Townsend and Tremont.

Townsend TN Fall Festival Railroad Days

Railroad Days
Saturday, September 27

There is never a museum admission fee, but it does operate on donations and sales from the Gift Shop, which is housed in a replica of the early Elkmont Post Office.  Visit The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum in Townsend on US 321 near the west entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  If you can’t make it for their Railroad Days, visit anytime during these dates and hours:

June, July, August, October
Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday:  1 – 5 p.m.

April, May, September, November
Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday:  1 – 5 p.m.

December – March
By Appointment Only

When you stay with Carr’s, you are on the right track to having a great family vacation!

Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum
7747 East Lamar Alexander Pkwy., Townsend
865.448.2211 |

Where to Take Family Photos

Gatlinburg Family Vacation Photo Ops

Family Vacation Photos in Gatlinburg

Share Your Vacation Photos with Us!

Family vacations to the Great Smoky Mountains are often about capturing special times with your family, and whether you plan for it or it happens by accident, everyone leaves with memories.  Bring your camera, bring your phone, or bring your camcorders because the scenic value of your memories will be something to capture and write home about.   Unlike the fisherman who hoards the location of their secret fishing hole, we’re giving you the scoop on a few choice family photo spots that are scenic vistas, points of interest, or of historical importance.

Gatlinburg never disappoints to provide scenic family photo ops.  You will find the most spectacular view of Gatlinburg and the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains from the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook on the Gatlinburg Bypass.  Along this route you’ll have a birds eye view of downtown.  Be mindful of traffic and use one of the convenient pull off areas to fully appreciate the scene and get the perfect shot!

On a hot day consider the Roaring Fork Nature Trail, located about a mile outside Gatlinburg. The Roaring Fork Nature Trail is a 6-mile loop that will take you along some waterfalls!  Rainbow Falls stand’s 80 feet tall and provides a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike and is considered moderate to difficult.  The Rainbow Falls Trail continues for approximately 4 miles beyond the falls to the summit of Mount Le Conte.  Grotto Falls, a picturesque 25′ waterfall is the spot of a thousand drips.

For historical and wildlife photos, Cades Cove is the place to go.  Arrive early to get the best experience, as it’s early in the morning that animals are moving and haven’t had a moment to tuck themselves out of travelers view.  Take your time along the one-way tour as Cades Cove is home to a working gristmill, barns, primitive churches, and many cabins that were used by the first settlers.  Pull aside to allow those in a hurry to pass because you don’t want to miss an opportunity view wild flowers, a wild turkey, deer or even a black bear!

Even with all the beautiful backdrops throughout the Smokies, the best place to take your vacation photos is right outside your door at Carr’s Cottages!  With our park-like setting, playground, babbling brook and two swimming pools, there’ll be plenty of family fun to photograph.  We hope you’ll share your photos with us on Facebook because some of OUR best memories are the pictures of YOUR memories at Carr’s Cottages.


Pigeon Forge Rotary Club Craft Fair 2014

Annual Fall Craft Show a Highlight of October in the Smokies

October is a month ideal for heading to the Smoky Mountains and submersing yourself into everything ‘Appalachia.’  The weather is perfect for appreciating the National Park, Vols football is in full swing, and cultural celebrations and festivals are happening every weekend throughout Sevier County.  And, all year long, folks are looking forward being in Pigeon Forge during the month of October for the much loved Rotary Club Craft Fair.

From September 27 – October 25, 2014, the Rotary Club of Pigeon Forge will set stakes at Patriot Park for the 39th Annual Rotary Club Craft Festival.  This craft fair is a wonderful opportunity to shop for wares from both local and nationally skilled craftsmen and browse for handmade gifts for yourself or friends, find unique Smoky Mountain home décor, and even begin working on your Christmas shopping list.  Featured craftsmen have a proficiency in woodworking, Native American jewelry and gifts, quilts, stained glass, and so much more.  Browse the booths and get to know these talented individuals!

Pigeon Forge Rotary Club Craft Fair 2014

September 27 – October 25, 2014

For 2014, the Rotary Craft Fair is bringing “Together We Can Make a Difference” to this year’s festivities. As the Rotary Club’s biggest annual fund raiser, proceeds of booth rentals, admission donations, and concessions will benefit local organizations such as Children’s Christmas Party, Handicap Scouts, House of Hope, Programs for Disadvantaged Youth, Scholarships, Sevier Food Ministries, Youth Exchange, Boys & Girls Club and Sevier County Schools.

A donation of any size is your festival admission and is greatly appreciated.  Fair is open every day from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

It is easy to find Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge: turn off the Parkway at traffic light #7 / the Old Mill and look for the carnival tent.  Parking is free.  When you return to Carr’s, be sure to stop by the front desk so we can see what you’ve bought!

What is a Rotary Club?  To find out more about the mission and importance of Rotary, our local Rotary Club and how you can become a Rotarian in your own community, click here to visit online.

Thank you for supporting our community simply by visiting and appreciating the Great Smoky Mountains!


Fun for Kids at the Wonderful World of Ripley’s

Ripley’s Gatlinburg Aquarium and Special Events

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is pulling out all the stops this summer to entertain your kids! Even if you’ve been to the aquarium a number of times and think this might be the year that you can skip it… DON’T! There is a new exhibit appropriately named “Slime,” special guest appearances, and some creative, free fun on the Plaza all summer long.  Click here to print a Ripley’s Gatlinburg Attractions Event Calendar.

Live Mermaid Show at Ripley's Aquarium

Throughout the Month of July

The Mermaids are back! Throughout the entire month of July, you can watch live Mermaids swimming the Coral Reef every day at Noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Now through August 9, Ripley’s Aquarium is hosting a “Kid’s Fin-Tastic Summer” on the Plaza. Kids are invited to participate in free crafts and activities each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. We’re guessing this will be some ‘camera worthy’ fun that will make a great addition to your summer vacation scrapbook!

Various dates between August 16-November 15 will welcome special guest appearances from kid stars including Disney’s ‘Fletcher,’ ABC’s ‘Danny,’ Mr. Potato Head, the Cat in the Hat, and others. Their appearance will be at the aquarium and included with a regular admission ticket.

The hot topic at the aquarium is this year’s new exhibit, “SLIME.” In addition to Touch-a-Ray Bay, now your kids can touch Jellyfish at the limited-time Jellyfish Encounter too. There are over 15 videos and interactivities, and additional aquarium tanks featuring interesting and extra slimy fish and critters. We’re betting your kids are going to enjoy grossing you out with all the cool stuff they’ll learn!

We know you choose Carr’s because of the affordable, comfortable accommodations, and for the fact that your kids love the swimming pool and wading in our creek. But did you know that we sell discount aquarium tickets too? Pick up your tickets at our front desk and save.

Adult Tickets: Save $4.47   •   Kids Tickets: Save $3.35

Have a little sneak peak at what’s in store for you at the Gatlinburg Aquarium and then make your reservations to vacation with us at Carr’s!

Kids Junior Ranger Program

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

When you vacation at Carr’s Cottages, you join the ranks of generations of families that have been enjoying affordable, family vacations in East Tennessee.  We love families and kids of all ages, and hope that your kids will come to love the great outdoors as much as we do.  One way to inspire them is through the interactive Junior Ranger Program!

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just one of 300 participating parks that offer children between ages 5-12 the chance to become Junior Rangers, complete with a certificate and badge!  While your child can become a Jr Ranger at any time of the year, there are many unique, ranger-led activities to encourage kids to explore and learn about the park are scheduled during the spring, summer and fall.  Activities include such things as short hikes, learning how to pack a daypack, animal Olympics, bats, and more that your kids will absolutely love.  See some of the outdoor activities scheduled for 2014.

Become a Junior Ranger in the Smoky Mountains National Park

Earn a Junior Ranger Badge & Certificate

As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help protect the plants and animals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and keep the air, water and land clean. I will continue to learn more about the park so I can help protect it for all the years to come.

To become a Junior Ranger, the child must complete eight of eleven different activities in a specially prepared, age-appropriate booklet (one each for ages 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12), talk with a ranger or attend a ranger-led program, and pick up a bag of trash.  The booklet includes learning skills such as identifying leaves (and poison ivy!), answering historical questions, drawing pictures and unscrambling puzzles.  Junior Ranger booklets can be purchased for $2.50 at any park visitor center, at the Cades Cove or Elkmont campground, or online at the Smokies Store.

From a parental perspective, the booklet is an outstanding, structured National Park guide created to spark a love of the outdoors through entertaining education.  After beginning with a few necessary rules such as “leave everything as you found it, don’t feed the wildlife, and don’t carve your name on a historic cabin,” the booklet quickly turns into fun and adventure for your children… and you!  Once the requirements are completed, return to a visitor center and let a staff member know that the booklet requirements have been complete.  A park ranger will proudly present your child a Jr. Ranger badge in front of everyone.  Bring your camera!!

Being welcomed into the ranks of Junior Ranger is a great honor, and one that should be celebrated!  Carr’s is just the place to commemorate the achievement with a BBQ picnic at our pavilion and a dip in the heated swimming pool, or a nighttime marshmallow roast by the creek.  Be sure to stop by the office so that we can say our congratulations too!

For additional information about becoming a Junior Ranger in the Smoky Mountain National Park, visit the NPS website.

Synchronous Fire Flies in the Great Smoky Mountains June 2015

Don’t Miss the Lightning Bugs in East Tennessee

Once a year in early summer, a most unusual light show descends upon the Smoky Mountains. With the silhouetted forest as a backdrop, thousands of fireflies flash and dazzle in sync with each other. The visual of this synchronized bioluminescence is at once enthralling and awe-inspiring. Even the black of night is exaggerated as the fireflies all go dark at the same time.

According to some, the only other place in the world where the synchronous fire fly can be observed is in Malaysia. No doubt the ticket to travel there is a lot more than the $1 for trolley service to the Elkmont area for viewing. If you missed this year’s light show, our heart goes out to you. Fortunately, the little light performers will return again next year around the second week of June.

Synchronous Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains - See the Fire Flies in June 2015

Photo by Mary Miller –

The annual phenomenon of the synchronous fireflies is worthy of planning ahead to pack up the family and head to Carr’s Cottages in June 2015.  It’s a possible once in a lifetime opportunity and a perfect time of year to explore the great outdoors.  The family can go on a scavenger hike or picnic at the Chimneys, experience wild whitewater rafting, and the kids can take part in several Jr. Ranger related activities.  Even if you prefer to stay on property, your family can wade in the creek, play horseshoes, or jump in the crystal clean swimming pool.  Life is Good at Carr’s!

Purchase Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman

Click to Purchase

Paul Fleischman and his “Fireflies: A Poem for Two Voices,” will gear you up for the show.  The poem is written to be performed aloud and will have you ‘beaming’ with pride at your achievement!  Click here to download the poem with instructions for using two or more combined voices.  If you have as much fun with this poem as we think you will, maybe you should purchase the book for entertaining fun during your travels to Gatlinburg.

When planning your trip, remember these items to enhance your firefly viewing experience:

  • Folding Chair
  • Rain Poncho
  • Flashlight with Red or Blue Cellophane Cover
  • Bottled Water
  • Camera (No Flash)

Visit the National Park Service web site for in-depth information about the synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains.

If you were here for this year’s synchronous firefly event, please share your experience and photos with us on Facebook!

Cades Cove TN

Cades Cove is a Smoky Mountains “Must See”

Cades Cove is a well-known, 500-million year old valley in the Townsend area of East Tennessee.  (Also sometimes called Caves Cove by those not from around these parts.)  Most folks who vacation at Carrs and visit the Great Smoky Mountains will surely have heard of Cades Cove, as it is one of the area’s highlights.  It captures the imagination of thousands of visitors each year with its picturesque beauty, historical dwellings and opportunities to see wildlife roaming in open fields.

Cades Cove Tennessee, also called Caves Cove

Cades Cove Tennessee
by Malcom MacGregor Photography

Nearly everyone who visits the Cove will get to see deer grazing in the fields after the heat of the day wears off, an amazing display of wildflowers in the spring and summer months, and historical log cabins dating as far back as the turn of the century. Most visitors will drive the Cove’s 11-mile paved loop but a few adventurous folks get to have an entirely different experience, one that we definitely recommend you try.  If you’re feeling up to the challenge, you can choose to pull over, park and head up one of the many foot trails that begin on the loop.  From Abram’s Falls, a 20’ waterfall and glistening pool, to virgin Tulip forests at Gregory’s Bald, there are more than a dozen options for a side trip off the main loop.   Plan to take your time and experience the landscape and its many natural and man-made features by bringing a little picnic in a backpack and some fresh water because you’re in for a real treat!

To plan the specifics of your hikes online, we recommend visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Services Official Website to obtain current trail maps & hiking guides direct from the source.  If you’re already here and staying with us at Carr’s Cottages, stop by Sugarlands Welcome Center or the Gatlinburg Welcome Center for everything you’ll need to make the most of your Cades Cove visit.

Please keep in mind that while your visiting any protected areas of our National Park, it is against the law to disturb or remove anything such as natural souvenirs like rocks, wood, flowers/petals or even small animals.  Wildlife protection laws are in place to protect the creatures that call our Park home as well as our visitors.  Do not feed the animals or approach them, and please do not leave any trash or debris behind after your visit.  We hope that everyone can be respectful of our National treasure so that generations to come will also be able to enjoy this wonderful gift.

(The photo above is just one of the many fabulous photographs of Cades Cove and other parts of the Great Smoky Mountains by Malcom MacGregor.  Visit online at Malcom MacGregor Photography to order keepsake photos and calendars.)

Where is Wears Valley TN

Discover the Jewel of the Smokies

Wears Valley TN

The Jewel of the Smokies

Wears Valley sits at one of several entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It provides direct access to Cades Cove and a back entrance into Gatlinburg, as well as functioning as a corridor between Townsend and Pigeon Forge TN.  Wears Valley, or Wear Cove as many of the locals call it, is unincorporated and lacks the flashing lights and billboards of Pigeon Forge, yet draws tourists and locals for different reasons.  The slower pace, abundant wildlife communing with humanity and a certain invigorating energy seems to radiate through the soil here providing a foundation for creativity and life to grow.  Perhaps it is the Little River flowing through centuries old mountains, or the historical energy left behind when the Cherokee once hunted this land and raised their own families here.  What ever it is, it’s palpable if you stay long enough and drink it all in.

Another interesting thing about this area of Sevier County is that it’s largely a residential community for much of the local population.  Some of the locals live and work in their shops or just nearby.  Wears Valley is reminiscent of the Glades Arts & Crafts community in Gatlinburg TN as both offer pottery shops, wood carvers, weavers, craftsmen & artists dens dotted along the several miles of nature lined highway.  Each of the small shops, gift shops and galleries has a unique personality all its own and you are welcome inside to browse around, talk to the artists and really enjoy their craft.

Wears Valley TN isn’t just interesting to nature lovers, craftsmen, antique collectors or history buffs.  If you would like to see some action, how about spending your day exploring this area on horseback, riding inflatable tubes along the river, or sailing through the trees on a zipline tour adventure!  Hiking, biking, mountain trails, and even the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster!  The list really is endless as Wears Valley has a little of everything, but not too much of anything.

Wears Valley Tennessee is easily accessible from both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. To begin your journey from Pigeon Forge, turn at traffic light #3 (Wears Valley Road) and once you pass Walden Creek Road, you’re “in the Valley.”  In Gatlinburg, travel passed traffic light #10, turn right onto Little River Road, turn right onto Wear Cove Gap Road and continue following onto Lyon Springs Road.  Take your camera and plan for a leisurely afternoon!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Welcome Center

Sugarlands Visitor Center

As you head into the Smoky Mountains area, you’ll see a welcome center or two as you make your way to Carrs.  One of the most popular and also a favorite of ours is the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  Sugarlands is an ideal place to start your Smoky Mountain National Park tour because of the wealth of information you’ll have right at your fingertips the minute you walk in their doors!

Sugarland Welcome Center

Free Parking and Museum!

The guest lobby welcomes you to view a National Park topographic map diorama, pick up pamphlets and a park trails map, and even talk with Park Rangers who are happy to answer your guests about trails, waterfalls, and picnic spots and even make “must see” recommendations.

The visitor’s center features a natural history museum with lots of exhibits and an excellent 20-minute film about the park, both free of charge.  The Bookstore sells books and printed guides that will help you make the most of your mountain adventures whether you are planning to picnic, hike the trails, go bird watching or search for wildflowers.  We especially love all the great items available for kids that get them excited about our International Biosphere such as Jr. Ranger guides, stuffed and figurine animals, trading cards and more.  And, every item that is purchased through the welcome center bookstore supports the National Park.  Every birthday present, book, mountain music CD or Smoky Mountain souvenir you take home with you is a gift that keeps on giving!

There is plenty of free parking at Sugarlands, and you can easily spend the best part of a day there.  You’ll find drink vending machines, restrooms, and plenty of grounds to enjoy a picnic.  From spring through fall, special events take place that will have you walking, hiking and discovering the bounty of the Great Smoky Mountains.  Check out the National Park Service events calendar here.  Most of the events held in the park are free!

Want to enjoy a short and easy hike?  The Gatlinburg Trail extends 1.9 miles (one-way) from the Sugarlands to the edge of Gatlinburg and runs through the forest along the Little Pigeon River.  You’ll have a relatively flat stroll with nice river views and even cross a footbridge.

Sugarlands Visitors Center Museum

Museum at Sugarlands Welcome Center

When you leave Carr’s Cottages to head to Sugarlands, travel through downtown Gatlinburg and continue through light #10.  There are plenty of signs to get you to the right spot; the welcome center is approximately 2 miles on the right.  Have a great time and remember your Smoky Mountain souvenirs!

Sugarlands Visitor Center Address:  1420 Old State Highway 73 Scenic, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone Number:  (865) 436-1200

Sugarlands Visitor Hours:  Closed on Christmas Day
September – October:  8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
November:  8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
December – February:  8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
March:  8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
April – May:  8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
June – August:  8 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Downtown Gatlinburg Deli and Grocery – Old Dads General Store

Reminiscent of an Old Country Mercantile

At Carr’s Cottages and Motel, we’re always excited to share great places to shop, dine or play in Gatlinburg with our new and returning guests.  It’s even better when one of those places has their own parking so that it’s easy and convenient to check it out.

Right near the end of Ski Mountain Road at traffic light #10 is Old Dad’s General Store.  It’s located across from Nantahala Outdoor Center and next to Sugarlands Winery. It’s not only a market and deli, but also a local’s favorite place to eat for breakfast and lunch.

Old Dads General Store Restaurant in Gatlinburg

Restaurant, Deli and Grocery Store

The grill is open until 5 p.m. daily.  You’ll find your breakfast favorites and even a few extras including fried bologna, Country ham, and tenderloin.  There are eggs, biscuits, gravy, tater tots and every combination of them that you can think of.  For lunch, the sandwich choices are pretty extensive and the short list includes burgers, a Reuben on marbled rye, chicken and tuna salad, roast beef, pork and even PB&J.  They have hot dogs, lettuce and mixed salads, and a whole bunch of fried fixin’s that will have you stammering over what to order.  Will it be chili cheese fries, sweet corn nuggets, fried pickle spears or green tomatoes?  On the cook’s recommendation, we chose the Club sandwich and fried green tomatoes and were glad we did!  Click here to see a full Deli Menu.

After a bite to eat, mosey around and pick up all the necessities you’ll need back at your motel room such as cold drinks, old-fashioned candy or any forgotten toiletries.  Old Dad’s Beer Cave has an expansive inventory of cold, malt beverages and there are plenty of salty snacks like chips, pretzels, and nuts nearby.

We thought that the variety of outdoor gear, Smoky Mountain souvenirs, and made in Gatlinburg products made the store extra special.  There are National Park books, hiking supplies and doodads for the kids too.

Whether you want to do a little shopping, grab a Tennessee Lottery ticket, or get frozen lemonade, we think you’ll enjoy the time you spend at Old Dad’s as much as we do.  Please do tell them that Carr’s sent ya!

Old Dad’s General Store & Deli • 1127 Parkway • (865) 430-1644
Hours:  7 a.m.-11 p.m.  (Or 8 or 9 p.m., depending on busyness.)