Magical Christmas in the Smokies | My Family Travels
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After sifting through many vacation rental websites last December, my family of six found a good deal for a cabin in Maggie Valley, North Carolina through Vacation Rentals by Owner.  We enjoyed the beautiful scenery, nearby winter attractions, and convenient proximity to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  For a full western North Carolina experience, we visited several cities in the region.

Waynesville offers shopping and dining along its beautifully holiday-decorated downtown sidewalks.  After getting our sugar fix out of the barrels of candy in the basement, we shopped in the upper floors of Mast General Store, which feels like an old country house with its creaky wood floors and vintage items.  We bought snow discs for sliding down the snow-blanketed hills along Highway 19 at the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance.  Flying down the slope on the discs was low-cost, thrilling entertainment for hours!  A must-have stop at the end of a Waynesville trip is Barber Orchard Fruit Stand.  The family-owned market and bakery’s homemade apple cider and warmed-up turnovers are a delicious beginning to a vacation day!

 Another fun outdoor winter activity we enjoyed was hiking the scenic Juney Whank Falls and Deep Creek trails in Bryson City. Both shaded trails are low-difficulty to hike. The former offers a bridge complete with wooden benches to cross the rushing falls, and the latter follows a roaring creek for several miles. It’s a relaxing way to burn off lunch from Bryson City's best dining, Pasqualino's Italian Restaurant.  The cuisine is excellent and the friendly Italian owner still remembered our family from previous vacations. 

Visiting Asheville’s Grove Park Inn to see the National Gingerbread House Competition entries was fascinating.  The posh hotel hosts the Food Network-acclaimed competition each Christmas and leaves the displays throughout the hotel floors for visitors to see free of charge after the contest.. The gingerbread houses were magnificent. Gifted competitors from every state had crafted intricate churches, theaters, mansions, civic buildings, castles, and even the house and characters from the movie UP! out of edible materials and gingerbread. We spent two hours admiring creations that defied the simple term “gingerbread house.” Aside from the exhibits, visitors will enjoy the  resort’s breathtaking view of the mountains surrounding Asheville and rich history of famous Americans who have stayed at the inn.

We crossed the Smokies for ice skating and riding the aerial tram at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and Amusement Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The view from the tram is breathtaking, but I wouldn’t recommend it to claustrophobics who visit during the busy weekends—the glass walls are crammed with as many people as the tram will hold.  After the tram ride ended, leaving us in Gatlinburg proper, we enjoyed strolling the night streets under the neon glow of store signs.  The air smelled like grilled peppers and onions from a hotdog vendor, and the sidewalks were filled with chattering tourists. Our family loves visiting candy stores, and Gatlinburg’s Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen tops them all.  Home of the Smoky Mountain taffy logs, the kitchen lets customers watch the taffy being made fresh daily in the large pulling machine.  The aroma of fudge and the enticing displays of chocolate confections and caramel-nut apples on the shelves are irresistible to anyone with a sweet tooth.   

Practical tips: Mid-December temperatures range from 45-25 degrees, so pack really warm clothing.  Also, making a grocery run for soup and several days’ worth of sandwich and breakfast supplies will save your food budget. I hope you enjoy your visit to western North Carolina as much as I did!  http://www.westernncattractions.com/

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