One of my favorite holiday traditions is renting a cabin in the Smokies.
What started several years ago as a way to blow off a little post-Christmas steam and play board games with a handful of old college friends has turned into quite the production as we’ve gotten older, moved around and in some cases had kids of our own.
Long gone are the days of squeezing into a 2-bedroom cabin on a shoestring budget. This year’s “cabin” will look more like a small mansion complete with 8 bedrooms, 8.5 baths and two kitchens – enough to accommodate 15 adults and 5 small children.
At this point, I feel like it’s safe to say we are pretty much full-fledged cabin-rentin’ experts.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some of OUR favorite tips for renting a cabin in the Smokies.
1. Choose your location wisely
While there are thousands of cabin rentals available all over Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville, there’s one factor that should dictate your preferred location above all others, and that factor can be determined by reaching deep down into your soul and asking yourself – “Exactly what sort of vacation-goer am I?”
I find most visitors fall into one of two groups:
- The “Wow – I love all of these attractions, there’s so much to see and do” group.
- The “Leave me alone, I’m turning my phone off and ain’t leavin’ the house for three days” group
If you fall into the first group, consider getting a cabin a little closer to town. Long winding trips up and down a giant mountain will get old really fast if you’re trying to make it to Dollywood before the crowds hit every day.
If you fall into the second group – location doesn’t matter as much. The higher and deeper into the mountains you go, the more breathtaking the views become.
2. Print out directions, cell service is not your friend
Cell service is notoriously bad even in the touristy parts of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. In my experience, T-Mobile is completely useless, and I haven’t had great experience with Verizon either. AT&T is your best bet, but even that won’t save you on the top of a mountain. So take screenshots, make notes and even consider taking a print out. It’s always a good idea to be prepared.
3. In the winter, bring a front-wheel or (better yet) all-wheel drive
I get a bit of a thrill taking on those narrow, long, winding mountain roads, but in the winter time, those mountain roads can actually be quite dangerous.
There’s nothing scarier than losing control of your car, or feeling the car slipping backward on a road with no guard rails. Treat the mountain roads with respect. If you aren’t sure you can make the trip, just don’t risk it, and consider bringing a front-wheel or all-wheel drive if you can.
4. Bring your own drinking water (BYOW)
Many cabins in the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area use well water due to their remote locations. This is totally par for the course, but it can affect the way the water tastes, smells and cleans.
This means you might see a few more water spots on your dishes, the laundry might not be quite as soft, you might have a difficult time working up a soap lather and water from the tap may taste a little different.
Consider bringing your own bottled, filtered or distilled drinking water, packing extra fabric softener if you plan on doing laundry and bring plenty of good conditioners and lotions for the skin and hair.
If you’re really sensitive to weird-tasting water (like my husband) you might want to consider bringing your own ice cube trays. Which brings me to my next point:
5. Pack the basics, consider making a grocery store run before you check in
While most cabins are fairly well stocked with the basics, there’s always that occasion where the property management company didn’t see a problem with leaving your 15-person crew with three rolls of toilet paper and a single travel-sized bottle of shampoo. .
Our pre-cabin shopping list usually includes:
- Bottled water
- Travel soaps, shampoos and lotions
- Toilet paper
- Dish detergent (if you plan on cooking)
- Laundry detergent & fabric softener
- Food & snacks
Also consider packing a small hair dryer as this is a rare commodity when it comes to cabin rentals, and a couple of swimsuits if you wish to partake in the cherished tradition of hot tubbing in winter (a must if you’ve never tried it).
6. Watch out for black bears and other wild animals
While renting a cozy cabin in the mountains ain’t exactly anyone’s idea of “roughin’ it”, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not uncommon to run into wildlife. The two biggest troublemakers for cabin-goers are black bears and raccoons, who have an excellent sense of smell and an ability to get into unattended cars, cabins and trash cans that would make Houdini jealous.
Keep your cars, cabins and trash cans locked up tight. You’ll notice most cabins keep their outside trash cans behind lock and key at all times – and for good reason.
Also, you generally want to keep your small pets at home. You don’t want them being confused for prey.
Finally, if you do happen to see a bear, please just keep your distance, avoid confrontation, and do NOT feed them under any circumstance. Trust me, no selfie is worth your life.
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