So we ended up doing a sort of last minute (sort of) trip down to Tennessee for the Thanksgiving break. I think we have come to terms with me being a last minute planner and that is just the way I am and am almost fine with it. I have tried but unable to plan trips months and years in advance like most people are able to....but what can I say, it still ends up fun.

Anyways 1st stop was Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, VA. It was excellent and kids loved it. We really liked the almost 2 hour tour they provide. The tour host was a retired pilot and had worked for NASA so he had tons of info and kept the kids interested. PS. It is free! Spent the night there and next morning headed out to Shenandoah for the scenic Skyline Drive.

Day 2 we drove Southbound on the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. We missed the peak fall colors by a few weeks I guess, tress were mostly bare or brown. Nonetheless it was very pretty. I can only imagine how beautiful it is when in full bloom. We stopped off at a visitor center and got the kids their Junior nice Ranger books to complete. So we let them figure that out and complete it. we were able to squeeze in a leisurely hike, total of about maybe 2.5 miles. It was super windy and cold. That and I was a bit paranoid about bear encounters on the trail!!! LOL I know! Im crazy, khair hain.

We did see 2 black bears, one baby cub in a tree and another just hanging out near the side of the road. Pretty cool! Also saw white tailed deer and one lonely coyote. Kids were excited. We spent the night in Roanoke, VA. Since it gets dark early, we still had a lot of time. So the kids got to relax and swim for a few hours so that was nice.

Next day, woke up super early and headed down to TN. Sevierville to be exact. I found an indoor water-park in TN that I thought kids would enjoy, Wilderness Lodge. Wolf Lodge in VA is probably better but we didn't want to do a long drive there and back since we came for the Smoky Mountains. Anyways it was kind of small, and similar to Wolf Lodge inside. It was good for the kids, at least they had their water fun. Also they had a nice powerful wave pool. We spent 2 nights here and just relaxed. We got out to a few local restaurants for breakfast/lunch etc. I must say we encountered very friendly people out and about. In the back of my head, I had this irrational thought that we might run into racist type stuff as it was 99% gora folks...but no, just super friendly folks. My bad. True southern hospitality? Oddly the Southern style catfish found on North Jersey is better than the "original" we tried in TN!

Anyways we finally left the water-park for the Smoky Mountains!! As always, we stopped at the visitor Center near entrance for some info and kids Junior Ranger Book. This was the only place you have to pay for the books. The kids are working on a collection of Junior Ranger badges across the National Parks. Highly recommend it, keeps the kids entertained while learning. Sugarland Visitor Center was nice though. We saw the informational video and then headed out. We took the easy hike to Cataract Falls. It was a cute little stroll along a creek to some small waterfall. Even my 4 year old managed well on that trail.

Had a quick packed lunch in the car. We the headed to Cades Cove for "wild life viewing". We didn't see much except for wild turkey and some more deer. Regardless it was still a nice scenic drive. Towards the end of the scenic loop in Cades Cove, we got out and did some more hiking. First we started out on a short hike (.5 m) to Elijah Oliver Place but we were completely alone and it felt creepy! So we got back and then headed on the busier Abrams Falls Trail (2.5 m) and enjoyed the creek as well as falls. Again was a little freaky as there were a ton of bear warnings. So we were very edgy, not sure how to describe it. On the one hand it is so beautiful and serene. The other part of me is looking around being paranoid and making noise to keep them away...haha! Got back to town in decent time (it gets dark early these days). We spent the night checking out stuff in Gatlinburg which was cold but fun.

The 2nd day in Smokies we followed the advice of a ranger at visitor center and took an outwards loop around Smoky Mountains, even touching into NC continually. We drove on what he referred to as the "Dragon's Tail". Basically a very twisty turny scenic drive through the woods along a river/creek etc. It gained and lost elevation rapidly, all while driving on the edge. This way we even got to see Fontana Dam and Cherokee Reservation before making it to Clingman's Dome.

Anyways it was pretty chilly by the time we got to Clingman's Dome parking! The view is simply spectacular. Especially right at the parking lot. We did the steep uphill trek (walk) to the actual dome! It was nice but honestly the view right out of the car was just fine!! Hills and hills and clouds and fog...and just beautiful. Even the 4 year old was fascinated! We found another trail off the path to take down a bit called Forney Ridge. It touches on the Appalachian Trail, which is something I am very fascinated with these days. If I can I will upload pics, but so far have not been successful in uploading pics here. Got back to town in decent time but most stuff was closed (Turkey Day). We did find a pizza place open called Big Daddy's Pizzeria. This made me so happy!! It was awesome. Again super nice. A guy was walking around the tables making balloon animals for the kids at no charge. They also had a chucky cheese type play area in the back.

(Black) Friday morning it was time to start making out way back north. We took the Blue Ridge Parkway North until Shenandoah and spent the night in Staunton, VA. The Blue Ridge Parkway was scenic but very windy and slow. A lot of portions you cant go faster than 35 mph as there's no barrier on the road and you could easily swerve off the road. We just stopped off at viewpoints to enjoy. Made it into town at a good time and let the kids relax and swim.

Saturday morning, we started on our way back home with a pit stop in Chambersburg, PA to visit my cousin. We had planned for a quick stop for chai but baji had a full out meal ready for us! Who can say no to roti boti
They tried to have us spend the night but we needed to get back so we can run errands on Sunday easliy. Got home late night and just crashed! Overall it was a good trip, I just wish we went a few weeks early as we missed the peak fall foliage colors.

I can't remember exactly where but I think on the Blue Ridge we happened upon
Peaks of Otter Lodge which GTG recommended to me. It was very nice and clean! Had a light lunch there as not much else was open. (Light becuz it was super $$) GTG the place was truly awesome and wish we could have made reservations here for the night!! The perks of planning trips early is that places arent fully booked!
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