We had a great trip to the Smoky Mountains last week! We stopped at the Sierra Nevada Brewery on the way there, then went gem mining, visited a farm and pumpkin patch, saw a lot of pretty trees and mountains and went apple picking on the way home.
First stop, the Sierra Nevada Brewery! This place was really pretty and packed with families. We didn’t have time to do the tour, but they have a cool visitor’s corridor where you can do a self-guided tour and see all the operations from a bird’s-eye view. They also have a huge restaurant, gift shop, special themed tours and a big back area with a garden and amphitheater.
After a couple beers, a little food, and a lot of running around for the kiddo, we continued our trip to the Smoky Mountains. We were staying in a cabin rental in Bryson City. One of the things we always pass, and I remembered seeing as a kid, is the gem mining places. I always wanted to stop and try it but never got to. So the gem mining experience was as much for me as it was for my son. In fact, I think I was more excited than he was.
We went to the Nantahala River Gem Mine and got a bucket of dirt for $49. I had no idea it was that pricey! You take you bucket over to a trough of running water, dump the dirt into a boxed screen and let the water wash away the dirt to reveal your rocky treasures. And some of them do look like just rocks! But we did get some pretty stones that were easily recognizable. They help you identify what you found afterwards and we got a little of everything. You can have the stones cut and polished as well, but we plan to just put them in the garden at home.
We always stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center when we visit, but it was too cold to go tubing and we had hiked all over the place the year before, so we just had a beer and watched Keelan play in their new Tree Top Adventure Nets. It’s $8 for a wrist band for the day and for ages three and up. Any younger than that and their feet will be too little to run on the big nets. Keelan was just on the edge and occasionally I’d see a leg dangling through the net and a shoe would drop. It’s pretty cool playground though and definitely worth checking out.
It’s the time of year for pumpkin patches, so we headed to Darnell Farms to check out their farmer’s market, sunflower maze, hayride and pumpkins. Usually they have a corn maze, but it wasn’t a good year for corn so they planted a huge field of sunflowers, which I thought was way better! It was really pretty and you could pick the sunflowers to take home with you. We took a hayride to the pumpkin patch and everyone got to pick out their pumpkin. On the way back, they dropped you off at the sunflower maze or you could ride back to the farmer’s market area. They also had a big play area for the kids and a stage for live music.
After a few days of enjoying the crisp mountain air and beautiful scenery, we were back on the road and heading home. We stopped in Hendersonville to visit the Sky Top Orchard and go apple picking. I grew up around citrus but had never seen an apple actually growing on a tree! So this was a big thing I wanted to check off my “must-do” list. You purchase a basket for $20, grab a map and then head into the huge orchard to pick whatever apples will fit in your basket. There are signs telling you which apples are ready to pick. Some of them are way up in the trees! And then some of the trees are so loaded with apples that you have to step through all the rotten ones on the ground just to get to the tree. There are so many varieties of apples it’s hard to choose, but once we got in there, we just started picking the ones that looked the best and were reachable.
We could have spent a good half-day there, but had to get back on the road again. They have a big play area for the kids, a hot dog stand, farmer’s market area and the best apple cider donuts I’ve ever had! You’ll smell them as soon as you walk in.
Overall it was a great trip and a great place for a family vacation. There’s much more to do like white water rafting, hiking to see the waterfalls, zip lining, kayaking, etc. There’s also train rides, an Indian Reservation and some kind of Santa Wonderland I keep seeing brochures for. Guess we’ll just have to save some stuff for next time!