Our family was supposed to take a vacation to Las Vegas and Los Angeles over spring break. Due to the pandemic, we had to cancel the day before we were leave. While we couldn't re-schedule that trip right now with any level of comfort, we decided that we still wanted to take some kind of trip this summer. We decided to spend a few days in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and then go on to Nashville (my mother-in-law lives around outside of Nashville). So I went to work putting together a week-long trip for our family.
We are a family that loves hiking, and my husband and I love history (with the Civil War being our favorite period of interest), so we had a lot of that in our trip. I loved the idea of the kids getting unplugged to spend time in nature, and getting a chance to experience some history lessons that they simply can't get from textbooks. Below is a snapshot of the vacation itinerary that we mapped out, just in case you want to include of these stops when you take a trip to those areas. We had a great vacation!
The Drive up to Blue Ridge Area
On the drive up to the Blue Ridge, Georgia area, we stopped at the Jefferson Davis Memorial State Historic Site, which is off of exit 78 on I-75. It's about 15 miles from the freeway. This was a good Civil War history lesson, as we discussed who he was and what happened at this site. This is the place where he was he was captured and then went on to spend two years in prison. I had packed a picnic lunch in the morning, so after we walked around the site we ate our lunch here. This place offers free entrance.
Blue Ridge, Georgia Area
It was only two weeks prior to our stay that we were looking for a cabin to rent in the Blue Ridge, Georgia area. Due to this, there were not many options of places that had the three nights available that we were looking for. I found 4-5 options available and they varied in price to the point that some were double the price of others. We decided to go with one called Knotty Pine, located in Cherry Log. This little cabin was adorable. We loved it! It was big enough for our family, a mile up a mountain, and it was very charming. Plus, it was spotlessly clean. We were all comfortable in this cabin in the woods, waking up to check out the birds, and watching the fireflies out by the road at night. We could have gotten a cabin that had sweeping mountain views (and was bigger) for double the price, but we planned to do a lot of hiking, so we knew we would have mountain views anyway, so we opted for the more affordable cabin in the woods, and we were glad we did. It was a great stay there! Cherry Log is just minutes from Blue Ridge, Georgia, so it put is right where we wanted to be to do some hiking in the area.
Rum Cake Lady Cuban Cafe
A few weeks before we put this trip together, my husband mentioned that he'd like to find a place that has a vegetarian Cuban sandwich. Low and behold, when I was researching for this trip, I saw that a vegetarian and vegan Cuban sandwich is offered right in Blue Ridge at Rum Cake Lady Cuban Cafe. We had to check it out! This is a very small cafe that only has outdoor seating. It is not a vegetarian restaurant, but they did have some vegetarian options available. They also have rum cakes, empanadas, bowls, and more. We all tried the vegetarian Cuban sandwich, vegetarian empanada, and rum cake. It was so good! We loved it all. If you are in the area be sure to check this place out.
Hiking in the Blue Ridge, Georgia Area
The Appalachian Trail begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, so we wanted to take a hike in that area to see where it begins. We hiked a few miles there (which was strenuous), plus we did an easier short hike around a lake, and we hiked at Amicalola Falls State Park. At the state park there is a gorgeous waterfall you can hike to see. You can go up 600 steps/stairs to get here, or you can take a route that doesn't involve stairs (but has mountain views). We took the stairs up (very strenuous, but gorgeous), and then took the other route back down (great mountain views). The waterfall is beautiful and well worth checking out. If you cannot hike up there to see it, you can drive your car up to it and park right at the top of it. There is a parking lot there at the top. We did some great hiking on this trip. The hikes were challenging and offered great views. Hiking the Spring Mountain area was free. The entrance fee at Amicalola Falls State Park was $5.
Lunch at Amicalola Falls State Park
There is a restaurant at the state park, called Maple Restaurant, that offers fantastic mountain views as you dine. We opted to eat there for lunch, once we were finished hiking. Three of us had the power bowl (quinoa, tofu, and veggies), and my daughter had a salad with tofu. The food was good, but the views were awesome. We loved dining there!
Visiting Hiker Heaven
Mountain Crossings is a store/outfitter that is literally on the Appalachian Trail. Anyone hiking the AT in that area will walk through their arch while on the trail. The store there is a hiker's heaven and attracts a lot of tourists, as well as those making stops for supplies as they are hiking the AT. You can find lots of really cool things there. We had to check out the place and we were not disappointed. It's a great stop if you are an avid hiker. After checking out the store inside, be sure to walk around outside. There are some great views and you can pick up the AT right there to take a hike. You will also see trees with boots/shoes hanging from them. This is because hikers get properly fitted at the store for their shoes and then toss the old ones over the tree.
Stones River National Battlefield
As we made our way toward Nashville, we stopped off at Stones River National Battlefield. This is a large Civil War battlefield, where 81,000 soldiers fought and 23,000 of them died. This battle was a Union victory. There is a national cemetery there with over 6,100 union soldiers buried there, over 2,000 of them unidentified. You can walk around and look at that, as well as drive or walk through a "tour" of the battlefield, where you learn about the battle along the way. There are other things to see as well, including a fort. This stop offered a great history lesson. This battlefield is also along the Trail of Tears, which provided another history discussion. Visiting the battlefield was free.
Johnny Cash Gravesite
While visiting my mother-in-law, we decided to stop off and see the gravesite of Johnny Cash. It's located in Hendersonville, TN, and is easy to find once you enter the cemetery. If you go, it's located up near the front of the cemetery, in the middle. There is a black marble bench there, too. There is no charge to visit the gravesite.
History Lessons Continue
Our next stop on the history tour was The Hermitage, which was the home of President Andrew Jackson. The Hermitage is located in Nashville. We spent a couple of hours touring the grounds. We did not pay to go inside the house (it's an additional fee), but you can walk up and look into the windows. They also have an area in the back of the house that has large windows so you can see inside a few rooms. We paid for just the grounds pass, and that was good, as we saw a lot with just that. There are some small structures open that you can go into out on the plantation, where you learn about Jackson, his life and legacy, slavery on the plantation, and more. This was a great stop and well worth checking out. We also took the time to learn more about Jackson's legacy as President, just to round out the history lesson. The grounds pass at The Hermitage was $15/adult and $8/kid.
Other Nashville Stops
While in Nashville, we went to see the Grand Ole Opry, Bluebird Cafe, walked Broadway (downtown, filled with country music star-owned honky tonks), and walked the pedestrian bridge once it got dark. From the pedestrian bridge you can get wonderful views of the city. We actually cut our time short in Nashville by a day, because a lot of things we wanted to do were still closed due to the pandemic. We still enjoyed our stay there, but we would have stayed another day if more had been opened that we wanted to check out (such as the Country Music Hall of Fame). We also had a great lunch at a vegan restaurant called Vege-licious.
More Presidential History
We had a couple of stops planned for on the way home, including the James K. Polk home. This is where the former President lived for while as a young adult, and where his parents had lived. We did not pay to go inside the home, we were fine just taking a look at the outside. On our drive there, I took the opportunity to read everyone a bit about Polk, so that we would learn more about him and his legacy. Not many people know about Polk, so we all learned something at this stop.
Visiting Jack Daniel
I'm not a drinker, but I wanted to stop off in Lynchburg, TN, to see the place where every bit of Jack Daniel's is made. They offer tours (not available due to the pandemic), but we got to walk around and read, talk to the tour guide, get info, etc. It was well worth the stop to see this place and learn about this 145-year old company that is an American success story. After checking the place out, we went a couple of minutes down the road to see where he is buried. Lynchburg is a beautiful little town and it was worth the stop. The Jack Daniel's Distillery is one of the largest employers in this rural area, with 700 employees.
Overnight in Atlanta
On the way home, we planned to stop over in Atlanta for the night. My daughter loves bigger cities, so we booked a room downtown at the Hyatt Regency. It was only one night, so we splurged a bit to give her the city experience. While there we walked around, tried the vegetarian wings at Hooters for the first time (they were really good!), and went over to the Jackson Street Bridge once it was dark. From there you can get great city views. We stayed about an hour, waiting for it to get darker, so we could take some good shots. It's a popular area where to do this, as the bridge had quite a few people taking photos, even people with professional camera equipment set up.
Our Final Stop
To complete our history tour for the week, we visited the Martin Luther King Jr National Park, located in Atlanta. This park was just minutes from the hotel. While the kids know a lot about Martin Luther King Jr already, there's nothing like a stop here to really make the connection. The government has done a great job of creating a national park around the area that he was from. You can visit the house he was born in and lived in as a child, the firehouse he would frequent down the road, and the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he and his father were pastors. The park also has a justice walk of fame, a reflecting pool, eternal flame, and wonderful messages about nonviolence. This is also the final resting place for he and his wife, so you can see their tombs here. We really enjoyed checking out this park. There is a visitor center as well, but that part was closed due to the pandemic. This is a great place to check out. I loved being able to see the Ebenezer Baptist Church I had always heard of. Normally, you can also go inside the church and house, but couldn't right now because of the pandemic. There is no admission fee at this park.
We did stop along other places that are not as notable, spent time with family, etc. But these are the most interesting places that we stopped on this trip. On the way coming back, we planned to stop at Lookout Mountain, as people had suggested. But once there, we decided we didn't want to pay to see the mountain view (it would have been $100 at the place where most of the tourists go, or $20 for a less popular view in another area). We had gotten lots of mountain views on this trip, and didn't want to spend more for another look. Plus, a stones throw from that place you can slow the car down and get a great mountain view right there, for free.
How did the pandemic change our travel?
As mentioned above, this whole trip was a change of plans from our original vacation, which was canceled due to the pandemic. On this trip, there were places closed that we wanted to go to and couldn't, because they hadn't yet opened back up. I told the family to take a mask with us, because we would need to wear it in many places. I found that in the Georgia and Tennessee, fewer people were masking up than what I had been seeing in Florida. We still carried the mask with us everywhere, so that when we needed to we could use it. Upon checking into our hotel rooms, I took disinfecting wipes and would wipe down things like the door handles, light switches, remote, etc. We would also immediately take the comforter off the bed and put it in the closet (they are not usually cleaned between guests). These are things I've done for years, but mention it here in case anyone wants ideas for sanitizing while traveling. We pretty much wore masks where we couldn't socially distance and carried hand sanitizer with us to use as needed.
While the pandemic put a little damper on our trip, we didn't let it get us down. We had a great trip filled with fun, history, family, hiking, and making memories! In all, this trip was around $1,900, which includes six nights of lodging, gas, food, entertainment, and items we bought for fun.