Zip Lining in the Smoky’s

One thing we always love doing on any vacation is turning up the dial (in terms of adding adventure to our travel) whether it’s white water rafting, exploring trails and caves, rock-climbing, horseback riding, and this trip we tried our hand at zip-lining!


If you never tried zip-lining – I highly suggest it! It’s a great time and gives you an opportunity to see a different view of the area you are traveling!

This time – because we were short of time and didn’t have long to do more zip-lining we chose Adventure Park at Five Oaks. It was pretty close to everything around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and had 7 different lines to explore the treetops and getting up to 50 mph – including a race zip line at the end, which was perfect for the competitiveness in our family to see who was top dog in zip-lining (note: it wasn’t me).

There are a ton of options in the smoky’s for good zip lining – just google “Zip-lining in the Smoky’s” and you’ll have plenty to choose from! I will admit that we had a super positive experience with Adventure Park at Five Oaks – and though they don’t allow you to video or take pics while on the ride (due to liability) there are plenty of pics they take for you at the end of the zip-line tour.



Check them out at 

Dan – The Country Pilgrim giving thumbs up!

Tami – Holding on for the ride

Kadyn – First Zippin down the line!

Kaleb – Giving the peace sign and zipping down the line!


All in all – it was a fun experience and would likely do it again! Make sure to listen to the guides as they take you along, and zip with enthusiasm! =)



Traveling through the Smoky’s


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the busiest and most visited National Park in the country, averaging around 13 million visitors annually! In fact, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives more annual visitors than Glacier, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Parks COMBINED! That puts things in perspective to how popular the park is! So, because of crowds it’s important to have a plan before you go!

For this trip 2020 we avoided most of the large crowds due to COVID-19 (which basically meant avoiding Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg)- though the towns looked like a lot of fun – minus eating at one restaurant upon arrival we stayed to hiking and scenic byways! We plan on making a return visit sometime in the future to explore those towns!

My suggestion would be to hit the Newfound Gap Road Scenic Byway (Route US 441). The 31 mile route is the most traveled road in the park and for good reason. Some of the biggest things to see are along its route –


If you are a hiker – you could park along the route and hike Chimney Tops – pictured above.

Further down the road as you climb over the mountain top there is a great scenic outlook directly on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina – pictured below


It’s at this same outlook that you can encounter the Appalachian Trail as it intersects the Scenic Byway on its 2,190 journey from Georgia to Maine.


About 9 miles further down the road sits Clingmans Dome which at 6,643 feet, is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

Here’s a short video I put together in celebration of Newfound Gap Road.



Take in Clingmans Dome and make sure you have water and are ready for the half-mile hike (which sounds short – until you are hiking nearly STRAIGHT UP) so make sure you are in shape. It’s a paved trail and there are benches along the way and a few places to stop and gather your strength and breath!

However, once you get to the top, there is an observation tower that gives you quite the view! In fact, it was rumored that before much of the air pollution in the area that you could see up to 100 miles on a clear day! We weren’t that fortunate as the clouds made it a bit hazy – but the view was still worth it!


A short video of hiking Clingmans Dome!


There are plenty of options to do along this route – including crossing over the mountain into North Carolina, or turning back a few miles back and taking the Laurel Trail-head for a hike and exploration of Laurel Falls (which I will include in another blog post!). Most importantly its the scenery of the Smoky Mountains that is so alluring and breath taking. While they are not as rugged and wild as the Rockies or some other mountains in the world, they are still mountains and offer plenty of lush green views with their tree covered appearance and their fresh moving, gentle and vibrant rivers and waterfalls.

If you have time – don’t forget Cades Cove Loop – another highlight of the National Park! We didn’t have time as we were traveling through this day – but would advise it – just be prepared for large crowds and slow moving traffic. What might take an hour normal time could easily take 3 hours – half a day, especially if you are taking the full loop and taking time to stop and explore.

I love having you network with me and coming along with either my vlog or blog journey’s! Feel free to comment or reach out if you have any questions or thoughts – and don’t forget to hit the follow or subscribe buttons on either channels. I’m thankful for you taking the time to read or just browsing through our pics and videos.

Be safe and Happy Travels or Dreams of Travel!

Dan – The Country Pilgrim

Traveling through Tennessee

Our road trip to the east coast went right through the heart of Tennessee and though it’s a long state (it’s worth the trip across the state) whether it’s making stops near the music scene in Memphis or the music scene in Nashville, the state has a lot to offer! Especially in the rural areas! 


We made our way down the National Scenic Byway “Woodlands Trace” or better known as “The Trace” which also is known as “The Land Between The Lakes” in Kentucky – but it takes you across the Tennessee border right in the thick of whiskey country! You’ll hear stories about the whiskey trail, and the closer you get to Nashville and further south to Lynchburg, Tennessee – stories of Jack Daniels and scenic byways that criss-cross the state headed through the Cumberland Plateau region and further into the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains and over along the Newfound Gap Road!

But on this journey, we made a stop in Cookeville, Tennessee to meet a fellow blogger Tom and Kristi,  owners and bloggers of


Tom and Dan social distancing on our first meet and greet! Outside the train depot in downtown Monterey, Tennessee.

Tom is a great guy and I enjoyed his blog post so much about Monterey that I wanted to see it for myself! These are the type of adventures I love the most – and rural towns have a lot to offer! Don’t overlook these areas when you travel – the hospitality is typically unmatched and it was unfortunate that it was during COVID-19 otherwise I would have more pics and videos to show around the depot.


We had a personalized tour of the downtown area and historic Imperial Hotel – with its rich history in Tennessee. We didn’t have a lot of time since we were just passing through on our way to the Big Smoky Mountains, but it was worth the connection! If you get a chance to visit Tom’s blog too so! He has some great information and knows quite a bit about the great outdoors from North Carolina, Tennessee, and out beyond Wyoming and Montana! If you want to dig in and really understand an area bloggers are the way to go!

Rural towns! Rural living! Rural adventure! It’s the rich fabric that makes us who we are!


We have the Great Smoky Mountain region coming up next! But…it’s the relationships and memory-making that makes travel and tourism so rich! Not to mention the economic importance and educational value in it.

Travel safe my friends!

Dan – The Country Pilgrim

Searching for pirates and crossing the Ohio River at “Cave-In-Rock” State Park.

Further through the Shawnee Forest in Southern Illinois, and along the Ohio River, sits a historic state park – full of folklore and charm dating back to the early to mid-1800s. Cave-In-Rock state park holds a centerpiece attraction of a (50 ft. tall, 40 ft. wide, and 120 ft. deep) cave that sits on the banks of the Ohio River.

The limestone cave holds mysterious and folklore stories of housing river pirates (such as the Mason gang, and Harpe Brothers). These bandits and “river rats” would supposedly lure vessels in need of assistance to shore, where they were robbed and often “permanently silenced” from spreading the word of the areas criminal activity. Unfortunately, there are no historical documents linking or proving the accuracy of the old stories, but the myth and logic pointing to the cave as possible shelter and home base to the legendary river pirates make sense. In fact, Cave-In-Rock served as the backdrop for the 1962 film “How the West was won” and provided steamboats a place to stop (as a point of interest for its passengers) for adding more stories with its legendary status.


You can find Cave-In-Rock State Park along Illinois Route 1 along the Ohio River, and bordering the state of Kentucky. It’s a cool feature within the Shawnee National Forest and has cabins overlooking the Ohio River, Camping grounds, and a restaurant. The park offers a neat experience to explore its cave, embrace the folklore surrounding river pirates, and walk along the beautiful banks of the Ohio River.

Below is the video I produced on my youtube channel at Cave-In-Rock. Take a sneak peek and do me a favor and subscribe to my channel for more Country Pilgrim Adventures.

Of course…when you are at Cave-In-Rock…it’s part of the fun to explore the cave. Walk and climb back 120 feet within the depth of the cave and experience the marvel of this place.





The next cool feature of the park is the fact that it offers a free ferry ride across the Ohio River and connects Illinois Route 1 with Kentucky Route 91 – and offers the only crossing between Paducah, Kentucky, and Old Shawnee Town, Illinois.


The ferries in the area began to run as early as 1803-1807 and ran back and forth between the areas offering commutes for the saltworks. Today the ferries still run (and depending on the day) can take about 15-20 minutes to cross. They are open 7 days a week, 365 days a year (depending on wind and ice) from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Trip Advice: Take the ferry ride from Illinois to Kentucky and experience Kentucky Amish country. Drive along the curvy roads and explore the area which often offers Amish goods for sale.

Explore Cave-In-Rock

If you are looking for an excellent individual, couple, family, or group adventure…I suggest Cave-In-Rock State Park. It has a beautiful setting, the historic cave, Shawnee National Forest, and Kentucky Amish Countryside to explore across the river with a free ferry crossing! You could spend as little as an hour to a week in the area with camping and additional hiking!

Happy Exploring! –

Dan – The Country Pilgrim

Hiking around “Garden of the Gods” in Shawnee National Forest – Illinois

Over 300 million years ago, water began to form a carved out section in the earth forming one of the most unique geological rock formations in the Mid-Western states of America – now standing as the Shawnee National Forest “Garden of the Gods”.



We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the entire Shawnee Forest, but there is certainly enough to do around the 290,000-acre forest, and with enough miles of trails, and spots for camping to keep families busy all summer! The best part? It’s rural and remote enough in some parts to remain socially distant in activities. It’s nature at its finest! It looks like a scene taken closer to the Rockies, but the land is wedged between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers – and the remaining results of millions of years of erosion have left its mark.

You can find the Garden of the Gods near the eastern part of the forest and a few hours east of St. Louis and northeast of Paducah, Kentucky. It’s a hidden gem.


Finding Fun Road-Side Attractions Along Your Way!



There is plenty to do in Shawnee Forest – but a side note – there is this fun little website called ( that lists fun little uniquely odd tourist attractions along your trip! You can check it out and look for things by state and area. Well…two of the uniquely odd tourist attractions happened to be right on our route to Shawnee.

Big John – we found by accident stopping for gas in Eldorado, Illinois. Right before getting to the entrance of the forest we stopped at “Hucks” and I noticed this huge giant statue holding groceries outside this store “Big Johns” and I looked it up on the website and SURE ENOUGH!! Boom! Roadside America Tourist Attraction! The thing about this statue is that apparently, they’re rare! So, if you find one, get a pic!

The next one – BIGFOOT – was found right across the road from a trading post settled next to the entrance/exit to the Garden of the Gods. We stopped to get ice cream and rootbeer floats, and a local asked if I was going to get my picture with Sassy the sasquatch across the road? When you are asked such a normal question, you must abide! So I followed the painted bigfoot prints on the road and took my picture with the sasquatch statue! Another one on roadsideamerica’s list!

These are all fun things that you can do as a family, but the highlight of the stop was certainly…

The Garden of the Gods


This is where we met the short trail to a large rock formation known as “Camel Rock” and hiked part of the trail and climbed rocks. It’s mostly paved stones for a path. HOWEVER, it would be difficult for those in a wheelchair or cane. The paths are uneven with lots of different cracks and exposed roots. It would be easy to trip and fall, so be careful while hiking the trail. Also (even though I saw several strollers on the trail with children, just be aware that it would be work along the rough part of the path.

It’s a climbing exploring kind of adventure!






More to come with a video of this amazing place to be posted later…..stay tuned!