Knoxville, Tennessee + Des Moines, Iowa (Grandma's Funeral 😢)

Riverside Campground & Resort

August 29, 2021

Here at Putz’n Around we tend to partition up our travels around the changing of the seasons and with this framework in mind, our journey to the Knoxville area marked one of these transitions as we went from “Midwestern Summer” into “Southern Fall.”

Much like our previous travel day, the trek from Lake Cumberland down into Tennessee and toward Knoxville was largely dominated by windy back country roads which took us through the heart of Appalachia before dumping us out onto I-40 for the last leg of the trip.

Our campsite for our two week stay in the area was the Riverside Campground, located about 30 minutes east of Knoxville in the town of Sevierville which sits just below the Great Smoky Mountains. As the name implies, this place was situated right next to the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River and we were even fortunate enough to score a site which backed up to the water which made for some great views out our back window!

In addition to just looking at the river, we were also able to get out on the water a few times and take the kayak for a spin (current permitting).

We thoroughly enjoyed our extended stay at Riverside Campground as we got our first taste of that famous Southern hospitality. The combination of weekly golf cart parades, regular church services, and a general sense of friendliness from everybody that we interacted with gave this place a real sense of community which was quite refreshing.

As the title suggests, this stay wasn’t entirely comprised of sunshine and rainbows. While we were in Kentucky the week before, we received the tragic news that Sam’s grandma, Elaine (Char’s mother) had passed away and that the funeral was to be held the following week in Des Moines, Iowa. Upon learning this, we promptly booked Sam a flight out of the Knoxville airport later that week.

This was definitely a bittersweet week for Sam. Of course she was devastated by the loss of her grandmother, but I know that Sam cherished the opportunity to celebrate a life well-lived and to give Grandma Seifert a proper goodbye with a loving family by her side. I am so thankful that I got the opportunity to meet Grandma Seifert last fall while we were passing through Las Vegas on our way up to Idaho – she could not have been more welcoming or more adorable!

We love you and we miss you, Grandma! Hopefully, we will see you again one day down the road!

Once Sam made it back to Knoxville we had a lot of catching up to do and a lot of activities to get to. The first big item on our Knoxville area to-do list was making a day trip up to the Great Smoky Mountains for a little hiking and sightseeing. However, to our surprise, the memorable sights began appearing well before we hit the Smokies as our route to the national park took us through the heart of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This place was truly a sight to behold and can best be described as “Middle America Mecca.” It was as if you took the off-ramp of every interstate throughout the South and Midwest and jammed it into one small city creating a landscape completely dominated by national chains from Applebee’s, to Days Inn, to Starbucks – a corporate executive’s wet dream. And the Shoney’s! Oh the Shoney’s… I’m pretty sure that we counted more Shoney’s locations within Pigeon Forge than we have seen throughout all of our travels.

With jaws still agape from the spectacle of Pigeon Forge, we progressed further south and into the mists of the Great Smoky Mountains. After a few years out west, Sam and I were used to the dry, arid feel of the Rocky Mountains, however, the Smokies were completely different. There was so much moisture in the air and on the ground to the point that it almost felt like we were driving into a rain forest.

We continued driving onward and upward until we hit the trail head for Alum Cave Bluff Trail, a challenging 4.5 mile hike along beautiful flowing creeks and through thick vegetation which ultimately terminates at the expansive Alum Cave.

We probably would have enjoyed this hike more if it wasn’t for the throngs of other hikers which presented constant obstacles on this already difficult trail. I don’t know how many times we have to learn this lesson, but if you’re like us and you don’t particularly enjoy large crowds while out on the trail, you should probably avoid national parks – especially on holiday weekends (Labor Day, in our case).

We had a relatively quite week in the campground ahead of our final big event in the area which came the following Saturday when we got up early and made our way to downtown Knoxville for the Tennessee Volunteers football game against the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers! Neither of us had ever been to an SEC football game and we figured that the massive Neyland Stadium was a good place for us to start.

Although the stadium is starting to get a little outdated and could use some upgrades, one thing it has going for it is the location. As you can see from the pics, the stadium is located right on the Tennessee River which make for some great views and a cool, unique tailgating environment. As far as the football being played on the field, it turned out to be a great back-and-forth game and although the Volunteers were able to mount a furious 4th quarter comeback, sadly, the home team ended up falling short in the end. Overall, the experience wasn’t much different than a typical Oklahoma or Michigan football game. I guess big time football is big time football no matter where you are.

Tune in next time when we say goodbye to the Volunteer State (for now) and venture through the heart of the Appalachians towards beautiful Asheville, North Carolina and stay at (arguably) our most beautiful campground!