A Red, White and Blue Getaway

If you’re looking for a fun family getaway to celebrate the Fourth of July, look no farther than Gatlinburg , Tennessee . For 33 years this favorite of southern vacation destinations has been kicking off Independence Day with the nation’s first parade. With a start time of 12:01 am on July 4 th this midnight celebration draws 80,000 to 100,000 people every year.

The colorful parade has more than 100 entries and features tributes to the branches of the military, marching bands and of course, bluegrass bands. . You will hear “Rocky Top”….a lot. It has smaller versions of Macy’s type balloons with red, white and blue stars, Alphonso the dragon, Humpty Dumpty and a giant patriotic Eagle. It takes more than 100 volunteers to help navigate the balloons through the downtown skyline

Spectators begin staking out viewing areas early in the day by placing their chairs along the parade route and standing guard until midnight. If you don’t want make this kind of commitment you can still find some great viewing locations. A good strategy is to go to the top of one of the downtown parking decks and watch from above.

The fun continues throughout the day with the very popular River Raft Regatta, which begins at noon. The unmanned regatta begins at the River Terrace bridge on River Road and is open to anything that floats except balls and plastic eggs. The kids love this free event and anyone can participate. Bring along your rubber ducky and get it on the fun.

For more information on the Annual Red Baron 4th of July Midnight Parade or the River Raft Regatta call 800-56-VISIT (568-4748) or visit www.gatlinburg.com.

Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community

Before you head out of this area, make sure you have first explored this wonderful place. Visiting the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community reminds one of the best that Gatlinburg ever was. Driving out Hwy 321, just outside of downtown Gatlinburg, you can take your car or the city trolley around the 8 mile loop and visit the shops, galleries, and studios of over a hundred working artists and craftspeople who live and work here in Gatlinburg

In the first mile and a half of Glades Road you will pass Loreli Candle Shop, Gemstones Jewelry, and the nice shops around "The Ship" restaurant as well as Alewine Pottery. With plenty of parking and enough different things to see and do to make it well worth your time to stop is Jim Gray Gallery. Located in a 100 year old former church building with a red tin roof and red shutters on the windows. They are open year round Monday thru Saturday and choose to be closed on Sunday to honor the Lords Day. They used to have a gallery right down town, but it was lost in a fire in Dec of 2007.

From the gallery, you can walk over to Jeff Hale's pottery shop called Future Relics, or up to Fox Hill Gallery right across the road. The old Cliff Dwellers Shop was built downtown in the 1930's. The Gray's saved this great old building and moved it next door to the Gallery. The Cliff Dweller's  features probably 25 different artists and crafters and is, as it says on the sign, " A Very Interesting Place."

Just down from Jim Gray Gallery you can walk to Cosby Hill Crafters, then The Smiths have a great knife and scrimshaw shop, and also the Arensbak's Troll Shop. Ogle's Broom shop makes brooms while you watch, and Ma's Kitchen will serve you a country plate lunch that is always good.

There are lots of other great parts of the Arts Community, and if you have time you should stop at Paul Murray Gallery, G Webb Gallery, Vern Hippensteal Gallery and the group of shops at Turtle Hollow. When you come full circle on Hwy 321 headed back to Gatlinburg, watch for Buie Pottery and the shops at Buie's Landing, right across the road from the "golden arches".

This will be a day well spent and for anyone who has been to Gatlinburg and found the strip too "busy". The Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community will be a refreshing and memorable addition to any trip to the mountains.