|Papa Bear's Den|
We left last Saturday morning, right at 5am to start the 7-8 hour drive to Mineral Bluff, GA where Papa Bear's Den sits. EM hadn't ever been on such a long car ride before, hence why we wanted to leave so early in hopes that she'd sleep most of it. We made a handful of stops as we were caravanning with our family and between potty, food, and gas breaks I think it broke the drive up nicely and EM was an angel for most of it (and slept for a good portion on and off). She probably cried/fussed about 1 hour of the entire drive (not 1 hour straight thankfully!)
Where we stayed:
We rented the cabin through Escape to Blue Ridge and I'd have to say, they do a wonderful job of making sure the cabin is super clean and all your amenities are provided. Papa Bear's Den was fully equipped with everything we needed and even though the pictures on their website had us thinking it was going to be bigger, it was still the PERFECT size for the 7 adults and 1 toddler that went. (Another couple was planning on going initially but ended up not being able to, there would have been room for them as well). G, EM and I took the two bedrooms on the bottom/half basement floor, which was perfect, it was nice and quiet and the rooms had no windows so they were very dark which meant EM slept really late each day! G's Nan and Aunt and Uncle took the two bedrooms on the middle floor (which was the ground/main level you came in on, which was good for them so they didn't have to deal with any steps) and his parents took the bedroom on the top floor. Every couple had their own bathroom too. We didn't really use the game room, which was in the basement/downstairs but had a pool/air hockey table, mini bar, and TV with full couch set, although we did use the porch off the downstairs as they were covered from the top deck and had some nice swings and an awesome view of the mountains! I call it the basement, but only half of it was underground, since it's obviously on a mountain. On the main level, there was the kitchen, the dining table, and living room with couch, chairs, fireplace and a TV. Through the doors of the living room, there was a large deck with a hot tub, grill, picnic table and then as it wrapped around the house towards the front, there was an outdoor fire place and rocking chairs. Upstairs was the master bedroom which had a private porch. There was a fire pit as well but it was kind of down the hill, on an incline and the previous guests wrote in the guest book (who left the day we arrived) that there were a lot of spiders, scorpions, etc, so we opted to not use it since the outdoor fireplace worked so nicely. My only complaint with the cabin itself is the outdoor rockers probably could have used a fresh coat of paint as they were chipping everywhere. The cabin was beautiful though. All the rooms and bathrooms had themes (horses, fishing. moose, hunting, etc) and the entire cabin was wood. Even the toilet paper holders were wood fixtures! Since the cabin was called Papa Bear's Den, the main theme was of course bears. There were bear sculptures, bear knick knacks, bear wood carvings, etc EVERYWHERE, and a really big wooden bear in the middle of the main living room! In the guest book, they asked for the guests to count the bears, we didn't actually do this, but apparently the last people who stayed counted over 150+!
Just a few pictures we took ourselves of the cabin, you can see them all by clicking on this link, the cabin rental site's pictures were spot on, Papa Bear's Den.
|outdoor fire place|
|view from top porch|
|inside the main living room|
What we did:
When we initially booked, I didn't know I was pregnant (even though we knew we were trying and there would be a possibility) and so our (G and I) initial plans involved white water rafting, hiking, etc. Being almost 7 months pregnant, those type of activities were kind of out of the question for me and unfortunately for G, since our friends weren't able to make it, he didn't really have anyone else to go do those things with.... BUT we still had fun doing other things.
First up, we went to Mercier Orchard for some Apple Picking. I have never done any form of U-Pick fruit picking so I was excited to try this. We took a tractor ride up through the orchards and learned all about the history of Mercier Orchards and the different kinds of things they grow there (and sell in their bakery and to distributors). I found it interesting how small (short) the apple trees were, but the guy explained they grew dwarf trees, which actually was awesome for us short people, and it also meant EM would be able to pick her own apples! There was only one kind of apple in season to be picked, ginger gold, which are pretty small, sweet apples. EM wasn't sure what to make of the whole thing at first, but eventually got into it and since they don't use pesticides, the apples were OK to eat right off the tree. They were perfect, EM sized apples and she enjoyed eating them as she walked around the orchards (and then back at the cabin as well!) We got some really cute pictures of the whole thing too!
A few of my favorite pictures from the Orchards:
The next day, we drove a little over an hour to Amicalola Falls Lodge and State Park to see a waterfall. There were some closer waterfalls but at 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast and was also ADA friendly (which we needed for G's Uncle). We drove about half way up and went to a look out point, where you could only really look down and then went all the way to the top to the lodge and saw the gorgeous view from the top of the mountain (couldn't see the waterfall though) and relaxed a little in the lounge with some drinks (beer for them, water for me). We went into the little gift shop and even though EM didn't ask for anything (in fact kept putting all the stuffed animals back on the shelf when we'd hand them to her lol), some how her Nan and Pap decided she NEEDED something, so she ended up with a cute stuffed fox, which she loved the rest of the trip. Half of us decided to take the trail/steps down to the ADA viewing area of the waterfall and the rest drove to meet us there (EM went with those driving obviously). I can't recall, but I'm pretty sure they said it was like 700+ steps down (I know it said 1.2 miles from lodge to visitor center but the viewing area was about half way down I believe). It actually wasn't a bad trip down and fully shaded, so the heat wasn't bad at all (although my calves were sore the next day!) and once we got down to the viewing area, it was absolutely breathtaking. The others joined us there for some pictures and EM loved the waterfall, she kept staring at it saying "wa-wa"! G and I decided to take the rest of the steps/trail down to the visitor center and everyone else drove. The second half going down was mostly trail and a lot more steep but we took it easy and I really enjoyed doing it. It was probably the most physical activity I had done in months but I wasn't going to let pregnancy ruin my experience there and I'm glad I didn't.
|in the lodge|
|view from the lodge|
|at the start of our hike down|
|it was a long way down|
|on the way|
|the gang minus Uncle|
|she wouldn't smile for my picture|
Afterwards, we went into Downtown Blue Ridge and walked around, got some ice cream (can't recall the name of the place but they were SOOO slow there I wouldn't recommend it anyways) and had an early dinner at one of the local places, Serenity Garden Cafe, which was pretty good but nothing spectacular. Later that night, EM and I hit the hot tub on our deck for a "swim" - she loved it! (it wasn't that hot, don't worry!)
G, EM and I pretty much just hung around the cabin the next two days relaxing and the others went a little more "exploring". G's mom had never been to TN before or a Piggly Wiggly and since we were right on the TN border and there was a Piggly Wiggly there, they took the drive up there. (I'm not all about driving 35 minutes to check out a grocery store, and I had been to TN before, hence why I opted to relax in the cabin). They came home with a cute little T-shirt for EM from Piggly Wiggly that she proudly sported the next day. Almost every night we hung out by the fire place and chatted, sang songs, ate ice cream and made s'mores.
One of the days we were going to go walk around another small town, which ended up not being anything to see, but on the way back, we stopped at this side of the road "trading post" and they had some animals there so EM got to see chickens, rabbits, and goats. We paid our 50 cents and fed the goats too. At first EM was a little scared, but with a little help from her Pap, she seemed to enjoy it!
On our last full day there, we were going to go to a lake, but the weather was questionable with rain and it wasn't really hot enough to go spend the day there so we instead went gem mining. We were going to go gold mining, but the place was almost 2 hours away so we opted for a place a little closer. We (everyone except G, he wasn't feeling well so he stayed back) went to Lilly Pad Village and all shared one of their big buckets of dirt and went to mining. This was also something I'd never done before and always thought was a little corny but we enjoyed ourselves and got some pretty gems. I plan to make a christmas ornament with the smaller gems (think a clear ball with them in it and a picture and the date or something). EM didn't really "get" what we were doing but enjoyed playing with the big gems while sitting on my lap. You could also fish and go mountain mini-golfing there as well but we'll save that for when EM (and AB) are a little older. We then stopped for lunch at Joe's BBQ in town for some afternoon grub. The food was pretty good (although not the best BBQ I've ever had) and they had excellent service.
We left at 5:20 yesterday morning to head home. EM barely slept for this ride (probably because her schedule had been so screwed up from doing different things all week that she was taking late naps - she took a nap once we got home of course) and definitely wasn't as good coming home as she was on the way there. Granted, for a 20 month old to be strapped into a car seat for 7-8 hours, she could have been WAY worse, but still probably only cried off and on for 2.5 hours of the trip, so I guess it wasn't terrible.
Overall, I think I can speak for all of us with saying it was a great vacation, even while pregnant. We had so many good conversations and laughs and first time experiences! I would definitely do it again, and if it wasn't such a far drive, I'd go back to the same place/cabin, it was truly great, although since it is quite a drive, I would pick a different place since I feel like we explored Blue Ridge pretty well and would want to see something new. This vacation also allows me to cross two of my items off my 40 before 40 list (# 7 and # 32).