Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Bryson City, NC: Vacationing with a 15 Month Old

We took our first vacation as a family of three back in June. We'd visited family with Carter, but I don't consider that a 'vacation.'  We thought of lots of cool places we could go, but they all ended up sounding so complicated and too much work. We wanted our first vacation to be easy. So we chose Bryson City, North Carolina.

We are not really a beach family. I like to lay on the beach, but I'm only good for like 2-3 hours and then I need to do something. Aaron's the same way. And we didn't want to have to haul all of the stuff down for a toddler to the beach.  So we chose the mountains. I suggested Bryson City because it's situated on three rivers, so we could still do fun water activities.

We stayed four days - Monday through Friday. I will tell you that it was the best plan. We had the weekend to pack and hang out. We drove up on Monday and back on Friday. Driving back on Friday allowed us a weekend on the back end to chill out, unpack and get everything ready for the week.  We also had a going away party for our friend Josh.

Note - there will be links in this post. I'm not an affiliate and this post isn't sponsored, the links are just for helping you out!

Foxcreek Cabins
I found the best cabin on Evolve Vacation Network. I found Evolve through the Bryson City webpage. They had vacation rentals listed and that's how we found the one we stayed in. Evolve was great because they didn't have the extra booking fee of Airbnb.

We stayed in Foxcreek Cabins in the Creekside cabin. There are three cabins total, all together, but the trees are so that you don't feel like you are right beside each other. The cabin had a big front porch, wide enough for Carter to play on while we drank coffee in the morning, that also had the hot tub. You could see and hear the creek from the front porch, too. The cabin had a full kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Carter loved having the living room to play in.

Our cute cabin!

View from our front porch.
The beautiful creek right by the cabin.

Hanging out on the front porch. 
We brought a lot of his food with us (puffs, cereal bars, squeeze packs, etc) and then bought groceries at Ingles supermarket.  My goal was to only eat out once a day to keep our costs down. The kitchen had plenty of pots and pans, a coffee maker (essential to this mama!) and dishes to use. I was really happy with the set-up.

Things to Do
As I mentioned above, it pretty much rained off and on the whole week. We planned a train ride for Wednesday, but didn't really make any other plans. What I like most about Bryson City is that you don't have to plan anything. We walked around downtown a few times. The downtown is small, but so cute with lots of fun shops. We stopped in to Bryson City Outdoors, and loved the tshirts and gear, but also the beer they have in the evenings. We also stopped by The Chocolate Shoppe and picked up some sugar free chocolates and truffles for me and candy for Aaron.

Fontana Lake and Dam
On Tuesday, we ate breakfast at Everett Street Diner. We talked about what to do because it was raining. We asked around about cool stuff to see and someone suggested the dam. So we drove about 45 minutes from Bryson City to the Fontana Dam. The dam is pretty cool because it's the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains, but also because they flooded three towns to make it! Aaron, who's a wastewater treatment plant operator, really enjoyed figuring out the mechanics of it.

Looking down the mouth of one of spillways.

Carter climbing to the top!
Looking at the back of the dam.
The Little Tennessee River, which the dam flows into.
We were smart and packed some sandwiches for lunch and were able to eat at a picnic stop on the lake. We got lucky and made it under the shelter and had lunch right before it started to rain again. We also hit some really pretty scenic overlooks on the way to and from the dam.

The view from our picnic spot.

We met a really nice couple at the picnic shelter and we exchanged photography skills!

View from one of the scenic overlooks.

Deals Gap/Tail of the Dragon
On the way back from Fontana, Aaron realized we were near the Tail of the Dragon. It's a part of highways NC 129 and 28 and crosses the state line into Tennessee.  If you get car sick, I highly recommend not taking this drive.  It's 318 curves in 11 miles! And the curves are tight, hairpin curves. It's been made a destination by motorcyclists and other drivers looking for a good curvy road.  Aaron had ridden it twice on his motorcycle and decided he needed to also drive it in the Mazda CX-5. Carter slept through most of it!

Apparently, if you wreck on the Tail of the Dragon, you're supposed to leave a piece of your bike behind.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Our big excursion on the trip was the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.  I'm not going to lie, I built this up in my head as the coolest thing ever and it ended up being pretty stressful. We purchased the first class tickets, meaning we had assigned seats and we got lunch. Carter was pretty cheap since he's under two. I thought he would love it, but it turns out that 15 month olds aren't that great at sitting still, which you have to do on the train. He also likes to be really loud, which is hard when you're trying not to disturb other people.

We did have fun, though. I enjoyed riding a train for the first time and the scenery.  The guide was funny, super sweet and thoughtful with us and Carter and provided some interesting information. We stopped at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for the layover. I've been rafting there before, but it's been at least a decade and holy crap, I did not remember it being that crazy! Aaron took Carter down to the river edge and then we went back to the bus. Too many people for me!

At the Nantahala Outdoor Center
This is also when we discovered Uncrustables!
I want to do the train again when Carter's older and will better understand and enjoy the aspect of being on a train. At one point, I did apologize to Aaron for the amount of money we spent on the train ride because I felt like it was more work than it was worth. But he pointed out that it was a cool experience, he enjoyed the train and it was something new. If you are going with a toddler, though, be prepared for a crazy kid that doesn't want to sit still.

We went to La Poblana that night for dinner. This did break the "eat out once a day" rule, but it's vacation. A lot of people recommended Guyabito's, but we were impressed that the parking lot was packed out every time we passed La Poblana.  We were not disappointed. Yes, it was a Mexican restaurant. And yes, it was wonderful.

Deep Creek
Our last full day was Thursday.  We really wanted to go hiking and tubing and the weather app kept saying that it was going to rain all day Thursday. But that morning, we had two surprises! We found out that Aaron passed his Grade 3 wastewater test and that we had a clear sky that morning! We got up, ate breakfast and headed out!

We went to Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked to three different waterfalls! Aaron carried Carter in the carrier and he slept most of the time.  At first, we weren't sure if we wanted to do tubing or not because it was a cooler morning, but after hiking, we were all sweaty (Aaron even had a Carter-shaped sweat stain on his back!) and decided it was a go!

Aaron and Carter in front of Juney Whank Falls
Indian Creek Falls

Family selfie with a passed out Carter 
Tom Branch Falls

Carter was not a fan of tubing. We brought his life jacket, which he did not like. He rode in the tube with Aaron and I had my own. The water was frigid! But we figured that if we didn't tube, we would regret it. We ended up going down the river once. Carter cried most of the time, half mad, half freezing and it started raining at the end. The tube rentals were only $6 each, so it was well worth the $12 that we spent.

Afterwards, we went to quite possibly my favorite place in Bryson City: Nabors. It's a drive-in right on the Tuckasegee River. We had the best burgers, fries and dessert all while sitting in the car, watching the river. It just felt so right. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was good!

On our way out of town on Friday, we stopped at Mountain Perks. I wanted a fancy coffee for the road. I also got some of their quiche. The staff were so sweet, the coffee was amazing and I pretty much drooled over the quiche. It was the perfect ending to our first family vacation with Carter.

We loved Bryson City. So much so that we actually started looking at cabins for sale in the area because we like the idea of going there every summer with Carter. It's the kind of place that good summers are made of. If you get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. I know that we will be back!

Baby Gear
I thought I would finish this post up with what we brought for Carter. Our first trip with Carter was when he was 2 months old and we drove to Pennsylvania to see Aaron's grandparents. We basically took our whole house with us. In the Corolla.  It was as ridiculous as you're imagining. I've learned a lot about packing with a toddler, though, and this is the gear we brought with us. I've provided links when possible.

Pack and Play - This is what Carter slept in at the cabin.  I would link ours but it's older (and was free!)
Fisher Price Spacesaver Highchair - Carter's still small enough (and busy enough) that he needs to some help in a chair. This is our regular high chair for him and it's super easy to travel with.
Eagle Creek Pack It Cubes - I use these exclusively to pack Carter's clothes. I put the PJs and bulky items in the big cube, the tops and bottoms in the medium and his socks and shoes in the small one. I also have a cosmetic roll-up bag that I use for his toiletries and medications.
Ergo Baby Carrier - I picked this up at a consignment sale for $50 and it was perfect for hiking!
ezpz Happy Mat - This is my favorite dish/dinner item we have bought for Carter. I have a bowl and a divided plate. They are great because the plate sticks to the table. Those little mats that you can stick to a table? Yeah, he rips those off. But these he doesn't mess with until he's done. Also, the mini plate and mini bowl works great on the high chair above! We also brought a couple sippy cups, fork and spoon sets, the drying rack and kid bowls with us.

Overall, we loved our first family trip. We loved Bryson City, we loved spending time just the three of us and we loved having an easy vacation. What was your first vacation with your baby?

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