Even though we would have loved to stay in the Lake of the Ozark region a little longer, we had a schedule to keep. Troy and I consulted the map again to see where our next stop would be. My thought was to visit Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky; however, we didn’t want to head further away from our ultimate destination. Instead, we decided to visit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, as it kept us heading south and east towards our new home in Charleston, SC..
We knew we were heading to Tennessee, but without an overnight destination in mind this time. We would just drive until we were ready for a break. Loving the back roads as we do, we opted to take Highway 17 south, then a short drive on Interstate 44 to Highway 19. I chose Highway 19 as it is designated as a scenic highway which runs through an area called Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park area to protect a river system. Home to the Current and Jack Fork rivers, there are plenty of opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, fishing and floating. It was lovely and we vowed to journey back to further check out this area.
Once we hit Interstate 60, we were back to main roads. We got to cross the “Mighty Mississippi” and the Ohio River. The kids were excited because our route took us through a sliver of Illinois so they could add another state to their road-trip count.
Once over the rivers, our drive took us through a town called Cairo, Illinois which broke my heart. Traversing the center of town, it was easy to see Cairo was once a prominent city. Evidence was in the mansions; a couple restored, but most abandoned and crumbling. The photographer in me wanted to jump out and take photos but there simply wasn’t time. The streets were empty and the only life seemed to be others like us, just driving through.
It wasn’t long before we crossed into Kentucky. It surprised us that this main road was a small two-lane highway that weaved through farmland, and little towns. The day was waning so we really needed to find a campground. We were approaching Paducah so I did a quick online search and found Fern Lake Campground.
Fern Lake Campground is a no-frills but well-kept family-owned campground with all pull-thru sites. It seemed that many of the campers there were full-timers. Right as we stepped into the trailer, the thunder started and we had a nice rainstorm to accompany dinner.
Note: Full service sites are $35/night with free Wi-Fi which actually worked quite well!
Morning came and we decided to try the Waffle Hut restaurant that was a quick walk from the campground. As soon as we arrived, we knew we had found a local’s spot. Tables were full of people enjoying their breakfasts with the waitresses coming by with coffee. They knew most of the clientele by name.
Our waitress was Chastity Luna and she helped us chose from all the delicious options. There was an open kitchen and the kids loved that they could watch the staff preparing the food. Breakfast came and it was truly amazing! The waffles were crisp on the outside and soft inside. I ordered sausage which came in patty-form. Usually I am not a fan of patties as they are often dry and overcooked, however, this was the best sausage patty I ever had! Great flavor, perfectly cooked and delicious. Drake had bacon and again, I was surprised how amazing it tasted. Perfectly crisp without it being like jerky.
Chastity came round again to pick-up dishes and we got in a conversation with her. She was leaving Waffle Hut to go back home to care for her aging grandmother since her father had passed away. She was a special person and we were glad to have met her.
Back to camp, we decided that a good driving day would get us to Nashville, TN so after a quick consult of the KOA Directory, we were on our way!
Less than 3 hours later we were in Nashville. The KOA here is conveniently located near the Opryland Hotel, Opry Mills Mall and the Grand Old Opry. Check-in went smooth and we were escorted to Site #27.
We were all starving so I looked online and found that the outlet mall was home to The Aquarium restaurant (part of the Landry group of restaurants). Luckily, it was past the usual lunch hour so we were seated right away next to the 200,000 gallon fish aquarium; home to over 100 different kinds of colorful tropical fish.
I ordered the Lobster Tower, a Cobb Salad with layers of lobster meat, avocado, hard-boiled egg, bacon, cheese and lettuce. It didn’t look that big when it came, but it was proved to be plenty and they didn’t skimp on the lobster! The kids’ meals were a bit small for the price, but they didn’t mind as they were more interested in the aquarium than lunch.
After lunch we wanted to see about a tour of the Grand Ole Opry. Admission for the four of us would have been $78. I couldn’t justify the cost as I didn’t think the kids would get much out of it. We opted to walk around the Opry Mills Mall instead which had a lot of good stores to browse. We had talked about checking out the Opryland Hotel, a tourist attraction in its own right, but we never got the time to go. Definitely on our agenda for the next trip to Nashville.
The sun rose on our one full-day in Nashville. As a family, we decided to do one activity that was educational and one, fun. Our educational destination was to downtown Nashville to visit the state capitol. The kids have started learning more about states and their capitols so it was a perfect time for this visit. The Tennessee capitol offers free guided tours throughout the day and we were just in time for one to start. The tour took us through the history of how the location was chosen, the building of the capitol and a walk to see the grand rooms and legislative offices there. The building is beautiful!
Notes: The Capitol is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Capitol is closed weekends and holidays. The tour was a little long for our almost 8-year-olds but they did enjoy it. All guests must go through a metal detector and adults must present a photo I.D.
After our tour, we asked our guide for a lunch suggestion. Without hesitation, he recommended Demo’s and said that if he could go right then, he would. That got us excited about our lunch experience.
Demo’s is a family-owned and operated restaurant with four franchises in Tennessee. Customer service and the overall experience is top-notch. The best part? The most expensive lunch entree is under $9!
Our family was famished so when the server brought out the basket of hot, home-baked bread, we dug right in! That bread was heaven! The basket was emptied in minutes and another basket was brought to replace it. Next, we had a choice of soup or salad. The simple salad was delicious and the kids loved their Minestrone soup. My entree was Sirloin Medallions; six ounces of perfectly cooked sirloin cut fresh on the premises and broiled to perfection. My side was their famous brown-butter garlic spaghetti which was marvelous. The rest of the family had meat sauce spaghetti and it was loved by all. We would definitely come back when our travels take us to Tennessee!
The kids stared getting excited as we planned to spend the afternoon at the Adventure Science Center, also located downtown. With 44,000 square feet of exhibit space, there are nearly 200 hands-on exhibits that focus on biology, physics, air and space, energy and earth science. It also is home to the first planetarium in Tennessee offering a wide range of science presentations.
Drake and Mia particularly enjoyed the temporary exhibit called “Identity,” which looked into genetic, psychological and social identity through hands-on exhibits. The other favorite was Moonwalker, where they got experience what it feels like to walk on the moon.
After our fun visit it was back to Nashville KOA for our final night. This is another awesome KOA with beautiful grounds, a large sparkling pool (they have live music concerts and outdoor movies pool-side), outdoor bowling, life-sized chess & checkers, game room and clean and spacious showers!
Note: All RV sites are full-service back-in or pull-thru sites. KOA also offer tent sites and cabin rentals as well. This KOA is conveniently located close to restaurants, shopping, and Camping World!
Next (and final) stop before we reach South Carolina? Gatlinburg and the Great Smokey Mountains!!