What is it about the trio towns of Gatlinburg
, Pigeon Forge
, Tenn., that make them appealing to travelers? Perhaps it’s the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Maybe it’s the varied choices of affordable entertainment and activities for all ages. It could even be the allure of the pancake houses. Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain, you’ll never run out of things to do when you are visiting.
However, with so many options, it’s best to plan ahead so you can get the most out of your trip. Here are five unforgettable and fun ways to experience this area to its fullest.
In addition to hiking
and general exploring you can do
at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this area is teeming with all types of outdoor activities. From light to extreme, there is something for all interests.
Ride up 2.1 miles aboard the Aerial Tramway
at Ober Gatlinburg
. Ascend 400-feet and take in the 360-degree views from Wonders of Flight
, a tethered hot air balloon located at Wonder Works in Pigeon Forge. Fly over the National Park with Scenic Helicopter Tours
in Sevierville. They are one of the few operators that can do this.
Want to take your outdoor adventure up a notch? Check out Foxfire Mountain
Sevierville. Not only is it home to some amazing zip lines in the area, but also the swinging bridge that is said to be the longest one in the U.S. Just don’t let the swinging bother you when you are over the Foxfire Gorge and Little Pigeon River.
Zip 300 feet above the French Broad River at Adrenaline Park
in Sevierville. Finish your experience with a walk out on the glass bottom sky bridge and then hang on the during adrenaline-pumping Jet Boat tour.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
in Gatlinburg is home to over 10,000 sea creatures representing more than 350 species. Explore such areas as the Tropical Rainforest, Ocean Realm and others. Have your camera ready as you slowly make your way through Shark Lagoon, because you never know what you might see overhead or on either side of you. Be sure to check out the playful penguins at the Penguin Playhouse.
Depending on how long you are in the area, Dollywood
in Pigeon Forge is a must-visit. You should devote at least
a half-day to the theme park. Not only will the rides entertain you (especially if you are a roller coaster enthusiast), but also the wide variety of shows and live entertainment. Even if you aren’t the type to take a seat in an indoor or outdoor theater, you will be drawn to do so here.
And speaking of shows, Pigeon Forge
is filled with them. Whether you want to laugh, sing or just enjoy yourself, there is a show (or two) for you. Get the most out of your budget and time with a dinner show. It’s the best of both worlds — be fed while being entertained. One show that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat until the end is the Lumberjack Feud
. Cheer on your “family” lumberjack as they participate in various competitions. These skilled athletes make the Speed Climb and Underhand Chop look easy. Of course the true stars of the show are the timber dogs.
Don’t forget about other Pigeon Forge attractions like WonderWorks
and Titanic Museum Attraction
Inside WonderWorks try out the bed of nails, and test yourself on the Extreme 360 Bike, MINDBALL
, and more throughout the different zones.
Upon boarding Titanic Museum Attraction, you are handed a boarding pass that
has a name and backstory of a passenger that was on the luxury liner. In the end, you'll find out if you were one of the survivors. As you make your way through the museum
, you'll see everything from personal artifacts to replicas of a first-class cabin and a third-class cabin and more, including the Grand Staircase. Don't miss the Father Browne Gallery that highlights the largest photography collection of the Titanic and the exhibit on the Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
located at the Island at Pigeon Forge.
Only in Gatlinburg will you find The Salt and Pepper Museum
. Inside, the displays highlight the personal collection of over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers acquired over 20 years.
Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community
is a short drive from downtown Gatlinburg (or you if don’t feel like driving, you can take the trolley.) The 8-mile loop is filled with Tennessee artisans and craftspeople, many demonstrating their trade onsite, as well as local galleries and shops. Great place to pick up some must-have souvenirs.
Watch the potters create their pieces at The Old Mill Pigeon River Pottery
at the Old Mill. Afterward, walk over and check out the General Store
Located in Sevierville, the Tennessee Museum of Aviation
highlights and preserves aviation history from World War II - Vietnam with various artifacts. It also serves as the state's Aviation Hall of Fame. Also on-site is a 35,000 square-foot hangar that houses working vintage aircraft, static aircraft, engines, cockpits and more.
No doubt about it, you will eat well here and won’t walk away hungry.
Since you are in the mountains, enjoy a fresh trout dish or the trout fritters at Smoky Mountain Trout House
For those who might be on a quest to find the best pancake, consider the Pancake Pantry
in Gatlinburg or at Flapjacks Pancake Cabin
in both Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Also check out the pancake options at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
For a quick snack (or lunch), enjoy a slaw dog at Frank Allen's Market & Grill
in Sevierville. It is said to be Dolly Parton's favorite.
In the mood for barbecue? Check out Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ & Grill
or Clint’s BBQ & Country Cookin
, both in Sevierville.
For a good filling meal before or after a day of exploring, you can’t go wrong with
either lunch or dinner (or both) at The Old Mill Restaurant
or The Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille
in Pigeon Forge or Applewood Farmhouse & Grill
Pick up something sweet at Donut Friar
or Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
in Gatlinburg. If you are in Sevierville when the need for sweets strike, stop in Courthouse Donuts
and create your own.
A visit to this area isn’t complete without sampling some moonshine. What you taste at one distillery, it’ll be different at another. Some of them even offer free tours of the process. Some places to check out is Ole Smoky Moonshine
, Tennessee’s first legal moonshine distillery, with places in both Gatlinburg and The Island at Pigeon Forge. Sample their Apple Pie flavored moonshine. Also in Gatlinburg, you’ll find Sugarlands Distillery
with their Butterscotch-flavored moonshine, their second best seller behind their Silver Cloud. Doc Collier Moonshine
not only produces ‘shine (try their Fire Cracker ‘Shine), but also rum, vodka and blueberry brandy.
At Old Forge Distillery
in Pigeon Forge, try the Coffee-flavored or Chocolate-flavored moonshine.
There are also wineries. Check out the five highlight with the Rocky Top Wine Trail
Best Bet for Lodging
You can find nearly every type of accommodations in the Great Smoky Mountains. If you are doing a weekend trip, it might be best to go with a hotel. One in particular goes beyond a typical hotel experience. Wilderness at the Smokies
in Sevierville perhaps is best known for being the state's largest indoor water park resort. In addition to the Wild Water Dome Indoor Waterpark
, the property also has two seasonal outdoor waterparks
- Lake Wilderness and Salamander Springs as well. Then there is the property’s Adventure Forest
that includes a 3-story rope course, an arcade, black-light mini golf and enough to keep all ages happy. With its restaurants and snacks bars
, nearly everything you need is right there.
However, if you aren’t traveling with children, the property is still appealing. It isn’t too far from all of the attractions, shops and restaurants in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
photos: (top left) Great Smoky Mountain National Park; (top right) Swinging Bridge at FoxFire Mountain; (middle left) Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies; (middle left two) Lumberjack Feud Show; (middle right) Titanic Museum Attraction; (upper bottom left) Tennessee Museum of Aviation; (bottom right) Applewood Farmhouse & Grill; (bottom left) Wilderness at the Smokies