Plan a great vacation to the Smoky Mountains. Here are some tips and information about Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee are one of the best vacation places for families. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are packed with things to do and there is something for everyone at any season of the year. The beauty is breathtaking, most of the expenses are quite reasonable and there are many places to stay.
Pigeon Forge was named partly for the numerous passenger pigeons that used to occupy its beech trees and partly for an Ironworks that was powered by the river that runs through it, thus came the other part of the name, "Forge." The main thoroughfare running through Pigeon Forge and on into and through Gatlinburg is U.S 441, also called the Parkway.
In 1986, Dolly Parton put Pigeon Forge on the map when she purchased the small amusement park which is now known as Dollywood. It has since doubled in size and more attractions and rides are added often. It is largly Christian themed with most of the musical entertainment being gospel. The park is landscaped beautifully with creative displays of various plants and trees around every bend.
One of the favorite attractions in Dollywood is the coal burning steam locomotive that takes visitors on a two and one half mile excursion through some gorgeous country. As the train chugs along, tiny fragments of coal blow in the wind, sometimes landing on passengers. The train cars are open to weather which can be wonderful on a nice day or miserable in humid, rainy or very cold weather.
The food offerings inside of the Dollywood park vary and there is something to please everyone. Aunt Granny’s All-You-Care-To-Eat Buffet has lots of authentic southern food. There is also barbeque, a shop to purchase pork rinds, and other eateries and kiosks thoughout the park serving up everything from skillet dishes, to fried chicken to tempting fudge and ice cream treats.
Dollywood features the usual roller coasters, rafting and log rides that are common in many theme parks, however they have now included a ride called Skyzip which allows riders to "fly" through the trees and have a birdseye view of the park. On this ride, guides accompany the riders. There is an extra charge and the excursion takes about 90 minutes.
Although Dollywood is one of the main attractions in Pigeon Forge, there are many other things to do. In the summer and fall, the Parkway is nearly overflowing with traffic which can be frustrating. Despite the traffic snarls, it is worth it. Everywhere one looks, there are theaters, various types of museums, kiddie rides, laser tag,water parks, paint ball, and go-kart rides. Specialty shops are everywhere selling Smoky Mountain novelties, craftwork, quilts, candles, music and pottery. There are outlet stores as well selling clothing, books and shoes.
The scenery in the summer months is dazzling, especially to those not accustomed to so much green. There are many outdoor activities that are family oriented. Horseback riding, white water rafting and hiking are favorites. Rafting on the Little Pigeon river is family friendly, even considered safe for small children as young as 3.
Entertainment options are numerous in Pigeon Forge. There are comedy clubs, music theaters and magic shows. The Titanic museum is new. It is a 30,000 square foot structure shaped like a ship which has 2 decks and 20 galleries of artifacts. A section of the 1st class staircase has been recreated and guests are allowed to climb it. There are also recreations of a 1st class suite and a 3rd class cabin which allow visitors to get a feel of what it was like sleeping aboard Titanic.
Sevier County, which includes Pigeon Forge, used to be dry. In other words, no alcohol could be served anywhere. Recently however, new laws have been passed that allow beer and wine to be served on outdoor patios at restaurants. For liquor by the drink, one has to travel up the Parkway to Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg is the gateway to the Smokies. It is small enough that many people just park their cars and walk. Novelty shops are numerous. Shopping and eating along with the beauty of the mountains are the main draws for people. Many weddings are performed in Gatlinburg and there are at least 20 chapels to choose from. In Tennessee, a marriage license is required but there is no blood test or waiting period. Romantic honeymoon cabins are available throughout Gatlinburg. Hotels are available too but most honeymooners prefer the privacy that a cabin offers.
There are plenty of accomodations for non-honeymooners and families as well. For large groups, a chalet may be in order. Most come with jacuzzis and fireplaces plus modern amenities. Some places are very secluded but others are within walking distance of restaurants and shops.
For cabin rentals in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, advanced reservations are strongly recommended. In autumn, the fall foliage is a strong attraction, so reservations for any accomodations should be made a couple of months in advance. Be aware that traffic can be extra heavy during the fall. Gatlinburg during winter is snowy and cold but still enjoyable and less crowded. Many of the shops have fireplaces which are cozy and inviting. Shoppers can stroll in the brisk air while enjoying a steaming cappuccino or a mug of hot chocolate.
Ripley's salt water aquarium (Aquarium of the Smokies) is worth visiting. It has a glass walk-through section which enables visitors to view sharks and other fish up close. There is also a live diving show, interactive displays for the kids and a stingray pool that allows people to touch the rays. Ripley's also operates a Believe it or Not museum, a Haunted Adventure and a 3d Moving Theater.
Gatlinburg also has miniature golf, horseback riding, zip lines, comedy and music theater, hiking, a brewery and pizza restaurant combo, a winery and more.
Things to look out for
Because of the mountain location, the roads are curvy in places and can become slick in inclement weather. Tires should be checked before your trip and if visiting in the winter, snow chains may be required. Temperatures in winter can become very cold and darkness sets in quickly. Be sure to bring enough warm clothing.
As stated before, traffic can get very bad, especially on weekends and holidays or during the autumn season. Be very careful as a pedestrian crossing roads.
Most of the year, trollies are available in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Riding them helps cut down on traffic.
There are many black bears in the Smoky Mountains. They are dangerous and have been known to attack humans. If you are hiking, be aware of your surroundings. Stay in groups. Do not approach a bear or attempt to feed one. Do not leave food lying around which might be tempting to bears or other wildlife.
Be careful around bodies of water because the perimeter can become slick with moss in the summer or ice in the winter.
If bicycling, wear a helmet and watch for wildlife that may inadvertently cross in front of you. In autumn, the leaves that have fallen on the path may be wet and slick. Staying covered in cold weather is important to avoid frostbite.
Storms in Tennessee are sometimes severe. If you are outdoors and hear thunder or see lightning, find shelter quickly and wait it out.
To ensure a wonderful vacation, plan your trip ahead of time, make reservations and do some research. Crowds are heavier on the weekends so it might be best to plan for the middle of the week. If traveling with animals, there are some hotels and cabins that allow pets but be prepared to pay an extra fee. There are also campgrounds in the area for those with trailers and RVs. Enjoy!