Take a seasonal getaway to the Smokies of Tennessee and North Carolina. As a year-round mountain destination, find four seasons of outdoor fun. Naturally the top attraction is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yet find outdoor activities galore, like rafting, horseback riding, skiing along with zip lines, mountain coasters and zorbing. Hotels.com wanted me to share the top things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Where to Stay in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
As an easy road trip destination, the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area offers loads of lodging options. Find everything from remote backcountry camping in the national park to glamorous mountain homes. In-town find the hotel brands you know and trust within walking distance to shuttles and attractions. Or head minutes out of town for a quaint mountain escape.
Located south of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Interstate 40, Sevierville is the first of a series of towns catering to vacationers.
Located five miles north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it offers a host of lodging, dining, shopping and attractions. It’s home to Dollywood and adjoins Gatlinburg an is the largest gateway community. Get around with an inexpensive shuttle or walk along the greenways.
Located directly north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it offers a more outdoorsy vibe. As a four season destination, find dining, lodging and attractions and it’s home to the mountain resort, Ober Gatlinburg. Use the shuttle to the Sugarlands Visitor Center from downtown.
Top Places to Visit in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Spanning two states, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the U.S. With over 520,000 acres find plenty of space to wander.
Offering a different landscape to explore for every season, it’s a robust year-round destination. Fall foliage attracts leaf peepers from all corners. Winter offers a snow-draped forest to explore. Spring wildflowers pop up early, coloring the forest. The synchronous fireflies dazzle with a summertime light show.
Top Spots to See in Great Smoky Mountains
Cades Cove—South of Townsend, Tennessee, it’s a popular area with the Cades Loop Road. Find lots of wildlife viewing opportunities along the highest concentration of historic buildings. Additionally Cades Cove features a visitor center and campground, plus a horse camp.
Cataloochee—Located east on the North Carolina side of the park. The road into the area is narrow and winding. An elk herd can be seen in the Cataloochee area along with historic buildings. Cataloochee Creek is noted for wild trout. Also find camping along with a horse camp.
Clingmans Dome—At 6,643 ft (2,024m) it’s the highest point in the park and in Tennessee. It’s also the third highest peak on the East Coast. Find a paved path to the observation tower off Newfound Gap Road.
Deep Creek—Located on the southern edge of the park, near Bryson City, North Carolina. This area is known for its creeks, waterfalls and fishing. Find seasonal camping and hiking as well.
Elkmont—From early logging to a private resort area to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, it’s been a hub for activity for over 100 years. Located southeast of Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Find a large campground along with historic cabins, like the Appalachian Clubhouse.
Mountain Farm Museum—Located next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, north of Cherokee, North Carolina. Find a collection of log buildings reconstructed in this area. Walk through a farm house along with the out buildings, like a springhouse, barn and blacksmith shop.
Newfound Gap—At 5,046 ft. (1,538m), it’s the lowest drivable mountain pass so this area offers some of the best views without a hike. Located near Clingmans Dome.
Roaring Fork—As a Motor Nature Trail close to Gatlinburg, it’s a popular destination. Find waterfalls along historic with buildings.
Spend as little or as much time as you want. It’s open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. It is free to enter. And the Gatlinburg Trolley stops at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, closest to Gatlinburg.
Best Fall Events in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Celebrating its 35th year in 2020, visit the amusement park that Dolly Parton opened celebrating the food, culture and music of the Southern Appalachia. Sitting on a 150-acre parcel find Dollywood amusement park, Dollywood’s Splash Country (seasonal waterpark) and Dollywood’s Dreammore Resort and Spa. It’s the biggest attraction outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Find thrill rides, like the Tennessee Tornado, and rides for the littles like Dollywood Express train. Take in a show, like country, gospel or animal shows, all scheduled throughout the day.
Dollywood hosts several popular festivals during the year, like Dollywood’s Harvest Festival with Great Pumpkin LumiNights featuring hand-carved pumpkins. Also the Smoky Mountains Christmas is a popular event with five-million sparkling lights.
Located at 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd. in Pigeon Forge. Admission based on age. Open from mid-March through New Years.
As a year-round mountain resort find seasonal events along with a traditional ski resort in the winter. Take the aerial tram from the center of Gatlinburg for the most picturesque way to the resort. It’s nestled in the mountains west of town and the only ski resort in Tennessee.
Fall—Oktoberfest celebrates Bavarian food, beer and entertainment, runs through October.
Winter—Find a ski resort with two ski lifts and one surface lift with a variety of runs and a terrain park for skiing, snow boarding and snow tubing. Equipment rental on-site and lessons are available. Lift tickets start at $20 and multi-day tickets are available. Tubing starts in late November and skiing in December through March.
Spring—Find an assortment of activities, including an alpine slide, a mountain coaster, a scenic chairlift and more. Mayfest is a popular event.
Summer—Everything in the spring plus more, like ice skating and ice bumper cars, summer tubing and water raft rides.
Located at 1339 Ski Mountain Rd. Admission based on age and activity.
Gatlinburg Aerial Tram
Soar above the forest in one of the largest trams in the U.S. Depart Gatlinburg for a scenic ride to the Ober Gatlinburg resort, nestled in the mountains above town. The 120-person tram whisks passengers 2.1 miles and departs every 20 minutes.
Located at 1001 Parkway. Admission is separate and starts at $14 per person. Open daily with varying hours.
Mysterious Mansion of Gatlinburg
Wander through the dark with ghouls and goblins popping out of every dark corner. Experience this year-round, three-story Victorian haunted house that opened in 1980.
Located at 424 River Rd. in Gatlinburg. Admission starts at $11 Open daily until 10 p.m. with seasonal hours.
Top Attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
As one of the best aquariums in North America, find lots to see in its underwater tunnel. Visit one of the touch tanks. See the penguins play. Marvel at sting rays. Animal encounters available along with educational activities.
Located at 88 River Rd. in Gatlinburg. Admission based on age and starts at $9.99 for kids. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (later during summer months).
Titanic Museum Attraction
It’s hard to miss the one-half scale replica of the ill-fated ship while driving through Pigeon Forge. Find a two-story facility with an exact replica of the Grand Staircase along with 400 artifacts from the ship and its passengers. Touch an iceberg and feel the 28F water that surrounded the RMS Titanic as it sunk.
Located at 2134 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Admission based on age and starts at $14 for kids with family packages available. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
Take in the Great Smoky Mountains from 200 feet (60m) up in a glass-enclosed cabin on the observation wheel. Then enjoy The Island Show Fountain with 89 water jets that project water up to 60 feet (18m) in the air, choreographed to one of 14 songs.
Also find rides like The Flying Horse Carousel along with an arcade, escape room and ropes course. Additionally find dining and shopping in this complex.
Located at 131 The Island Dr. in Pigeon Forge. Admission to The Island is free, attractions are extra. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. most days of the year.
Walk into the upside down building to experience 100 hands-on exhibits in the different zones, including extreme weather, space and even art. Then find an indoor ropes course along with laser tag.
Located at 100 Music Rd. in Pigeon Forge. Admission starts at $21.99 Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days.
Pigeon Forge Snow
Take a tube down a snow-covered indoor hill year-round. Best of all, the indoor temperature is about 65F/18C.
Located at 2533 Teaster Ln. in Pigeon Forge. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (9 p.m. on Saturday) Admission is $21.99 for one hour of tubing.
Best Places for Views of the Smokies
Gatlinburg Sky Lift Park and Sky Bridge
Head to the heart of Gatlinburg then board a scenic chair lift to the top of Crockett Mountain. Take in the views on the SkyDeck. If you dare, walk across the largest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. Make it across the glass panels of the 680-foot bridge for a double dare.
Located at 765 Parkway in Gatlinburg. Open daily at 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Admission starts at $15.95.
Gatlinburg Space Needle
Head up 407 feet on a glass elevator for an amazing 360-degree view of the Smokies. Also on-site is a large arcade.
Located at 115 Historic Nature Trail in Gatlinburg. Tickets start at $7.95 and family passes available. Open daily with seasonal hours.
Quirky Attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Who knew you could find a museum dedicated to salt and pepper shakers. And it features 20,000 pairs.
Located at 461 Brookside Village Way in Gatlinburg. Open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Adult admission is $3.
Hollywood Star Cars Museum
Here’s a museum for the automotive enthusiast. See the 1966 Batmobile from the hit TV show. Find the 1969 Dodge Charger, The General Lee, from the Dukes of Hazzard. And don’t forget to catch Dolly Parton’s 1997 Cadillac D’Elegence.
Located at 914 Parkway in Gatlinburg. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission starts at $7.99.
Gatlinburg Pinball Museum
Find close to 60 machines through the ages to actually play.
Located at 205 Historic Nature Trail in Gatlinburg. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Pinball machines are $1 per game.
Alcatraz East Crime Museum
Explore two floors with notorious crime evidence, like Ed Bundy’s VW Beetle. Then take a look at OJ Simpson’s white Bronco. Also learn about crime investigation during your visit.
Located at 2757 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission starts at $14.95.
Hollywood Wax Museum
See the Great Ape of Pigeon Forge as it scales the Empire State Building outside. Inside explore two floors of your favorite stars in wax with props for selfies.
Located at 106 Showplace Blvd. in Pigeon Forge. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission starts at $17.99.
Outdoor Adventures in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Horseback Riding at Sugarlands Riding Stables
Offering one to four-hour guided trail rides through the forest and next to streams. Age and weight restrictions apply.
Located at 1409 Parkway in Gatlinburg. Rates start at $35 per person for one-hour ride. Open from Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from mid-March through late November.
Anakeesta Outdoor Park
Explore the outdoors with a Skywalk with 16 treetop bridges that connect to form 800 feet of high adventure. Or head up to the Anavista Tower for an unique vantage point to see the Smokies. Also find dueling zip lines, a botanical garden and a mountain coaster.
Located at 576 Parkway in Gatlinburg. Open daily at 10 a.m. Admission starts at $17.99 per person.
Outdoor Gravity Park
Heard of zorbing? The kids have. Don’t feel bad, this is the only zorbing park in the U.S.
Climb into a 11-foot inflatable ball and bounce down the 1000-foot hillside with several different courses available. And they add water to the ball with you and a couple of your friends—equal parts exhilarating or nauseating.
Located at 203 Sugar Hollow Rd. in Pigeon Forge. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. One roll is $24 with up to three riders, 5 and older.
Rafting in the Smokies
With a whitewater trip (class III and IV ) and a family float (class I and II), enjoy the Pigeon River with experienced guides. Navigating the Pigeon River since 1978, trips are offered in the summer only.
Located at I-40 exit 447 in Hartford. Prices start at $35 a person with a minimum age restrictions.
Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
Zip through the Smokies at speeds up-to 30 mph in an individual cart or tandem. Do it at night for a different experience.
Located at 306 Parkway in Gatlinburg. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (8 p.m. Sunday) Price starts at $16 per ride, per person. Age and weight restrictions apply.
Where to Shop in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
The Old Mill
Learn how water turned grain into flour along the shores of Little Pigeon Forge River starting in 1830. Find two restaurants, two pottery studios, an ice cream shop, a candy maker with some of the best fudge in the area, a distillery along with shopping including the Old Mill products and a shop for cooks.
Located at 175 Old Mill Ave. in Pigeon Forge. Open daily with varying hours. No admission to enter.
The Island in Pigeon Forge
Home of the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel along with shopping and dining.
Located at 131 The Island Dr.
Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet Mall
Located at 2850 Parkway.
Where to Eat and Drink in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Find several dinner with a show venues in the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area.
Dolly Parton’s Stampede
Enjoy a dinner and a show, starting with a tour of the stables along the horse walk. Then enjoy a family-style meal with rotisserie chicken along with sides. The show features horse stunts along with pyrotechnics.
Located at 3849 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Open daily with a selection of show times. Prices at $29.99 per person for kids.
Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show
Pick your side and enjoy some grub for a dinner music show featuring the legendary family feud. Serving fried chicken and pulled pork bbq along with sides.
Located at 119 Music Rd. in Pigeon Forge. Open daily with a selection of show times. Prices at $29.99 per person for kids.
Log Cabin Pancake House
With breakfast served all day, find an assortment of pancakes along with lunch. It opened in 1976 and features a covered wagon out front.
Located at 327 Historic Nature Trail in Gatlinburg. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
The iconic chain got its start in Tennessee in 1969 outside of Nashville. Find two in Pigeon Forge and one in Sevierville.
Mountain Valley Vineyards
Find an outdoor seating area with free tastings.
Located at 2174 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Mill Bridge Winery
Another option with outdoor seating area and free tastings also serves cider.
Located at 3331 S. River Rd. in Pigeon Forge. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sugarlands Distilling Company
Learn how moonshine is produced with a tour followed by a tasting.
Located at 805 Parkway in Gatlinburg. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tasting is $5 per person.
Smoky Mountains Brewery
With a location in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, sample one of its seasonal brews or its flagship brews. Food also available.
Located at 1004 Parkway in Gatlinburg and 2350 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Open 11:30 a.m. to midnight.
Getting Around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
This area is popular year-round and can bottleneck with traffic so hop an inexpensive trolley (and sometimes free) instead.
Pigeon Forge Greenways
Find six miles of trails in Pigeon Forge including the Riverwalk Greenway along the shores of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Free
Pigeon Forge Trolley
With six color-coded routes, get to where you need to go without driving, like Dollywood or the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. The fare is $3 per person for all day. The trolley runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the year and 8 a.m. to midnight during the summer.
With seven color-coded routes, the Gatlinburg Trolley stops at 100 different locations. Fares start as low as 50-cents and it’s free from mid-June to mid-August.
Weather in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Winter: Highs—50sF (9 to 15C) Lows—20sF (0 to -3C)
Spring: Highs—70sF (21 to 25C) Lows— 40sF (4 to 9C)
Summer: Highs—80sF (23 to 30C) Lows—50sF (11 to 14C)
Fall—Highs 60sF (15 to 19C) S Lows—40sF (4 to 9C)
Rainfall is consistent year-round with 4 to 5 inches (100 to 150mm) monthly with snow in the winter.
How to Get to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg Tennessee
For commercial air travel, use the McGhee Tyson regional airport (TYS) near Knoxville, about 40 miles west of Gatlinburg.
Located south of Interstate 40, U.S. Route 441 connects Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and continues south through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Newfound Gap Road). It’s concurrent with U.S. Route 321, though the routes separate at Pigeon Forge and route 321 doesn’t enter the park.
Note on 2020 Travel
Since traveling in 2020 remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind as you explore. If you’re comfortable traveling, please travel responsibly and within local and state regulations since travel is at your own risk.
- Wear a face mask, as required in the area.
- Use hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently.
- Check official websites and a destination’s Facebook page before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures and status of local businesses.
- Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
- Check to see if your attractions require online reservations before your trip. Popular attractions sell out.
This article was sponsored by Hotels.com