Things to Do in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge

The sun sets over the hills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The sun sets over the hills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Image: Dave Allen Photography/iStock/Getty Images)

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, may be gateway cities to Great Smoky Mountains National Park but, with a healthy dose of glitzy and kitschy landmarks lining their main thoroughfares, the two small mountain towns are more Vegas than Appalachia. While natural settings such as green forest-covered hills and babbling brooks peak out of every corner, the towns also include over-the-top architecture, colorfully themed miniature golf courses and resorts with waterparks. Gain quick access to various regional attractions for a nominal fee via the Fun Time Trolley, a public bus that travels along the 5-mile Pigeon Forge Parkway, including the stretch that runs between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg

Nature Calls

While the tallest mountain in Great Smoky Mountains National Park rises just over 6,500 feet, the park’s picturesque setting is highlighted by lush forests, moss-covered rock formations, more than 2,000 miles of sleepy creeks and mountaintops drenched in rolling fog for a dreamy landscape. Take a drive along the 6-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which travels through dense woods dotted with rustic log cabins and grist mills. At the end of the road is a trailhead that takes hikers across a 5.4-mile boulder-filled path ending at Rainbow Falls, a rushing 80-foot waterfall with mist bouncing off jagged rocks. Enjoy a day of recreational activities on Little Pigeon River, including fishing for trout and smallmouth bass. Companies throughout the area, such as River Rage, provide inner tubes so you can float down the river and over its small rapids.

For Your Amusement

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg provide a carnival-like atmosphere in the midst of the forest. Country music queen Dolly Parton owns and operates Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country in Pigeon Forge, theme and water parks that celebrate the historic Tennessee mountain region. Flip and dip your way down steel rollercoasters, take in stage shows highlighting country western performers, or cool off as you float on a lazy river or plunge down towering waterslides. Tucked high in the Smoky Mountains, Ober Gatlinburg is a year-round resort with nine trails for skiing, a terrain park for snowboarding and indoor ice skating rink. During the summer, the resort opens its two 1,800-foot-long alpine slides, carousel, chair swings, miniature golf course and outdoor mazes. Take in 360- degree views of the area from atop the 400-foot Gatlinburg Space Needle. At the base of the structure, you’ll find a two-level arcade with video games, carnival games and a laser tag arena.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Both mountain towns are home to unique yet family-friendly attractions. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in Gatlinburg is a famed odditorium that showcases unique items, including shrunken heads and a spinning vortex tunnel. Ripley’s also has additional quirky attractions nearby, such as a series of indoor mirrored mazes, motion simulator rides and exhibits highlighting Guinness World Record holders. Continue exploring the world of the bizarre with a trip to WonderWorks, a child-friendly museum with more than 100 hands-on displays. Experience a 6.0 earthquake and hurricane-force winds in simulators, lay down on a bed of 3,500 nails, man the controls of the Space Shuttle Discovery and traverse your way through a 50-foot-tall rope challenge course.

Culture Vultures

Enjoy a night of dinner, dancing and the arts beginning with a trip to Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction in Pigeon Forge, also owned by Dolly Parton. Chow down on a four-course country dinner in a massive indoor rodeo arena equipped with banquet seating. You’ll be entertained during your meal by an elaborate show featuring bluegrass and country music acts, and a horse stunt show. Get in touch with your inner artist by signing up for week-long or weekend classes at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Unwind in the comfort of the 14-acre Gatlinburg campus while you try your hand at woodcarving, sculpting, pottery and painting.

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