The Appalachian gateway to America’s most visited national park, little Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is home to just 6,000 permanent residents, but welcomes a whopping 10 million visitors each year. Defined by the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains, cozy cabin accommodations, family-friendly attractions and wholesome entertainment steeped in Southern Hospitality, Pigeon Forge appeals to travelers of all ages and interests. Here are 10 of the best things to do while you’re in town.
Grab a Hearty Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all, and Pigeon Forge offers plenty of tasty ways to start the morning off right. Take your pick from any of the traditional pancake houses this region is famous for. Or, belly up to a table at Mama’s Farmhouse for a gut-busting feast of biscuits, waffles, chocolate gravy (!), cheesy grits, hash brown casserole, chicken tenders, bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit and cinnamon pinwheel pastries served family-style. And when’s the last time you saw hickory-smoked pulled pork on a breakfast buffet? You will, along with a whole bunch of other yummy made-from-scratch items, at Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que.
Spend a Day at Dollywood
Whether you’re a country music fan or not, everyone loves Dolly Parton. The sassy Smoky Mountain songstress was born and raised right here in Sevier County and generously gives back to the community through many philanthropic endeavors. Plan on spending at least one whole day at her namesake Dollywood theme park to fully appreciate everything from thrill rides and the Splash Country water park to live entertainment, great food and the “Chasing Rainbows” museum that commemorates Dolly’s incredible life, music and career. The largest addition in the already expansive park’s history, the recently unveiled $37 million Wildwood Grove section ups the ante with 11 new experiences including the Dragonflier roller coaster.
Explore Old Mill Square
Perched on the banks of the Little Pigeon River, the Old Mill has been a Pigeon Forge fixture since the 1830s, and still processes grain for its own line of retail products the old-fashioned way using a water-powered grindstone. The charming shopping district that’s built up around the mill itself suggests souvenirs galore — bags of cornmeal, exquisite Pigeon River Pottery, and old-fashioned treats from the Candy Kitchen to name just a few. (For something with a bit more kick, stop in the Old Forge Distillery to sample some flavored moonshine.) For lunch, the Old Mill Restaurant serves up generous portions of country-fried steak, pot roast, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, corn chowder, catfish and other country classic favorites.
Take in a Show
Pigeon Forge supports a dozen different theaters, each with its own distinctive brand of entertainment. For example, Dolly Parton’s Stampede features dinner and a rodeo-style performance that incorporates live horses, buffalo and other animals, while Dolly Parton’s new Pirate Voyage offers shows with a high-seas flavor. Other venues to consider include the Smoky Mountain Opry, the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud, Country Tonight, the Comedy Barn Theatre and Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show anchoring the new Lumberjack Square.
Embark on a Journey of Titanic Proportions
One of two permanent RMS Titanic museums in the country owned by the husband-and-wife team of Mary Kellogg-Joslyn and John Joslyn, a documentary filmmaker who’s personally made dives to the actual shipwreck, this emotionally moving attraction houses painstakingly recreated vignettes, authentic recovered artifacts and costumed interpreters to bring passengers’ stories to life. This summer, the museum unveils seven of the 12 remaining Titanic life jackets still known to be in existence from the doomed voyage, the largest collection ever assembled.
Go at Your Own Speed
Satisfy your need for speed with a ride on the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster, the first attraction of its kind in the southern United States. Passengers use hand brakes to control the pace of individual carts up to speeds of 27 miles per hour through a scenic mile-long track full of twists and turns. The coaster operates year-round; for a real thrill, plan to go after dark for an illuminated night ride.
The Elvis Burger at the popular Local Goat restaurant has a secret-blend beef patty topped with bacon, peanut butter and fried bananas served alongside a stack of crispy shoestring fries and house-made ketchup. Elsewhere on the menu, the deep-fried deviled eggs appetizer with candied bacon and sriracha, the jumbo chicken wings, and the decadent signature bread pudding with ice cream also earn rave reviews from a loyal fan base of customers.
Don’t pay any attention to what the calendar says. Pigeon Forge Snow maintains state-of-the-art indoor slopes and play areas packed with man-made white stuff for tubing and snowman building all year long, even in the throes of summer. No need to pack a parka either; the climate-controlled facility always keeps the interior temperatures hovering between a comfortable 60 and 70 degrees.
With a startling upside-down façade and 35,000 square feet of interactive space to explore, WonderWorks appeals to guests of all ages with more than 100 mainly STEM-focused exhibits, a glow-in-the-dark indoor ropes course, a laser tag arena and live magic shows. If miniature golf’s more your jam, Crave Golf Club has candy-themed indoor and outdoor courses, mini-bowling alleys, soft-serve ice cream and a fully stocked sweet shop.
Get Away to the Island
The landmark Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is visible up and down the Pigeon Forge Parkway, soaring 200 feet into the air for spectacular bird’s-eye views of the local scenery. It’s also the centerpiece of the Island — a one-stop destination for shopping at more than 60 unique retailers, a wealth of dining options, entertainment for the whole family and hospitable stays at the Margaritaville Island Hotel, where all accommodations include an in-room “frozen concoction maker.”