Spring into Adventure: Top 10 Things to Do in Pigeon Forge and the Smokies
Get Ready for Dollywood’s Biggest Adventure Yet: Big Bear Mountain Roller Coaster
Experience the Winterfest Lights
Every winter, Sevier County becomes a winter wonderland with more than 5 million lights brightening the night. Now in its 31st year, Winterfest has become one of the most anticipated celebrations in the Smokies. Wherever you drive in the county, you’re sure to see many stunning light displays. Businesses get in on the fun, too. You can see amazing arrangements at The Old Mill, The Island, Dolly Parton’s Stampede and so many more! The city of Pigeon Forge publishes a Winterfest Driving Tour Map that YOU CAN DOWNLOAD HERE that will take you through all the best lights in the city.
Take a Winter Hike Through the Smoky Mountains
There is truly something special about hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the winter. Many people probably think hiking in the winter sounds too cold, but there are some things in the park you can only see in the winter! So bundle up and check out the distant views from the Smokies!
The winter reveals lots of things that are usually hidden. Since the trees are bare in the winter, you can see much farther into the woods while you’re hiking. It gives you the feeling of walking through a wide open space. Also, during the winter, you will have a better chance of viewing wildlife without leaves obscuring the vision.
You’ll also get the chance to see some artifacts you probably missed in the summer and spring seasons. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has the largest collection of human artifacts out of all the national parks. But, many of these artifacts are hidden by the foliage most of the year.
Not to mention all the amazing things you’ll see on a winter hike, there are other perks to hiking this season. Because so many people are turned away from falling temperatures, you won’t have to navigate the large crowds during the busier spring and summer months. The trails are quiet, serene, and offer a better chance of reflection.
If you do decide to tackle a winter hike, make sure you’re prepared. Higher elevations in the park can experience sudden snow, icy conditions and sudden dropping temperatures. Vesna Plakanis from A WALK IN THE WOODS reminds winter hikers to dress in layers that keep you warm and dry, and to drink lots of water. Another thing to consider is road closures. Several secondary roads in the park close in the winter, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE NATIONAL PARK’S WEBSITE FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF ROAD CLOSURES. Preparation is key, but a properly planned winter hike can be magical!
Take a Guided Tour Through the Smokies
Do you want to explore the Smokies but don’t want to deal with the stress of driving or picking a trail to explore? That stress can be especially high in the winter when dealing with snowy or icy conditions. Well, why not take a guided tour through the Smoky Mountains? It takes all the guesswork and stress out of traveling. Worrying about where to stop? Your guide has it covered. Looking for a sight to see off the beaten path? Your guide knows all the spots. Guide services can help connect you with anything you need to have a great vacation, from securing lodging and restaurant reservations to securing tickets to the best attractions. If you’re looking for an amazing guide service to take you and your family through the Smokies, be sure to check out the following chamber members:
SMOKY MOUNTAIN TOUR CONNECTION
With holiday deals, after-Christmas sales and winter offerings, winter is the perfect time of year to do some shopping! It can get you out of the cold and offer a fun respite from outside. Also, just like hiking in the winter, you will be dealing with smaller crowds. This makes for a calmer shopping experience. There are lots of places in the Smokies where you can find many shops concentrated in one area, like TANGER OUTLETS. Tanger Outlets in Sevierville offers your favorite brands in one spot so you don’t have to spend a long in the cold before heading to your next shop!
Explore the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community
The GREAT SMOKY ARTS AND CRAFTS COMMUNITY is the largest collection of crafters and traditional artists in the United States. On their 8-mile loop in Gatlinburg, TN, you’ll have the opportunity to visit over 200 different businesses focused on specific traditional arts. From soap makers to woodworkers to glass blowers and potters, the only limit to what you’ll find in the community is the time you have to spend there.
The community and 8 mile loop is open during the winter. And, visiting in the winter is especially fun. The drive on the loop is already scenic in other seasons, but the white on the trees and nip in the air make it extra beautiful. Many businesses in the community regularly offer demos to show off their skills or even classes to teach you how to do what they do. Be sure to check out this amazing community this winter, and see what all they have to offer.
Have a Winter Adventure at Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is the ultimate destination for a winter adventure in the Smokies. For many people, winter in the Smokies means one thing: skiing and snowboarding at Ober Gatlinburg. The slopes at Ober tentatively opens during the holiday season and continues throughout the winter. There are 10 different ski trails at the park with varying levels of difficulty. Everyone, from beginners to experts, can have a great time!
If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, the folks at Ober also offer lessons from experts in the field. Not up for skiing, but still love the snow? Snow tubing is a great option for everyone – there’s nothing like zipping down the huge hill on an intertube! When you’re done hitting the slopes, you still have so much to do. Your family can head inside to check out the plethora of shops, the food court, or even go ice skating and try out the ice bumper cars!
Take a Scenic Drive Through Cades Cove in the Winter
Anyone who has driven through CADES COVE knows that is one of the most beautiful parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But, in the winter, there is a special beauty to Cades Cove that you won’t find any other time of the year. One of the most popular things to do is to take a winter drive. Cades Cove is situated on an 11-mile one-way loop road that gives you the chance to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Along the way, there are plenty of pull-offs if you want to stop and take in the scenery. You’ll definitely want to take your time. With the bare trees of winter, you have a much greater chance of seeing some of the wildlife that calls the cove home. Some of the animals you could potentially see include black bears, white-tail deer, coyotes, turkeys, and more!
One of the coolest things about Cades Cove at any time of the year is the history. Cades Cove has a plethora of historic sites from the early European settlers to the area as well as evidence of the original hunters of the cove: the Cherokee. Some of the many historical sites include three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and several other restored buildings. You can grab a self-guiding tour booklet at the start of the cove that discusses the history of the area.
Like we indicated earlier in our list, winter hiking is an awesome activity. And, Cades Cove has no shortage of fun winter hikes. Two hikes of particular interest are Abrams Falls and the Middle Prong Trail. Abrams Falls is a five mile, moderately strenuous hike that culminates with the titular waterfall. Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet tall, the massive volume of water that rushes over makes up for it! The Middle Prong Trail is considered one of the best waterfall hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. You’ll pass by three major waterfalls, several smaller falls, cataracts, and cascades. Winter is the only time when you’ll have a chance to see beautiful frozen waterfalls while hiking the Middle Prong Trail.
Take a Spin on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
Whenever you visit riding the iconic Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a must. Riding the wheel is fun any time of year. But, when you ride in the winter, you have the chance to see the beautiful mountains blanketed with snow. There’s nothing like experiencing a bird’s eye view of Pigeon Forge during a winter snow shower. If you’re worried about the cold, don’t stress. Each pod that you ride in on the wheel is climate controlled, meaning you can have a comfortable ride any time of year!
View Nighttime Winterfest Lights from the Sky
You can now experience the magic of Winterfest from a one-of-a-kind point of view! Scenic Helicopters will launch its Winterfest Night Flight tours in conjunction with Pigeon Forge’s Smoky Mountain Winterfest. This guided tour will fly you over the cities of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge
on your way to see the millions of twinkling lights of Dollywood and The Island. Scenic’s pilots are your helicopter adventure guides, providing their unique perspective of the cities and lights below.
Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Rain or shine, snow or sun, there’s never a bad time to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This immersive facility is regularly recognized as one of the top aquariums in the United States. And, in 2016, it was named by USA Today as the best place in the US to see penguins! There are so many exhibits to explore and animals to see, that you could spend the entire day at Ripley’s and still have more to do. In addition to their exhibits, the aquarium regularly hosts special events, such as divers heading into the shark tank to feed the fish. Once you’re done checking out the fish, the kids can enjoy the aquarium’s new gigantic indoor playground! If you’re looking to escape the cold and still have an adventure, Ripley’s is the place to go.
To say that Pigeon Forge is a fantastic year-round destination is an understatement. From the lively holiday season to the lazy days of summer, each time of the year brings a level of natural beauty and cultural excitement that is paralleled by few other American resort towns. For those who can’t relocate to the region permanently, here is a guide to help you pick exactly which season is right for you.
Autumn in Pigeon Forge brings weather in the fifties and sixties, colorful foliage throughout the Smokies, and so many delightful events we’ve written an entire guide — from artsy Chalkfest, at The Island shopping complex, to Dollywood’s Harvest Festival. It’s also a great time to indulge in the hearty regional cuisine, as well as sample wine and locally distilled whiskey. October is peak season, so come Halloween, you can enjoy Dollywood’s larger-than-life pumpkin patch or experience “fright nights” on the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster. Around Thanksgiving, explore the local crafts scene or watch the Titanic Museum’s kickoff to the holidays.
The temperatures drop to the forties and fifties throughout the winter season, which is quieter than autumn but lively and festive nonetheless. In addition to experiencing one of the spectacular holiday events (full list here), you can hike through mountains blanketed in snow, sip local apple cider, stock up on locally made gifts, or just curl up beneath one of the traditional quilts that eastern Tennessee is famous for. Ring in the new year at The Island or Dollywood, which celebrate the holiday in characteristically flamboyant, over-the-top fashion, and then spend January watching professional skiers compete in nearby Ober Gatlinburg.
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If there’s ever been a great example of #oberviews this is it! This gorgeous shot from this weekend makes us so proud. We love our mountain in the heart of the Smokies. . . . #obergatlinburg #skiober #thankasnowmaker #tennesseesnow #snowmaking #snowyview #snow #⛷ #🏂 #❄️ #winterwonderland #rideober
Springtime in the Smokies is arguably our best-kept secret — bringing a beautiful wildflower bloom, Easter celebrations, and music and food events such as the Beans and Cornbread Festival. You’ll also get to see the area at its quietest (the crowds won’t return for another two to three months) — and if you’re into the outdoors, you’ll appreciate the mild weather at this time. Slightly warmer than autumn, the temperatures are ideal for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities.
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January is Family Fit Lifestyle Month! Have you been considering a family trip to one of your national parks in 2020? Did you know exploring national parks can improve your health and happiness? Whether you want to walk, bike, or frolic in a field, find some time to enjoy the outdoors with the ones you love. Maybe you’ll spot wildlife doing the same! #HealthyParksHealthyPeople #FindYourPark #2020ParkVision Photo by: Warren Bielenberg; Image description: A red fox grooming her pups in a grassy field.
Weather in the seventies and eighties makes summer the best season to hit popular outdoor water parks such as Dollywood Splash Country, sample local ice cream, dine at an outdoor barbecue joint, and ride The Island’s iconic Ferris wheel — all of which account for the region’s popularity during this season. (The other peak season aside from October.) Naturally, it’s also a perfect time to keep exploring the mountains, which have become spectacularly lush and verdant from all of the rain in springtime.
Plan Your Trip
Now that you’ve figured out which season is best for your Pigeon Forge getaway, browse our exclusive offers and make sure you get the best rate.
Winter has to be one of the most enchanting times of the year to visit Pigeon Forge, TN. The mountain town transforms into a festive, holiday celebration that lasts well into early March, complete with fireworks, twinkling lights, and traditional Appalachian music. Here’s a guide to some of the best ways to enjoy this season.
The Smokies are gorgeous when blanketed in snow, and the classic way to experience them is by lacing up your boots and heading out for a hike. Now that the trees are mostly bare, you’ll have clearer-than-ever views of the mountain landscape, including traditional log cabins, wildlife — such as deer and coyotes — and perhaps a frozen waterfall or two.
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Have you ever wondered why most evergreens keep their leaves in the winter? Their leaves are shaped differently than deciduous leaves—instead of being broad and flat, they are rolled up tight and shaped like needles. They are also covered in a waxy coating. Both their shape and their coating allows them to hold on to their moisture more efficiently than deciduous trees can. They usually keep their needles for two or three years, and when they drop, they don’t all drop at once. Photo credit: David Lambert
Holiday shopping takes on a special significance in the Smokies, whose eight-mile Crafts Loop doubles as America’s largest arts-and-crafts community. Chat with whittlers, basket-weavers, candlemakers, photographers, and woodcarvers as you stock up on unique handmade wares made with traditional artisanal techniques.
Winter is a great time to support local breweries, wineries, and distilleries located in towns like Sevierville and Gatlinburg. Visit a few of them individually, embark on a Moonshine & Wine excursion with Tennessee Mountain Tours, or a drive around the Rocky Top Wine Trail.
The Ober Gatlinburg amusement complex is about 20 minutes outside of town, but it’s well worth the drive to experience the Smokies’ take on skiing, snowboarding, tubing, ice skating, and other winter sports. The amusement park and ski area even offers “ice bumper cars” and a special snow park for younger guests.
Live entertainment is popular in Pigeon Forge at any time of year, but it’s during the winter season that it becomes most dazzling and over-the-top. Catch seasonal shows at popular venues such as Dollywood, Smoky Mountain Opry, and Comedy Barn. If you’re visiting in early December, hit the Parkway for Pigeon Forge’s annual Christmas in The Smokies bluegrass festival.
Pigeon Forge is set among the Great Smoky Mountains, which are known for a cuisine that combines Scottish, Irish, and Native American influences. With such a rich culinary tradition, the town and surrounding region have become foodie hubs and now play host to dozens of full-service restaurants, alongside top-rated barbecue joints and farmhouses. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites, as well as our favorite things to eat when we visit them.
J.T. Hannah’s Kitchen
J.T. Hannah’s is one of the most popular restaurants in Pigeon Forge, with more than 1,700 five-star TripAdvisor reviews. The establishment is best known for thick burgers paired with sliced mushrooms, green onions, cheddar cheese, and other indulgent toppings, but specialties such as the Supreme Fajitas and St. Louis spare ribs have also contributed to the restaurant’s loyal following.
Local Goat Tavern
Another TripAdvisor favorite, Local Goat Tavern specializes in New American cuisine with a Tennessean twist — fittingly, as it resides right at the base of the Smokies. The menu features such delicacies as whiskey-glazed jumbo wings, sirloin steaks, burgers, fried green tomatoes, stone-ground cheese grits, and whiskey cocktails.
Yet another TripAdvisor favorite is Bullfish Grill, which — as the name suggests — is known for its steaks and seafood dishes. Cilantro-lime grilled shrimp, seared ahi tuna, and grilled salmon number among its many options, though its chefs also pride themselves on the slow-roasted Grand Champion Angus Beef prime ribs.
Old Mill Restaurant
Old Mill Square is a top gathering place among Pigeon Forge locals and tourists alike, and the river-facing Old Mill Restaurant is by far its best eatery, as a whopping eight thousand five-star TripAdvisor reviewers have now attested. Here, the order of the day is Southern comfort fare, like buttermilk biscuits, country ribs, and fried shrimp.
The Bistro at Courtyard Pigeon Forge
Courtyard Pigeon Forge’s signature all-day eatery is a fantastic spot for modern-American light bites, salads, and hearty entrées, like crispy Brussels sprouts, vegetable-baked pasta, and the Mediterranean grain bowl. This particular eatery also takes quite a bit of pride in its craft cocktails, like the Whiskey Buck and Black Cherry Old Fashioned.
The “mama” in Mama’s Farmhouse is actually a great-grandmother, whose recipes have now lasted three generations, so you know they’re good. Served family style, these include sweet-potato pancakes, fried chicken tenders, and mac ’n cheese — always finished off with peach cobbler or banana pudding (and optionally paired with award-winning biscuits).
Celebrate your Smoky Mountain Christmas this season at the most festive attraction in the Smokies! With the brightest lights and newest additions to the park along with your favorites, your family will enjoy all the fun this festival has to offer. See the park transform into a winter wonderland and enjoy all your favorite rides, shows, food , and more! Experience DOLLYWOOD’S SMOKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS from November 10th through January 5th.
Exciting New Additions
The largest christmas expansion is here and glowing all season long! Experience the all new Glacier Ridge, a fantastical winter wonderland packed with lights and displays. Not only are there dazzling lights, but also, see the beautiful 50 foot video motion christmas tree that will make your spirits extra bright!
Tis The Season of Show Stopping Performances
Your favorite stories will come to life through the many productions at Dollywood. Smoky Mountain Christmas brings you your FAVORITE SHOWS including, It’s A Wonderful Life, Christmas in The Smokies, Dreamland Drive- In, and so many more. Celebrate the season with festive music, dancing, and cheer!
Parade of Many Colors
Grab a blanket and some hot cocoa! It’s time for the much loved Parade of Many Colors! In addition to the shows, this tradition is a favorite for all those, young and old, to celebrate the season and dazzling light displays. The Parade of Many Colors begins at 8:15 pm each night during the Smoky Mountain Christmas festival. Watch as the light studded floats and characters move through the park to entertain each and every visitor.
Grab the family to head to Dollywood this season for the Smoky Mountain Christmas festival! Seasonal favorites of holiday food, games, shows, and lights make the season bright and merry. Plan your christmas visit and grab your tickets today! VISIT DOLLYWOOD!
Autumn is finally here and we know what that means – gorgeous fall colors! Now that the fall equinox has passed, it is officially fall in the Great Smoky Mountains. So, while temperatures begin to cool, there’s a few things everyone needs to know to help them plan the perfect fall getaway.
Beginning in late September, the leaves in the higher elevations begin to change and like a waterfall cascading down the mountain will continue to change to the lower valleys as the days progress through the month of October. Typically, the middle two weeks of October are peak in the mountains, Pigeon Forge has brilliant colors typically through the end of the month.
Here are a few places that we recommend visitors go now to see the leaves before the peak of the season comes.
Newfound Gap Road
There is no questioning Newfound Gap Road’s popularity throughout the fall season, however for visitors traveling to the Smoky Mountains in mid-fall it is key to point out that you can still drive along this road and see some of the leaves changing colors at one of the many overlook stops. While driving on this Smoky Mountain driving trail, be sure to stop and see the Franklin D. Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., memorial on the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.
Clingmans Dome is the tallest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From its observation deck, visitors can see upwards of 100 miles away on a clear day. Thanks to the high elevation that this deck has, Clingmans Dome is one of the first places guests can go to see the Smoky Mountains fall colors begin to change.
Cades Cove is hands down one of the most popular areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An area that is known for its beauty year round, we encourage guests to drive the loop road when the leaves are at their peak. If you want to capture the true majestic beauty of the Smoky Mountains fall colors, you will see them from Cades Cove.
The peaceful mountain hideaway located between Pigeon Forge and Townsend, the Wears Valley area of the Smoky Mountains is a great place for families to go who are looking to a relaxing retreat from the hustle and bustle. This area is best-known for it’s rolling mountain view and quiet nature.
Vacations are all about relaxing, having fun, and, of course, shopping! Here are our Top 10 places to shop on your next trip to the Smokies:
Tanger Outlets, Address/Map, 2.0 Miles Away, 800-408-8377
The Island, Address/Map, 0.8 Miles Away, 865-286-0119
Rocky Top Harley Davidson, Address/Map, 0.4 Miles Away, 865-774-3445
Christmas Place, Address/Map, 0.3 Miles Away, 800-445-3396
Smoky Mountain Knife Works, Address/Map, 9.8 Miles Away, 865-453-5871
Old Mill General Store, Address/Map, 2.0 Miles Away, 865-428-0771
Three Bears General Store, Address/Map, 1.3 Miles Away, 800-867-2272
Stages West, Address/Map, 0.8 Miles Away, 865-453-8086
Lid’l Dolly’s Dresses, Address/Map, 1.1 Miles Away, 865-429-4867
Thomas Kinkade Gallery & Gifts, Address/Map, 3.0 Miles Away, 865-366-3266