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:
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.
There’s something timelessly romantic about sleepy mountain towns, making them perfect for romantic getaways. This season, venture to Pigeon Forge, nestled in the vast Smoky Mountains, with the one you love. Celebrate your romance in a destination packed with adventure, relaxation, entertainment, and much more. To make things easy for you, we’ve put together a guide to planning a romantic getaway in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains.
Go for a Hike
Pigeon Forge’s greatest treasure is its location, right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once inside, you can choose from more than 50 trails of varying altitude, skill level, views, and more. If you’re up for a tranquil surprise at the end of your hike, we recommend heading out on the Rainbow Falls Trail. This 5.4-mile (round-trip) hike is one of the most scenic in the Smoky Mountains, and you’ll find an 80-foot waterfall at the end.
Share a Romantic Dinner
Enjoy an evening of tasty dishes, fancy wines, and great conversation in one of Pigeon Forge’s many dining destinations. Make a reservation at Bullfish Grill, voted the best restaurant in town. Highlights from the menu are the Grand Champion Angus and the fresh, high-quality fish. Also explore the curated selection of wines and ales, which pair perfectly which whatever you choose to indulge in.
Spend the Day at the Spa
Treat yourselves to a day of relaxation at the Spa at RiverStone, also located in Pigeon Forge. Pamper your sore muscles after a few hikes and reset your mind in a tranquil, stress-free facility. Choose from therapeutic massages, facials, and body treatments to melt your worries away, or book a couples’ package to refresh your body and mind together.
Act Like a Kid Again
Go back in time to enjoy the simplicity of being a kid at one of the many attractions around town. Test your skills at mini-golf, go head to head on the go-kart track, or try one of the extreme activities offered in the area. If you’re looking for something a little different, roll downhill in a giant inflatable ball, free fall at indoor skydiving, or even climb the indoor ropes course at WonderWorks. Get your heart racing and enjoy the rush together.
If you’re ready to book your romantic retreat in Pigeon Forge, check out the Sweetheart Package at Courtyard by Marriott at Pigeon Forge, including deluxe accommodations and a romantic couples’ massage and facial.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, the Smoky Mountains are an ideal place to unleash your inner outdoor-enthusiast. In fact, the region’s trails frequently appear in leading hiking magazines and websites, such as Outside and Backpacker. Here’s a breakdown of eight of the more popular trails near Pigeon Forge — including several waterfall trails, the famous Clingmans Dome Observatory trail, and more.
Alum Cave Trail
The scenic, rhododendron-fringed Alum Cave Trail, on Mount LeConte, includes rocky steps, archways, and an unusual bluff. (Beware of falling icicles in winter.) The 10-mile, 2,942-foot trail additionally boasts an interesting history, having formerly been a mine for epsom salts.
Rainbow Falls Trail
The 5.5-mile, 1,653-foot Rainbow Falls trail is known for wildlife, its vast boulder field, and its assortment of falls, including smaller cascades falls along with the namesake.
Grotto Falls Trail
One of the more moderate trails, 2.6-mile, 534-foot Grotto Falls offers multiple falls, beautiful flowers in spring — such as whiteviolets and yellow trillium — and lush greenery.
Porters Creek Trail
The flower-dotted four-mile Porters Creek Trail, reaching an elevation of 699 feet, comprises stretches of forest, roads, and even a portion of a former farmstead beside a cemetery.
One of the park’s only dog-friendly rails, the generally flat 3.9-mile Gatlinburg Trail boasts cascades, long wooden footbridges, and direct access to the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
The short path to Clingmans Dome runs along a creek and forest before reaching the famed observatory, the highest point in the national park and eastern Tennessee.
Cades Cove Loop
Cades Cove Loop’s 11-mile trail houses not just verdant greenery and dramatic rock formations, but abundant wildlife and historic sites, including a working grist mill.
Ramsey Cascades Loop
The Ramsey Cascades Loop reaches the tallest waterfall in the park via a path dotted with creeks, footbridges, and old-growth oak and maple trees.
Hit the Trails
Ready to explore these magnificent hiking trails for yourself? Check out our four sister hotels in Pigeon Forge by visiting www.ExploreSmokies.com.
When you think of exotic wildlife, your mind may travel to faraway nature parks in Africa and South America — but there’s a world-class wildlife reserve here in Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains. Elk, coyotes, black bears, and bobcats are just a few of the animals that can be found throughout the national park, along with the majestic avian species that migrate through the Appalachian region each year. Here’s a guide to where and how to locate each one.
Elk sightings are fairly common in the Cattaloochee Valley, near Maggie Valley, as a herd of the species was reintroduced to this part of the Smokies in the early 2000s. Roughly 200 elk populate the area today, so hawk-eyed visitors have periodically caught sightings of the creatures, especially in the morning and evening.
Coyotes are among several canine species that inhabit the Cades Cove area of Smoky Mountain National Park, but due to their nocturnal schedules, it can be notoriously difficult to track these creatures down. Your best bet is to use your ears, rather than eyes, to seek them out; their shrill, piercing howls have been known to echo through Cades Cove.
Black bears inhabit so much of eastern Tennessee that they’re practically synonymous with the Smokies themselves. There’s no need to gravitate toward a specific valley or trail for a sighting (although Cades Cove and the Little River are known to attract larger groups) — it’s recently been estimated that there’s an average of two bears per square mile of the park.
View this post on Instagram
Fun Fact Friday: did you know that the black bear cubs you see in the summer and fall are being born right around now? After a female black bear goes into her winter den when the weather turns cooler in the late fall, she goes into a deep sleep rather than a true hibernation. It’s during this sleep, usually in January or February, that her cubs are born! Mama and cubs will emerge from their den between late March and early April. While we’re talking about bears, friendly reminder that no matter how cute they might look, it is NEVER safe to approach a bear. Remember to always give any wildlife at least 150 feet of distance so that you can safely enjoy the land they call home! Photo: Warren Bielenberg
Bobcats are highly camouflaged, as well extremely shy and reclusive, so your chances of spotting one are close to zero. If you’re intent on giving it a try, however, previous sightings have often occurred near the bear and coyote sightings, around Cades Cove.
Warblers, thrushes, sapsuckers, cuckoos, owls, and peregrine falcons are just a handful of the birds known to migrate to areas like Grotto Falls, Alum Cave, Mount LeConte, and Clingman’s Dome. Read up on your avian of choice before picking your birding destination— different species are attracted to different elevations and climate throughout the park.
View this post on Instagram
August 1: time for Bird of the Month! August’s featured bird is the Barred Owl, one of the most commonly-spotted owls in the Smokies. The Barred Owl is known for its distinctive call that sounds like it’s saying, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” Look and listen for the Barred Owl during the day at any elevation, though they are most common in high elevations and low elevations. Summer is an especially good time to spot them! #BirdOfTheMonth #BirdOfTheYear #BirdYourWorld
There’s so much to discover in the Great Smoky Mountains — America’s most visited national park — and surrounding East Tennessee. Get to know the region using our below guide to its day-trip destinations, from the cascades of Deep Creek’s Three Waterfalls Loop to the coasters of Dollywood.
Upper Pigeon River
The Upper Pigeon River is the Smokies’ whitewater-rafting capital, with lush riverbanks and class three and four rapids. Through companies such as Smoky Mountain Rafting and Rafting in the Smokies, you can explore them on tours of up to six and a half miles, providing a more adventurous kind of day trip.
Wildlife lovers can’t get enough of the Cattalloochee Valley, where the state re-introduced a herd of elk back in 2001. But this is also a popular destination among hikers and history enthusiasts, thanks to its horse camp, seven miles of nature trails, and nineteenth-century chapel.
The Deep Creek area is known for boasting many of the Smokies’ pretties waterfalls, which can be accessed on routes like the Three Waterfalls Loop and Deep Creek-Indian Creek loop. It also houses one of the area’s best mountain-biking trails, so it’s another great choice for active travelers.
While your car can take you along main roads through the mountains, you’ll need an ATV or UTV to visit the backroads. For this reason, many people sign up for a drive with one of the area’s off-roading outfits, such as Smoky Mountain Adventure Tours. You can also rent vehicles independently through groups like Mtn Trax.
Old Mill District
It’s definitely worth a visit to the Old Mill District, centered around a nineteenth-century gristmill. With charming shops, a general store, and a central square, the National Register of Historic Places-designated landmark is a fascinating place to learn about the area’s pioneer history.
One of Gatlinburg’s coolest day-trip spots is also one of its newest attractions: the 680-ft. SkyBridge, opened May 2019. If you’re looking to make a day just out of such unique and record-setting bridges, America’s longest swinging bridge is just 30 minutes away, in Sevierville.
For unbelievable views, you must visit Clingman’s Dome, which is among the highest mountains in the eastern U.S., and the highest in Tennessee. On a clear day, the lookout’s vistas sweep all the way over the surrounding coniferous rainforest and often more than 100 miles out.
*Note that the road to the lookout closes from December 1-March 31, and when weather conditions require.
Star of Knoxville
For a classic experience of not just Tennessee, but the American South, take a river cruise aboard the paddlewheeler The Star of Knoxville. Here, you can admire the tulips, dogwoods, or fall foliage along the banks, depending on the time of year, and sample hearty barbecue fare.
It’s hard to think of a better family travel destination than the Great Smoky Mountains. After all, not only do the mountains themselves boast zip-lining courses and hiking trails for all ages, but the legendary Dollywood theme park, the historic Old Mill District, and numerous interactive museums are located within the region. Read our below guide for details on these and other venues for family-friendly activities.
There are so many unique and family-friendly museums throughout the Smokies, from the Titanic Museum to a gallery housing the world’s largest collection of salt-and-pepper shakers. Children especially enjoy some of the more interactive venues, like Medieval-themed attraction MagiQuest and indoor theme park-meets-science museum WonderWorks.
It’s truly thrilling to view the Smokies from a zip-line hundreds of feet in the air, and as Pigeon Forge’s Adventure Park Ziplines company boasts, this is a great activity “for ages three to 103.” Sail through the peaks on courses running up to two full miles, or with Gatlinburg’s CLIMB Works — managing the top-rated zip line in all of Tennessee.
There are more than eighty hiking trails in the Smokies, and roughly a third of them are considered beginner-friendly. Round up the gang and head out on treks such as Abram’s Falls, the Little River Trail, the Kephart Prong Trail, or the Schoolhouse Gap Trail, all of which are fairly flat and run four miles or under.
Your family vacation is a great excuse to indulge in family-style meals at top Smokies restaurants. Sit down for country breakfasts at Log Cabin Pancake House and Pancake Pantry, or dive into pulled-pork ribs and hickory-smoked chicken at Deep South Smokehouse, Delauder’s Smoky Mountain BBQ, and Tony Gore’s.
Historic Old Mill District
For a more historic family experience, stop by the Old Mill District. Even when it’s not hosting demonstrations with artisans like quilters, woodcarvers, and soapmakers, it’s home to an impressive nineteenth-century gristmill and a general store selling fudge and taffy that youngsters love.
For a truly memorable family adventure, sign up for a session with the Junior Ranger Program, or better yet, the Smoky Mountain Field School. You can brush up on skills like nature photography and orienteering, or sign up for a multi-day tour around nature trails, lookouts, and waterfalls.
Dinner shows are a huge part of Pigeon Forge culture, and nearly all of them are family-friendly, from the Hatfield and McCoy Feud to performances at the Sweet Fanny Adams musical-comedy theater. A favorite among locals is the Comedy Barn show, blending comedy, country music, juggling, magic, and ventriloquy.
View this post on Instagram
It’s January 2nd, after two@months of performing our Comedy Barn Christmas show, we’re now back to doing a regular comedy barn show.. we have added tons of laughs and we are looking forward to seeing you at our theater this year!! #comedybarn #sharethelaughter #pigeonforge #varietyshow #comedyjuggling #juggling #juggler #nielsduinker
Dollywood is positively bursting with family-friendly attractions. Admire the vistas from the Ferris wheel, experience the flying-elephants ride, watch a traditional bluegrass performance, learn about Dolly’s own childhood, and when the weather permits, jump over to the adjacent Splash Country water park.
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.
View this post on Instagram
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.
Millions of annual visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains and the neighboring, popular tourist destinations of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville know one thing for sure: The Smoky Mountains offer some of the best scenic drives in the U.S.
Cades Cove Scenic Loop
At the top of our list of best scenic drives in the Smokies is Cades Cove. Featuring a one-way, 11-mile loop around a spectacular, picturesque valley full of natural and wildlife, Cades Cove is chock full of things to see and experience unlike anywhere else on the planet. Surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove offers rare wildlife viewing opportunities, including white-tail deer, black bear, coyotes, ground hogs, turkeys, raccoon, and more.
Along the drive through Cades Cove, sightseers will also come across some of the historical structures – log homes, churches, barns – that were left by the area’s early settlers after the National Park was formed and their homeland purchased. Many of these structures are open to the public.
In addition to exploring the historical buildings, there are many places to pull off the side of the road or park to take in the great outdoors. Many visitors take picnic baskets while others make a day of it and go for a hike on one of the park’s trails. Abrams Falls is one of the best.
Traffic during the peak months of the year, including summer and fall, can make driving the loop a little slow and leisurely, so it’s best to allow at least 2-3 hours to tour the entire 11-mile loop. There are a couple shortcut roads to shorten the trip, though, for those who want to limit their time a little.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Named after a beautiful mountain stream, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a short, easy-to-get-to drive for anyone vacationing in the Smokies. Just a short drive from downtown Gatlinburg, this 5.5-mile one-way loop road is a favorite by many visiting the area. Along the scenic drive, visitors enjoy coming across rushing mountain streams, old log cabins from original settlers, like the Ogles, and, of course, native wildlife.
Another reason people choose to drive Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail it to access the trailhead for Rainbow Falls, which is one of the most popular waterfalls and trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.