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

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

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

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.

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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

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Bobcats

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.

Birds

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.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee isn’t just a fantastic place to eat and drink , celebrate the holidays , and ride roller coasters — it’s also a great destination to stock up on your favorite name-brand clothing, housewares, and appliances, at unbeatable prices. Here’s a guide to the town’s fantastic selection of outlet shops, from Osh’Kosh & Carter’s to Big Dog Sportswear to Tanger Outlets Sevierville.

Osh’Kosh & Carter’s Childrenswear

Visit the OshKosh & Carter’s outlet to stock up on children’s clothing. The Pigeon Forge Factory Outlets location features everything from graphic tees to the OshKosh signature overalls.

L’eggs-Hanes-Bali-Playtex

The local L’eggs-Hanes-Bali-Playtext outposts sells lingerie, hosiery, and shapewear by not just its namesake brands, but Champion, Maidenform, and others.

Big Dog Sportswear

The Pigeon Forge Big Dog Sportswear store is the only Big Dog location in the world. Peruse an extensive selection of tees, shorts, and fleeces bearing the signature dog-print logo.

Corningware Corelle & More

The Pigeon Forge Factory Outlets location of Corningware Corelle & More is the perfect place for cooking and dining supplies, with its extensive dishware, bakeware, and silverware supply.

The Candle Carvers

Scented candles, lighthouse candles, and hurricane lamps, as well as delicious fresh fudge, are for sale at charming Riverview Outlet Mall shop The Candle Carvers.

Handbag Superstore

The Factory Outlets’ resident handbag emporium houses totes, shoulder bags, and crossbody bags, along with wallets, clutches, and purse organizers.

Rack Room Shoes

Specializing in casual, athletic, and formal footwear, Rack Room Shoes is your one-stop shop for sneakers, sandals, boots, and flats.

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Weather or not, #Sperry boots are everyday faves.

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Country Music USA

CDs, box sets, music accessories, and instruments are available at this tribute to all things country.

Souvenir World

Commemorate your Pigeon Forge getaway with a Tennessee-inspired T-shirt or refrigerator magnet from the only souvenir outlet in the Smoky Mountain region.

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.

Cattaloochee Valley

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.

Deep Creek

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.

Off-Roading Trails

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.

Record-Setting Bridges

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.

Clingman’s Dome

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.

Museums

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.

Zip-Lining Courses

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.

Hiking Trails

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.

Family-Style Meals

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.

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Surf n turf bbq style! #bbqshrimp #gatlinburgbbq

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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. 

Field School

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 Theaters

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.

Dollywood

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.

Winter Hikes

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.

Holiday Shopping

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.

Spirit Tastings

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.

Winter Sports

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.

Dinner Shows

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.

 

In a country with nearly 800 theme parks, Dollywood has consistently managed to land top-10 rankings from publications such as USA Today, and it’s easy to see why. Not only was this amusement complex created with the same joyful, fun-loving spirit that made Dolly Parton herself a household name, but it offers record-setting rides, award-winning food, and some of the most dazzling live entertainment in the world. Here’s our guide of the best things to do in Dollywood.

 

 

Ten Themed Villages

There are 10 Dollywood themed areas in total, and you’ll probably want to visit at least three or four. Start with Rivertown Junction, whose whitewater-rafting river caters to adventurous and nature-loving guests, and the nostalgic Country Fair section (complete with a Dumbo-style flying-elephant ride). Another village of note is Timber Canyon, which references the history of the Smokies’ logging industry.

 

Dollywood Express

The Dollywood Express heritage trains have been in operation since World War II, before Dolly Parton was even born, and so along with taking you among the Smokies scenery, they offer quite a bit of history. Wave to fellow park-goers waiting alongside the tracks, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and take in picturesque views of the woods surrounding Dollywood on this attraction that is just as iconic as the various villages.

 

*Please note that the train pumps out coal smoke and visitors may get soot in their eyes.

 

Live Entertainment

As you would expect from a theme park inspired by an exuberant, over-the-top country-music superstar, Dollywood offers a staggering amount of entertainment. Among the numerous music, dance, and cinema venues are the Heartsong Theater, which takes you on a multi-sensory video journey of the Smokies; the Pines Theater, hosting the nostalgic Dreamland Drive-In spectacular; and the Showstreet Gazebo, featuring Dollywood’s own resident string band.

 

Record-Setting Rides

 

Have you ever heard of a wing coaster? A ride where seats are placed on either side of the tracks, as if suspended in mid-air, rather than directly atop the tracks themselves? If you haven’t, it’s because there’s only one such coaster in the U.S., located at — you guessed it — Dollywood. And the Wild Eagle is just one of many record-breaking rides at Dolly’s theme park, which also houses the world’s largest wooden coaster (the Lightning Rod) and a steel coaster shaped like a butterfly.

 

Southern Gospel and Chasing Rainbow Museums

As the name suggests, the on-site Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame celebrates pioneers of the namesake music genre and displays artifacts from many of their lives and careers, making for yet another fascinating Dollywood stop. The second museum at Dollywood, however, the Chasing Rainbows Museum, is just as destination-worthy, showcasing artifacts from Dolly’s own life and career.

 

Dining-and-Drinking Outlets

The culinary offerings at Dollywood are arguably as enticing as those throughout surrounding Pigeon Forge. From Dippin’ Dots outposts to funnel cake to fudge and popcorn from the fully operational gristmill, there’s something for everyone at Dollywood’s 25 food-and-drink venues, which received their own Golden Ticket from Amusement Today magazine.

 

In Pigeon Forge, autumn is a truly spectacular season —  the Smokies turn red, green, and gold; Dollywood transforms into a larger-than-life pumpkin patch; and Southern wineries and distilleries release limited-edition bottles. Here’s our guide to the best autumnal happenings in this Tennessee resort town.

 

Old Mill Heritage Day

Old Mill Square was built around, and named for, a 19th-century gristmill, and autumn is the season when the plaza celebrates its history. September brings Old Mill Heritage Day, where you can watch moonshine- and sorghum-making demonstrations, catch bluegrass performances, take part in old-fashioned games and square dances, make arts and crafts, and learn about Pigeon Forge pioneers.

September 28; http://oldmillheritageday.com

 

Seasonal Wine-and-Spirit Tastings

Though Smith Creek Moonshine’s Pigeon Forge outpost and the Rocky Top Wine Trail organization’s wineries are popular year round, both offer enticing autumn-specific offerings that you’ll want to add to your Pigeon Forge itinerary. Smith Creek Moonshine releases a seasonal apple-pie flavor, and the Rocky Top Wineries host the “Chocolate Wine Trail” event, pairing wines with handmade desserts and wine-themed souvenirs.

October 26; https://www.rockytopwineries.com/event/chocolate-wine-trail-3/

 

Dollywood Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights

Each autumn, Dolly Parton’s famous theme park takes a cue from the singer’s flamboyant, over-the-top style by hosting its annual Harvest Festival. The event transforms Dollywood into a larger-than-life pumpkin patch, with pumpkin-picking activities, an after-hours “LumiNights” jack-o-lantern spectacular, more than 500 gospel performances, and demos by local artisans, including glass painters, Appalachian woodworkers, and even fiddle-makers.

September 27-November 2; https://www.dollywood.com/themepark/Festivals/Harvest-Festival and https://www.dollywood.com/themepark/Entertainment/GreatPumpkinLuminights

 

Chalkfest

The Island shopping and entertainment complex features hundreds of square feet of bare concrete (alongside its famous Ferris wheel), and this particular Pigeon Forge venue honors autumn with a celebration known as Chalkfest. For one afternoon every October, dozens of artists take to the park’s grounds, drafting larger-than-life chalk illustrations of Tony the Tiger, the Mona Lisa, and more.

October 5; https://islandinpigeonforge.com/event/chalkfest/

 

Colorful Smoky Foliage

If there’s one truly iconic Pigeon Forge autumn experience, it’s a hike or drive around the surrounding Smokies themselves, a sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains. Take in sweeping views of the colorful landscape from lookouts atop Clingman’s Dome, Charlie’s Bunion, Andrew’s Bald, Cades Cove Road, or Newfound Gap Road. For something a little more exciting, visit Legacy Mountain Ziplines, where you can zoom through the trees at up to 50 miles per hour on one of seven ziplines.

Whether you’ve been to Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountains dozens of times or never at all, you’re in for more fun and excitement that ever before in 2019.  From new attractions and thrill rides to peaceful hikes in the mountains, there is truly something to do for everyone.

Here is a list of some of our top suggestions for 2019:

Dollywood’s New Wildwood Grove – Opening this spring 2019, Dollywood’s biggest expansion ever top our list of one of the main things to do this year.  In addition to new restaurants, shopping, and an indoor play area, Wildwood Grove features several new and exciting rides, including The Dragonflier roller coaster, Treetop Tower, Mad Mockingbird, and Benjamin Bear.

All New Family-Fun Dinner Shows – Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountains are home to some incredible live entertainment, including some of the best dinner shows in the country.  Topping our list in 2019 is the brand new Pirates Voyage Dinner Show in Pigeon Forge. Modeled after their sister show in Myrtle Beach, the show boasts to include exciting acrobatics competitions, state-of-the-art special effects, live animals, and a 15-foot-deep indoor lagoon.  Other area dinner shows that are equally as good are Dolly Parton’s Stampede and Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show.

Gatlinburg Skybridge – Located at the top of the Gatlinburg Sky Lift, the new Gatlinburg Skybridge will be the longest pedestrian suspension in North America and will boast breathtaking views of downtown Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  In addition, the new development also features a mountain top shopping village.

Dave and Buster’s – If you’ve never been to a Dave and Buster’s, you’re in for a real treat.  Think super arcade with awesome food and beverages for all ages – a true family-fun experience for the whole family.  Dave and Buster’s is set to open in early spring 2019 across from Tanger Outlets Sevierville.

Hike the Smokies – Not everything in the Smokies comes with a cost, and that definitely holds true to hiking in the Smokies.  With over 800 miles of official hiking trails, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be enjoyed by all – from beginners looking for a leisurely hike to more advanced hikers looking for a real challenge with extreme difficulty.  For more information, visit http://nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hiking.htm

The Island in Pigeon Forge – Quickly becoming one of the must-sees in Pigeon Forge, The Island features a 23-acres destination in the heart of Pigeon Forge.  From fabulous dining to unique shopping and entertainment, The Island offers plenty of fun for everyone. You’ll definitely want to take a ride on the 200-foot-high Great Smoky Mountain Wheel and take in the sights and sounds of the dancing fountain show.

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

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

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.

Wears Valley

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.