I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
I was born and raised in Middle Tennessee, so when I was a child, it wasn't uncommon for my family to take vacations in the Smoky Mountains. Now, as an adult, I find myself traveling frequently to this vacation hot spot in East Tennessee with my own children. After all, it's a place that never gets old!
Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee—three cities nestled together at the foot of the Smokey Mountains—are a vacation haven for children and adults alike. With a wide variety of entertainment, shows, and attractions, there are plenty of things to do and see; so much so that you'll want to visit time and again just to take it all in!
1. Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country
Founded by country singer Dolly Parton, Dollywood and its sister water park Splash Country, are probably the two most popular attractions in Pigeon Forge.
While primarily a theme park filled with roller coasters, water rides, and plenty of kiddie rides, Dollywood also serves as a replica of the old south with the design of its buildings and the cuisine served in many of the park's restaurants.
After taking a tour of a replica of Dolly Parton's childhood home (how did they fit all those kids in there??!!), a museum detailing the rise of Dolly's fame, gotten soaked on the Smoky Mountain River Rampage, and had your stomach turned by the Tennessee tornado, then scoot on over to Dollywood's Splash Country!
Situated just across the street from Dollywood, you don't even have to drive! Just grab your suit and towel as you leave Dollywood and bustle over to Splash Country for even more fun, just water-filled!
Having visit many water parks in my lifetime, I am happy to say that Splash Country is, by far, the cleanest, most well-organized park of any I have ever seen.
Mom and Dad, here is the best part: Dollywood's Splash Country offers an awesome program to keep track of your kiddies called SafeZone, a wristband that can be checked at various points of the park that shows you where anyone in your party that is also wearing a wristband is at that exact moment. Having children myself that range in age from 16 to 3, it was a great way to let the older two go off on the "big slides" while we stayed by the kiddie pools. Just a flick of the wrist and I could see right where they were....could even tell if they were walking!
The wristband is very inexpensive ($3.00/day) and offers so much more in peace of mind!
If you plan on visiting Dollywood and/or Dollywood's Splash Country, be sure to purchase your tickets online. You'll be amazed at the people waiting in line to purchase tickets as you pass by them with yours already in hand!
Visit Dollywood's website for additional information on ticket purchase, special offers, events, and more at both parks.
Nearby Sevierville offers an alternative water park: Wilderness at the Smokies Indoor and Outdoor Waterpark Resort. However, due to excessive fees and high pressure timeshare sales tactics, it's not one I recommend.
2. Dixie Stampede
Another attraction owned and operated by Dolly Parton (what can you expect, she grew up in the Smoky Mountains!), the Dixie Stampede is an absolute must when vacationing in Pigeon Forge!
This indoor, live theater dining event is fun for all ages! Guest can choose from a hearty southern meal or a vegetarian special. Either one you choose, I can promise you it will be one of the best meals you've ever had...and a show to boot!
Be sure to visit the Dixie Stampede website for special offers, show schedules, detailed menus, and to make your reservations.
3. Walk the Strip in Pigeon Forge
Walking the strip in Pigeon Forge has been a long stranding tradition for my family.
The kids love "the strip" because it is here that you find what seems to be a never ending selection of arcades, laser tag, go-carts, bumper boats, numerous themed rides, and more.
Adults will love all the shopping outlets (souvenirs, specialty, and outlets) plus the huge selection of dining choices. And for the children, or just those young at heart, there is too many homemade (watch while it's made!) candy stores to count!
Along this strip, there are also many hotels should you wish to stay in Pigeon Forge. Visitors often enjoy sitting on the balconies of their hotels (sometimes in rocking chairs that are provided) and watch the motorized and pedestrian traffic. Don't fret, though, as the sidewalks have a tendency to roll up around midnight!
Trolley transportation service is available from various points along the strip, providing transportation around Pigeon Forge or even to Gatlinburg and Severville, for a minimal fee.
4. Ripley's Believe It or Not Aquarium
Ripley's Believe It or Not Aquarium is another must see attraction while visiting the Smokies. With sparkling clean tanks and wide assortment of aquarium life, this is one of the best aquariums that Tennessee has to offer!
And the children will love all of the hands-on activities available, including petting the sting rays!
My family and I enjoyed it so much that we've visited on more than one occasion!
You can purchase your tickets online at Ripley's ticketing center. Be sure to combine with other great Ripley's attractions such as the Haunted Aventure, the Moving Theater, the Believe It or Not Museum, and the mirror maze.
5. Stroll Along the Gatlinburg Parkway
It's been a long standing tradition when visiting Gatlinburg to stroll the city streets visiting the many unique shops along the way. Absent is the big chain stores, only small businesses specializing in arts and crafts, candy making, and more.
And while you're strolling the streets, take the time to visit many of the oldie-but-goody attractions such as the Space Needle, various Ripley's attractions and the Skylift.
When you're done visiting downtown Gatlinburg, take a ride up to Ober Gatlinburg on the Tram (alternative route available by vehicle), for indoor ice skating, alpine slides, skiing, snow tubing, and more!
While hotel lodging in Gatlinburg is nice, the numerous cabins and chalets that dot the hillsides surrounding Gatlinburg are even better.
Beautiful cabins and chalets that can accomodate any size group are too numerous to mention. To determine which accomodations would be right for you and your group, I recommend visiting Gatlinburg's official website for more information.
At this website, you'll also more important information such as scheduled events, travel packages, maps, and more.
6. For Nature Lovers, Visit the National Park
Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg have commercialized the area that serves as the gateway to one of the greatest national parks this country offers: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2009. Since its opening, this National Park has developed into a hiker's paradise, offering "...over 800 miles of maintained trails ranging from short leg-stretchers to strenuous treks that may require back-country camping."
But hiking isn't the only reason to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors will also find it is a great place for leisurely activities such as picnicking, fishing, wildlife spotting, and auto touring.
One of my favorite places to visit inside this national park is Clingmans Dome. If you can make the half-mile, straight-up hill trek to the top, the 360 degree view of the Smoky Mountains is well worth it; an absolutely gorgeous site! Just be sure to take a jacket....even if it's the middle of August! (The high elevation ensures cool weather year round.)
If planning a visit to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure to visit official National Park Service website for detailed information on weather, a downloaded trip planner, regulations for park use, and much more.
If you've never visited the gateway cities or The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, make plans to do so on your next vacation!
Where else you can find beautiful mountains, whispering creeks, and breathtaking scenes only minutes from fun entertainment for the whole family?
© 2016 Kim Bryan
Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on April 05, 2016:
Kim, Thanks for sharing a very informative hub. I remember visiting Pigeon Forge and the Great Smokies about 15 years ago. It was a great time the one or two days I stayed in Pigeon Forge. I didn't go to Dollywood but I still had a great time and would like to go back the next time I pass through Tennessee. I am sharing this with Hubpage followers.