Vacation to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the Smokies -- What to Do?

I’m going on vacation with the family for a week to the Smokies. We’re staying between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge at a rental cottage up in the hills. I’ve been there several times, but never as an adult, and I’d like to know what not to miss.

I loved the park as a child, because it’s just so beautiful. Cades Cove, Clingman’s Dome, the streams and the mountains, it’s all gorgeous. But what in there should I not miss? And what should I pass by? What about in town? Is Dollywood worth it? Any museums I gotta see?

TIA for the help!

You could do some whitewater rafting.

You may know this already – they don’t allow cars on the Cade’s Cove road on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. Up until 10AM, it’s bicycles and pedestrians only. I really enjoyed cruising along that road without any autos to worry about.

I was pleasantly surprised by Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It’s not Monterey Bay but the exhibits are well done and they have some impressive specimens. There are some nice arts and crafts places along Glades Road just outside of town.

Don’t go! Ok, Cades Cove was really nice, but Gatlinburg and pigeon forge are a hellhole of a tourist trap. Mr. Jeeves grew up there until her was 12, so he took me back to show it to me. Even he was appalled at what a crappy miserable place it was.

But if you are going for the nature and the mountains, they are gorgeous, just stay away from the towns themselves.

Bump for the day crowd.

There’s good hiking closeby (as I guess you know if you’ve topped Clingman’s Dome). Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg themselves are pretty much tourist traps, but if you head up towards the Tri-Cities, you might find some affordable antiques in out-of-the-way places. You could always visit Erwin, where they sentenced and hung an elephant.

If you like implements of destruction, visit the Smoky Mountain Knife Works in nearby Sevierville.

We came through there on our way down to Atlanta in March. Yeah, odd juxtaposition of Times Square/Vegas glitz and the Appalachians at their most stunning and serene. Actually, we went through there twice because on the way down the weather on the ridge was so nasty we could barely see 50 yards. I didn’t want to be in that part of the country and not see it, so we came back through there before heading out to the coast.

I thought Gatlinburg was the nicer of the towns. It seemed amenable to parking your car and spending an afternoon on foot visiting the touristy places. We almost went to the aquarium but the girls were in a state so we pressed on.

Sevierville/Pigeon Forge seemed an unrelenting tourist trap strip, but it looked like there were things the girls might like when they get older. I guess your enjoyment depends on your tolerance for that sort of thing. Sevierville and Pigeon Forge sort of blended into each other along 441.

An interesting feature is the numbering of the intersections, so instead of “go to the intersection of main and maple and make a right” it’s “go to 23 and make a right” and you just count down or up and make your turn.

Admittedly 441 was all I saw of those towns.

I’d like to spend some more time in that area next time we go to Atlanta, and when I have more money (we did our trip after I’d been laid off).

We went in the off season and that wasn’t bad traffic-wise. I am not sure I could stand it on a busy summer weekend, if the reports of the traffic crawling along are at all true.

I read a really scathing review of the Ripley’s Aquarium, the reviewer’s main argument being “Why the hell would you put an AQUARIUM so far from the ocean” and I confess the name “Ripley’s” didn’t give me a lot of confidence, either. But since I was there with a small child, we elected to go. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t think it was worthwhile. I’ve been to a lot of aquariums (see aforementioned small child) and this was as well-done as any of them.

Eating at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge was delicious, although I’d honestly recommend splitting an entree. Portion sizes are ridiculous.

I didn’t make it to the Arrowmont school but I’ve been getting their catalog for years. I’ll bet their store is worth a look.

Somebody got eaten by a bear there this last year, so watch yourself. Heh.

My Aunt and Uncle went to an improv show there, it’s called The Comedy Barn, in Pigeon Forge. It is genuinely hysterical. They bought the DVD of the performance, so I’ve seen it a few times (my Uncle was pulled from the audience for one of the bits). My sister has been doing improv in Chicago for 10 years now, and even she was impressed.