I grew up going to this part of the country every year growing up. My church youth group took an annual trip every January for a conference there, staying at the same Holiday Inn and frequenting the same shops. I also stayed there one summer with my grandparents, but it wasn’t the same without the changing colors of trees and dusting of snow. The Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee is a truly special place. Protected as a national park since 1934, you’ll find few places as diverse in plants and animals. Over 200,000 visitors pass through here every year, especially through Cades Cove.
The area known as the Smokies includes Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg as well as a few smaller towns. Each has something different to offer from the kitsch to the luxurious. Visitors will find shows and performances, delicious food, offbeat attractions, and active adventures. Sadly, the area suffered devastating fires, started as arson, that claimed lives, buildings, and countless acres of land. I visited only a few weeks before, back in November, so this hit close to home. So if this post and its photos resonates with you, show your support by donating to Friends of the Smokies to help with relief efforts. Otherwise, plan a trip there to support the businesses getting back on their feet.
One of the larger towns in the Smokies, Gatlinburg is where I’ve spent the most time. One long street lines the town with moonshine tasting rooms, kitschy shops, and attractions. Ripley’s has the monopoly on things to do, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Ripley’s Aquarium, and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. The Space Needle offers views of downtown and a ride on the chairlift to Ober Gatlinburg is one way to access the area’s only ski resort. The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts offers lessons and classes and sells locally made crafts. Indulge your sweet tooth at the Pancake Pantry and Donut Friar, both in The Village. Atop the hill overlooking downtown, The Greenbrier Restaurant is a former home that makes hearty Southern fare. Doc Collier is just one of many moonshine distilleries in town, along with Sugarlands and Ole Smoky. The Lodge at Buckberry Creek suffered fire damage, but when they reopen, they’re a unique option for rustic mountain lodge atmosphere.
Pigeon Forge is where you go for entertainment, as there are countless dinner theaters and unique experiences. For example, you can visit the Titanic Museum, one of the largest museum attractions in the world, before going zorbing down a hill at the Outdoor Gravity Park. The Island complex has restaurants and shops as well as the Margaritaville Hotel and a massive Ferris wheel. Dollywood is also located in Pigeon Forge, which includes a theme park, water park, and the Dollywood DreamMore Resort. The Old Mill Restaurant serves large portions on the pottery made in house and the surrounding shops are worth a browse.
Known as the hometown of country legend Dolly Parton, it’s easy to fall in love with quaint Sevierville. Stop by the statue to the singer and songwriter in front of the courthouse before popping across the street to Courthouse Donuts for a sugary treat. Applewood Farmhouse is another local favorite restaurant for its massive pancakes and apple-influenced country cooking. Burn off the calories at Foxfire Mountain, an adventure park that offers zip lining, rock climbing, cider tastings, and much more.
Small Smokies Towns
In addition to the three main towns, there are even more nestled in between. Townsend, along with Maryville (Tennessee), Alcoa, and Walland, is the gateway to the national park. It hosts the Grains and Grits festival, which focuses on locally distilled spirits and food. Blackberry Farm is perhaps the region’s most awarded resort for its fine-dining restaurants, farm, and brewery. In Cosby, learn about the Scandinavian history of the trolls at 5 Arts Studios. Disconnect at French Broad Dude Ranch in Del Rio, which offers horseback riding and other Western-inspired activities for all ages.
The Great Smoky Mountains isn’t just for middle school groups or families. Just about everyone can find something that appeals to them.
My trip to the Smokies was coordinated by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Geiger Public Relations.