The towns of Gatlinburg and its neighbor Pigeon Forge, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, are both small, but pack a considerable punch with attractions, entertainment, dining and shopping. They host several venues that are unique in the nation. In the surrounding hills, many hundreds of luxury cabins exist with tremendous views and amenities such as hot tubs on the deck, available as vacation rentals.
As gateways to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, these towns form part of a highly visited area, a favorite vacation spot. While Gatlinburg is a compact town suitable for walking, Pigeon Forge is more spread out. Both towns have their main strip called the Parkway, and each has traffic lights numbered in order to help people find their way around the countless attractions.
A superb trolley service connects the towns with both high-tech service and friendly local drivers. The service is very cheap, and even includes a portion of the national park in its routes, as well as the adjacent theme park of Dollywood. In summer, the trolley in Gatlinburg drags the strip for free, and in winter it offers tours of the fabulous winter lights that deck the town.
Even so, this is an area that most people come to by car, and drive to get around. The national park has made access to its wonders available for the driver as well as the hiker. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a narrow one-way roadway loop for cars that presents rising mountain terrain, and scenic stops and overlooks that compare with many hiking trails.
The towns also offer superb public parks. Pigeon Forge has its large Patriot Park with a calming pathway along the river, and Gatlinburg offers places to fish or simply watch the river run. Practically all the roads in the area are scenic drives, with Newfound Gap offering some of the best overlooks – including the iconic and highly photographed Morton Overlook – at any time of year.
The terrain of this Smoky Mountains area is rolling, stepped and layered, with multiple treasures hidden within its folds, and with abundant moisture that hangs – like the smoke the mountains were named after – as fog, mist, rain or snow in the valleys and below many of the higher peaks. Clingmans Dome is the highest overlook in the region and on a clear day offers a view of seven states.
So much water offers a multitude of streams. This means whitewater rafting for every taste, from shooting the rapids to a lazy float with a mild current. Tubing is a great sport in the area, and opportunities to swim and to fish are plentiful.
Golf courses are plentiful in the area, and seasoned golfers say that the varying terrain presents multiple challenges for different styles of play that can’t be found elsewhere all in one place. Horseback riding is a popular pursuit for visitors, and many stables in the area provide trails that even the national park can’t supply.
For home schooling parents, the Smoky Mountains offer a field trip beyond compare, where kids can absorb knowledge without wanting to stop. Close by is Tuckaleechee Caverns, with the tallest underground waterfall in the United States, while in the park each June occurs the unique synchronous fireflies event, unmatched anywhere this side of East Asia. Old settler cabins, tools and artifacts dot the area, with still-working grist mills to visit.
In the towns there are numerous activities for families, including mini golf venues, often with arcades filled with interactive and immersive games, black-light environments or mirror mazes. There are several museums that are also great fun, including the nationally acclaimed Aquarium, science and history museums, a Titanic replica, and a Biblical recreation with 3D dioramas. There’s a parrot and exotic bird sanctuary, and one of the largest tropical discovery zoos in the world.
Summer is the big visitor season of course, but earlier in spring offers a display of millions of bright wildflowers on the forest floor of the national park, which comes alive for a few weeks until the canopies of the trees fill out and throw the ground into shade again.
Later in the year in fall, the canopies themselves take center stage as more than one hundred different species of tree turn color and the entire landscape becomes multicolored. October is a favorite time for visitors to book accommodations long in advance, and to get married. The only month more active for weddings is May – perhaps from all the people proposing marriage a few months earlier on Valentine’s Day? Certainly, Gatlinburg cabin rentals are booked solid for this day, long in advance.
Cabins play a large role in the romance of the area. Cabin living is a home away from home, private yet still in nature with the birds and trees everywhere around, with swings and hot tubs on the deck, cozy fireplaces to snuggle in front of, and that total favorite, the heart-shaped Jacuzzi in the bedroom. And while chapels and marriage facilities abound, you can even take your vows in your cabin if you wish.
Gatlinburg is the 3rd most popular place in the world to get married. Blame the romantic setting of the Smoky Mountains. Tennessee makes it easy to get married, and local services help the process. People come here for a romantic getaway to propose marriage, to get married, to spend their honeymoon, to celebrate their anniversaries and to renew their vows – and that’s a world full of smiles, to watch grown kids escorting their parents down the aisle.
Obviously there are as many reasons to come to the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area of the Smoky Mountains as there are people visiting. Whatever your reason, come visit soon!