Fueled by a love for all things Dolly Parton, its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and America’s appetite for thrill rides, Pigeon Forge has never been busier. Consider these facts: This small town in East Tennessee only has 6,000 residents, but is expected to attract around 12 million visitors by the end of 2021. It’s been referred to as “Las Vegas for families,” with its streets jam-packed full of attractions, dinner theaters, mini-golf, and places to entertain all ages — but the national park nearby offers plenty of respite from the action, with miles of hiking trails and stunning views. And while some folks come to Pigeon Forge for the experiences they’ve had before — like a favorite ride at Dollywood, or biscuits at the Old Mill restaurant — new reasons to visit are popping up all the time.
48 Hours in Pigeon Forge, TN
Spend all day exploring attractions on the main drag! Note that with big crowds, advance reservations might be the only way to get in popular spots, and advance online tickets are sometimes less expensive. Start with the Titanic experience, which bills itself as the world’s largest museum attraction. If you’re surprised to see such an elaborate tribute to the Titanic in a small East Tennessee town, you’re not alone. But trust us, it’s a must-visit if you’re in the area. Aside from the massive-looking exterior resembling the ill-fated structure (only about half-scale of the real ship), inside you’ll find a maze of recreated rooms, artifacts from the ship itself, copious amounts of educational info, and just about everything needed to immerse yourself into the ship’s history.
Head over to the historic Old Mill area for lunch, stopping in the original 19th-century mill — where they’re still producing grains and cornmeal. The nearby store offers products made on-site, such as grits, flour, and oats. Two special places to eat there may draw you back for a second meal, but again, expect lines. For Southern favorites, head to the Old Mill restaurant, where their biscuits and fried chicken are the stuff of legend. Another option is its sister restaurant, the charming Pottery House Café, once home to the potter who lived on-site, and now the place for innovative salads, or soup-and-sandwich combos. All food items are served on locally made pottery that you’ll be tempted to take home, so afterward, hit the pottery shop next door for souvenirs.
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Check into the Inn on the River for a convenient hotel in the heart of Pigeon Forge; best yet, ask for a room overlooking the river, and the sound of water will be a nice break from bustling crowds. If time permits before dinner, work in another nearby attraction. Crime lovers will enjoy learning about some of the most notorious criminals in history at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum, while families would enjoy the fun-science exhibits at Wonder Works. Even locals love the restaurant Local Goat, but plan ahead, because it’s a busy place.
Start the day at Smoky’s Pancake Cabin, where big breakfasts are well worth the carb count and provide fuel for the day — but you’ll welcome some time for some fresh air and exercise after a hearty meal. After breakfast, head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, only a short drive from Pigeon Forge, to explore the nation’s most visited national park, home to elevations as high as 6,000 feet. Hundreds of trails draw hikers of all experience levels, with plenty of opportunities to dip your tired feet into a cool mountain creek. Fuel up on the way, and come prepared with plenty of snacks and drinks. Note that cell service can be sparse once you’re in the park. Keep an eye out for local wildlife — but don’t feed the bears!
Head back to Pigeon Forge to check out a new part of town. Mountain Mile is an upscale shopping and restaurant area once home to a mall. Destinations such as REI, Baakk boutique, a Nike outlet, and the fun and delicious Junction 35 Spirits, which welcomes guests with samples of moonshine — but then keeps them around with hearty fare like BBQ ribs, brisket, and Tennessee hot chicken. Daredevils can try the new thrill ride monster Fall at Mountain Mile, with a 200-foot drop and lots of screams. New to Mountain Mile is the new East Tennessee location of Nashville’s famed Listening Room Café, where live music and local brews provide an enjoyable evening for music lovers. Coming soon is Guy Fieri’s Downtown Flavortown, 43,000 square feet of food options, a bowling alley, Tiki bar, and more.
The famous Dollywood theme park could easily take days to explore, but a solid day is enough to get a good feel for its offerings. Highlights include the Lightning Rod, billed as the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, Daredevil Falls, and quieter spots for young children in the Country Fair setting.
Any time of day is entertaining at the Island, voted the number one attraction in Tennessee, packed with more than 80 attractions, shops, and restaurants. Free admission and parking make it a spontaneous choice at all hours of the day. New this year: SkyFly: Soar America, a ride that simulates flying all over iconic spots in the United States.
Not ready to leave East Tennessee? Explore nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s favorite little mountain town, or make time to check out Knoxville, home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers and so much more.
To learn more, visit mypigeonforge.com.
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