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Gateway Towns

Find Family Fun Under Pigeon Forge’s Sparkling Lights

Stay 20 minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in this city with no shortage of things to do.

When you drive the parkway into Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, it feels like you’ve been transported into another world.

“It feels like Las Vegas for kids,” says Ben Hale, Pigeon Forge’s senior account director. “There’s so much visual stimulation from the upside-down building to the replica Titanic to King Kong hanging off the wax museum. Your focus is ping ponging all around.”

WonderWorks (Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism)

Whether you’re traveling with kids, or you’re a kid at heart, there’s nothing quite like this brilliant, entertainment-focused city. Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s a short drive from Knoxville and just 20 minutes from the national park.

Pigeon Forge is home to country music singer Dolly Parton’s namesake theme park, Dollywood. Built into the side of a mountain, this isn’t your average amusement park. Leafy trees keep it from feeling like a concrete jungle and a variety of rides, shows, museums, dining and shopping will keep you entertained all day long.

Dollywood Train
Dollywood Train (Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism)

Dollywood is just the beginning when it comes to amusement parks. Several alpine coasters race down the surrounding hills, like Goats on the Roof which has a herd of actual goats grazing on-site. Go-karting and mini golf also abound, with courses themed like candy, toys, pirates and mermaids. If getting out into nature is what you’re looking for, Rafting in the Smokies offers trips down the Big Pigeon Forge River, along with ziplines and a ropes course.

If you’re ready to take a break from the sun, the city has plenty of places for indoor fun. Head to the “upside-down building” which houses Wonderworks, a science-focused attraction that helps kids learn through play. There’s also the Hollywood Wax Museum (look for King Kong to guide your way), where more than 200 celebrities are brought to life in intricate wax sculptures. While most Pigeon Forge attractions are easy to walk right up to, you’ll want to buy tickets in advance for the Titanic Museum. This interactive museum allows you to experience what being a passenger would have been like on the ill-fated 1912 journey. You’ll get a boarding pass when you enter with the name of a real ship passenger or crew-member and journey through the vessel as you dunk your hands in freezing water, try to stay standing on sloping decks and see more than 400 real artifacts from the journey. Check your boarding pass’ name at the end to see if your passenger survived.

Titanic Museum
Titanic Museum (Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism)

After a fun-filled day there are no shortage of places to grab a bite to eat. Celebrity chefs like Guy Fieri and Paula Deen have restaurants in town, or for a nostalgic trip down memory lane head to Sunliner Diner, a 50’s-themed restaurant where the booths are vintage cars and the milkshakes are to die for.

If you want a more unique dinner experience, the town is full of dinner theaters. Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction is an incredible show with 32 horses and their expert riders. Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud is a comedy show the whole family will love and Pirates Voyage will delight your kids. Make reservations in advance for these experiences.

After dinner, head to The Island, an entertainment and shopping district that’s home to The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200-foot-tall observation wheel that’s lit up at night and open late. A ride on it will bring you high above the city, the sparkling lights laid out beneath you like a Lite-Brite.

Black Fox Lodge in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Black Fox Lodge in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism)

When it’s time for bed, options range from budget motels to vacation rentals that sleep up to 100. Hale suggests staying at one of many cabins available for rent a few minutes outside of town.

“It’s the best of both worlds. You can feel like you’re in the mountains and still be five minutes from all the best attractions.”

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