Pigeon Forge: The Place for Family Fun
By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva
Families seeking a family vacation packed with thrills, music, excitement and fun should consider a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Because of its wide variety of attractions and close proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this family travel destination attracts more than 11 million people a year. Pigeon Forge is a popular choice for large family reunions and well as a year-round family vacation getaway.
Pigeon Forge wasn’t much more than a small, sleepy town in the farmland hills of southeastern Tennessee until one of its most famous citizens, Dolly Parton, gave her name, energy, and talents to Dollywood amusement park in 1986. Since then, Pigeon Forge has blossomed into one of the most popular destinations in the Southeastern United States. No other town of this size (it’s just five miles long and just a little more than 11 square miles) has more exciting and fun things to do for the entire family.
Dollywood Starts it All
Pigeon Forge experienced some growth in 1940 when Great Smoky Mountains National Park was dedicated. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the town prospered from the tourism boom, largely fueled by the excitement surrounding the opening of Dollywood. This unique theme park, which spans 125 acres and is nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, has thrilling rides; live entertainment featuring the best in country, bluegrass, mountain, and gospel music with more than a dozen stage shows; plenty of kiddie rides and family attractions; and a variety of master craft demonstrations. All of this is set in a clean and attractive park that is designed to reflect the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
Thrill seekers will love the park’s roller coaster rides -- Mystery Mine, Thunderhead and Tennessee Tornado -- in addition to the action simulation ride, Thunder Road. A few thrill rides will also get you wet like Daredevil Falls, Timber Tower, Smoky Mountain River Rampage, the Mountain Slidewinder, and this year’s newest ride, River Battle. For the more timid or younger children, a number of family-oriented rides and kiddie rides, as well as family attractions like Dreamland Forest Treehouse, Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, and Dolly’s Home-on-Wheels, will keep everyone entertained for the whole day.
Festivals and Special Events
Dollywood features a variety of festivals and special events. The Festival of Nations event presents music, dance, food, and cultural events from around the world. Highlights of this festival include some captivating Irish stepdancing in Rhythm of the Dance, Latin American salsa and flamenco dancing, and some sensational Russian Cossack dancing. From June 13 through August 3, 2008, Dollywood presents KidsFest, which will feature Creature Adventures with the Kratt Brothers, stars of PBS’ popular show Zoboomafoo. Kamp KidsFest will feature Kreatures, Kritters & Kraft. Kamp KidsFest will be crawling with animal encounters as handlers from the Knoxville Zoo will be on hand with a variety of creatures to meet and handle. Other highlights of KidsFest include Veggie Tales Live, which is sure to have everyone laughing; Sandscapes, a display of some of the most outrageous sand sculptures you’ve ever seen; Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse, featuring the Penguin Players; and a variety of roving characters that kids will love to hug.
Other festivals include Dollywood’s Bar-B-Que and Bluegrass Festival, September 5 – 28, 2008 and the Harvest Celebration, October 3 – November 1, 2008, featuring the best in southern gospel music. Festival productions change throughout the year. For more information on current events and attractions, call (865) 428-9488 or visit www.dollywood.com.
Get Wet and Stay Cool
As summer temperatures rise, visitors to Pigeon Forge can stay cool at Dollywood’s Splash Country located adjacent to Dollywood. This water adventure theme park has a relaxing Lazy River ride, the thrilling Big Bear Plunge white water rafting ride, and its newest thrill ride SwiftWater Run, as well as a host of other water attractions for all ages. Splash Country is open from late May through late August and on weekends in late August and early September. For more information call (865) 428-9488 or visit www.dollywoodsplashcountry.com.
Get Back to Nature
Not only is Pigeon Forge known for its wide array of attractions and famous amusement park, it is also a gateway town to America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The majestic beauty of the Smoky Mountains may contrast with the exciting activities in Pigeon Forge, but a visit to this scenic wonderland is a must when visiting southeastern Tennessee. The park boasts unspoiled forests similar to those found by the early settlers. Carefully preserved log cabins, picturesque barns, and stately churches stand as reminders of the pioneers who carved out a living from this wilderness. A scenic drive on U.S. 441, which climbs and winds through Newfound Gap, with a spur out to Clingman’s Dome and an observation tower, is a great way to view the beauty of this unspoiled land. But you should try to make the most of your visit to the park with activities like biking, fishing, hiking, camping, and picnicking. More than 900 miles of hiking and horse trails wind along streams, through the forests, and into the heart of the Smokies. There a number of short, self-guided trails throughout the park, some of which lead to a majestic waterfall. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center for information and help in choosing the right trail or activity for your group. Kids will be fascinated by some of the pioneer life exhibits and demonstrations that are presented in the park.
A Five-Mile Ride of Fun
The Pigeon Forge Parkway is five miles from end to end, and every one of those miles, and points beyond, is filled with fun activities for the entire family. From mini-golf, to go-carts, to bungee jumping, Pigeon Forge has it all. There are so many choices of these attractions that you may find it hard to decide what to do. This is why it would be best to plan your trip ahead and get an idea of what types of attractions and shows you want to enjoy. Visit the Pigeon Forge website at www.mypigeonforge.com for a list of attractions and all the information you need for planning your trip.
A few attractions that would be the highlight of any trip are worth considering. The first is Zorb, an 11-foot high inflatable transparent sphere which transports riders down a hillside protected from harm by a 2-foot cushion of air. Invented in New Zealand with sites in Europe, Asia, and Australia, Zorb Smoky Mountains is the only North American site for this unique attraction. In addition to the original Zorb, riders can get wet in the Zydro as water is added to the sphere and riders slip, slide, and spin inside the Zorb. The most intense ride is the Zorbit, where riders are harnessed inside the Zorb and take a wild ride down the hillside. Visit www.zorb.com for more information, videos and rates.
Another unique thrill attraction is Flyaway Indoor Skydiving. After taking a 20-minute training class and 15-minute equipment preparation, flyers enter the wind tunnel and experience the exhilaration of skydiving – indoors. Suspended in air by the force of the wind tunnel, flyers can experience what it is like to free-fall without ever having to go up in a plane! A single flight, which gives a flyer about 3 minutes of flight time, costs $29.95, and a repeat flight is $19.95. For more information call (865) 453-7777 or visit www.flyawayindoorskydiving.com.
The entire family will also enjoy a visit to WonderWorks, an amusement park for the mind. With over 150 interactive exhibits, parents and kids will be amazed by some of the unusual and imaginative displays of science and nature. Kids will have so much fun they won’t even realize that this attraction is educational! More information about WonderWorks is available by calling (865) 868-1800 or visiting www.wonderworksTN.com.
“Turn at the 7th light, and go straight back 175 years.”
These are the directions to what was once, and still remains today, the hub of Pigeon Forge. Old Mill Square is the site of Pigeon Forge’s early-1800’s water-powered gristmill. Producing the food ingredients crucial to the early pioneers of the region, the gristmill became the hub of activity for the community. Still operating and producing the same products as it did nearly two centuries ago, the gristmill and its accompanying restaurants and stores continue to exhibit the same spirit and heritage of the mountains. Just take a guided tour of the mill or observe and listen to one of the master potters at Pigeon River Pottery, and you will experience the authentic Southern hospitality that characterizes Pigeon Forge and keeps people coming back for future family vacations. In addition to Pigeon River Pottery and the grist mill & general store, where you can purchase products such as the outstanding pancake mix, Old Mill Square houses one of the area’s most popular restaurants, the Old Mill Restaurant featuring old-fashioned Southern cooking; the new Pottery House Café & Grille; the Creamery, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor; the Candy Kitchen; the Toy Bin, featuring old-fashioned toys and games; and the Farmhouse Kitchen.
“Play me some mountain music…”
The mountains of east Tennessee are known for music – from country to bluegrass and gospel, music has long been essential for the area’s inhabitants. Pigeon Forge celebrates this musical heritage with more than 15 entertainment theaters where audiences are treated to a wide variety of music styles – Broadway, rock ‘n’ roll, country, bluegrass, gospel and more. All of these shows are suitable and appealing to every member of the family. Depending on your tastes, two shows that we recommend are Country Tonite Theater and The Miracle Theater. Although we are not necessarily country music buffs, we really enjoyed the talented ensemble cast and mix of music, dance and comedy of Country Tonite. For more information or to view the schedule of celebrity concerts call (800) 792-4308 or visit www.countrytonitepf.com. The Miracle Theater presents a faith-based musical depicting the battle of good and evil focusing on the life and miracles of Christ. With a cast of more than 100 singers, dancers and actors, as well as a variety of animals including horses, donkeys, sheep and some camels, this show is truly an amazing production. The singing talent was quite impressive and the special effects, particularly the angels and other characters that soar through the air on guide wires, were remarkable. A VIP Backstage Tour giving an inside look to the workings of the show is available. Tickets for the show are $38.95 for adults, with one child 11 and under free with each paying adult. This is a Broadway-style musical that would rival any show in New York. For more information call (800) 768-1170 or visit www.miracletheater.com.
Some of the shows are dinner theaters providing a hearty meal and plenty of entertainment to please the whole family. Two of the more popular dinner shows are Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede and the Black Bear Jamboree. Parents and kids will enjoy either of these shows, as well as any of the many other musical, comedy and magic shows presented in Pigeon Forge. For a complete listing and description of all the shows visit www.mypigeonforge.com and click on “What To Do” and then “Theaters/Shows.”
A Wide Choice of Accommodations
As you might expect, a wide array of choices for accommodations is available in Pigeon Forge. It seemed that just about every hotel chain is represented on the Parkway. Again, visit the Pigeon Forge web site for a listing and descriptions of the choices to stay. Room rates range from as low as $30 depending on the season. Two choices to stay that are especially nice are The Inn at Christmas Place and the log home resort at Alpine Mountain Village. The Inn at Christmas Place is conveniently located on the Parkway and is just minutes from all of the area’s attractions. The Inn is designed in an Old World mountain village style and boasts a variety of luxury rooms and amenities. Rates begin at $79 during the off-season for a deluxe room with 2 queen beds. Rates increase during the summer months and during December (naturally), but are still quite reasonable considering the quality of the hotel and its amenities. A variety of room choices are available, including Christmas-themed two and three-room suites. Many of the rooms have a private balcony, and all rooms have LCD high definition TV’s, microwave & refrigerator, and free high-speed Internet access. Other amenities include a complimentary hot continental breakfast, heated outdoor pool with a 95’ figure-eight waterslide, indoor pool and hot tub, and lush gardens with waterfalls and ponds. Some people might cringe at the thought of a hotel with a year-round Christmas theme, but The Inn at Christmas Place is so tastefully decorated that it feels just right any time of the year. For more information on room types and rates call 1-888-HOLYNIGHT or visit www.innatchristmasplace.com.
A type of accommodation that has become increasingly popular in Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area is a log home rental. This is not simply a rustic cabin in the woods; these cabin rentals are beautiful log homes with the most modern amenities. A one-bedroom cabin that sleeps 4 can be as low as $125 per night in the low season and just $175 in the peak season. Cabins with as many as 8 bedrooms sleeping 42 people are available. Most of these cabins have a hot tub, pool table, entertainment room, washer & dryer, a modern kitchen, and beautiful mountain of forest views. Visit www.alpinemountainvillage.com to view the many different cabins available and the rates. Or you can check with the managing agent, Cabin Fever Vacations, for even more log home rentals at www.cabinfevervacations.com.
Dining and Shopping – Endless Choices
Finding a great place to eat is not a problem in Pigeon Forge, but deciding just where to dine can be tricky. The choices are endless – from Southern favorites with catfish and barbeque, to Mexican, Italian, or Asian. The choices of restaurants include national chains, locally owned and operated establishments, buffets, fast food, pancake houses and sandwich shops. Some of the more popular ones include Bullfish, specializing in steaks and seafood; Calhoun’s for its famous ribs; Johnny Carino’s Italian Restaurant with dishes inspired from Southern Italian country recipes; and the aforementioned Old Mill Restaurant for great Southern favorites and the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille – a perfect place for a wonderful lunch on the garden terrace.
If you find that you still have time after enjoying all the attractions and dining in Pigeon Forge, maybe you need to do some shopping. With nearly 300 factory outlet stores and a number of specialty shops, Pigeon Forge is consistently named one of the Top shopping Spots in the south by readers of Southern Living magazine.
Plan Your Trip
Don’t expect to do everything that available in Pigeon Forge in one trip – there are just too many things to do. So take the time to visit the website and scout out all the possibilities for exciting and fun family activities, accommodations, dining, and family entertainment. Then, on your way home, you can start planning what you what to do on your next family trip to this area.
If You Go:
Pigeon Forge Welcome Centers: There are just two official city-operated centers (there are others, but they are not operated by the city) – the Pigeon Forge Welcome Center at traffic light # 0, and the Visitor Information Center at traffic light # 5. Be sure to pick up a Pigeon Forge Value Card for some great discounts. Visit www.mypigeonforge.com for all the information you need to plan your vacation.
Location: Located just 33 miles southeast of Knoxville and easily accessible from three interstate highways, I-40, I-81, and I-75, Pigeon Forge is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population east of the Mississippi River. Knoxville Airport is 38 miles away.
Special Events: A variety of special events including a number of classic car shows and celebrity concerts are scheduled throughout the year. Visit the web site for a schedule of these events.
Traffic Tips: Traffic on The Parkway can get backed up, especially during a special event. Look at a map and learn to use the back roads just off the Parkway to get around a little more easily.
Jeff and Stephanie Sylva have been professional travel writers for over 18 years. Their daughter, Jennifer, who is currently in college, often travels with them.
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