Driving through Pigeon Forge can be absolutely overwhelming. The towering business signs, flashing lights, and digital billboards scream at visitors beckoning them to stop for a meal, entertainment, or shopping. I had never spent a night in Pigeon Forge, instead always opting to get through the town as quick as possible to reach Gatlinburg or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But this one weekend in early October I decided to change that and spent three days in Pigeon Forge to see what it was all about. Hint: there’s more than just Dollywood.
I had a leg up with booking my trip to Pigeon Forge through a friend of the family who set me up at the Sunrise Ridge Resort. Although it was located about fifteen minutes off Parkway (the main drag through town) I was thrilled with the view of Mount Le Conte from the balcony of my two room condo. Complete with a full kitchen, daily cleaning service, and quite surroundings I thoroughly enjoy my time at the resort.
But I didn’t spend all that much time hanging out at “home”. I was determined to get out into Pigeon Forge and see if I could make heads or tails out of the shopping centers and entertainment venues. Getting a hang of the town wasn’t nearly as daunting as I thought it would be: almost everything is located along a five mile stretch of Parkway. I just took my time and made little hops down the street each day.
Dollywood is certainly the biggest and most popular attraction in Pigeon Forge but I very purposefully avoided the attraction to find what else there was to do. Did you know there is an authentic Titanic Museum with artifacts recovered during several dives in the late 80s? Exploring the museum was an incredible experience as I treated like a passenger aboard the ill-fated maiden voyage while learning about the concept, design, construction, and only cruise of the RMS Titanic. After surviving the sinking of the museum I headed across town to another unique museum: Alcatraz East Crime Museum. This exciting crime museum has artifacts like OJ Simpson’s white Ford Bronco and items from Al Capone on display while entertaining and educating about crime in America.
I found a lot of visitors heading over to the Tanger Outlets for shopping but I wanted a more local experience. Just across Parkway along Apple Valley Road I found a little shopping center hidden around a bend in the road that kept me occupied for half a day. I started with a wine tasting at the Apple Barn Winery where I found some neat wine-related home decor and pretty good wine. I skipped the fudge shop and instead grabbed myself a fresh fried apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the Apple Barn and Cider Mill. After finishing this little treat I browsed the arts, crafts, books, and ingredients in the massive three-story barn. I ended my day with a fantastic meal at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant where I chowed down on southern friend chicken that was just as crunchy on the outside as it was juicy inside.
Speaking of food I didn’t have to go far to find great local places in Pigeon Forge. I visited the Local Goat my first night in town and wasn’t disappointed with my simple burger and fries that tasted way better than I paid for (please don’t raise your prices, though!). Smoky Mountain Brewery was a good dinner the next night with some of the locally crafted beer and a delicious hand tossed pizza. Mel’s Classic Diner had some pretty tasty sandwiches in a chrome plated building complete with neon lights and rustic decor. But my most memorable meal was breakfast the last morning at The Old Mill Restaurant. I was late getting there so there was a bit of a wait and took a little while to get the food, but once it arrived I was a happy man. I slowly worked my way through eggs, sausage, fried potatoes, grits, a biscuit with gravy, and silver dollar pancakes. I felt like a bear preparing for hibernation after waddling out the door an hour later.
I needed to walk off some of those carbs I just consumed so I headed next door to the Old Forge Distillery. Hey it was already after noon so I didn’t feel so bad about sampling some of their moonshine. They had jumped on the pumpkin spice bandwagon along with so many others but as long as it tastes this good I don’t really care. Across the street I browsed through the Old Mill Candy Kitchen and Pigeon River Pottery for local crafts and food. The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grille looked pretty good and a large group of people were having fun sitting outside on the stone patio waiting for a table.
I think my favorite place to shop in Pigeon Forge, though, was Christmas Place. Now I’ll admit Christmas is my favorite holiday so I would have been just as happy to visit this place in June as I was in October. It’s open year round and in fact you can even get your picture taken with Santa any time of year. The large shopping center has a few separate buildings with various Christmas items, gifts, and decor, but the Christmas Place is the main place to go. Visitors wonder through room after room, each with a unique decor and theme such as outdoor lighting, artificial trees, Department 56, and a huge Mark Roberts collection. I was tempted to buy five of everything in the outdoor lighting room to finally complete my quest to become the Griswald Family.
As I finally left Pigeon Forge heading for Gatlinburg I realized things were different now. Driving down Parkway I wasn’t so overwhelmed by all the signs, billboards, and lights. After just three days I had already made sense of the congested town and found a few favorite places to visit again. I’m gonna have to make an effort to stop here again and spend a few nights while on my way to the national park. Pigeon Forge turned out to be an exciting and fulfilling gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains.