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Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The small town is about 45 minutes east of Knoxville and is known for its exciting activities, interactive dinner shows, and outdoor adventures.

Here’s how to spend a weekend in Pigeon Forge.

Dollywood amusement park in Tennessee.

Visit Dollywood

At the heart of Pigeon Forge is Dollywood. The amusement and water park attracts visitors from around the world. It’s a fantastic place for a multigenerational vacation, as we’ve covered in a previous piece.

The 150-acre amusement park is home to 40 rides, from the low-key Dollywood Express to the thrilling Barnstormer and Daredevil Falls. Visitors can also marvel at majestic bald eagles at the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, a 30,000-square-foot aviary run by the American Eagle Foundation.

Dollywood hosts a number of festivals year-round, including the Flower & Food Festival and the Smoky Mountain Christmas, so be sure to check the online calendar before planning your stay.

On hot summer days, Dollywood’s Splash Country is the perfect place to cool off. The water park offers both thrilling water rides and slides and a lazy river perfect for relaxing, as well as a dedicated children’s area with water features and smaller slides.

If you’re going to spend the entire day there, consider renting a private cabana. Located around the park, the cabanas offer shade, sun loungers, fridges, and food service.

You can buy tickets to the theme park and water park separately, but the most economical plan is to buy a combination ticket that allows entry into both all day long. Also, check with your hotel, since some properties offer additional discounts if you buy your tickets through them.

The Island in Pigeon Forge.

Spend A Day At The Island In Pigeon Forge

The Island in Pigeon Forge is an area filled with shops, restaurants, and rides, including a 200-foot-tall observation wheel. The best part about the park is that it’s free to get in; you only pay to ride the attractions.

The rides are pretty tame, and you can buy individual tickets (prices vary depending on the ride) or a 48-hour unlimited ride pass for $30. For a more relaxing time, head to the St. Somewhere Spa inside the Margaritaville Island Hotel for a massage, facial, or salt glow.

You could easily spend an entire day here. The area is home to restaurants offering everything from breakfast to dinner to snacks. Once you’re fueled up, peruse one of the more than 40 shops for unique home decor and souvenirs.

Head To An Amusement Park, Museum, Or Shopping Area

Take a drive through Pigeon Forge, and you’ll find no shortage of activities, including miniature golf, bumper boats, and go-kart tracks. SpeedZone Fun Park is a popular stop for go-kart racing; it has four tracks to choose from.

Head to the Titanic Museum to experience what it was like to be on the ill-fated liner in April of 1912.

There are also shopping opportunities aplenty in Pigeon Forge. Along the main drag, you’ll find everything from boutique shops to souvenir stores to outlets. One of my favorites is the Incredible Christmas Place -- a step inside will make you feel like you’re at the North Pole. The store has everything you could ever want for Christmas and more!

Beautiful landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Enjoy The Great Outdoors At Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Just 10 miles from Pigeon Forge is the most-visited national park in the country, according to the National Park Service. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park stretches more than 500,000 acres over two states (Tennessee and North Carolina).

During your stay in Pigeon Forge, you’ll be able to visit it as often as you’d like, trying out a different activity each time. Hiking is popular, and there are more than 850 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to extreme. Or stay in your car and take one of the many scenic drives the park offers. The Cades Cove Loop, an 11-mile one-way loop, is under 30 miles from the entrance of the park and features views of wildflowers and wildlife (black bears, deer, turkeys, coyotes, and more).

As you explore the park, be sure to stop at one of the visitor centers to grab a map and guide and to ask a park ranger any questions you might have.

Boat, Swim, Or Fish At A Local Lake

There are two lakes near Pigeon Forge for when you’re ready for a break from the mountains.

Douglas Lake, located about 30 miles north of Pigeon Forge, is great for boating, swimming, and fishing. The lake has several marinas where you can rent pontoon boats, kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, and even tubes. Douglas Lake is the top spot in Tennessee for fishing for crappie, but it also has largemouth bass, bluegill, and catfish, among others.

The lake boasts more than 500 miles of shoreline, but the majority of it is privately owned. There are, however, a few swimming beaches around the lake, including one at the Douglas Dam Headwater Campground, one at Sevier County Park, and one at Dandridge Municipal Park. Gator Point is another swimming hole and is the closest one to Pigeon Forge.

Cherokee Lake offers a lot of the same amenities and is about an hour’s drive from Pigeon Forge. The lake has 400 miles of shoreline and provides lots of fishing opportunities, mostly for crappie and bass. Several marinas around the lake offer boat rentals, and most of them have a snack bar or restaurant where you can eat overlooking the water. There are also public picnic areas and campgrounds. The Cherokee Dam Campground has a swimming beach, a public boat ramp, and a playground.

Bird-watchers flock to both lakes in search of birds like the great blue heron and the great egret. A hidden gem at Douglas Lake is the Rankin Bottoms Wildlife Refuge. Located at the north end of the lake, this area is picturesque and never crowded.

Aerial view of Gatlinburg, Tennssee.

Take A Day Trip To Gatlinburg

Less than 20 minutes from Pigeon Forge is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, home of the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, the Gatlinburg SkyBridge. A scenic chairlift will take you to the SkyDeck overlook where you can grab a bite to eat or drink before walking across the 680-foot-long bridge. Look out, and you will see panoramic views of the Smokies, and look down through the glass bottom of the bridge for an epic view below.

Gatlinburg is also home to Tennessee’s only ski resort, Ober Gatlinburg, which doubles as an amusement park in the summer. In the winter, the resort offers skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and tubing. The ice remains in the summer for ice bumper cars and more ice skating! In the summer, you can experience tubing and a thrilling mountain coaster that zigzags through the trees. The scenic gondola ride is open year-round, too, if you just want to go up and enjoy the mountain views.

Just walking around Gatlinburg could take you all day. There is no shortage of locally owned shops and eateries. You could also check out the various amusement spots: mini golf, laser tag, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and the Hollywood Star Cars Museum.

Go White Water Rafting

Class III and IV rapids await you on the Pigeon River about an hour outside of Pigeon Forge. Several rafting companies offer both short and long rides. And if white water rapids aren’t your thing, some of the companies offer scenic float trips.

Rip Roaring Adventures is a family-owned business that has operated trips down the Pigeon River for more than two decades. Their float trips are good for kids and anyone who wants a more relaxing time on the water.

After your rafting trip with Wildwater White Water Rafting, you can extend your adventure with zip-lining or a jeep tour.

The Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge.

Eating In Pigeon Forge

Attending a dinner show is a must in Pigeon Forge. These interactive experiences include the popular Dolly Parton’s Stampede, where you can meet the show’s incredible horses beforehand, and Pirates Voyage, which takes you on an adventure with Blackbeard and his cast of pirates and mermaids.

Enjoy a meal with a side of history at the Old Mill Restaurant. The family-style eatery inside an old mill is one of the most photographed mills in the country. After filling up on Southern favorites, take a stroll to the candy shop, pottery shop, and general store, where you can buy some of the restaurant’s mixes to make at home.

Where To Stay In Pigeon Forge

Just minutes from the Dollywood theme park is Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. It has two pools, hot tubs, a spa, a family game room, and several restaurants. It’s a good spot to stay if you will be spending a lot of time at Dollywood.

The Inn on the River is located on the Pigeon River, and it offers both river and mountain views. It has an indoor and outdoor pool, free breakfast, and hot tubs, and it’s within walking distance of the main drag of Pigeon Forge.

The Ramsey Hotel is also in the heart of Pigeon Forge and has a pool, fitness center, free breakfast, and a restaurant and lounge.

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