Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are little Tennessee resort towns with major tourist attractions and sit at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The towns themselves are a huge tourist trap, but being surrounded by mountains, there’s always plenty of nature to enjoy. But if you enjoy the attractions, you can never run out! These towns are close to the North Carolina–Tennessee border.
We traveled with parents there, so our ages ranged from 8 months to over 60. From infants to almost senior citizens, this itinerary is for the slower-paced, with an easy nature walk, and entertainment that the whole family can enjoy!
The place we stayed was in Gatlinburg so we spent the first day there, second in Pigeon Forge, and the last day was a combination of the two plus Sevierville. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are only about 8 miles from each other so it’s nothing to go back and forth between the two. We visited in the summer heat of August and school had started back, which meant less tourists, thankfully, but it was still hot.
Here’s a sample of an itinerary to enjoy with the whole family.
Admission ticket includes the chair lift up Crockett Mountain, a walk across the longest footbridge in the US, and the sky deck. This is my brother’s favorite spot when he comes to the area and he’s been talking about it for years. The wristband gets you back in all day long, so some of our group returned in the evening for a night ride up the mountain!
Traveling with a baby, it’s recommended you harness them to your chest. Adults are not strapped in but there is a bar that goes down over your head to your lap. Three people can ride in a chair. The bridge across the mountain moves a bit when people are on it and has a glass floor in the middle, which is trippy.
The main street is very walkable and stores lined up all the way down. There’s everything you can imagine here like fudge shops, ice cream, fair food, candy general stores, souvenir shops, special boutiques, and mini golf. The skylift is on this main road too. Other entertainment includes some Ripley’s museums, Gatlinburg Space Needle (observation tower), aquarium, and adventure park.
This is on the main street of Gatlinburg with an entrance to some old European style buildings. We ate at a German deli shop. It’s a nice area to walk through and hang out for a bit.
Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens
Museum with life size replicas of events of Jesus’ life that you walk through with special lighting, music, and narration. Good reminder of actual events from the Bible. All day parking for museum guests, and show your Skylift Park tickets to get $2 off each ticket here.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
This was fantastic because, for tired people, this is a driving trail with sights through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The only one who didn’t enjoy was the baby because she couldn’t see anything, but we did get out at one of the stops so that made up for it.
The trail is a 5.5 mile 1-way road with a 10mph speed limit. There are places to stop and pull over, cabins and homesteads to walk around, and plenty of hiking trails if you are inclined (which did not include us!). At the end of the trail was the best because you drive right beside a waterfall on the mountain called “The Place of a Thousand Drips.” The cabin we stopped at was the first one at Noah “Bud” Ogle Homestead and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Skylift again at Night
Those who didn’t stay with the sleeping baby, returned to Gatlinburg and rode the lift at night! They are open till 10pm. Donuts were involved on their way home too!
This is the perfect place for families of all ages to go to because the path is pretty even, it’s not uphill and isn’t too long of a distance (the guy told us 0.7 miles the whole trip). My dad who gets short of breath sometimes found this to be a pleasant path, it’s covered by trees to block most of the sun and we did it in the morning before the heat of the day. Once you get to the fall, there’s a couple of big rocks to sit and take a break! The path back is the same one. It walks along and crosses over the river which is great. Park at the Sugarlands Visitors Center for free.
The Island is a large shopping and eating area with activities all in one place. This is almost exactly like Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach if you’ve been before. We mainly came here for lunch at Paula Dean’s Family Kitchen and it did not disappoint! It’s a family style restaurant all-you-can-eat of country cooking (obviously if you know Paula Dean). We got fried chicken, meatloaf, mac and cheese, candied yams, collard greens, creamed potatoes, garlic cheese biscuits and 1 dessert included for everyone. We were hurting when we left.
There’s a fountain in the center of the park (can see it from the restaurant), that does a water show to music every half hour. Don’t miss it. The baby loved watching it and grooving to the music! My dad and brother napped in the chairs surrounding the mountain while the rest of us walked around to see the shops. We got coffees and frozen lemonades from Margaritaville Coffee Shop while waiting for the trolley to catch back to the parking lot. We missed the trolley twice so be ready for it! (once we missed while my stepmom was buying earrings! :))
Three Bears General Store
Three Bears General Store is the largest souvenir store in Pigeon Forge with all kinds of stuff. We bought local honey from here. My brother couldn’t wait to show us the live bears here. $3.25 a person to see a few bears in a habitat set up for them. These bears were rescued from a hunting farm or “kill farm”. On the upper levels of this place were Aqua Massage Tables, and a place to get Old Time Photos taken, and didn’t stop to see what else!
Old Mill Square
An area with with a general store, pottery shop, candy, ice cream, and one of the oldest working grist mills in America. Like the Noah Ogle Homestead, this is on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, it’s on the Civil War Trail of Tennessee. There are steep steps down where you can go to the water, or walk along the bridge to see the mill and dam from up top.
Right beside The Old Mill square is a green space on the Little Pigeon River. Look for the geese and pigeons! We found a sign here about how Pigeon Forge got its name, and pigeons definitely had something to do with it. Bring your quarters to buy feed for the birds and fish, but beware the geese will peck at you! My brother had the pigeons eating out of his hands.
The Apple Barn
This is a area with all things apple! Loved walking around here. We got slushy apple cider (only sold hot during fall and winter), and a fried apple turnover, both so yummy! There are multiple shops to walk in and 2 restaurants.
Smoky Mountain Knife Works
This is the largest knife display store located in Sevierville, TN. This was on my brother’s list of things to do…we spent more than 2 hours here. There’s more than knives. Displays with a waterfall are set up and multiple levels to explore. Easy to get lost in there. We are fans of Lord of the Rings, so seeing the display pictured above was a plus for us!
We returned to Gatlinburg for the evening and had more time to walk the main road, buy fudge, and play indoor mini golf at Treasure Quest. Being in the summer, this was a nice break in the AC! This was so much fun because it was something the entire family could participate in, even Isabel thought she was playing!
Traveling with an Infant
Car Rides: Traveling with a 9-month old was different than our last road trip to Myrtle Beach when she was only about 3 months, and even more different only 5 weeks old going to Washington DC. Keeping her entertained in the car seat this time was a challenge. Especially when she wants to practice her skills of pulling up and crawling, being restrained was not fun. Even rotating a million toys and lots of snacks still made it difficult for the long ride.
Naps: Another difficult part was nap times. Before she could fall asleep anywhere if she was sleepy, now it requires planning an environment for her to be able to nap because she is too distracted taking in all the sights. She will just stay awake no matter her tiredness. What semi-worked for us was when she was able to fall asleep on the car ride or being pushed in the stroller reclined back until she would pass out. She has never been a long napper either, with one nap usually only lasting 30-40 minutes. She still did not get enough sleep during the day than she should have but we made it work and made sure she was asleep on time for bedtime.
Carrier: We find Isabel is 10 times happier to be harnessed in the carrier facing out than being in the stroller. She gets heavy but we can alternate. I think she likes being eye level with everything we are seeing, she feels like she’s being “held” and comforted whereas in the stroller our child wants to break free from the straps and will let you know it! Probably in the future we will have more success with her being happier in the stroller as she continues to grow. For now we are happy to use the carrier.
Next time we would like to visit Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome when we can venture out farther from the town centers.
With only 3 days, we didn’t touch a fourth of what there was to do, but planning ahead and choosing what’s most important on your list helps! These towns were like Myrtle Beach picked up and moved to the middle of the mountains in my opinion. Many companies and activities were the same, such as the Ripley’s Museums, Wonderworks, Hollywood Wax Museum, and dinner theater shows such as Pirates Voyage. I hadn’t been to Tennessee since I was a young kid, so revisiting was a lot of fun and almost like it was my first time too.
Do you have any tips on these locations in the mountains? Any favorite activities that can’t be missed?