Like a Local
Quirky, under-the-radar highlights only a local could recommend.
Synchronous Fireflies in Elkmont
This incredible natural phenomenon occurs each summer just minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. Typically between late May and mid-June, tens of thousands lighting bugs gather in swarms around the Elkmont campground and, after dark, begin to light up – in perfect synchronized harmony. As the largest population of synchronous fireflies in the Western Hemisphere, they are the only species in America that can synchronize their flashing light patterns. Tickets to the viewing sell out fast, so stay in the loop here.
Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community
Just three miles away from downtown Gatlinburg tucked in the hills of the Smoky Mountains resides North America’s largest organization of independent artisans. More than 120 artists and craftspeople live here along what’s known as the eight-mile Arts & Crafts Loop, where you can see everything from elaborate quilts and old-fashioned straw brooms to Victorian ceramic pitchers and dulcimers being made by hand using age-old techniques.
Song & Hearth
Breakfast is at its best at this sit-down eatery, specializing in Southern food with a fine-dining flair, within Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa™. Think custom-made omelets, a big assortment of fresh-made breakfast pastries, a carving station, breads, grits, potatoes – the list goes on. Definitely try the cinnamon roll pancakes – it’s a work of edible art.
Apple Barn Cider Mill General Store
Based on an orchard of 4,000 trees and in a real barn that was built in 1910, this three-story store offers everything apple – apple cider, apple pies, apple doughnuts, apple dumplings, apple butter, apple art, and more. Still, be sure to check out their other homemade goodies: maple-glazed ham, ice cream, even wine. We promise it’s just as good.
Wild Plum & Tea Room
Like something out of Little House on the Prairie, this sweet old-world-style tea room is tucked in a cabin in the wood next to a mountain stream outside of downtown Gatlinburg. Open seasonally just for lunch, the establishment is famous for its wild plum tea (poured hot or cold) served in dainty porcelain teacups on lace-adorned café tables. The menu changes regularly, but a few signatures include the lobster pie and salmon burger.
How to spend 36 hours in Pigeon Forge, with Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and SpaTM as your base camp.
6 p.m. | Get Your Game On
What better way to kick off your vacation than with a little friendly family competition? After checking in, head to the resort’s on-site family game room to kill some time before your dinner reservation. It’s chock-full of classics like arcade basketball, air hockey, foosball, and the latest gaming consoles.
7:40 p.m. | Dolly Parton’s Stampede
While the main act of Dolly Parton’s Stampede dinner theater doesn’t start until 8:30, arrive early to see all the pre-dinner entertainment of comedy and musical acts by the bluegrass band, Mountain Rukus. The heart of the experience, however, is the four-course feast headlined by rotisserie chicken and barbecue pork loin that is enjoyed while watching 32 magnificent horses perform stunts to music.
8:30 a.m. | Pancakes Please
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Ford have no shortage of great pancake houses, so it takes a special place to stand out. The one that does so? Gatlinburg’s Log Cabin Pancake House, an authentic log-style restaurant that serves an array of specialty cakes. We suggest the Caribbean Pancakes stuffed with sliced bananas, pan fried, and topped with more bananas, nuts, coconut, and powdered sugar.
10 a.m. | Ripley’s Aquarium
Just a little over a mile away, you’ll find one of the top-rated aquariums in the country: Ripley’s Aquarium, featuring one-and-a-half-million gallons of water and 100,000 exotic sea creatures. However, the main attraction comes in the 340-foot underwater glass-enclosed tunnel, where a moving glide-path (similar to those movable pathways in airports) whisks you past snappers, tarpons, sea turtles, stingrays, and very large sharks.
12 p.m. | Lunch and Luging
Head to Ober Gatlinburg, a four-season ski mountain that opened more than 50 years ago and still retains its 1970s vintage charm. But before hitting the alpine slide or the scenic life or seeing the wildlife encounter show, take the aerial tramway to grab lunch at Seasons of Ober, overlooking the mountain and serving German specialties.
5 p.m. | The Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge
Upon entering this two-story museum shaped like the RMS Titanic, you are given your “boarding pass” (read: admission ticket) and device that you wear around your neck that acts as your tour guide. While perusing 400 fascinating pre-discovery artifacts in its 20 gallery displays, guests are made to feel as they are one of the original passengers during the ship’s 1912 maiden – and only – voyage.
8 p.m. | Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Adventure
A Dollywood dinner theater experience, Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventure tells the tale of Dolly Parton’s own family history and how pride once divided two great families – the Partons and Owens. Told by resident storyteller, Applejack, the show is filled with music, laughter, edge-of-your-seat special effects, thrilling specialty acts, competitions, and romance. Dinner comes in the form Avie Lee’s Sunday Dinner, featuring dishes made famous by Dolly’s family, including Grandma’s creamy vegetable soup, Dorothy Jo’s homemade biscuits, and Aunt Marth’s southern peach pie.
9 a.m. | Breakfast like a Frontiersman
There is perhaps no heartier breakfast than the breakfast you’ll get at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, serving favorites like pecan-smoked bacon, corned beef hash, country ham, moonshine sausage, and giant omelets made with no less than three farm fresh eggs. The building is marked by two giant skillets on the front and in the interior atmosphere features period decor, like potbelly stoves, barrels, covered wagons, and blacksmith tools.
10:30 a.m. | Sunday Drive
You can’t leave this area without witnessing the beauty of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. One of the best ways to sightsee at a leisurely pace is to take the 11-mile one-way loop road that circles an area known as Cades Cove, a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and offering some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing. Pullouts along the route, as well as area trails, let you stop and take in the scenery.
The best food artisans, farms, and local markets.
Located across the street from the Dolly Parton statue in Sevierville, this shop makes doughnuts while you watch and come with your choice of 30 toppings that include everything from Fruity Pebbles to warm cherries to golden grahams. Can’t decide? Pick the crowd favorite, The Bumble Bee, a glazed donut topped with caramel, chocolate, and honey.
The Old Mill Square
Turn onto Old Mill Ave off of Route 441 and head straight – back 200 years to this plaza, home to a working nineteenth-century watermill, where cornmeal, grits, flours, and other grains are made, then packaged to be sold in the on-site general store.
Artisan Cheese & More
Located in a hidden nook in the downtown Gatlinburg strip, this new gourmet store sells nuts, honey, jams, jellies, mustards, and, of course, local and international cheeses. The owner lets you sample until you find the right cheese for you, but might we suggest the beer cheddar made by a three-generation family of Wisconsin cheesemakers.
Smoky Mountain Farms Jelly House
There are many places in Gatlinburg that sell jellies, but perhaps there’s no more lauded local store than this unassuming small shop off of 321 (about 20 minutes south of Pigeon Forge). Hundreds of jams and jellies are made right there in the store with most of them available for sampling before you purchase.
When simply “seeing” a destination just won’t do.
Hiking the Best of the Smokies | Smoky Mountain National Park
More than 850 miles of hiking trails traverse the Great Smoky Mountains that range from easy to difficult and provide half-hour walks to week-long backpacking trips. One of the best to check out: Alum Cave, featuring an 80-foot-high cave-like concaved bluff and views of the famous Eye of the Needle, an unusual hole in the rock near the top of Little Duck Hawk Ridge.
Free Fall over Timber Canyon | Dollywood
Located in a section of the park known as “Timber Canyon” for its lush woody landscape, Drop Line is Dollywood’s newest amusement ride. Here, you’ll be secured into a seat on a tower, lifted nearly 20 stories above the Timber Canyon’s pool, then released to free-fall to the ground in a thrilling rush.
Whitewater Rafting The Pigeon| Nantahala Outdoor Center
This two-and-a-half-hour tour rushes five miles down the upper part of the Pigeon River over nearly continuous class II to IV rapids, like Lost Guide and Accelerator, while granting you great views into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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