Last week my husband and I put the dog in the kennel and headed east for a quick 3-day get-a-way to Gatlinburg, TN. I’ve never spent much time in the area, except to drive through Knoxville on my way to somewhere else. I always laughed at the signs for Pigeon Forge but after watching an episode of ‘Family Guy’ where Peter takes the family to Dollywood we decided if it was good enough for the Griffin’s it was good enough for us…
It’s about 4 hours from where we live to Gatlinburg (with a time change thrown in). Since we weren’t in a rush to get anywhere fast we decided to detour through Knoxville so we could grab lunch at the Soccer Taco Bearden location. If you’re in the area stop in for a meal – it’s a great restaurant that never disappoints with, as the name implies, lots of soccer and lots of tasty food, including tacos.
After our meal we took US441 into Sevierville, followed by a GPS-recommended bypass route which shaved 30 minutes off our travels and deposited us at an entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Little Pigeon River and eventually, onto Gatlinburg’s main drag, The Parkway.
I do not know what I had imagined Gatlinburg to be but what I got was some weird combination of the Wildwood boardwalk and Venice Beach in season and without the ocean. There was so much traffic and so many people packed into one stretch filled with t-shirts, carny-like attractions, pancake restaurants (the ‘official’ food of Gatlinburg) and moonshine (obviously the ‘official’ drink) we were truly overwhelmed.
After checking into River’s Edge Inn we set off to play tourist. There are certainly a lot of tacky attractions and stores to spend time exploring but the things we really dug most were the Shops at the Village (where we purchased a great print to add to our art collection), exploring the White Oak Flats Cemetery, and seeing the town from high up at Skylift Park Gatlinburg.
One of the main things we wanted to do during our stay was visit Dollywood, so after the obligatory pancake breakfast at Flapjacks Pancake Cabin we took the local trolley to the park. We’re not amusement park devotees, especially since I get sick on rides, but man, oh man, Dollywood is da’ bomb! The park is entering its 40thyear but you would never know it. Everything was clean, well-maintained, with just the right amount of hokey. Ride lines moved quick, staff were helpful and pleasant, and we never felt barraged by endless shops selling useless things to buy. We easily spent 5 hours walking around, checking out exhibits, watching live performances, and marveling again and again at how one woman with a voice and a vision could bring prosperity to an entire region of America.
We could have stayed to see the fireworks but instead we caught a trolley and headed back to Gatlinburg for a much needed swim (and some afternoon cocktails), followed by dinner at Best Italian-Elks Plaza (delicious and highly recommended) and gaming at the Pinball Museum of Gatlinburg. If you follow me you know I have a thing for pinball. This museum did not disappoint, with almost 100 games from the 60’s on, all in perfect working order! We got to the museum late so we were offered ½ price admission (thanks guys!) and had the entire place to ourselves.
We left town on Monday and decided to drive through Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. I’ll save that story for another day, but suffice it to say that we intend on going back to explore a stretch of 441 we nicknamed “Smoky Mountain Vegas’ for the outrageous and endless stretch of themed putt-putt courses, dinner theaters, and outlet malls designed to grab your attention (and your pocketbook).
If you visit we’d advise booking a cabin to get the best of both worlds (mother-nature and tourism) and avoid the Gatlinburg trolley system if possible. It sucks to drive and you will certainly be stuck in some traffic but it beats the hours long wait we encountered the few times we tried to use the system.