I know, Tennessee, it doesn’t even sound like a vacation destination, but millions flock there every year. A city of roughly 5000 citizens in Pigeon Forge sees over 10 million visitors a year. But why? It’s a dry county even! What brings them in droves is the Appalachian Mountains. Pigeon Forge is settled in a valley at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Whether you go for the leaves changing color in the fall, or to check the out the snow covered branches in the winter, the area is very beautiful. As long as you stay in the mountains. The boom town that is Pigeon Forge has slowly over the years turned into a dryer version of Myrtle Beach, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if peace and quiet is what you want you need to stay in your cabin. Otherwise you can take advantage of Dollywood’s theme and water parks, play some amazing golf at the local mega resorts and eat some great food if as long as you stay away from the chains.
If you’re the outdoors type there is plenty to do rather than just see. You can hike or even drive now to Clingmans Dome, the second highest peak east of the Mississippi. You can watch the llamas carry supplies to the resort on Mount LeConte. If you want to stay you need to book a cabin up there a year in advance and be prepared to hike the 6 to 8 miles up and back, or book out a bunk in the lean-to shelter which is free. There is plenty of wildlife to see, including all the odd tourists that the area draws. Nightly log cabin rentals are fairly inexpensive and a much better option than the motels on the strip.
A few miles north is Gatlinburg, a small mountain town mainly consisting of the main road with hotels, restaurants and shops. There’s even a ski resort, a mostly locals only ski hill, but you’ll catch a few people in their camouflage pants trying out a new skill. Gatlinburg is great if you know where to go, stay and eat, but otherwise it’s a giant tourist trap. Stay local and ask the locals for advice on the best food, and make sure to hit up the Pancake Pantry early for some of the best sweet potato pancakes you will ever eat. If you need a break from the airbrushed t-shirts and carnival attractions, check out the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. Two words, free samples!
I could go on about the area more specifically but there is too much to go into for a single post. Check it out for yourself! If you’re headed to the area or want to go, check out some of the links here, or hit me up in the comments for advice. I’ll be spending some time in the woods up there in few weeks on a mini vacation, come have a beer with the DisasterJuice crew!