Alright, maybe I’m not exactly an expert on the Smokies, but I’ve vacationed there with family a few times now and made some grave mistakes. I’m writing this out today so you can learn from them (and also avoid going to bed hungry in a weird cabin in the middle of the woods). Here are a few tidbits to help your Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge trips go smoothly.
1. Don’t rely on eating out
If you’re renting a cabin in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, you’ll need groceries. It can be a long drive up windy roads to get to cabins from town so you’ll want breakfast and coffee available in the morning, at least. And, if you’re a drinker, you won’t want to be driving home after dinner. I’ll also say that these destinations are home to a number of chain restaurants and deep-fried Southern food type of dining options. If this isn’t your thing, plan on grilling out on the deck of your cabin and enjoying the view. Finally, during popular times of the year like Fall Break, the restaurants can be unbearably crowded. So, if your goal is a relaxing getaway, cooking at home is your best bet.
2. Get groceries in Knoxville or bring your own
Just like the restaurants are full, the Publix in Pigeon Forge and other grocery options are very crowded making for long lines and often picked over shelves. If you’re heading from Nashville to Gatlinburg, make a stop in Knoxville, about an hour out, to pick up your groceries from Whole Foods or your preferred grocer to avoid the stress of Pigeon Forge on your arrival.
3. Check the layout of your cabin
On our first trip to Pigeon Forge our cabin featured many amenities (think indoor pool), but the awkward layout of the building really put a damper on our vacation. For example, the only place to sit on the main floor of the cabin was at an uncomfortable dining table. The couch/living area was upstairs by the bedrooms. This meant there was very little ‘hang’ time among families (a positive or negative depending on your vacation buddies!).
4. Bears are for real
We had bear encounters both years staying in the Smokies. The first bear encounter happened while grilling on the parking pad in front of our cabin. A black bear ambled by our cabin within 10 feet of where we were standing. It didn’t really feel dangerous, but needless to say, we moved the mini grill out to the deck after that. On our second Smokies vacation, a bear entered our closed vehicle and removed the pumpkins we’d gotten that day from a pumpkin patch. We awoke to open car doors, a bit of mud on the car seats, and half-eaten pumpkins strewn about the street. Crazy! So, remove all food items from in your car and around your cabin. Don’t forget to lock doors - these bears know no limits!
5. Dollywood is best for older kids
If you like theme parks, Dollywood is a good option. It is far cleaner than most theme parks and provides unexpected entertainment in rural Tennessee. My experience with Dollywood is that you’ll get more out of it if you have older kids. Most of the rides seem to be in the 48 inches or taller category. With young children it wasn’t a bad place to kill some time walking around, but we didn’t get as much bang for our buck.