We made good time getting to Pigeon Forge from Indiana last week. When we called family members to find out where to meet them, we weren’t surprised by the answer — “Head to the Park; we’ll find a stream to play in!”
My mother- and father-in-law have spent SO much time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the years. There’s so much I still have to learn. One thing I learned this time was how great the Chimneys Picnic Area is. Here’s a video of it.
To find the Chimneys Picnic Area, take US-441 through Gatlinburg into the park past the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Continue on 441 about five miles until you reach the entrance to the Chimneys Picnic Area on the right. The picnic area is before the trailhead to the Chimney Tops trail. It is situated right along the west prong of the Little Pigeon River.
The Chimneys Picnic Area is open year-round and closes at 8 p.m. or sunset, whichever comes first. Pets are allowed, but must be kept on a lease. There are real restrooms (with running water, etc) available. Yippee!! According to www.mysmokymtnvacations.com, the Chimneys Picnic Area used to be a campground and is now known locally as a great place to spot black bears at dusk. (Read about wildlife safety.)
The Chimneys Picnic Area was really busy when we were there. It has 89 sites, and I think every one of them was packed when we got there. It was spring break week, after all. We circled a few times and I was getting discouraged. But then we miraculously found 3 parking spots. The kids were dying to get out of the car. We piled out.
The great thing about the Chimneys Picnic Area is that it isn’t like a traditional picnic area at all. If you think about it, you can tell that they used to be little camp sites instead of picnic spots. There’s no parking lot — just lots of little pull-offs with picnic tables and/or grills. The tables are all far enough apart to feel somewhat secluded. There are rocks to climb on everywhere you look. And then, there’s wonderful access to a rushing mountain stream.
Beware — with little ones, this could be somewhat dangerous. The water’s fast moving. But our older kids LOVED to jump and hop and climb. My daughter reminds me of a mountain goat in situations like this — leaping from rock to rock with abandon. For some reason, I never worry that she’ll fall. She’s so sure-footed — I tell her she has the Lightfoot climbing gene. My father is known for climbing trees, roofs, whatever there is to climb. But anyway…
You’ll need to have adults that can stick close to the kids, if they are under 10 or so. We had a near-bad-situation with my 3-year-old nephew, who slipped while trying to hop from rock to slippery rock. He banged his head and got a bath. Luckily, an adult was on-hand to fish him out. All this to say, by all means, let your kids explore the stream. But by all means, stay close by at all times. Like an arms-length away.
We enjoyed the stream for a few hours. Most of us found a spot to dunk our heads in the water (it’s a crazy family tradition). When we’d had our fill, we headed back to Pigeon Forge to our cabin.
I’m so glad we stopped here. And I’ll definitely be back, with charcoal and hot dogs and lawn chairs and we’ll make an afternoon of it.
One last tip! It was crazy when we got to the Chimneys Picnic Area, but by the time we left (around 3 p.m.), it was already really clearing out. My advice would be to come about that time and cook out dinner and try to spot a bear! Enjoy this Great Smoky Mountains National Park gem!