31 Tips for the Smoky Mountain Area

Ahhh … the first day of school. I just put my kids on the bus. This is the first year that’s “kids” instead of kid. My baby just went to kindergarten. Yes, I cried but only after they left. He was smiling.

So, I spent the whole morning “reminding” him of things. Do you know what I mean? Here was me, all morning long…

“Don’t forget to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom. And close the door (it’s the little things, right?). Ask for help if you can’t get your straw into your juice at lunch. Remember, I put your snack into the front pocket of your backpack. Don’t worry about getting lost — someone will help you as soon as you get off the bus. Raise your hand if you have a question. Say please and thank you. You’re bringing your lunch today. Remember that, they’ll ask you. Talk in a big loud voice if the teacher asks you a question. Don’t talk in the baby voice, even if you get nervous. Make lots of new friends today. Be really friendly. Everyone’s gonna love you.”

Poor kid was probably so overwhelmed. Anyway, it got me thinking. The Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville area (we at CabinConnection.com like to call that GPS) is special in so many ways. The beautiful location with mountains on all sides, the fun attractions and restaurants, and the … well, finickiness of it, too! Anyway, there are some definite do and do nots if you are new to the area. So I compiled a list of tips — my own and other’s, broken down by the area. Are you ready to be overwhelmed?


  1. If you are hoping to park free in Gatlinburg, your only option is River Road. Turn on River Road from the stoplight beside Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Spaces fill up early, but it’s worth a try.
  2. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is really worth the money. It almost looks too good to be true — I know that for years, I thought it had to be a tourist trap — but it’s really a great aquarium.
  3. “If you like miniature golf, you will love Davy Crockett Golf. It is located just as you enter Gatlinburg. It offers two separate 18-hole courses, each complete with mechanical characters and challenging holes.” — Virtual Tourist user
  4. Traffic is terrible in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. There are times we’ve sat for a half hour or more just trying to get through Gatlinburg. Ways to spend less time: opt to visit in off season times, avoid main roads or just plan extra time to get places. Also, the roads aren’t as busy early in the morning, so get out and going with the birds. :)
  5. “Leave the driving behind and enjoy the Gatlinburg Trolley, which offers six different routes depending on location and more than 100 stops, some with sheltered waiting areas. Trolley fare ranges from 25 cents to $2. Simply look for the street signs with a small trolley. Don’t miss the annual Gatlinburg Winter Magic Trolley of Lights.” — Escape to the Smokies
  6. “We have gotten suckered by these people. They are every few feet … asking how long you are going to be in town, etc. Offering free tickets, etc. Their 90-minute tour actually takes you 4 hours. You DO get the tickets, but you have to put a $20 deposit down until you get through with their tour. Don’t go unless you are short on funds or have a lot of time on your hands.” — Virtual Tourist user (Editor’s note — we’ve heard stories about people being promised tickets to a show, only to get seats that aren’t together or even at the same show! Be very cautious using the time share people to get free stuff!)
  7. “Whether you are looking for a unique gift to take back home or just want to stand back and watch the unique work of the many artisans, then the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community is a great place to spend some of your free time. Just the drive of this 8 mile loop is a delight all in itself. Get the opportunity to meet these artisans and crafters who, inspired by the beauty of the Smokies, made their homes here. Watch them whittle, paint, sew, cast, weave and carve to create original collectibles.” — PigeonForge.com user
  8. “We enjoyed the steak at Calhoun’s. Their restaurant in Gatlinburg, next to the Convention Center, has a pleasant atmosphere and free parking for customers. We’ll go back. Even though they have a few restaurants in the area, it’s not a big chain and it shows. We like that.” — Tug BBS user

Pigeon Forge

  1. “The Pigeon Forge Trolley, which offers more than 100 stops, runs daily at 20-minute intervals from 8:30 a.m. to midnight (April through October) and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (November and December). Trolley fare is 25 cents.” — Escape to the Smokies
  2. On a related note, ride the trolley to Dollywood because “parking is $6 for a standard-sized vehicle and $9 for RV’s or anything larger. A trolley ride is .50 per person and it will take you right to the entrance of Dollywood. So yeah, you would have to have 24 people riding the trolley to equal the cost of parking! You can park at Patriot Park for free and then hop on a Dollywood trolley that runs every 15 minutes.” — Inside Pigeon Forge
  3. “This was our second time going to the Applewood Farmhouse and this time we brought more friends. Everyone was surprised at the amount and quality of the food. It’s one of the hidden gems of Pigeon Forge. The chicken and dumplings are amazing. If you love Cracker Barrel, this is your garden of Eden!” — Trip Advisor user
  4. If you want to try out Adventure Mountain while at Dollywood, head straight back there first thing. This attraction can be a ton of fun, but if you spend the whole time waiting, waiting, waiting, it’s going to hinder the experience.
  5. “You are not allowed to bring snacks or liquids into the park, but Dollywood does provide free cups of water in their restaurants and plenty of water fountains. If anything, this keeps you from carrying bottles around all day. Keep this in mind as water is a good thing if you’re in the heat.” — Inside Pigeon Forge
  6. “What’s in the pancake batter that causes Pigeon Forge visitors to return again and again? Pigeon Forge is loaded with REAL pancake house dining. Visitors enjoy exquisite pancakes with fruit compotes, nuts or chocolate chips. Mouth-watering country ham, biscuits, gravy and a variety of waffles and omelets.” — PigeonForge.com user
  7. “Wednesdays and Thursdays are typically the least busy days (at Dollywood). Saturdays are nuts and should be avoided…unless you like waiting in lines.” — Inside Pigeon Forge
  8. “If you decide to eat at the Dixie Stampede and have a small child, just let them sit in your lap.  That way you save the ticket price for the child.  Even if you decide not to go to the Dixie Stampede, you can stop and pet the horses! There are several dollar off coupons available in the coupon books.” — Real Life Deals
  9. “My family has made several trips to the Pigeon Forge area over the years and The Inn at Christmas Place is by far the best place we have ever stayed! The hotel is beautiful upon entry, the staff was helpful and gracious, and the room was very roomy and extremely clean! A wonderful hot breakfast is included (much better than cold cereal and donuts you find at most places). There are even free cookies in the lobby every night!” — Trip Advisor user


  1. “Upon arrival (at the Tanger Outlets), check in at the Tanger Customer Service Center or center office. Inquire about the availability of discount coupons, updated store information, current sales and promotions in progress. Make sure to pick up a center brochure which provides a map of the store locations if you didn’t get one in advance.” — Tanger Outlet page
  2. “While recently in Pigeon Forge the kids wanted to ride some rides. We didn’t want to spend the money it would have taken for all of us to get into Dollywood, so we looked into Nascar Park. We purchased three 26.99 all day wrist bands for the kids (48 inches and under). You can get them 3.00 cheaper online. They were able to ride the go-karts and the rides as many times as they wanted all day. There is also a small putt-putt golf course that is included. My husband and I didn’t have to purchase wrist bands as the only time we had to ride was to accompany the kids on something they couldn’t ride alone. They even allow you to drive the kids on the go-carts. They sell food and snacks inside where there are plenty of tables to sit. There is also a playground, arcade and a climbing wall inside.” — Trip Advisor user

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

  1. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free to enter, so plan to spend part of several days there. Maybe a picnic one day and hikes on a few others.
  2. “At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s highest point. It is the highest point in Tennessee and the second-highest point east of the Mississippi. The observation tower at the top of Clingman’s Dome offers spectacular 260 degree views of the Smokies.” — Virtual Tourist user
  3. Laurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park for several reasons — it’s close to the Gatlinburg entrance, it’s paved, you get to see a beautiful waterfall at the end and it’s not too difficult. But for all of these reasons, it’s also very CROWDED! Instead, why not try Baskins Creek Falls. It’s out-of-the-way, but an AMAZING trail. But beware — it’s tougher than Laurel Falls. And the hard is all on the trip back!
  4. Expect the unexpected when it comes to weather conditions in the Great Smoky Mountains. Traverse the lower countryside in warm weather or hike through cooler temperatures at higher elevations, all in the same day. The temperature can drop 10 to 20 degrees the higher you go in the mountains. Be sure to dress accordingly, with layers in order to remain comfortable regardless of changing temperatures. Don’t forget that it gets dark early in the mountains, so plan your hike accordingly.” — Escape to the Smokies
  5. Be careful driving down mountains in the Smokies. If you car is manual even is automatic with optional gears, use low gears. It’s easy to burn up your brakes driving in the mountains.
  6. “Summer is a wonderful time of year to hike to Gregory Bald in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is my favorite hike in the Smokies, particularly in mid-June to early-July when the flame azaleas are in bloom. … Though quite a strenuous hike, it is well worth your effort to view the most spectacular mountain splendor in the world.” — PigeonForge.com user
  7. “If you are driving by car through the Great Smoky Mountains, be careful of tight curves, steep inclines and narrow drop-offs. They can be treacherous, especially if you are not accustomed to driving on mountains roads … Drive slowly. Take curves slowly to avoid skidding. Avoid driving during bad weather.” — Escape to the Smokies
  8. “There is nothing like a great camping trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! There are 10 campgrounds within the park that are considered “frontcountry camping” which have restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets.  There are also 7 area for group camping within the park  which require reservations.” — PigeonForge.com user


  1. “Call around and get prices on ticket packages for various attractions in the area. Also, remember that many cabin rental companies or hotels have package deals including lodging and attractions.” — Cabins For You
  2. Smoking in public places is illegal in Tennessee, except in bars, private clubs, tobacco stores and “smoking” hotel rooms.
  3. “If you are flying, you will most likely need a rental car. There are plenty of places to rent a car in Knoxville (also the closest to the airport).” — Cabins For You (Editor’s note — you can also rent a car in Sevierville at Enterprise. And you can rent Jeeps in Gatlinburg. But you won’t find many car rental spots in these towns.)
  4. “If you are staying in a cabin make sure to find out what they will provide for you. Most of them come fully equipped with linen, toiletries and kitchen ware, but some do not offer charcoal or firewood. Find out what you may or may not need for your Gatlinburg vacation.” — Cabins For You
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