When it comes to family-friendly attractions and entertainment, the neighboring East Tennessee towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have plenty of options available for active families. With Great Smoky Mountains National Park right next to the two towns, deciding which of these attractions are the best can be difficult, based on your personal tastes and interests, but we’ve come up with a list of five top-rated attractions in the area to help you plan your next vacation.
To get a truly scenic view of the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area without a lot of climbing, head to Ober Gatlinburg’s aerial tramway. Tramcars depart every 20 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg and take you right up the mountains to the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort, reducing the amount of mountain driving you need to do while providing you with amazing vistas to take in. In the winter, you can ski back down, but no matter what time of year you come, consider taking the chairlift even higher once you reach the top.
The Gatlinburg SkyLift provides you with an 1,800-foot chairlift ascent up the mountain, for a great overview of Gatlinburg and the Smokies all around. And the fun continues when you arrive, with special events including live music. Seasonal offerings include fall leaves, New Year’s fireworks and other sights from on high. This is also home to the country’s longest pedestrian SkyBridge, with glass panels underfoot to truly give you the feeling of floating on air in the middle of a beautiful landscape – and a trail and boardwalk to skirt around the canyon instead of walking across it, if you want to take a more grounded alternative. Enjoy the great outdoors on the SkyDeck or keep out of the elements while enjoying a meal and beverage, and the view of course, through the vast panoramic windows of the SkyCenter.
If you’re noticing a lift theme, you’ll note that Anakeesta fits right in. A themed village that’s just a chairlift ride away, the whimsical village allows you to explore a whole new area of the Smoky Mountains, on a mountaintop area that was never open to the public until Anakeesta. Tree houses connected with rope bridges and walkways allow your inner child to come out and play, and the Anavista Tower offers a truly exceptional view above it all. The gorgeous landscaping with numerous wonderful features, combined with music, dining and shopping, will keep everyone in your party entertained and happy.
Located just two short blocks off of Parkway in Pigeon Forge, The Island is an entertainment and shopping center featuring over 60 retailers and specialty shops, along with plenty of restaurants, food stands and entertainment options. The fountains regularly offer up a light and water show that makes it a great place to relax while visiting or unwind after a long day, while the spa offers a wider range of relaxation options. Centerpiece is the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200-ft tall observation wheel with climate-controlled gondolas with lots of glass for great views of Pigeon Forge and the mountains. Eateries include down-home cooking, German fare, specialty popcorn, chilled drinks or coffee with a little something extra. Various rides, old-time photos and numerous other entertainments abound, with many specialties to keep kids delighted (and worn out by day’s end).
What discussion of the area could be complete without talking about Dollywood? Acclaimed as one of the best amusement parks in the country, it also features a wide range of entertainment options, with seasonal shifts to include international acts, fireworks, country and bluegrass music, holiday lights and caroling and so much more. For the more adventurous, some of the park’s 30 popular rides await your adventure, all with a Smoky Mountain theme. Co-owned by Dolly Parton, Dollywood has always put on world-class shows of music, food, culture and entertainment. The park is beautifully designed, with a village feel and next door is its equally fabulous water park, Splash Country.