Pigeon Forge - Tennessee
When we imagined being at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we didn't think we'd see Ripley's Believe It or Not, the Hollywood Wax Museum, King Kong climbing a building, or Nascar Go-Kart Races. It turns out that the northern gateway to the Smoky Mountains, via Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, is quite a tourist trap. Even though it wasn't completely what we expected, we tried to separate our time spent exploring the Smokies and our time in town doing a few touristy things so we could fully appreciate the experiences. We took the kids to ride go-karts for the first time, which was a blast. Harper loved riding the giraffe on the merry-go-round.
We did visit a historic mill, located right in the middle of busy Pigeon Forge. Built in 1830, the mill still operates today and has a restaurant and gift shop. It was really amazing to see the old mill wheel and peek under at all of the inner-workings.
Even though Pigeon Forge is very busy, we really loved our campground. Located right in the middle of town, it was comfortably set back away from the road and along a big creek so it felt more country. It was a great place to ride bikes and fish! There was even a little ice cream truck that would drive through playing a tune in the evenings. We actually had a somewhat difficult time finding a camp sight available close to the Smoky Mountains, as many people flock to the area this time of year to see the fall leaves. See our post about carp fishing at the campground HERE!
The Smoky Mountains National Park is ranked as the most popular national park in the U.S., and attracted 12.5 million visitors last year. Just for comparison, Yellowstone National Park ranks as number 6 in the U.S. and gets about 4 million visitors each year. There really are a lot of people here! We got some lucky advice to do most of our adventuring around town and in the mountains during the weekdays, because the weekends usually bring hours upon hours of stop-and-go traffic and impossible crowds.
That being said, the Smoky Mountains are still marvelous. Once you're in the mountains, you won't regret it!