Top Things to Do for Families in Pigeon Forge, TN
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is a great destination for families and amazingly is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population east of the Mississippi.
There’s absolutely no way to be bored as there are tons of attractions mixed with the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Here are our favorite things to do in Pigeon Forge, TN:
Top 10 Things to Do in Pigeon Forge, TN
1. Visit the Island, Pigeon Forge
One of the highlights of the Pigeon Forge is the fantastic entertainment district, The Island. Centrally located in Pigeon Forge, The Island is literally an island, as a small river runs around all the way around it.
At The Island you’ll find all sorts of fun things to do, dining, unique shops, the Margaritaville Island Hotel (this is where we stayed — super fun and very nice), live music, the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel (Ferris wheel) and a dancing fountain coordinated to music and created by the same folks who did the fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Many of my favorite things to do at The Island, Pigeon Forge, are listed below but others include The Escape Game where we had an absolute blast. Imagine three generations working together to solve puzzles to get out of the room. It was a hoot!
There is also fantastic shopping with most of the stores unique to The Island. They include a magic shop that my son loved, a 2000-square-foot candy store, Pepper Palace with 3400 hot sauces, and Emery’s Five & Dime (the oldest five and dime store in the south) whose 70-year-old owner still comes in every day.
You’ll want to be sure to grab some one-of-a-kind fries at Poyner’s where you can choose from 60 different dipping sauces and see how you do on the ropes course with a free fall jump at the end. There is a large family-friendly and very clean arcade, mirror maze (that, too, was a laugh and a half!), bumper cars and more.
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2. Eat at Paula Deen’s Family Restaurant
Hands-down one of the best Pigeon Forge restaurants, or the best restaurant ANYWHERE, is Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen! Set within The Island and Deen’s first restaurant outside of Savannah, home cooking is the theme here and the menu is served “family style,” featuring many of her famous recipes.
Come to this restaurant hungry, as the food is mouth-wateringly delicious and there is an ABUNDANCE of it. The garlic cheddar biscuits are some of the best I’ve ever had (I could have eaten them for days) and I highly recommend the roast beef and the super yummy Ooey Gooey Butter Cake dessert.
3. Ride the Ferris Wheel
For a great view of the entire area from Sevierville (north of Pigeon Forge) to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains (south of Pigeon Forge), take a spin on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel at The Island. I am not a fan of heights, or Ferris wheels, but I had no problem on this one with enclosed gondolas.
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4. Sample Moonshine
While I had heard about the resurgence of moonshine as a popular alcoholic drink, I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it! At Ole Smoky Moonshine, also at The Island, you can “taste” moonshine, much like a wine tasting! They line up 12 “shots” of the different flavors of moonshine that you can sample or “skip” (I’d advise skipping a few, as who can drink 12 shots of moonshine and still be standing?! ;-)).
Did you know there is coffee-flavored moonshine, as well as butterscotch, salted caramel, blueberry and apple pie (anyone remember Mags’ famous “apple pie moonshine” on the show “Justified”?). My favorite was blueberry, and I’ve got a mason jar full in my cabinet that we’ll have to polish off over time. They suggest mixing it with lemonade – sounds delicious!
5. Alcatraz East Crime Museum
Don’t miss the Alcatraz East Crime Museum at The Island (can you tell there’s a lot to do at The Island?!), which has some absolutely jaw-dropping artifacts related to crimes like the white Ford Bronco in which OJ rode in the back during the famous televised car chase, drawings from many famous criminals, along with letters from Bernie Madoff and John Wayne Gacy’s clown costumes.
There’s also the opportunity to try the workout required of police officers, as well as a chance to have your photo taken in a line-up and sit in the witness chair.
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6. Hike the Smoky Mountains
You can’t visit Pigeon Forge without heading into the Smoky Mountains for some outdoor time. The area was damaged by wildfires in fall 2016, but it has not affected tourism in the least. Come visit these folks to help the area to economically recover. You may notice some scorched trees along the way but it is limited.
You’ll see in the photo above no inkling of any fire and a fantastic mountain view. There are many hikes you can choose, many of which end in waterfalls. Visit in the spring to see the wildflowers or fall for the brightly-colored fall foliage.
Mom Explores the Smokies offers some of her favorite hikes for families in the Smoky Mountains.
7. Watch Dixie Stampede
This is an absolute must-do when visiting Pigeon Forge, Tennessee! This Dolly Parton-produced show has been around for 30 years and has continued to evolve over time with new additions.
Sit down in the arena and enjoy a country-style dinner (no silverware provided, so get ready to use your hands!) while watching trick cowboys and cowgirls, longhorns, more than 30 horses (including Quarter horses) and even buffalo right in front of you!
The newest addition to the show is a $2 million LED screen that creates the backdrop for the show. Several of the songs are written by Parton herself, and don’t miss the Christmas edition, which is entirely different and a reason to come back and visit at a different time of year.
Before heading into the show, you can visit the horses in their stables (great activity for kids) or even arrive at 8 a.m. in the morning daily when they literally roll out the red carpet for the animals to head into the dressing rooms for the show. Afterward, this is one gift shop that is worth walking through. Similar to Build a Bear, kids can create their own stick horse from a variety of components.
8. Go to Dollywood
A big reason many people visit Pigeon Forge is to go to Dollywood, which is the most-ticketed attraction in Tennessee with more than 2 million visitors every year. Open since 1986, the 150-acre park features top-quality shows, more than 40 rides and attractions, including Barnstormer, a giant pendulum swing; Lightning Rod, the world’s first wood launch coaster and the fastest wooden coaster in the world; and Mystery Mine, a steel coaster.
There are also unique attractions like a replica of Dolly Parton’s two-room Tennessee mountain home where she grew up and her former motor home that took her around the country for performances.
During the warmer months, head to Dollywood’s Splash Country, a 35-acre waterpark with water coasters, mat-style racer slides and an 8000-square-foot leisure pool.
Stay on property at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort with indoor and outdoor pools, views of the mountains and free transportation to and from the theme park.
For a more rustic stay, rent one of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins that range in size from a comfy cabin for two to one that can sleep up to 30! Many include kitchens, gas fireplaces, game rooms, outdoor hot tubs, indoor whirlpool spas and more. When renting a cabin, you can purchase a Length of Stay pass with unlimited admission to Dollywood for the extent of the guest’s stay, as well as receive free parking.
9. See the Titanic Museum
While the outside of this museum might strike you as a bit cheesy on first glance, don’t let this stop you from going in! This is truly a fascinating look at all things Titanic. As you are admitted to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, you are handed a ticket with the name of someone who was on the Titanic. You don’t find out until the end if your person lived or died. Pretty impactful.
This museum has some amazing artifacts recovered from the ship like luggage cases, deck chairs, china, original tickets and more. There is also the only photography taken of the ship by a Catholic priest who departed the ship before it headed for America.
You can experience the angle of the ship as it sank, the frigid water temperatures, get inside a replica lifeboat and learn intimate details about its many passengers. Definitely worth a stop!
10. Get Interactive at WonderWorks
WonderWorks Pigeon Forge is a great place to entertain — and wear out — the kids, but even the adults in your group will get a kick out of this interactive science museum. Experience zero gravity, see what it’s like to stand inside a hurricane, lay on a bed of nails and use your mind to move a ball to the end of a field faster than the person you’re playing against! There is also a glow-in-the-dark ropes course, laser tag and a 4D simulator. Loads of fun!
Pigeon Forge Weather
We happened to visit during a very mild February weekend where temperatures got close to 70. While that is not the average in February (more like highs in the low 50s), the area does start to warm up in March with a high in the low 60s and then upper 60s by April.
The warmest months are July and August with highs in the upper 80s, while the coldest months are December through February with highs ranging between 45 and 51.
I highly recommend visits any time of year, as you can enjoy outdoor activities in spring and summer, the gorgeous fall foliage in autumn and the amazing Christmas decor in the colder months.
Note: Some of the above activities and accommodations were provided at no cost in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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