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Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge: More than a tourist trap?

Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge: More than a tourist trap?

Old Feb 13th, 2008, 02:59 PM
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Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge: More than a tourist trap?

We're looking for a different summer vacation idea for our family of three -- we typically rent a beach condo (have done Hilton Head, Wild Dunes, Kiawah) and love it, but thought we'd look for something different this year. I've read some postings and fabulous reviews about Oak Haven Resort in Tennesee. It does look lovely, but I'm wondering about activities nearby. One of the things we loved about our Carolina beach vacations was exploring Savannah and Charleston. The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area has always struck me as heavy on "tourist traps," but to be honest, I really don't know a lot about it.

Can any experienced Fodorites help enlighten me? My husband and I are fairly active 40-somethings and our daughter is 7. We like good local restaurants, museums (not the 'Ripley's Believe it or Not' variety), hiking and other outdoor activities, historic sites, etc. Outlet shopping is OK on a rainy day, fun local shops are great any day.

Is this a place you'd recommend for us? Any other ideas we should consider? Additional suggestions are welcome!

Thanks in advance!
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Old Feb 13th, 2008, 04:10 PM
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I wish that I could say otherwise, but most of the offerings in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area are extremely "touristy". You mention Ripley's museums, etc. and that is exactly the type of attractions that dominate the area, unfortunately. Go Cart tracks, putt putt golf, and fudge shops are everywhere you look.

That being said, it is a beautiful area, once you get away from the throngs of tourists and the downtown "strip". If you enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities, it can be a great base for exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We've done several hikes in the park and we've also biked the Cades Cove loop, which was one of the highlights of our summer two years ago, when we saw a mama bear and two cubs on the loop! The Cades Cove loop and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail both offer some historical sites to visit. As far as shopping, there are some nice craft shops, if you know where to look. I should also add that we didn't actually stay in Gatlinburg, but over in Townsend, TN, "the quiet side of the Smokies".
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Old Feb 13th, 2008, 04:42 PM
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How long of a trip are you planning? You might be better off staying in Asheville, N.C.
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Old Feb 13th, 2008, 08:15 PM
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My family and i also stayed in Townsend, TN on the "quiet" side last summer and had a blast. Cannot say enough about the magical bike ride around Cades Cove loop (only open to bikes two days a week, but you MUST go EARLY, like 7 a.m. if you need to rent bikes -- they sell out. AND you MUST wear closed toe shoes, as we discovered. But, it's wonderful nonetheless).

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in Great Smoky Mountain NP right outside of Townsed, some very cool craft stores and some great restaurants. Also, try tubing on the river, which we did not do, but wish we did. Have fun!

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Old Feb 14th, 2008, 06:24 AM
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I heartily agree with Betsy and KatySLC. There are lots of outdoor activities that you'll probably love (and TONS of outlet malls if you do have a rainy day). Cades Cove has a lot of history and is lovely (I'd bike the loop, if you think your 7-year-old will be up to it - you can rent bikes there or bring your own).

I think it just depends on how you want to balance your time. If you're content spending all of it outside the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge "strips" without getting sick of hiking or whatever, you'll probably be quite happy. But there's not much in those towns that sounds like it will entice you if you need other activities.

I think the suggestion of Townsend might be a good one for you, if you stick with this area. I'm not familiar with the Oak Haven Resort, but going by the location map, there will be a lot of traffic trying to get anywhere in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg via the main roads. The Townsend area is more likely to have the local shops, etc. that you'd like.
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Old Feb 14th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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Thanks, everyone, for all the great information. I do think we'd prefer to steer clear of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I'll definitely investigate Townsend a bit more -- that might be a good possibility.

Asheville is also a great suggestion, maj. We're looking at one week -- a Saturday through Saturday, probably in July or August. Is that a good one-week destination with a 7-year-old, or is it a better 4-day "grown-up" trip at another time? Do you think we could find a nice rental condo or house/cabin with a pool?

Thanks again to everyone. I appreciate the help!
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Old Feb 14th, 2008, 10:49 AM
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There are plenty of places as you describe (VRBO as well as other -- lots of cabins) in that area (talking about the North Carolina/Tennessee and also Georgia mountains). As well as plenty to do. I'd start another post asking that question.

We have gone both with our kids at that age and as adults only. I think if you don't take your daughter, you will be sorry. Although we also enjoy it as adults, our kids loved it and the whole area is generally a family oriented place.

Asheville is an actual city (which is why I suggested it since your interests appear to lie in more than just the outdoors). There are people who live down there who post often. There is so much in that area -- Biltmore Estate (which is more than just walking through the mansion -- the grounds are beautiful), Chimney Rock, Grandfather Mountain (and the surrounding area) and the Blue Ridge Parkway to name a couple. Lake Lure may be an option to stay.

We generally stay in Gatlinburg (because we only sleep and eat there -- we spend our time in the mountains). Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are very small towns that are totally tourist places, but worth seeing at least once IMO. We usually find 3 nights long enough (but we go fairly often and still haven't covered alot of the area). If you don't mind driving, you could do day trips and a week would definitely not be too long. (or split your time between two areas)

We haven't stayed in Townsend, but I haven't heard anything negative about it. If you are planning to go to Cades Cove, I would stay there. We have made the trip twice from Gatlinburg and it is a long drive (mostly because of the slow traffic).

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Old Feb 14th, 2008, 12:02 PM
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I also advise staying near Townsend -- lots of cabins there, not too far a drive to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge if you wanted to go there, and easy to get to Cade's Cove, other areas for hiking.

Don't let the image (which is reality) of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg as tourist traps put you off the whole region. The Smokies are just an absolutely gorgeous place. There are more places to hike, picnic, and enjoy the mountains than you will have time for. Cade's Cove is gorgeous, you can also take horseback rides there, and we spent a lazy afternoon tubing in Townsend as well. Asheville is not that far of a drive if you wanted to split up your week and see something more arty and citified; Asheville also has great (in my opinion) antique stores.
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Old Feb 14th, 2008, 12:04 PM
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We once stayed at the Fryemont Inn in Bryson City, NC. It's on the NC side of the Smoky Mt. NP.

At the time we were there, the rooms didn't have TVs, but there was one in the lobby. It is an old place with rocking chairs on the front porch and lovely food, but Bryson City is a small town. We weren't looking for activities, so I don't know about them. It is, of course, in the mountains so there would be hiking for sure, and you could easily drive into the NP and across to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge if you wanted to.
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Old Feb 15th, 2008, 11:01 AM
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Rafting, canoe/float trips, Great Smoky Mountains RR in Dillsboro, N.C., Cherokee, N.C. and the Indian villages there, Knoxville has some historic sites (believe it or not), as does Greeneville, Tenn. (home & grave of 17th president Andrew Johnson). There is plenty to do around Gburg/PF that doesn't involve a tourist trap. My husband and I also like Maggie Valley, N.C., (another quieter option) and try to stay there every couple of years. If you want to visit Asheville, Maggie Valley may be a good mid-point between the city and the GSMNP.

And I love Dollywood. I've been to MANY theme parks, and it's one of my favorites, good for ALL ages.
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Old Feb 15th, 2008, 12:29 PM
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Really appreciate everyone taking the time to answer my questions -- thank you! Leaning toward the Asheville area now -- seems like we'd be able to enjoy the outdoor activities and "city" exploring we love to do in a beautiful setting. I'll post another thread with Asheville questions after I do a little research. Thanks again...love the great info I get on this board!

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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 03:42 AM
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bk123 - Did you take this trip? What did you deciede and how did you like it. We are travling to Asheville in about 4 weeks and speding a long weekend there. Then we are moving on to Sevierville for a week. So I am looking for "to do's" and great restruarants.
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Old Aug 7th, 2009, 09:10 AM
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Hi eeyorelvr: Just saw your post. We actually didn't take this trip -- we ended up back at the beach.

Asheville is still on the to-do list, though. You might want to do a separate post looking for ideas...I hope you get some great ones and have a terrific trip!
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