Planning a Tennesee road trip? Consider off-the-beaten-path towns like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. See the fun things to do in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
When it came to road trips, Tennessee used to be a state that I would pass through on my way to another state. Then one day, I decided to give the Great Smoky Mountain state a little bit of love and make a stop. This time, for some fun!
Read on to discover the things I ended up getting myself into… Because what’s a road trip without spontaneous adventures and fun finds? If you’re planning a Tennessee road trip and looking for some awesome things to do, you’ve come to the right place!
On a recent trip to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I made a lot of discoveries and can’t wait to share them with you! Hopefully, if I’m a persuasive enough writer… it’ll inspire you to plan a trip of your own soon!
In this blog, I’ll list the activities and foodie finds in a bit of a more organized fashion rather than my usual adventure story format… only because there are so many things to do and I want to make sure we get them all covered in one go!
You know you’re going to want to save this blog for later! May as well do it now. 😊
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.– Mark Twain
A Tennessee Road Trip
I bet if I were to ask you for the first city that came to your mind when you thought of Tennessee, you’d say “Nashville” or “Memphis”. (Out of curiosity… Am I right? Comment below!)
I mean who wouldn’t…
But, we like to be a little more interesting than that so of course, we’re going to think a little outside of the box. 😉
So we’ll go with super kitschy and random instead of predictable. Because I have the feeling you’re the kinda traveler who wants to discover interesting places off the beaten path! That’s why you’re here!
I want you to have a cool travel story you can brag to your friends about… A little mix of things they haven’t done and places they haven’t been.
So, cool traveler… what if I told you that there were more hidden gems in Tennessee than you originally thought… and that you could do all of them in the same general area, and that it would give you a new view to Tennessee? You’d want to know, right?
Enter Tennessee towns Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge… 2 towns you probably won’t see gracing the covers of Travel and Leisure or Nat Geo anytime soon. But still… it’s off the beaten path and super fun. What’s not to love?
Alright then! Let’s get right into it… First, I’ll share all about my Tennessee Road Trip with you and the unexpected finds along the way!
Things to Bring on a Road Trip
A Road Trip to Tennessee: Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge
When the mountains are calling you, but you want to have some fun, visit The Great Smoky Mountain and take a trip to Gatlinburg and a trip to Pigeon Forge.
It was snowing on our drive through the Smoky Mountains from North Carolina to Tennessee. With the winter scenery all around, it was like going through an enchanted forest.
You’re in freaking bear country for crying out loud! One hell of a picturesque scenery… it even smells amazing… couldn’t get over it… fresh air, trees… I can’t describe it but… it did something to me.
Don’t be surprised if you see charming treehouses being sold on the side of the road that looks like they could be from The Hobbit.
After spending some time gallivanting around North Carolina, I headed South to continue my road trip adventures in The Great Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Maybe you like leaving things open to spontaneity… or, perhaps the idea of going with the flow makes you want to hurl your road trip chili fries because you’d rather planning out your trip in so much detail that you can predict.. down to the second.. when you’ll be making your next bathroom stop. Hey, you do you darlin’. Just sayin’… I cannot relate.
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Me? I’m the kinda person who likes flying by the seat of their pants on road trips and am pretty much always up for anything. Kinda the whole point of a road trip, right?
So, on my recent road trip to Tennessee, that’s exactly what I did! It was all completely on a whim. I’d been to the state before but found even more fun things to do this time.
I found the hidden gems I’m about to share with you the same way I always have on a road trip… driving by and looking out the car window, Google Maps, crossing my fingers, plain dumb luck… Off the beaten path is just how I roll baby. You have to be open to possible adventures. 😉
Adventures Off the Beaten Path in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge, TN.. what can I say… its a special place. Kind of the butt of a joke but it’s for real. I can’t think of a place more fit for families and crazy adventure people who go non-stop like me… When you’re here it feels like the fun will go on forever.
Being here was like taking a step back in time… a family road trip type of adventure. Think National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Unlike other spots that often go overlooked when on the road, you can’t help but stop at all the different random attractions that go on and on like the Vegas strip.
As you pull into the town of Pigeon Forge, you are likely to be instantly overstimulated by roadside attractions. From kitschy to funky to just plain bizarre! It’s like your childhood fantasies have exploded all along a stretch of road in the mountains.
Mini golf… they got that. Racecar tracks… you betcha. Escape rooms, arcades, waterslides, mini amusement parks… who needs Disney?? This is good ole country fun and I’m here for it!
How did Pigeon Forge get its name?
Well, the town was the site of an iron forge built in 1820 by Isaac Love. His son built the Historic Old Mill in 1830. The other half of Pigeon Forge’s namesake is the passenger pigeon. Pigeon Forge… there you go!
Yes, you even have big-time amusement parks like Dollywood. But, I’ll leave that description to professionals and aficionados Dollywood alike. Or, someone might just shoot me. It is the South after all.😉
Or, check out the great Dollywood BBQ finds.
Perhaps you’re more of an outdoorsman. In that case, you should check out Cades Cove which is a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I planned on driving through but it was closed for construction, unfortunately.
But I hear it’s awesome, so check it out! The whole area is lovely.
Where to Stay: Hotels in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Area
Cabins and Camp Sites in Tennessee
Before you go on any adventure, you’re going to need someplace to stay… unless you plan on camping in the woods. In that case, there are cabins and camp/RV sites near Cades Cove!
Or, refer to one of my more rugged fellow bloggers for more options.
Do you hate roughing it? Good news!
There is no shortage of hotel options in the Gatlingburg and Pigeon Forge area. I ended up booking two different accommodations during my time there.
Book a Vacation Rental in Tennessee
The first stay was through Hotels.com which ended up being a timeshare property that was a fantastic cabin in a community with a gym, fire pit, and lounge area.
For the second stay, I booked an Airbnb which was also in that same Tennessee vibe and I loved it!
Luckily for me, both stays were reasonably priced as I booked them during the offseason (January). My road trips just so happened to take me that way.
Book a Hotel in Tennessee
Another great hotel option is Marriott. (NOT SPONSORED).
If you’ve read any of my other travel blogs or my Marriott blog series, you know what a big fan I am for their different hotel personalities and price ranges, customer service, competitive prices, as well as the travel perks and membership benefits you get just for booking through them directly.
Sign up for a free Marriott Bonvoy membership and start earning travel rewards today!
Fun Things to Do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee
And now the moment you’ve been waiting for…. Here I share all my fun findings with you in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg from fun activities to foodie finds!
Heading into Pigeon Forge, you see billboards everywhere… “God Bless the 2nd Amendment”, “Best Sausages in America”… and then another billboard for “World’s largest knife store”… Kinda makes me wonder what Tennessee’s slogan is… do they even have one? It should be “Guns, God and Fireworks” may be a bit controversial but I don’t care. This isn’t “Fake Girl Review” after all.
Activities in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Zorbing… have you heard of it?
Maybe you’ve already done it… maybe you’ve been dying to try it… or maybe, just maybe… you haven’t got a clue as to what “zorbing” might be. And if that’s so, well, you don’t know what the heck you’re missing out on!
Although human spheres have been noted in history going way back, (and I’m sure my anthropologist freak of a boyfriend could tell you the exact date) we can credit our good friends in New Zealand with creating this current and relatively new version in the early 1990s called “Zorb”… which is actually a word by the way… true story.
In 2001, even Oxford English Dictionary recognized “Zorbing” as a word, defining it as: “a sport in which a participant is secured inside an inner capsule in a large, transparent ball which is then rolled along the ground or down hills”. Without a word of a lie.
The Zorbing Experience
At Outdoor Gravity Park in Pigeon Forge, you have the option of taking a wet ride or a dry ride. No that’s not a dirty joke, folks.
This renovated outdoor park now offers three different tracks, each with its own unique adventure, speed, and route. After an orientation at check-in, you’ll be boarded into a shuttle that takes you to the top of the hill.
Here, you will casually pop into a GIANT 11-foot ball to be pushed down a 1,000 ft track. YIKES!! Like a giant washing machine on spin cycle…Spin…get to the bottom…repeat!
This is the second time that I’ve zorbed. Maybe I’m cooler at 25 than 15 but, it was even more fun than I remembered last time! 😁
I’m happy to say, I’ve gotten to experience both rides… wet & dry. Which is more fun? That depends on your preference.
I personally thought that the water version was much more exciting. Disorienting yet, no doubt.. fun! Bring your bathing suit and a towel!
It is seriously one of the best adventure rides. A little bonus is that they offer a GoPro for rent to record your activities inside the hamster ball.
Pro Tip: Most smartphones are water-resistant and work perfectly fine. But please, PLEASE check your specific phone to see if it’s waterproof. I don’t want nasty messages that you destroyed your phone.
For travel essentials, check out my Amazon shop page!
This unassuming structure built seamlessly into the side of a mountain is a true hidden treasure. I just happened upon it while driving down the road. It is an attraction not to be missed.
Just over a mile long, the ride takes about 7-8 minutes. When in your life have you been on a rollercoaster that went that long? I know…probably never!
While the maximum speed is 27 MPH, trust me! It’s enough!! I’m a rollercoaster enthusiast and this one is scary AF. Something about the location. Being up on the side of a mountain or perhaps that you personally are in control of the STOP Brake. YIKES. It’s really incredible.
It’s the only indoor year-round snow tubing place in the country!
Pulling up to this giant warehouse structure, my expectations were pretty low. Boy, do I love surprises. This was AWESOME! Leave your jacket in the car, you won’t need it.
There are 7 tracks. After checking in, you grab a tube and start up the human conveyor belt to the top. Once up there, you choose any of the 7 runs… I think they all run the same but it’s fun to try out different runs. It makes you feel like you are in that game on the Price is Right, where they drop the hockey puck thing down the game … I think it’s Plinko.
The first time I went tubing I was so scared! There’s a moment when you drop and go so fast you have zero control. you know the feeling that you’re so scared but you’re already going so nothing you can do. I was screaming my head off!
There was even a staff member cool enough to give me a little push before I went down! It was adrenaline-pumping. Felt like a kid again! Grab hot cocoa when you’re done or build a snowman.
Had like 25 min left of my hour pass but I was pretty tapped out.
Foodie Finds: Places to Eat in Pigeon Forge, TN
Fun places for Ice Cream
If you want to try something cool.. literally.. these are both fun shows! There are tons of places to eat and even more to grab a tasty frozen treat… like, the latest ice cream trend you’ve probably seen on the gram or TikTok. But two in particular really stand out. These two places are literally right next to each other.
After snow tubing, I was in the mood for something sweet but the hot cocoa at the snow tubing place didn’t look too good so, I opted for ice cream instead!
As the name suggests, the ice cream is curled. It was a lot of fun to watch the process! “Chef Kirk” is a cool guy. At the end when we were adding toppings, I gave him a few to add and I said that’s it… he said that’s it?! He wanted to go all out… was awesome. 😉
What I ordered:
Crazy Kremewich- ice cream rolls between 2 Krispie Kreme donuts and unlimited toppings. As soon as they brought those suckers out, I knew I wouldn’t be eating lunch.
You have the option to “booze it up” and get a grown-up ice cream sundae. Of course, I just had to get Smoky Tennessee Moonshine in mine…
This is cream that freezes before your eyes. And like magic, turns into ice cream in seconds! You can see the nitrogen go in and the puffs of smoke. Pretty awesome. They also sell bubble tea.
What I ordered:
Took a while to have it made but was worth it.
I customized mine completely. Don’t judge me but I got… vanilla ice cream with blueberries, fruity pebbles, heath bar, graham cracker, and a cherry on top… all inside a bubble waffle cone they make in front of you.
If you want good ole Southern hospitality and comfort food at its finest, I wouldn’t tell you to go to KFC, before I’d tell you to go to Mama’s Farmhouse.
As much as you can eat for only $16.99 and too legit my friends.. your waiter will serve it to you wearing overalls. The way they fill your plate up with all-you-can-eat fried chicken, mashed potatoes, beans, and biscuits doesn’t leave anything to be desired. Not in the least. If you haven’t had a heart attack by the end of the meal, enjoy the kitschiness outside the restaurant and then head to a fun activity.
Must Do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
I’ve done it and have the pictures to prove it! Lol.
What I do not have, sadly, is the link or even the name of the rafting company. I do know that they were out of Gatlinburg though. For some reason, it just did not stick in my head.
So what I’ll say is… there are many River Rafting companies located in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area that take you on Class III- V rapids.
Pigeon River is one of the most popular river rafting rivers in the United States. I can see why, it is nature at its finest. The rapids are intense and the float time is peaceful.
When I went, I was with my parents and best friend. It was so much fun!
Leaving Tennessee, More Fun Finds
It always seems to be that when you’re leaving a place, you discover 10 more that you don’t have time for. At least that’s how it always is for me anyway…
On the way out of Tennessee, I made a last-minute discovery – IJAMS in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Activities in Knoxville, Tennessee
It’s nice to be a nature girl every once in a while. This trail was perfect for me. Not too long but just enough to get the lovely sight of the Tennessee River from the River Boardwalk, which was the goal of the hike.
Another highlight was definitely the cool manmade stone steps leading down to the path to the Boardwalk. But wow what a workout. I wish I spent more time here… I think I spent plenty though… I got lost! It was a nice hiking trail filled with scenic views and cool standalone spots like this one.
It’s also a nature center! Check out the cool species they have there.
If you’re staying in Knoxville and want to discover more fun things to do while you’re there, check out a Knoxville Mom’s blog for awesome recommendations here.
If you’re looking for a fun place to stop on your Tennessee Road Trip, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are not to be missed!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Tennessee road trip and the fun things to do in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and got some inspiration for your own trip!
Have you visited Tennesee? What towns did you visit?
Would you like more of this type of content? Or maybe there’s something else you want me to write about?
I would love to hear about it! Comment below!
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