Over 11 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains every year, and there’s a good reason why. Between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the largest Smoky Mountain towns, you will find a range of places to stay. From Smoky Mountain resorts (check out our review of our favorite, the Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort here), to hotels and motels, and the famous Great Smoky Mountain cabin rentals. There are endless possibilities for things to do between the two towns. You can catch a dinner attraction, shop at many themed and adorable shopping centers, and of course, catch breathtaking views of the mountains from either the Smoky Mountain trails, Smoky Mountain hikes, or relax and soak in the views from many ski lift options. Lastly, there are so many places to choose to eat during your Smoky Mountain vacation. Be ready to eat some of the best southern food there is. You can find something to eat for every budget breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Continue reading if you’re ready to start planning your Smoky Mountain Getaway.
Everyone has their opinion on where the best places to stay in the Smoky Mountains are. Although we have never stayed at a Smoky Mountain log cabin rental, it is on our list for future trips! We are going to share the places we’ve stayed, and why we would recommend either one of them. Honestly, I feel like you can’t go wrong staying in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg and there are pros and cons for each. Most folks view Gatlinburg as the “Smoky Mountain downtown” area, as it’s more accessible for walking around. Either place you choose to pick will be perfect for your Smoky Mountains family vacation!
Pigeon Forge is growing at such a fast rate, and with that, are the options for lodging. The Smoky Mountains accommodations we stayed at in Pigeon Forge are very recognized and themed:
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort
Okay, I’m just going to put this out there. This was one of the best places we’ve ever stayed at. The service was outstanding, the property was immaculate, and the outside area was just stunning. There’s a reason this is one of the best Great Smoky Mountains resorts! We did an entire post on the DreamMore Resort and you can read all about that right here.
The Inn at Christmas Place
If you love Christmas, you HAVE to stay here at least once! We stayed here in March, and I still got hit with a wave of Christmas in the Smoky Mountains. Plus, they have the best breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel, and it’s included in your stay! Read about our stay and experience here.
We all know and love Gatlinburg! It’s just a 20 minute drive along the Great Smoky Mountain Parkway from Pigeon Forge. The biggest pro about stay in Gatlinburg, is that you can pretty much walk everywhere you want to go from your hotel. you can even hop on the famous trolley buses and they’ll get you to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville for just $2.50 for an all-day pass.
The Historic Gatlinburg Inn
We didn’t have this blog when we stayed here, so there’s no post, but I’ll list our favorite things about it: It has so much history and character, the balconies have amazing Smoky Mountain views, they serve apple cider and doughnuts throughout the day, the rocking chairs on the front porch of the hotel, the views from the pool of the Sky Lift, and last but not least, it’s the most central location you’re going to find! We parked our car when we arrived, and didn’t get back in it until we left.
Like the Gatlinburg Inn, we weren’t blogging when we stayed here at the Hilton in Gatlinburg, but I’ll also list why we enjoyed this hotel and would recommend it: our room had a fireplace, so it’d be perfect for romantic getaways in the Smoky Mountains, it’s location is across the street from the Gatlinburg Convention Center where we attended the holiday arts and crafts fair in the fall. It’s pretty much next door to the Ober Gatlinburg Ariel Tramway. Overall, the hotel and room was very clean and was held to the Hilton standards. I recommend it because is was a great stay, however, I recommend the three listed before first.
Things To Do During Your Smoky Mountain Getaway
It doesn’t matter your age, there will be something for you to do or see! Whether you’re looking for ideas on how to spend a Smoky Mountain honeymoon, a kids’ spring break, or an older couples adventure to search for Smoky Mountain foliage. The Smoky Mountain vacation ideas are endless and it’s impossible to do and see everything unless you’re planning on visiting for a long while. Here’s a list of our recommendations based on the two most popular towns.
I describe Pigeon Forge as up-and-coming. They’re building new attractions, new hotels, and new restaurants faster than I can keep up with. It seems like there’s something new each year we visit. You can find something to do for everyone at every age here.
Island in Pigeon Forge
I LOVE the Island! This area alone could take you a full day to explore. There are many restaurants, shops, and a TON of attractions for the kids! Personally, I recommend coming at night, because the lights and the fountain are gorgeous! We rode The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel at sunset, and caught some of the best views!
Dolly Parton’s Stampede
Dolly’s Stampede is a staple of visiting the Smoky Mountains. You get a lot for your money, and it has been deemed the “World’s Most Visited Dinner Attraction!” I like this family activity because it’s knocking out two stones at once, supper and entertainment. Read about our experience here.
Incredible Christmas Place
Located right across the street from The Inn at Christmas Place, you’ll find the beginnings of the hotel itself. It all stemmed from this Christmas themed village, the Incredible Christmas Place. If you love Christmas, then this has to be on your list! From ornaments to clothes and everything in-between, you’ll certainly find something you can’t live without. I know I can’t leave without buying something!
The Old Mill
Maybe I saved the best for last here, The Old Mill. The most important information for you to have here is that there’s ample parking, and it’s like the central station for the Pigeon Forge trolley buses. If you’re looking for the perfect Smoky Mountain gift shop, then look no further. This little square has family-owned shops and restaurants. Our favorite little shop, The Cat House. They have cats that they have taken in wandering the store. If you have children, please be aware of how they’re handling the cats. Next door is an AMAZING coffee shop, Espresso Yourself. Ask for an iced Irish cream latte. You’ll hunt me down and thank me later. Lastly, swing by the Candy Kitchen and try the caramellows. Swipe through the photos below for a visual of what a caramellow is.
Want the best views during your Smoky Mountains getaway? Then head to Gatlinburg! There are so many options to find these famous smoky views. Along with the obvious reasons to visit, there are others things to do in Gatlinburg too. From great shopping, to finding a great smoky mountain trail to hike, to visiting the Smoky Mountain aquarium, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. I’m going to share four of our favorite things to do in and around Gatlinburg.
This is a newer attraction to Gatlinburg, and let me tell you, I’m obsessed! After the historic Smoky Mountain fire, the idea of Anakeesta came to life. This area is literally a village on top of the Smokies, offering up some of the best sunset views of the the mountains, shopping, restaurants, AND thrill seeking things to do. Read our entire review on Anakeesta here.
Right off the main road in Gatlinburg, you’ll find an escape when you enter The Village shops. It’s like you’re being transported from the South to a small European…well, village. I highly recommend this stop on your next Smoky Mountain trip, and not just for the almost 30 shops, but for the atmosphere. If you’re looking to bring home some treasures, this area is the perfect place to find your Smoky Mountain gifts.
Gatlinburg Sky Lift
Want one of the best views of a Smoky Mountain fall? Then a ride on the Gatlinburg Sky Lift needs to be on your list. I recommend going later in the afternoon so the sun is behind you. This way you can view all the fall foliage without fighting the morning sun. There’s a small gift shop on the top, but take your time and soak in the views.
Although Cades Cove isn’t in Gatlinburg, it’s HIGHLY recommended that you visit this Smoky Mountain Dream location. This is the iconic 11-mile one-way loop to see the mountains in all their glory, and if you’re lucky, you might spot some Smoky Mountain bears! If you don’t see the bears, there will be a good chance to see other Smoky Mountain animals. We saw deer and turkey during our visit. Around this area, you can do a little Smoky Mountain hiking as well. Starting in May through September, you can bike or walk the loop until 10:00 am on Saturday and Wednesday mornings.
Smoky Mountain Restaurants
I might be biased here. I was born and raised in the South, so I think some of the best food in the world is right here. Whether you’re in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, you’ll be certain to find some good ole’ southern classics mixed with a variety of other choices. One thing to be sure of, a Smoky Mountain menu will have the best breakfasts!
There are new Smoky Mountain restaurants popping up all over in Pigeon Forge. You can find a good variety at the Island in Pigeon Forge and the Old Mill Square alone. I highly recommend you catch at least one dinner show. If you don’t attend Dolly Parton’s Stampede, there’s a new pirate dinner attraction that opened in Pigeon Forge: Pirates Voyage Dinner and Show.
The Old Mill Restaurant
We don’t visit Pigeon Forge without visiting this popular Smoky Mountain restaurant. This is the real deal, folks. Southern cooking, southern hospitality, and views of the Pigeon River. I’ve heard that the wait can be something else during the peak seasons, so grab a snack at a nearby shop to hold you over, because I promise, the wait is worth it! My favorite: the corn fritters with the maple butter.
Poynor’s Pomme Frites
Located in the Island area of Pigeon Forge, this small shop has brought Germany to the states! We LOVED this restaurant! The German sausages and brats are full of flavor. I personally didn’t like the bun, as it’s purposely really crunchy. However, the fries with the insane options of dipping sauces were spot on! Here’s our absolute favorite though…the spaghetti ice cream! Your kids will love this, and it’s large enough for two folks.
Paula Dean’s Family Kitchen
Paula Dean’s Family Kitchen is also located at the Island in Pigeon Forge. To be honest, I have mixed reviews on this place. One, our service wasn’t the best. Not just the waitress, but even the folks at the hostess stand. The food was overall pretty good. Most of what we ate, we did really enjoy. My favorite part about this restaurant is the fact that it’s family style. I think that’s a unique and fun experience for families and friends to share together.
Not in Pigeon Forge technically, but close enough. If you’re headed to Sevierville to visit the Dolly Parton statue, then swing over to Courthouse Donut where you can create your very own flavor of donut. If you’re not the creative type, no worries…they have their most popular creations to choose from. My favorite: the lemon blueberry escape!
I’m going to start off by saying that Gatlinburg has a lot of chain restaurants. I’m not a huge fan of these, and will advise you to stick to the locally owned restaurants. The chain places (like Bubba Gumps or Dick’s Last Resort) can be fun, but you’ll be paying for over-priced mediocre food. This is your Great Smoky Mountains vacation…don’t waste it on food you can get elsewhere.
Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
My number one recommended restaurant in all of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s hard for a breakfast place to do that, but this is killer breakfast. The service is the best we’ve had, and the atmosphere is like you’re dining in a Smoky Mountain log cabin. I’ve ordered something different each time I’ve visited, but I always order a side of the fried bologna. It’s a must, y’all.
Anakeesta’s Smokehouse BBQ
I mentioned Anakeesta under things to do, but it lands in places to eat too. From probably scoring the best Smoky Mountain sunset view from a restaurant, to serving up the best Smoky Mountain BBQ fries from their very own Smokehouse food truck. It’s worth the trip up to this adorable village just to eat and enjoy the music!
New Orleans Sandwich Company
I was so hungry when we ate here, I totally didn’t take a picture of my food. However, this place is tucked away in a shopping center off the main Smoky Mountain drive in Gatlinburg. The New Orleans Sandwich Company is serving up some tasty food! You can scroll through others’ photos and reviews here at TripAdvisor.
The Donut Friar
Another place with no photos, but trust me. When you explore The Village in Gatlinburg, and you see a storefront with a long line coming out, you’ll know you’re at The Donut Friar. This restaurant only accepts cash, but when we were there, they had an ATM in the shop. They even gave me some money off a coffee for using their ATM…I’m not sure if they’re still doing that though. Anyway, they make these donuts from scratch every single morning. Don’t shy away from the line, as it moves quickly. You can check out of their treats here.
The Smoky Mountains
Well folks, there ya have it. You are now knowledgable on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat during your visit to Smoky Mountain USA. I have had many trips to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and honestly, it’s just one of those places that I keep wanting to return to. For a lot of folks, this is their Disney. Families have made the Great Smoky Mountains their yearly tradition, and well, so have we.