Each year, my family likes to visit new vacation destinations in the United States. This year we headed Tennessee to visit Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Dollywood, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On our way, we decided to stop in Atlanta to check out Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia Aquarium. What a fun way to spend the day!
Olympic Park was created in 1996 when Atlanta hosted the summer Olympics. It is a large open space in the middle of the city with fountains, green space, playgrounds, and is home to CNN World Headquarters, the College Football Hall of Fame, convention center, World of Coca-Cola, and the Georgia Aquarium.
We stayed at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, which was right up the street from the park, and was located close to many restaurants. There are also many other great hotels in the area.
Although we only had a day in the city, there is so much to do and see. The Atlanta CityPASS is a great way to experience many of the city’s attractions, and if you are planning on spending a few days in Atlanta, it helps save money as well as provides additional benefits as well.
The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville area has so much to offer! From amazing vistas and trails to great food and entertainment options, it is a great family vacation destination!
I can not underestimate the beauty of this area. The mountains really do look like they are covered in smoke, and the views go on for miles and miles. If you are driving through the park, be on the lookout for pull off areas so that you can admire the vista and take some great pictures to remember your journey by! Keep an eye out for bears, as the park is their home. And, if you are there at night, the stars are spectacular!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are several Visitor Centers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Sugarlands Center has a 20-minute movie on the park as well as a natural history museum. There are several trails nearby, and also a gift shop/bookstore.
If you’re between the ages of 5-12, you can become a Junior Ranger! Here’s how:
- Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for $2.50 at any park visitor center or at the Cades Cove or Elkmont campground – or you can order it ahead of time online.
- Complete the activities in the booklet.
- Stop by a visitor center to talk to a ranger and receive your Junior Ranger badge!
You can become a Junior Ranger at any time of year, but during spring, summer, and fall, ranger-led Junior Ranger programs are offered especially for children.
Since 1986, the Dollywood Theme Park has been delighting fans with coasters, great entertainment, and even better food! We spent a very fun day at Dollywood, and I was very impressed with the park – the theming was beautiful, consistent, and fit right in with the area. There were a lot of great rides – especially for thrill seekers, a lot of great shops with artists demonstrating their crafts, wonderful shows, and a bunch of good food options. Plus, the park is right in the mountains, so there is a lot of natural shade!
It was not a busy day – the longest line was about 30 minutes – but the park does offer two different express pass options for those days with higher crowds. They also offer annual passes, which provide you with discounts in all of the shops and restaurants. We were asked each time if we had a Gold Pass, so they definitely want to help you out with any discounts you have, which is nice.
Dolly Parton, for whom the park is named, was born and grew up in Locust Ridge, Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains. There is a replica of the (very) small house that her family owned, as well as a tour bus. There is also Chasing Rainbows – a museum dedicated to the life of Dolly Parton, where you can see costumes from Dolly’s movie career, gowns worn during her concerts, as well as many awards. For any Dolly Parton fan, this is a must-do.
Food and Fun
The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville area is known for its pancake houses, and there are no shortage of delicious options! We didn’t have enough time to try them all, but our favorites were Little House of Pancakes, Flap Jack’s Pancakes, and Crockett’s Breakfast Camp.
We checked out a few of the entertainment venues around town. MagiQuest is also found in all Great Wolf Lodge Resorts, but this is the only stand-alone location. I wasn’t sure about this place, but I was my son’s turn to pick an activity. So glad we went! We had a great time doing the magical quest, escaping a mirror maze, racing through a room of lasers, and playing a round of pirate golf.
We spent an afternoon at Alcatraz East, a crime museum near the Island in Pigeon Forge. There was a TON of information, and we added on the scavenger hunt which made it a lot of fun!
When in Tennessee you have to try some moonshine! They offer free tastings….yum! And who knew that there were so many varieties?! I especially loved the Moonshine Candles.
There are so many musical, comedy, magic, and dinner shows here, there is definitely something for every interest!! We went to the Comedy Barn, where they do a family friendly show each night. The Hatfield & McCoys Dinner Theater is also very popular.
The Island in Pigeon Forge is a fun entertainment complex with a ropes course, Ferris wheel, escape room, lots of shops, restaurants, and water show. Run, do not walk, to the Pommes Frites restaurant…German Bratwurst, delicious fries, and great dipping sauces!
After a week it was time to pack up the car and head home. Gatlinburg was beautiful, Pigeon Forge lots of fun, Dollywood as great as I have always heard it would be, and too much yummy food to be at all good for my waistline! If you are thinking of a trip to East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains, don’t hesitate, it is a great family getaway!
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Cheryl Tennant Koren