Experience the Winterfest Lights
Every winter, Sevier County becomes a winter wonderland with more than 5 million lights brightening the night. Now in its 31st year, Winterfest has become one of the most anticipated celebrations in the Smokies. Wherever you drive in the county, you’re sure to see many stunning light displays. Businesses get in on the fun, too. You can see amazing arrangements at The Old Mill, The Island, Dolly Parton’s Stampede and so many more! The city of Pigeon Forge publishes a Winterfest Driving Tour Map that YOU CAN DOWNLOAD HERE that will take you through all the best lights in the city.
Take a Winter Hike Through the Smoky Mountains
There is truly something special about hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the winter. Many people probably think hiking in the winter sounds too cold, but there are some things in the park you can only see in the winter! So bundle up and check out the distant views from the Smokies!
The winter reveals lots of things that are usually hidden. Since the trees are bare in the winter, you can see much farther into the woods while you’re hiking. It gives you the feeling of walking through a wide open space. Also, during the winter, you will have a better chance of viewing wildlife without leaves obscuring the vision.
You’ll also get the chance to see some artifacts you probably missed in the summer and spring seasons. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has the largest collection of human artifacts out of all the national parks. But, many of these artifacts are hidden by the foliage most of the year.
Not to mention all the amazing things you’ll see on a winter hike, there are other perks to hiking this season. Because so many people are turned away from falling temperatures, you won’t have to navigate the large crowds during the busier spring and summer months. The trails are quiet, serene, and offer a better chance of reflection.
If you do decide to tackle a winter hike, make sure you’re prepared. Higher elevations in the park can experience sudden snow, icy conditions and sudden dropping temperatures. Vesna Plakanis from A WALK IN THE WOODS reminds winter hikers to dress in layers that keep you warm and dry, and to drink lots of water. Another thing to consider is road closures. Several secondary roads in the park close in the winter, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE NATIONAL PARK’S WEBSITE FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF ROAD CLOSURES. Preparation is key, but a properly planned winter hike can be magical!
Take a Guided Tour Through the Smokies
Do you want to explore the Smokies but don’t want to deal with the stress of driving or picking a trail to explore? That stress can be especially high in the winter when dealing with snowy or icy conditions. Well, why not take a guided tour through the Smoky Mountains? It takes all the guesswork and stress out of traveling. Worrying about where to stop? Your guide has it covered. Looking for a sight to see off the beaten path? Your guide knows all the spots. Guide services can help connect you with anything you need to have a great vacation, from securing lodging and restaurant reservations to securing tickets to the best attractions. If you’re looking for an amazing guide service to take you and your family through the Smokies, be sure to check out the following chamber members:
With holiday deals, after-Christmas sales and winter offerings, winter is the perfect time of year to do some shopping! It can get you out of the cold and offer a fun respite from outside. Also, just like hiking in the winter, you will be dealing with smaller crowds. This makes for a calmer shopping experience. There are lots of places in the Smokies where you can find many shops concentrated in one area, like TANGER OUTLETS. Tanger Outlets in Sevierville offers your favorite brands in one spot so you don’t have to spend a long in the cold before heading to your next shop!
Explore the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community
The GREAT SMOKY ARTS AND CRAFTS COMMUNITY is the largest collection of crafters and traditional artists in the United States. On their 8-mile loop in Gatlinburg, TN, you’ll have the opportunity to visit over 200 different businesses focused on specific traditional arts. From soap makers to woodworkers to glass blowers and potters, the only limit to what you’ll find in the community is the time you have to spend there.
The community and 8 mile loop is open during the winter. And, visiting in the winter is especially fun. The drive on the loop is already scenic in other seasons, but the white on the trees and nip in the air make it extra beautiful. Many businesses in the community regularly offer demos to show off their skills or even classes to teach you how to do what they do. Be sure to check out this amazing community this winter, and see what all they have to offer.
Have a Winter Adventure at Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is the ultimate destination for a winter adventure in the Smokies. For many people, winter in the Smokies means one thing: skiing and snowboarding at Ober Gatlinburg. The slopes at Ober tentatively opens during the holiday season and continues throughout the winter. There are 10 different ski trails at the park with varying levels of difficulty. Everyone, from beginners to experts, can have a great time!
If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, the folks at Ober also offer lessons from experts in the field. Not up for skiing, but still love the snow? Snow tubing is a great option for everyone – there’s nothing like zipping down the huge hill on an intertube! When you’re done hitting the slopes, you still have so much to do. Your family can head inside to check out the plethora of shops, the food court, or even go ice skating and try out the ice bumper cars!
Take a Scenic Drive Through Cades Cove in the Winter
Anyone who has driven through CADES COVE knows that is one of the most beautiful parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But, in the winter, there is a special beauty to Cades Cove that you won’t find any other time of the year. One of the most popular things to do is to take a winter drive. Cades Cove is situated on an 11-mile one-way loop road that gives you the chance to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Along the way, there are plenty of pull-offs if you want to stop and take in the scenery. You’ll definitely want to take your time. With the bare trees of winter, you have a much greater chance of seeing some of the wildlife that calls the cove home. Some of the animals you could potentially see include black bears, white-tail deer, coyotes, turkeys, and more!
One of the coolest things about Cades Cove at any time of the year is the history. Cades Cove has a plethora of historic sites from the early European settlers to the area as well as evidence of the original hunters of the cove: the Cherokee. Some of the many historical sites include three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and several other restored buildings. You can grab a self-guiding tour booklet at the start of the cove that discusses the history of the area.
Like we indicated earlier in our list, winter hiking is an awesome activity. And, Cades Cove has no shortage of fun winter hikes. Two hikes of particular interest are Abrams Falls and the Middle Prong Trail. Abrams Falls is a five mile, moderately strenuous hike that culminates with the titular waterfall. Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet tall, the massive volume of water that rushes over makes up for it! The Middle Prong Trail is considered one of the best waterfall hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. You’ll pass by three major waterfalls, several smaller falls, cataracts, and cascades. Winter is the only time when you’ll have a chance to see beautiful frozen waterfalls while hiking the Middle Prong Trail.
Take a Spin on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
Whenever you visit riding the iconic Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a must. Riding the wheel is fun any time of year. But, when you ride in the winter, you have the chance to see the beautiful mountains blanketed with snow. There’s nothing like experiencing a bird’s eye view of Pigeon Forge during a winter snow shower. If you’re worried about the cold, don’t stress. Each pod that you ride in on the wheel is climate controlled, meaning you can have a comfortable ride any time of year!
View Nighttime Winterfest Lights from the Sky
You can now experience the magic of Winterfest from a one-of-a-kind point of view! Scenic Helicopters will launch its Winterfest Night Flight tours in conjunction with Pigeon Forge’s Smoky Mountain Winterfest. This guided tour will fly you over the cities of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge
on your way to see the millions of twinkling lights of Dollywood and The Island. Scenic’s pilots are your helicopter adventure guides, providing their unique perspective of the cities and lights below.
Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Rain or shine, snow or sun, there’s never a bad time to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This immersive facility is regularly recognized as one of the top aquariums in the United States. And, in 2016, it was named by USA Today as the best place in the US to see penguins! There are so many exhibits to explore and animals to see, that you could spend the entire day at Ripley’s and still have more to do. In addition to their exhibits, the aquarium regularly hosts special events, such as divers heading into the shark tank to feed the fish. Once you’re done checking out the fish, the kids can enjoy the aquarium’s new gigantic indoor playground! If you’re looking to escape the cold and still have an adventure, Ripley’s is the place to go.
Summer is fast approaching, and as the temperatures of eastern Tennessee rise, we love finding fun and creative activities that help us cool off. Read on for just a few of the exciting ways we’re looking forward to doing so, while taking advantage of the region’s unique culture and scenery.
Bathe Near a Waterfall
There are several spots in the Smokies where you can bathe and splash around a pool formed by a waterfall. (Swimming directly beneath the fall, where rocks are more slippery, is generally not advised.) These include the Sinks, near Gatlinburg, and the pool at Abrams Falls in Cades Cove.
Sip Local Beer
Excellent beer can be found at the four Smoky Mountain Brewery locations throughout the region. Sample the signature black Bear Ale or seasonal flavors, such as Raspberry Wheat, while attending karaoke parties, trivia, and other fun weekly programs in the brewery’s adjacent pub.
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#SMBWeekly Brewing: Red IPL (our first India Pale Lager!) Bottling: Cherokee Red Ale On Tap: Kilt Tilter Smoked Scottish Ale 🐻🍺 . . . . #knox #knoxtn #knoxville #knoxvilletn #eatlocal #eatbetter #smb #smokymountainbrewery #ipl #indiapalelager #scottishale #ale #maryville #pigeonforge #gatlinburg #gatlinburgtn #gatlinburgtennesssee #visitgatlinburg #cherokeeredale #tastethecraft #craftbeer #drinklocal
Hike Through a Valley
If heat rises and cold sinks, it follows that another great way for outdoorsy visitors to Pigeon Forge to cool off is trekking around a valley. Try Cataloochee, where you may experience elk sightings during certain times of day, or verdant Cades Cove, home to white-tailed deer and black bears.
Nibble Homemade Ice Cream
Summer is the perfect time to savor homemade ice cream. Try traditional flavors, as well as unexpected options such as banana pudding and whiskey. We recommend Marble Slab Creamery, the Old Mill Creamery, and Mad Dog’s Creamery, as well as Island Creamery, located at The Island in Pigeon Forge.
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Cheers to the new year! What was your sweetest memory from 2019? . . . #MarbleSlab #MarbleSlabCreamery #MaggieMoos #InstaYum #InstaEats #NomNom #NomNomNom #InstaDessert #IceCream #InstaFood #Dessert #Sweet #FoodPhotography #DessertPhotography #SpoonFeed #TreatYoSelf #Foodiegram #EatFamous #GoodEats #FoodSpotting #InstaEat #LivetoEat
Enjoy the Breeze on the Alpine Coaster
Where better to enjoy a refreshing breeze than a coaster car shooting down the mountains at high speed? Trying out the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster, you’ll experience a one-mile, eight-minute journey down the longest downhill track in America.
Take on Class III and IV Rapids
There’s no place for whitewater rafting quite like the Smokies — so link up with suppliers like National Geographic Adventure-approved Natahala Outdoor Center and take on twelve Class III and IV rapids in Pigeon River.
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Are you ready for the 2020 ICF Wildwater Canoeing World Championships? They're just around the corner! Fun fact – the fastest time for the "Classic" race will be around 11 minutes. That means the winner will be traveling at an average speed of nearly 15MPH – about half the speed limit of the road traveling into NOC!
Hit the Slopes
Yes, you read that right. If you need to cool down quickly, Pigeon Forge Snow, America’s first indoor snow park, is open year-round and offers a tubing course, plus a dedicated Snow Play area with snowmen and snow forts.
There’s something timelessly romantic about sleepy mountain towns, making them perfect for romantic getaways. This season, venture to Pigeon Forge, nestled in the vast Smoky Mountains, with the one you love. Celebrate your romance in a destination packed with adventure, relaxation, entertainment, and much more. To make things easy for you, we’ve put together a guide to planning a romantic getaway in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains.
Go for a Hike
Pigeon Forge’s greatest treasure is its location, right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once inside, you can choose from more than 50 trails of varying altitude, skill level, views, and more. If you’re up for a tranquil surprise at the end of your hike, we recommend heading out on the Rainbow Falls Trail. This 5.4-mile (round-trip) hike is one of the most scenic in the Smoky Mountains, and you’ll find an 80-foot waterfall at the end.
Share a Romantic Dinner
Enjoy an evening of tasty dishes, fancy wines, and great conversation in one of Pigeon Forge’s many dining destinations. Make a reservation at Bullfish Grill, voted the best restaurant in town. Highlights from the menu are the Grand Champion Angus and the fresh, high-quality fish. Also explore the curated selection of wines and ales, which pair perfectly which whatever you choose to indulge in.
Spend the Day at the Spa
Treat yourselves to a day of relaxation at the Spa at RiverStone, also located in Pigeon Forge. Pamper your sore muscles after a few hikes and reset your mind in a tranquil, stress-free facility. Choose from therapeutic massages, facials, and body treatments to melt your worries away, or book a couples’ package to refresh your body and mind together.
Act Like a Kid Again
Go back in time to enjoy the simplicity of being a kid at one of the many attractions around town. Test your skills at mini-golf, go head to head on the go-kart track, or try one of the extreme activities offered in the area. If you’re looking for something a little different, roll downhill in a giant inflatable ball, free fall at indoor skydiving, or even climb the indoor ropes course at WonderWorks. Get your heart racing and enjoy the rush together.
If you’re ready to book your romantic retreat in Pigeon Forge, check out the Sweetheart Package at Courtyard by Marriott at Pigeon Forge, including deluxe accommodations and a romantic couples’ massage and facial.
The Smoky Mountains are great for anyone to visit, but they’re downright amazing for kids, thanks to the educational activities galore. Here you can find hours and hours of kid-oriented educational fun, from experiential learning to environmental and wilderness courses and local history museums. Read on to learn about some of the best options.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
This is one of the nation’s best aquariums, and it’s located right in the middle of all the Smokies fun. It has over 10,000 species of ocean life housed across 10 themed galleries. There are learning programs for all ages, and the whole family will enjoy the glass tunnel through Shark Lagoon, the chance to pet stingrays and penguins, and a ride in a glass-bottom boat.
Titanic Museum Attraction
You won’t have trouble finding this half-size model of the actual Titanic. Inside the ship-shaped museum you’ll find an actual-size replica of the ill-fated ship’s staircase, hundreds of artifacts from the real ship, and a lifeboat exactly like those on the Titanic that you can sit in. Every guest experiences history in a personal way with a boarding pass showing an actual passenger or crew member’s name.
About 150 meters up the Parkway from the Titanic Museum Attraction is the WonderWorks Pigeon Cove location. Curiosity and learning will be all that happens from the moment you see the building, which looks like an upside-down White House. Inside, kids learn science in experiential ways. A fun example is the Earthquake Café, featuring a simulation of a 5.3-magnitude earthquake.
RainForest Adventures Discovery Zoo
A less-crowded take on the city zoo, the RainForest Adventures Discovery Zoo allows you to get up close and personal with over 130 species of animals from rainforests all over the world. Entrance is an affordable $12.99 for ages 3-12, and kids under three years old can enter free. You’ll be able to feed and pet some animals, see some of the rarest monkeys on earth, and learn all about the zoo’s animals in a live show.
Great Smoky Mountains Institute
For those more serious about education, the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont offers overnight stays for kids and families as well educational programs like wilderness emergency response and Appalachian naturalism. The Institute has a specific focus on the Smokies themselves and how education is the key to true enjoyment and preservation of them.
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Today is #OutdoorClassroomDay! Every day at Tremont, we see how outdoor learning engages and excites students. We believe school communities are happier and healthier when teachers and students are learning with curiosity and a sense of wonder. While we're pretty fond of our classroom of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, outdoor learning can be as easy as taking the classroom out to the schoolyard. Explore and wonder! 🍁 ⠀ ⠀ #tremontinstitute #tremontexperience #peopleandnature #gsmnp #smokymountains #smokies #greatsmokymountains #outdooreducation #experientialeducation #education #environmentaleducation #gooutside #learn #explore #discover #wonder
Little River Railroad Museum and Mountain Farm Museum
For local history, try the Little River Railroad Museum. Through its exhibits, this museum both preserves and highlights the communities that existed before the national park opened, including Native Americans and settlers. On the opposite side of the park from the Little River, the Mountain Farm Museum offers a visitor center, trails, and historic buildings where you can see how communities of the past sustained themselves with the Smoky Mountains’ natural resources.
Plan Your Educational Adventure
This list gives you only a sampling of the best kid-friendly educational fun in the Smokies. The park and its surroundings have unlimited fun for kids, including firefly viewings, nature walks, bike rentals and tours, and much more. Check out the exclusive offers at Courtyard by Marriott Pigeon Forge and make sure you get the best rate.
The Smoky Mountains are a great destination year round, from the heat of July to the cold and snow of December. If you’re not sure what to bring at what time of year, don’t worry. Below, we’ve outlined the main things you’ll want or need depending on when you go.
There’s almost no end to the outdoor options in the Smoky Mountains. No matter what time of year you go, you can be prepared for maximum fun with these outdoor essentials:
• A refillable water bottle to keep yourself hydrated whenever you’re outdoors and to cut down on plastic waste
• Trail snacks, especially protein-rich ones such as nuts or trail mix
• Appropriate footwear: hiking boots or shoes, sandals for stream crossings, and casual shoes for shopping and dining
• Bug spray to keep the bugs away, especially if you’re sitting outside at night or spending long periods in the woods
• A bathing suit for waterparks and rafting in the summer, and for indoor pools or cabin hot tubs in the cooler months
• Sunscreen to protect from UV rays, even on cloudy days and in winter
• Binoculars for wildlife viewing
• A camera, especially for the spring wildflowers and fall foliage changes
• A flashlight, even if you’re not camping, for those longer hikes
• A first-aid kit with disinfectant and bandages for cuts
Spring in the Smokies brings warmer weather in the daytime, but nights are still fairly cold, particularly in February and March. Layered clothing is key. You’ll want a t-shirt base with a sweater, as well as a jacket for nighttime or high elevations. In February and March, a winter coat and thick socks will still be necessary. Weather can change quickly in spring, so bring rain boots and a poncho or raincoat in case of sudden showers. Spring also sees more rainy days, and while there are lots of good indoor activities around, a board game or a deck of cards is a good idea too.
Summer nights might still be cool, but midday temperatures often reach the 90s in July and August. Shorts and t-shirts are a must. Wear long pants made from light-fabric to protect your legs if you go hiking. For going out at night, pack one sweatshirt or hoodie just in case it’s colder than usual. These also make it harder for nighttime bugs like mosquitoes to get to your skin. Lastly, the hot weather is a perfect time to cool off at a waterpark or go whitewater rafting. If you’re doing any water-related activities, bring clothes that will dry out quickly.
A Smoky Mountain fall is a lot like a Smoky Mountain summer, at least in the daytime. The trouble is, it’s more like winter at night. You’ll want to be ready for a wide range of temperatures. Warmer layers are better. Just like in spring, a t-shirt base with a sweater and light jacket is usually best. If you’re going later in the fall, you’ll want to bring a winter coat.
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“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.” –Louis L’Amour- Hooray!! It’s National Take a Hike Day! With over 800 miles of hiking trails, the Smokies offer an abundance of opportunities for hikers of all skill levels to get out and enjoy the Park. So lace up those boots and get to walking!! #trailstuesday #nationaltakeahikeday #hike #takeahikeday We are getting into the time of year when the weather can change drastically at a moment’s notice, so make sure to plan and prepare accordingly when venturing out into the Park. Be sure to take a Smokies trail map with you. You can download the map to your mobile device at: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/upload/GSMNP-Map_JUNE14-complete4-2.pdf For information regarding the Smokies Trails Forever Program and Volunteering with Trails visit: https://friendsofthesmokies.org/trailsforever/ NPS Photos; Image descriptions: 1) Hiking trail, covered in fall leaves, overlooking a river (Old Sugarlands Trail). 2) Hiking trail covered in snow and ice (Appalachian Trail near Newfound Gap).
Winters in the Smokies involve moderate cold, wind, and snow. Layering is always good in the Smokies, but make the layers a bit warmer. A long-sleeve t-shirt, long johns, and wool socks make a good base for your winter outfits. For an outer layer, a winter coat is best, along with a warm hat and a scarf. Normal hiking footwear is fine for other seasons, but in winter you may want snow boots or even microspikes for good traction.
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With winter almost a week away, the park is looking like a winter wonderland. Remember when hiking at this time of year that trail conditions can be very icy, especially at higher elevations. Please wear layers, proper footwear, and plan ahead before you hike! Photo by: Kristina Plaas; Photo description: Snow in the forest at the the Ramsey Cascades Trailhead with rocks and a trail sign in the foreground.
Packed and Ready to Go?
All that’s left to do now is to browse the exclusive offers at Courtyard by Marriott Pigeon Forge and book your mountain getaway.