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11 things you’ll only understand if you’ve been to Pigeon Forge, TN

IF THERE’S ONE city to visit on your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s gotta be Pigeon Forge. With hiking trails for every level of adventurous spirit, tons of live music, beautiful fall landscapes, and beautiful fall weather — and, of course, an entire theme park owned by the legendary and legendarily glamorous Dolly Parton — there truly is a place in Pigeon Forge for anyone who decides to make it their temporary “Tennessee mountain home.”

After setting up shop in town (even if just for a weekend), here’s 11 lessons you’ll walk away with.

1. All roads lead to the Parkway.

Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

Pretty much every city has a “main” street, but the Pigeon Forge Parkway puts all others to shame. It’s essentially five miles of attractions, restaurants, hotels, and shopping with a Great Smoky Mountain National Park backdrop that’ll make you realize that, however long you’re planning to stay, it isn’t enough. Where else can you see a replica of the Titanic, people bungee jumping in the heart of the city, and the name Dolly Parton inspiring joy in so many?

Answer: nowhere else, that’s where.

2. Wherever you live, home probably isn’t far away.

Sitting conveniently just south of I-40, the adventures of Pigeon Forge are within a day’s drive for something like two-thirds of the US population east of the Mississippi. And at around a three-hour drive from major cities like Nashville and Atlanta, it’s the obvious place to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city to relax near one of America’s most beautiful (and most popular) nature-scapes.

And if you’re just totally over road trips, the Knoxville airport is 47 miles away. Fall break, anyone?

3. There’s syrup in our veins.

Pancakes are a way of life in Pigeon Forge (as they should be everywhere). If you’ve ever wondered, “Can I put that on a pancake?”, anyone here will let you know, “Yes. Yes, you can.”

From pineapple upside-down pancakes to traditional peach or blueberry to the classic heaped in butter and maple syrup, there’s absolutely no way you can go wrong (unless you don’t partake at all). And if you’re overwhelmed by the options, that’s not just you — there’s close to 30 places to get pancakes within a five-mile radius.

4. “I’m the king of the world!” isn’t just a movie quote.

It’s also a quote that’s yelled hundreds of times a day outside the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, housed in an absolutely colossal building that looks just like the infamous ship (you can even touch an iceberg). Once inside, you’ll be whisked out of Tennessee and into the history and experience of the Titanic and its sinking in 1912 — and to memories of your favorite Jack and Rose moments.

5. This is where fall gets serious.

Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

With nearly 100 types of trees covering the Great Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge is a gateway to some of the most spectacular fall foliage in the country. Stretches that last for miles are covered in yellows, oranges, and reds — an autumn hike or scenic drive should be #1 on your list after loading up on said pancakes and biscuits.

Head out on the trail to Andrews Bald to catch the colors in their prime. It’s a moderate-to-difficult hike that reaches high ground for panoramic shots of the changing leaves. Or check out the vistas and any of the trails around Newfound Gap.

6. Nature truly is for everyone.

The grandeur of the Great Smoky Mountains is persuasive proof that everyone really should get out to experience the beautiful natural areas of our country. But “get out” doesn’t necessarily mean on foot; there are miles and miles of scenic driving routes throughout the area. One of the most popular, Cades Cove Loop Road, spans 11 miles of natural beauty, historic churches, and cabins, and there’s a 20mph speed limit to make sure you get a chance to take it all in. Newfound Gap Road, another solid option, is a longer, 31-mile route that passes through the center of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, topping out at 5,046 feet.

But if you do want to hit the trails, there are nearly 150 to choose from (for beginners and experts alike) that wind their way past the beauty of the mountains — and a waterfall or two. One great waterfall hike is the moderate Abrams Fall Trail. It’ll take you over a wooden bridge and multiple creeks, then up to gushing Abrams Fall. Another popular choice is the Alum Cave Trail, which features a winding staircase underneath a massive rock structure (that feels like something out of an Indiana Jones movie).

7. Fall festivals are the best festivals.

Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

As soon as the warmer months are behind us and the mountains start breathing the crisp autumn air, Pigeon Forge pulls out all the stops for fall celebrations. Walking along the Parkway is like being inside an autumnal cornucopia, and all the restaurants and shops get in on the action.

The hardcore festivities really kick off at Dollywood’s Harvest Festival, where you can multitask between snacking on pumpkin funnel cake and watching illuminated pumpkins dance around the park. Fall also brings out the spooky side of The Island — a massive complex of food, shopping, and entertainment — during its annual family-friendly Halloween festival on October 28.

8. You don’t really need a drivers license.

Okay, well, if you’re driving a car on the street you do, but you can do that back home. Here, do one better and challenge your friends and family to a high-speed go-kart race (unlike the DMV, you’ll be able to walk right in). And be it on the three-story go-kart-roller-coaster hybrid at The Track or in world-championship, European-style go-karts at Xtreme Racing Center, there’s zero fear you’ll get charged with speeding here.

9. Nashville isn’t the closest place with great music.

Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

Right outside your door is. Sometimes the music will be country, sometimes rock n’ roll, gospel, Broadway — whatever it is, Pigeon Forge knows how to entertain. To catch the best of it all, a night at the Smoky Mountain Opry should be on the itinerary. It’ll leave you feeling like you got a sneak peek at the country’s next biggest names — and chances are, you have.

10. Life just feels better in a cabin.

Maybe it’s the combination of that wooden cabin smell mixing with the fresh mountain air, or maybe it’s sitting out on the porch watching the sunrise with a fresh cup of coffee, or maybe it’s just the fact that it seems like the absolute polar opposite of day-to-day life. Whatever it is, something about staying in a cabin in the Smokies makes for a magical experience.

If that’s not high-class enough for you, the area has plenty of chalets for rent, too. Who said the South isn’t fancy?

11. Dollywood might just be the friendliest theme park in the world.

Photo: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

When Dolly Parton decides to do something, she goes next level, and Dollywood is no exception. Perfectly curated to practically define Americana (and to be incredibly fun), Dollywood has a genuine, laid-back country vibe…and some of the best roller coasters in the world. With fall here, the park becomes even more memorable — intricately carved pumpkins line the walks, a glow-in-the-dark maze will keep everyone busy, and the new Great Pumpkin LumiNights addition to the Harvest Festival rounds out the season. Come check it out.