These are the 4 worst times to visit Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg

The perfect time to hit the Smokies depends wildly on what you want out of the experience.

We love the Smokies in the spring, when the mountains are fresh and green and blooming. They retain a bit of the nip in the air.

We love the Smokies in the summer when nothing is more refreshing than a cold mountain stream.

We love the Smokies in the fall when the kaleidoscope of colors is bursting all around, and the hint of the coming winter is the air.

We love the Smokies in the winter for Christmas traditions at Dollywood and the bright, colorful lights and the holiday spirit everywhere.

So while we here at don’t think there’s ever a bad time to go to the Smokies, we acknowledge there is a season for everything and every purpose.

Some seasons are worse to go to the Smokies than others.

Here are the absolute worst times to go to the Smokies:

One of the many eerie sights: The abandoned streets of downtown Gatlinburg last April (Photo by Daniel Munson/
The Smokies can be a bit depressing when everything is closed (photo by Daniel Munson/

1. January through February, because it can be depressing

For Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the first months of the year are like one, long December 26th.

The anticipation of the holidays is gone. It’s coldish. It’s gray. The mountains are dormant. Dollywood is closed. Several other attractions are closed or on winter hours.

Sure you can shop. Sure you can do indoor stuff. But a general malaise hangs in the air.

While there’s not much traffic to battle and the crowds have dwindled, there’s a reason.

The best thing to do in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in January and February is look ahead to better days.

Aerial view of traffic in Pigeon Forge
An aerial view of Rod Runs traffic in Pigeon Forge (photo by Daniel Munson/

2. Rod Runs, because traffic is a nightmare

Rod Runs are great. The cars are super cool and the people-watching is excellent.

But if you’ve ever accidentally driven onto the main drag unaware that it’s a Rod Run weekend, you are missing out on a special kind of hell.

It’s a little bit like being the victim of a mob hit in a Martin Scorsese film.

Everything’s going along swimmingly; you’re having a nice drive with your family. You see a classic car. Then another. Then the cold realization of what is about to happen hits just as everything goes slow-motion and you’re powerless to stop it.

“Oh noooooooo,” you shout to the family, shoving your children out of the car to the safety of the sidewalk. “Save yourselves.”

Read Also: Watch two guys line dance in the road while stuck in Gatlinburg traffic

Then everything fades to black and you spend the next four hours motionless in the fast lane listening to the Rolling Stones.

Long lines are always expected in the Smokies during the more popular months (photo by Morgan Overholt/
Long lines are always expected in the Smokies during the more popular months (photo by Morgan Overholt/

3. Autumn, because of the crowds

I’m pretty sure it was Jean Paul Sartre who said “to every yen, there is a yang.” The beauty of the mountains in the fall is unmatched. It is also not much of a secret.

Every family outing to the mountains in the fall requires a certain kind of calculus.

What combination of backroads and main roads is the right combination to get us where we’re going in a reasonable time? Can I risk coming in from Exit 407? Should I go through Newport? Do I need to drive through Cosby?

If you’re planning a Sunday drive through Cades Cove, what time do you have to be there to beat the after-church crowd? What’s the general status of your patience? Has it been a bit of a week at work?

If the nerves are a little frayed starting out, what are the chances you’ll find yourself laying on the horn and telling a tourist from Cleveland that deer are everywhere and certainly are not worth blocking the loop for 35 minutes while you gawk at them.

Yelling “If you stop for anything less than a bear, I will go full Earnhardt and put your butt in the ditch,” is an indication, you picked the wrong day to go to the cove.

Read Also: How to visit Cades Cove, 7 things to know before you go

Dollywood can be a blazing hot in the summertime (photo by Morgan Overholt/
Dollywood can be blazing hot in the summertime (photo by Morgan Overholt/

4. Summer, because of the brutal heat

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the East Tennessee humidity can be oppressive.

Summer can be a great time to be up in the mountains or it can be a sweltering hellscape of soggy, sweaty humanity.

Once, while traversing the concrete concourse of Dollywood on our way from the Country Fair up to the relative shade of Craftsmen’s Valley, the combined effects of the staggering heat and the relocation of all of the liquid inside my body to dripping off the outside of my body left me shuttling through the relative planes of existence like Val Kilmer in The Doors movie.

I saw a Shaman, a giant sentient lizard and Dabney Coleman in his bondage gear from “9 to 5.”

I literally started looking for a wedding ring I thought dropped from my finger despite the fact that I lost that ring 12 years prior while spinning it like a top.

Summer, my friend, can be brutal.

When do you think is the worst time to visit the Smokies? Let us know in the comments below.

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Is Ripley’s Aquarium worth the money: A review of Gatlinburg’s aquarium

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the crown jewel attractions in Gatlinburg, Tenn., featuring over 350 species of aquatic life in its massive 85,000 square foot facility.

But when you’re planning out your precious vacation dollars, budget and time, a question commonly comes up: Is the aquarium worth it?

While “worth” is different to different people, we believe this article will help you determine if an aquarium visit is right for you and your family.

Let’s start with the basics.

A diver with a shark at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
If you’re lucky, you might see live dive shows inside the tanks at Ripley’s (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

How much does it cost to go to Ripley’s Aquarium?

At the time of this writing, an adult ticket is $39.99. Children (6-11) cost $24.99 and children (2-5) cost $9.99.

Didn’t see the price of admission for toddlers? That’s because children under age two are free!

Now, shelling out $40 on an aquarium ticket might seem a little steep.

But, for comparison sake, I looked at two nearby competitors: The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Ga. Both of which run closer to the $35 range for adult admission.

That being said, the price of admission for adults is offset by the price of admission for kids.

For example, let’s say you have a family of four with two kids between the ages of 3-10.

A day at the Georgia Aquarium would cost roughly $148. A day at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga would cost $114, and a day at Ripley’s would cost $130.

And if one of your kids was under age 5, it would offset the cost of Ripley’s even more.

Notably, you can also save even more money (up to $35) when you bundle your aquarium ticket with other area Ripley’s themed attractions (more on that below).

Play area inside Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
Ripley’s has hands-on experiences and huge play areas for children (photo by Alaina O’Neal/

How long does it take to walk through Ripley’s Aquarium?

Google tells me that most people spend an average of about 2.5 hours here. However, the last time I was at the aquarium, it took me at least half a day to get through it.

And honestly, if you stop to read everything, do everything, touch everything, you could easily spend several hours doing just that.

Could you speed walk through it and see it in less than two hours? Probably, but you might just be missing that one giant fish in that one tank.

Plus, the longer you spend at the aquarium, the farther your entertainment time-per-dollar goes.

Read Also: Is Anakeesta worth the money? An honest review

Is it cheaper to buy Ripley’s Aquarium tickets online?

There are clear advantages to buying your tickets online before you go.

The first of which is that you can skip the line upon arrival, saving valuable vacation time.

And if you are interested in seeing any other Ripley’s attractions, or playing some mini-golf in the area, you can save even more by bundling some of the other attractions.

The more you buy, the more you save per attraction.

And it’s worth noting that Gatlinburg has more Ripley’s attractions than anywhere else in the world.

The other attractions may not be quite as popular as the aquarium, but the mini-golf alone might make the deal worth it.

The additional attractions in the Smokies area include:

  • Believe it or Not! Odditorium
  • Haunted Adventure
  • Mirror Maze
  • Moving Theater
  • Old Mac Mini Golf
  • Davy Crockett Mini Golf
  • Super Fun Zone

Read Also: Ripley’s in the Smokies: A breakdown of each attraction (with discounts and coupons!)

An octopus at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
If you move through the aquarium too quickly, you may overlook some of the 10,000 exotic sea creatures (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

How long are Ripley’s Aquarium tickets good for?

When you buy a ticket online, the ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase.

At this time, reservations are not required for general admission.

So is Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg worth it?

In my opinion, the aquarium is very well done. And my vacation math, especially for a family of four, also checks out.

Certainly, I have not personally been to every aquarium in North America (unfortunately), I’ve visited some of the big ones, including the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans.

I even had a brief stint as a volunteer at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

And not to hate on those guys, because they are all great in their own right. But Ripley’s remains one of my favorites.

Even though it’s still a large aquarium, it doesn’t get quite as crowded as the aquarium in Georgia. Plus, Ripley’s does a great job of offering hands-on experiences, such as touching the gentle stingrays.

Two of my personal favorite features of this aquarium is the 340-foot underwater tunnel with a glide path. And of course, the Penguin Playhouse.

If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, you can even do art projects with a penguin, and take one home as a souvenir.

For more information about special events such as pirate sleepovers, camps, and penguin art, visit the aquarium events page. Group discounts and special promos are also available.

Sharks in a underwater tunnel at Ripley's
Ripley’s underwater tunnel offers amazing views of giant sharks, rays, and giant sea turtles and is a unique feature of this award-winning aquarium (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

Special combo attraction promo tickets are available as well, follow the link to learn more.

Special promo discount offer: Save up to $22 with the Ripley’s Gatlinburg Aquarium + 2 attraction combo!

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located at 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. For more information and to plan your visit, follow the website or book your tickets here.

What do you think of Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg? Is it worth it? Let us know in the comments!