13 Celebrity Sightings in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains

Channing Tatum at a gas station on I-40 in Newport

Channing Tatum at a gas station on I-40 in Newport (fair use/Channing Tatum's Facebook page)

These are a few famous faces that have been known to make an appearance in and around the Smoky Mountains

When you live near a popular tourist destination like the Smoky Mountains, you must keep your head on a swivel. You never know when the person behind you in line at the Salt and Pepper Museum might be a famous person going incognito. The fact is you never know who is going to show up for a bit of the mountain experience. 

While Dolly Parton is the queen of the Smokies, she’s not the only famous person you might encounter during a visit to Sevier County. Big-name stars of music and movies as well as a few reality TV folks like Harrison Ford, Jason Momoa, Nicole Kidman and more have been known to make an appearance.

1. Dolly Parton

Years ago, I had friends who worked behind the scenes who swore Dolly could take off her wig and makeup and go around the park incognito. It’s hard to believe but if the “Undercover Boss” thing works that well, maybe Undercover Dolly does, too. 

There’s no real trick to seeing Dolly Parton in Dollywood. Each year, she opens the park season with an event for annual passholders and – as long as the weather holds – she’ll wave to visitors during an afternoon parade. But if you go throughout the rest of the year, there remains a chance. In recent years, Dolly has done quite a bit of filming in the park. And she usually comes out to celebrate the opening of new rides, events or shows. 

harrison ford with thesmokies.com contributor John Gullion
Me and Harrison Ford in Morristown, TN (photo courtesy of The Citizen Tribune)

2. Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart

For years, the quiet little secret around Morristown – about 30 minutes from Exit 407 on I-40 – was that when Harrison Ford and his wife Calista were in town, the best chance to see them was during breakfast time at the Hillbilly Cabin. Flockhart’s parents, Ron and Kay, had retired to Morristown. As a result, the former Ally McBeal star and her husband would visit occasionally over the years. Both Calista and Harrison made appearances in support of local Theatre Guild productions and could be seen at local restaurants. Ford was even named an honorary Hamblen County deputy. Their rumored favorites included breakfast at the Hillbilly Cabin, dinner at the Little Dutch and the occasional visit to O’Charley’s for free pie night. Did Harrison ever make it back over to Bryson City to visit the spot where the trainwreck from “The Fugitive” remains? Probably not. But there’s a chance. 

3. Jason Momoa 

Aquaman himself made a stop in Maggie Valley. No, he wasn’t interested in investing in a revival of the Ghost Town in the Sky. He was visiting the Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum in October of 2020. He hung out around town for a few days and made quite an impression. 

Jimmy Logan's Run. Day 3 & Day 4. This trip has been the most fun I've ever had promoting a film. Thanks to everyone I…

Posted by Channing Tatum on Wednesday, August 9, 2017

4. Channing Tatum

There’s a movie theater in Knoxville that will occasionally hold red-carpet events. Tatum was in town to promote his film “Logan Lucky” and stopped at a gas station on I-40 in Newport where a lucky fan got a selfie. 

5. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman

The world-famous actress loves her some Pigeon Forge. She and her husband Keith Urban posed for Valentine’s pictures at Dollywood and Urban has also told People Magazine that Kidman had taken the family to the mountains while he was working in Nashville. 

6. Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus & Kenny Rogers

Years ago, Miley was barely removed from Hannah Montana. At that time, she and her group stopped by the NASCAR go-kart track in Sevierville just before closing. Because go-karts are more fun with other racers on the track, a few local kids – or at least one – got to stay and race with the Disney star. Her connection to Dolly also makes Dollywood appearances likely whenever her Godmother has a project going on, as pictured above with Kenny Rogers and her father Billy Ray Cyrus.

7. Ashley Judd

Another go kart aficionado, the famed actress stopped in Pigeon Forge to race in 2014. She has also been known to post on Instagram for her love of the Smoky Mountains.

8. Lee Ann Womack

And last December, country music singer Lee Ann Womack made a surprise appearance at Ober Mountain in Gatlinburg, TN. “A tender Tennessee Christmas by Amy Grant running through my mind. Kicking off the Christmas season in Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville” said Womack in a Facebook post.

9. Neil Patrick Harris

Actor and singer Neil Patrick Harris and his husband David Burtka posted on Instagram in 2019 about birthday celebrations from the exclusive Blackberry Farm resort in the Smoky Mountains.

10. Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood and Katy Perry

Over the years, Dolly Parton has brought in several familiar faces to film her various specials at Dollywood. Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson and more have been spotted filming at the park. A few years ago, singer Katy Perry tweeted out her visit to Dollywood where she tackled some coasters and ate at Aunt Granny’s. Carrie Underwood and family were also spotted at the park in 2022.

11. Celebrity Athletes Peyton Manning, Todd Helton, Health Shuler and Cal Ripken Jr.

There are a variety of sports stars who live in the area. Some played at the University of Tennessee or have visited the mountains. The biggest of these stars is football legend Peyton Manning who is in Knoxville periodically and has certainly visited the mountains. Manning’s former teammate and newly elected baseball Hall of Famer Todd Helton is from Knoxville and can be seen around the area occasionally.  

Heath Shuler – the former Washington and New Orleans quarterback and North Carolina congressman – is from Bryson City, North Carolina. He has been spotted around the area multiple times, especially while his son, Navy, was playing for UT. 

But the most likely big-name sighting? It’s probably Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. who has the Ripken Experience baseball facility in Pigeon Forge and has made several appearances around town.  

Guy Fieri at ribbon cutting
Guy Fieri makes an appearance at the ribbon cutting for Downtown Flavortown in Pigeon Forge, another one of his restaurant concepts in the Smokies (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.co,)

12. Celebrity Chefs Guy Fieri, Paula Deen, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton

Several stars have businesses in The Smokies. So we’re ranking them here even though some of them might individually rank higher. Country music stars Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton have restaurants in Gatlinburg. Celebrity chefs Paula Deen and Guy Fieri have restaurants in Pigeon Forge.  Will you see them in these places? Probably not. But there’s always a chance they’ll make a promotional appearance. 

Tim and Howard on "Moonshiners"
Tim and Howard on the TV show “Moonshiners” (photo courtesy of The Discovery Channel)

13. Reality TV Stars

There have been several reality stars who made appearances in the Smokies. Cast members from “Moonshiners” or “Duck Dynasty” make paid appearances. And there have been sightings of reality show contestants with ties to the area like Emily Ann Roberts from “The Voice” or Red Utley, a Big Brother contestant from Gatlinburg. If you’re meeting a star in the Smoky Mountains, there’s a good chance they got their start on reality TV.  

Celebrities, they’re just like us. They enjoy the beauty of the mountains and some fun family time in the Smokies. What should you do if you spot a celeb? Depends on the situation. If it’s a public appearance, step right up for a handshake or a picture. If they’re with family, maybe a nod and a wave. Ultimately, it’s up to you to read the room. 

PS: Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains? Be sure to check out our coupons page for area promos.

Are you planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains? Be sure to check out our coupons page!

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