At night, Pigeon Forge is a swelling sea of neon, a Neverland of bright, blinking bulbs and spinning whirligigs designed to demand your attention even amidst a visual cacophony.
So how do you stand out amongst this impenetrable forest of incandescence?
You go up.
The Ferris Wheel at The Island, officially known as the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, dominates the Pigeon Forge skyline, not simply because it outshines the competition.
The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is the centerpiece of The Island, a community of shops, restaurants and entertainment options located along the West Prong Little Pigeon River between the Parkway and Teaster Lane.
How big is the Ferris Wheel in Pigeon Forge?
The massive wheel, which comes with a dizzying array of twinkling lights, stands out because it stands above – 20 stories above – the Pigeon Forge strip.
At 200 feet tall, it towers over most of the rest of the strip, serving as a landmark beacon both for The Island and for people stuck in Pigeon Forge traffic looking to The Wheel as a sign of progress.
In fact, with over 1 million LED lights, The Wheel is visible from the peak of Clingmans Dome at night.
Created in 2013, The Wheel remains among the relatively new attractions to Pigeon Forge. It took only eight days to construct the popular ride, which is run by four 200-horsepower motors that spin The wheel at a speed of up to 12.5 miles per hour.
A ride to the top offers unparalleled views of the Smokies, as well as Pigeon Forge itself. The Wheel’s gondolas are enclosed with glass, which someone with a fear of heights appreciates.
Each gondola seats up to 8 guests except for the single VIP Gondola, which comes equipped with leather bucket seats and only allows for four riders. In all, there are 42 gondolas on The Wheel.
How much does the Ferris Wheel in Pigeon Forge cost?
Prices range from $9 for kids ages 3 to 11 to $14 for a full-priced adult ticket. Discounts are available for seniors, military and locals.
The VIP Gondola is $75 for a group (up to 4 people) and features a glass bottom for an enhanced viewing experience.
In addition to lessening the fear of heights, at least for me, the enclosed gondolas allow for climate control, guaranteeing a cool ride in the summer and a warm ride in the winter months.
The Wheel, with a max capacity of 340 riders, comes with handicap accessible gondolas and offers views unavailable from anywhere else in the mountains.
During the day, you get clear views of the mountain tops. At night, The Wheel offers a unique perspective on the multi-million dollar Island Show Fountain.
The Wheel also advertises a sneak peak at the rooftop pool and bar at the Margaritaville Island Hotel, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether that’s a plus or a minus.
How long is the Ferris Wheel ride in Pigeon Forge?
Each round trip on The Wheel lasts between 15-20 minutes with the variable being the other passengers’ loading and unloading process.
Is The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel ‘worth it’?
Let’s get real, as cool as The Wheel is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to load up the family for a trek to The Island for a 15-20 minute ride.
As part of a larger itinerary, however, it can be the highlight to a fun day.
The Ferris Wheel is no doubt the most iconic feature at The Island in Pigeon Forge. But, if you plan to spend some more time in the area, here are some other suggestions of what to do at The Island:
5. Eat at the Mellow Mushroom
There are several dining options at The Island. Many of them involve treats heavy on the sugar. Sit down restaurants include Dick’s Last Resort, Margaritaville and Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen.
For my money, you can’t beat the Mellow Mushroom. When we’re dining on The Island, the artisanal pizza chain is our first choice.
4. Drink some moonshine
Maybe this is not the best option if you’re bringing the family, but a date night that features a ride on The Wheel and a stop at the Changes in Latitude Bar or Ole Smoky Moonshine can be a big hit.
I’m gonna say do you’re drinking after getting on the giant, spinning tube of glass, but you do you.
3. Shop around The Island
There are many shopping options on The Island. If you’re a mom or dad putting the kids on The Wheel and looking for a few moments to yourself, there’s a wide range of options.
The Beef Jerky Experience is a personal favorite, but I recognize that not everyone shares my love of dried, cured meat products.
2. Play and enjoy the other rides
For $30, the Unlimited Rides Pass allows you to ride everything included as many times as you want for two days of family fun.
A $10 upgrade offers a one-time pass to The Island’s ropes course and quick jump. The rides include the following:
- The Flying Horse Carousel
- Happy Swing
- Lil Ribbits
- Funny Cars
- Island Express
- Twist N Shout
- The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
- Spinning Parrots Coaster
- Sky Tykes
- Reverse Time
For families staying at The Island, this is a pretty good deal. Children under 42 inches tall are permitted a chaperone to ride for free, except on The Wheel and the Ropes Course.
1. Play an Escape Game
The Island’s cleverly named Escape Game is just as advertised. You have an hour to uncover the secret plot, working your way through a critical covert mission.
With five different scenarios, you can escape time and again and have a different experience each time.
Escape Game tickets are $36 each and are not included in the Unlimited Rides Pass.
You can save on Escape Game tickets by checking Groupon for discounts.
What are your favorite things to do at The Island in Pigeon Forge? Let us know in the comments.