Is Gatlinburg Safe? What To Consider With Advice From a Local

a woman looks at downtown gatlinburg from a window

Gatlinburg is often considered the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

A local offers his take on whether or not Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are “safe”

I had a wonderful childhood with a level of freedom that would border on negligence today. For instance, I never sat in a safety seat. As an infant, I survived a car crash when my mom slipped me onto the floorboard and held on for dear life as a driver ran a stoplight and blasted our car. I could be out of the range of my parents’ voices for hours and no one ever raised an alarm.

When I was in second grade, they announced a suspicious van around the school. Did anyone consider escorting me to school? No. I’d been walking several blocks by myself as a kindergartner. I was warned to stay away from suspicious vans and strangers and people with candy. That level of freedom from an early age acted like a booster rocket to my natural streak of independence. I like to think and do for myself. Even when I know I shouldn’t, I bristle at being told what to do. I’ll dig in my heels, unable to hide the white-hot obstinance within.

As a local, I would say that Gatlinburg is overall safe. But as with anything in life, you want to use common sense and practice basic safety precautions. Gatlinburg is likely a little better for kids compared to Pigeon Forge since it’s more walkable. Of course, the national park itself is also safe but needs its own set of safety precautions, like being cautious around wildlife and knowing your own limitations when you go for a hike.

a bear in downtown gatlinburg
Bears come to mind for some when considering the safety of Gatlinburg. Always keep your distance from the bears (photo taken at a safe distance with a zoom lens by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is Gatlinburg safe?

So when asked if Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are safe to explore, my instant reaction is: Yes, of course.Drawing on my experiences in a lifetime of cruising around Sevier County, running the roads in Pigeon Forge, and walking around Gatlinburg, I can think of no reason why residents or visitors of the Smokies should be fearful of doing the same. Now, here’s the irony. Ask me if I’d let my kids do the same. Ah, the hypocrisy is strong with this one. The world has changed. I have changed. The freedoms of which I once gulped so mightily are but fables to my kids. Even in the age of cell phones, they do not wander outside the range of my voice. I don’t know if there have been 10 minutes of their lives – excluding time with friends or family – that I didn’t have a full grasp of where they were.

boudeccas pub in Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is more walkable than Pigeon Forge, and generally feels a bit safer than Pigeon Forge (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

Is Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge safer for kids?

If you asked me if Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are safe for my children, the answer would still be yes, but with caveats. First of all, logistically I consider Gatlinburg to be the safer of the two. It’s smaller, of course. And it’s a city built for walking with easily defined boundaries that limit the possibilities for misunderstandings. Drivers on the strip are expecting pedestrians. The speed limit is manageable. Everything along the strip is well-lit, and I would be shocked if most of the area wasn’t covered by the stores’ security cameras. In addition, there are plenty of kid-friendly businesses and attractions that your progeny could explore without making a nuisance of themselves. I tell them to stay away from the water without supervision. The river through Gatlinburg isn’t necessarily deep – though it may be somewhat dangerous in heavy rainy seasons – but that mountain water can be cold with decent currents.

The biggest danger in Gatlinburg – and life really – is the other people. People have different motivations. Sometimes they go on vacation to indulge the parts of themselves that are repressed in their everyday interactions. Maybe they want to fight. Maybe they want to flirt. Who knows? If your kids know how to separate themselves from a potentially uncomfortable situation – instruct them to seek refuge in a store, restaurant or other public places and ask for help from employees – then they should be fine.

Piegeon Forge Ferris Wheel at night
The Island in Pigeon Forge is usually a fairly safe place for kids (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is Pigeon Forge safe?

Pigeon Forge is a different matter. It’s bigger and wider and more filled with drivers who aren’t necessarily watching for pedestrians. Inattention can be an issue in Pigeon Forge. In Pigeon Forge or Sevierville, I would set boundaries differently. I would instruct the kids to stay where they are supposed to be. For instance, I wouldn’t hesitate to give them the freedom to explore The Island in Pigeon Forge or one of the outlet malls, or even some of the larger strip malls or areas. But if I caught them trying to cross from one side of the Parkway to the other? They’d wish a car got them before I did.

Again, I’d tell them to stay away from water and from strangers seeking their attention. Prevention is key. There has been in recent years, at least anecdotally, a rise in wilder behavior in Pigeon Forge. Not that there hasn’t always been some of that, it just seems like there’s been more recently. But again, as long your kids know how to separate from unwanted notice, they should be fine. No fussing, no fighting and minimal flirting would be my marching orders for Pigeon Forge.

So is Pigeon Forge safe? By and large, yes. Ultimately, you know yourself and your family better than anyone. You know how much freedom to allow, and what boundaries to set. Be smart, be firm and you should be fine.

Public parking sign in Gatlinburg
Most crime in Gatlinburg involves burglary, robbery and theft – so don’t leave valuables in your car and keep the doors locked at all times (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What are the crime rates?

I have spent most of my life in East Tennessee and feel pretty safe visiting the Smokies. But that doesn’t mean something can’t happen. If you pull up a crime map, statistically, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge crime rates are a bit higher than the national average. Notably, Gatlinburg is safer than Pigeon Forge. Most incidents are either burglary, robbery, theft or auto theft. I was relatively surprised to learn that the crime rates are a little higher, but I suppose it is a tourist town. The rates drop a little as you venture into more rural areas. With that in mind, one of your top priorities should be to lock your doors and especially car doors. You’ll also want to do this to keep the bears out of your car. Unfortunately, the bears have learned to associate cars with food.

Treemont park sign
There are also safety tips to keep in mind if you plan on exploring the national park (photo by jadimages/shutterstock.com)

Is the national park safe?

When you’re exploring the trails, you have a whole new set of things to worry about. Most commonly, folks might get into trouble if they do not properly prepare. Watch out for wildlife. Bring a map. Know your limitations. Hike with a group, or at the very least, tell others where you plan to be. Whether you’re walking the streets of Gatlinburg or the national park trails, preparation is key. Use common sense and keep your valuables locked and protected. Then, you’re more likely to have a better, safer trip.

Do you feel safe in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee? Let us know in the comments.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

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21 thoughts on “Is Gatlinburg Safe? What To Consider With Advice From a Local”

  1. While I grew up playin in the creek with my cousins or walking to a nearby store in Sevierville and on the outskirts of Knoxville, My grand/s will never be more than an arms length in any of the surrounding areas and will never be out of my sight. More and more people come and more and more people from other areas move in. Not to mention the shops and such that are not locally ran.

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  2. Yes,always enjoy Gatlinburg and Pigeon forge, never had a problem, even when we seen a bear 🐻. We didn’t bother it and it didn’t bother us 🙂

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  3. Just don’t drive your car there. I’ve never seen so many stolen cars I my life. Not just nice cars. Anything they can steal, they will. And they are never seen again. Can’t figure how they get thru the traffic! Guess they steal leisurely

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  4. Absolutely safe! Only 1 1/2 hours from our home in Virginia, we also were allowed so much freedom and trusted everyone. No such world exists today anywhere but I do feel safe traveling there. Beautiful!

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  5. I have been going to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge several times a year since I was a kid. I love the place. I feel at home there. I have always felt safe there and never worried about my kids. However, this world has gotten so stupid and people have gotten so petty and there are so many criminals and entitled people roaming around with no respect for themselves or other people, you now have to be more vigilant. Expect the best but prepare for the worst. It’s a magical place but be aware.

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  6. I feel very safe in both locations. But as usual when we’re traveling, I’m more alert, more aware and even more cautious of like wild life. They have far more potentials for those encounters than not to be honest. I feel at home there but not to the point I will let my guard down. Stay attentive, use common sense and typical travel caution, you should be fine.

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  7. I have been going to both for 30 plus years. As always in unfamiliar place use the “Buddy System”. There are grifters and pedophiles in every town, just be on your toes.

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  8. I am from. Pennsylvania and I always feel safe in pigeon forge and Gatlinburg. That is like a second home for me . We are actually moving there because we feel safer there there in Pennsylvania.

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  9. We just went there I love it but my child is special needs so he doesn’t live like we did an most likely wouldn’t even if he wasn’t people are sick an steal kids for trafficking all over

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  10. I feel safe there with my husband. But I have seen enough signs in reststop restrooms on our way there about human trafficking that I am always on alert.

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  11. I agree entirely. In Pigeon Forge drivers are not looking for pedestrians crossing the main drag. They barely pay attention to other motorists around them.
    I highly recommend that people, children and teens included, utilize the local mass transit “Trolleys”. While based near Old Mill in Pigeon Forge and Ripleys Aquarium in Gatlinburg, they traverse as far as Severville. They make a great way to getc around both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg with a multitude of stops and routes for each of these cities. Prior to the pandemic there was talk about a route that would even go out to the Bass Pro Shop and Stadium just north of I-40, along with stops out at the KnifeWorks. While this wold make a great expansion I do not know if it has been implemented yet.

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  12. My family loves Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, as a rule we always do everything as a family except when we stay at The Island, there they are allowed to go and come as they please but with a curfew and their cell phones in their pocket to check in with us. Honestly I don’t believe our kids are completely safe anywhere but when they reach a certain age they have to be allowed a certain amount of independence and if we’ve done our job right as a good parent they have been taught the type of places and people they should steer clear of and to always be aware of who is around them at all times…most importantly if at any time they feel like they are in danger seek help, in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg there is always a person or a shop within arms reach where they can find help.

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  13. I just spent a week at Pigeon Forge . I was on a ground floor hotel room . It was my 38 yr. Old niece and I. Our first night at 4 am Someone kick our door very hard. It did not come open. I did have it deadbolted. I said in a serious tone . I have a gun and will use it.
    They must of left . Never had a problem after that. I called the office and they said they were going to check the cameras to see if they could see who it was. The morning after I looked at the outside of our door it had a Shoe print and a mark on it where it had been definitely kicked. I called again to the office and told them now that it was light you could see where they kicked the door. It was the only time we had any issues the entire week. I am going to write about it in my Review at For the Inn.

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  14. It’s a legit question. My parents turned me loose around age 14 with my 12 year old brother. Never had any problems but that was 30 plus years ago.. I trusted my son at about 15 alone, always fine.. The worst I’ve seen is a woman’s purse got grabbed and guy ran in a black dark alley, which is now lit. I seen the same kid panhandling because he had gotten stuck with no gas and no money. 4th of July week, 3 years in a row.. Maybe someone little intoxicated, that’s the worst I’ve seen. Was there last week. All is well. Just crowded.

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  15. I spent my teenage years here and my parents always allowed me to run around Gatlinburg with my two younger siblings and always stayed at one of the local places on the strip or at Cars at the entry by the river. Some times we’d walk and sometimes we’d take the Trolley, it was fifty cents a ride back then (this was thirty years ago) which was a bit expensive for the time so we’d just walk. I’ll never forget this freedom we’d always have in Gatlinburg, see the “Ghost Show” or going into the gag shop to buy stuff like fake 100 dollar bills that were folded and said “Sucker” when open to leave on the streets and then watch others lol. It was truly a different world back then, one much simpler and better than today! Gatlinburg was more smaller, friendlier, southern, and you always felt safe here. I truly wish I could return to this time.

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  16. NO area is ‘safe’ anymore. I live in the mountains of Ga, and it is beautiful, small town charm, but…a woman was abducted off the AT and murdered not long ago. Stop with the “its safe!” and focus on your surroundings, wherever you go. I am not talking paranoia, but use your smarts, and never let your guard completely down. Our world is not the same as years ago.

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  17. I love Gatlinburg.I’ve been going at least 3 times a year sense 1980.I have only one thing and that is wish that McDonalds was still there. It was good on the family you could afford to feed. My thinking maybe they had to leave cause it was always full taking business away from others food places. Just a thought.

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