10 Surprisingly Hidden Things To Do in Pigeon Forge, Smoky Mountains

an overlook at the falls at foxfire

Few people realize that Foxfire was built on top of an old abandoned Iron Mine. For safety reasons, guests aren't allowed to venture into the mine, but they can look down into it from the falls (photo by Alissa Fuson/shutterstock.com)

A Smoky Mountain local shares a few hidden gems and things to do in and around Pigeon Forge, TN

Pigeon Forge, Tenn., isn’t exactly a place for subtlety. The competition for tourism dollars is fierce. To be relevant and successful, you need to stand out from the cacophony of neon lights and the dazzling array of sound and fury. However, the beaten path is usually beaten for a reason. Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area feature tons of great attractions and famous spots. Most people don’t come to the Smokies to find the best-kept secrets. But when I travel I don’t want just tourist destinations. I want to experience a little of the local life. I like the secret spots that aren’t necessarily world-famous. So while Pigeon Forge doesn’t run on the hunt for hidden treasure, hidden treasure still can be found. That is, at least if you have the willingness – and the days built into your vacation – to do it. 

Fairy House Gatlinburg
The “Fairy House” in Gatlinburg (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Find the House of the Fairies

In the days before the national park, the mountains were filled with interesting people. Some embraced the ways of the primitive mountains as it was the only thing they’d ever known. Others saw the mountains as the perfect place to build a resort or getaway. Louis Voorheis wanted privacy, a place to get away from crowds and the modern world. Among the many structures that Voorhies built on the property in the 16 years of development was a spring house, a stone archway with an open door next to a set of stone stairs carved into the hillside. Today, this moss-covered spot is known as the House of Fairies, a popular destination for hikers, photographers and artists. The House of Fairies is accessible via the Twin Creeks trail. Editor’s Note: For detailed instructions on how to find the Fairy House be sure to check out our full feature-length article.

the tunnel exterior
But just because you are unlikely to happen upon this secret tunnel on accident doesn’t mean it’s difficult to find if you know where to look (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Find the secret tunnel at Clingmans Dome

This one defines “off the beaten path”. There’s an old tunnel near Clingmans Dome and you won’t readily find it on Google Maps. It’s a former hiker’s underpass. It was constructed in the mid to late 1930s by a group of young men known as the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the 1960s, the tunnel was cut off from the original trail and stranded due to the Mission ’66 initiative. That’s why you won’t happen upon it unless you’re looking for it. It’s no longer part of any regular path or hiking trail. It leads to a cliff with a beautiful view where the other side of the trail once existed. Editor’s Note: For detailed instructions on how to find the secret tunnel check out our full feature-length article.

Rich Mountain Roadd Signage
Rich Mountain Road is a one-way road that is rather mountainous (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

3. Drive Rich Mountain Road

The back road exit from Cades Cove is a white-knuckle drive over the top of the mountains featuring lots of switchbacks and a narrow mountain road. I’ve done it once and that was enough for me. You’ll pass several trailheads along the way – including Indian Grave Gap, Rich Mountain and Ace Gap. Rich Mountain Road intersects with the Cades Cove Loop Road at the Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church. It’s a one-way deal, so if you give it a try, you have to finish. You’ll come out on Old Cades Cove Road. Stick with that until you hit Old Tuckaleechee Road. Turning right will take you to Highway 321 – aka Lamar Alexander Parkway – faster. Going left will get you onto 321 eventually, too. Note: The road is closed from November through May.

the troll bridge
The stone bridge, known as the troll bridge, is in the Elkmont region of the Great Smoky Mountains (Martina Sliger/shutterstock.com)

4. Discover the Elkmont Troll Bridge

This beautiful moss-covered bridge – or as locals refer to it, the troll bridge – is located in the Elkmont region of the Great Smoky Mountains, arguably one of the most history-rich regions of the national park. And while the bridge certainly has a whimsical look to it, rest assured, you won’t find any kind of creature or monster at the Elkmont troll bridge. Ghosts, on the other hand, might be a different story. The Little River Trail is in the heart of the historic Elkmont area and it’s the best way to find the antique, moss-covered troll bridge. To get to the bridge, take a side trail that you will find to the right of the Little River trail, about 100 feet in. The side trail will take you through the forest until you reach a bridge off Millionaire’s Row.

Fresh Apple Hanging from a Tree
Stop by a local apple orchard for fresh apples (photo by images72/shutterstock.com)

5. Visit Carver’s Orchard & Applehouse Restaurant

Also located on Highway 321 – but on the other end, Carver’s Orchard and Applehouse Restaurant is a great place to go for scenic mountain views, down-home meals and lots and lots of apple treats. Located about 20 minutes outside of Gatlinburg in Cosby, the orchard has been there for 80 years. Today, it’s especially popular in the fall but is a great place to go all year long. The country store has seasonal fruits and veggies and the homemade apple pie is a must. Carver’s is located at 3460 Cosby Hwy, Cosby, TN 37722.

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Stop by the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, TN (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Explore the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

This one is not for the whole family. If you want to explore the most quirky attraction in Gatlinburg, maybe have someone take the kids mini-golfing or something unless they’re really into sets of salt and pepper shakers. It’s one of only a few salt and pepper shaker museums in the world. It’s located on Highway 321 in Gatlinburg on the way to Cosby. It is just what you’d expect from the name: A place filled with a massive variety of salt and pepper shakers, some of which you can buy.

Glades Homemade Candies
Explore some shops like Glades Homemade Candies in the Arts and Crafts Community (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

7. Shop the Arts and Crafts Community Loop

The Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community has come together to create one of the real hidden gems of Gatlinburg. A large section of the Gatlinburg area tourist trade was built on the backs of the talented craftspeople and artisans of the mountains. The eight-mile loop – which I suppose is the very definition of a beaten path – connects over 100 craftspeople, artists, eateries and bed and breakfasts. Additionally, you can park your car and ride a Gatlinburg trolley for a day of shopping, dining and more. The Arts and Crafts Community is located at 668 Glades Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

foxfire mountain bridge and falls in Sevierville
There are several hidden gems to be found at Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park in Sevierville, including a lost iron mine (photo by Alissa Fuson/shutterstock.com)

8. See the Lost Mine at Foxfire

Deep in the forests of Sevier County, Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park offers miles of hiking trails around Prosperity Mountain and beyond with stops at the historic Lost Mine Falls. This lesser-known gem features a view down into the Sweden Furnace Iron Mine, hiding behind the falls. For safety reasons, you’re not allowed to go into the mine, but you can see down into the operation that provided ore for the famed Sweden Furnace, which began its life as the Short Mountain Furnace in 1820. The furnace – which used local ore to make “pig iron” – changed owners and names in 1836. The furnace later closed in 1840 on the heels of economic panic and the deterioration of the ore. Foxfire is located at 3757 Thomas Ln, Sevierville, TN 37876.

Walker sisters cabin construction
The Walker Sisters cabin went under renovation in 2021-2022 for safety reasons, but you can still explore the Walker property in the national park (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

9. Visit the Walker Sisters’ homeplace

The Walkers Sisters’ story is one of my favorites in the mountains. The cabin that remains today was built in the 1840s by their father “Hairy” John Walker. Hairy John and Margaret had 11 kids. All of the family’s five boys married and moved away from the family cabin as did a sixth sister. But the remaining five sisters became spinsters, living the majority of their lives in the family cabin. When the National Park Service came calling to purchase the Walker land, the unmarried sisters negotiated lifetime leases to stay. When the park opened, visitors were interested in Cades Cove and the Chimney Rocks. But also, the remaining inhabitants of the park – like the Walker Sisters, who were a living tourist attraction. The Walker Sister’s cabin is a relatively easy find as its location is marked on Google Maps, but do be prepared for a bit of a walk.

Max Patch Bald
The Max Patch bald is one of the most beautiful spots in the mountains (photo by Doug Ash/shutterstock.com)

10. Discover Max Patch

Located in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina, Max Patch is truly off the beaten path. Max Patch is a bald mountain-top pasture with no trees. It offers stunning 360-degree views of the mountains. Located on the Appalachian Trail and accessible from both the North Carolina and Tennessee sides of the mountains, Max Patch is popular with hikers and is a great picnic destination. I strongly urge approaching from the North Carolina side. But sadly, the area has struggled with an abundance of trash and vandalism in recent years. The United States Forest Service has issued a series of restrictions to help the mountain recover.

What is your favorite hidden adventure in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!

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Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.

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