Is Gatlinburg safe? What to consider with advice from a local

Sign for Gatlinburg TN

Gatlinburg is often considered the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains (photo by Hendrickson Photography/shutterstock.com)

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It’s hard anymore, in the shifting standards of our culture, to know what boundaries are appropriate. 

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.

Road trips with my grandparents left me bouncing around in the expansive back seat of Pap’s giant Buick. Standing and peering over his shoulder as he toured the mean streets of Southern Indiana was par for the course. 

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 made an announcement about 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 for myself. I like to 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.

A bear walks with two cubs in Gatlinburg
Bears come to mind for some when considering the safety of Gatlinburg. Pictured: Bear cubs follow a mama bear in Chalet Village in Gatlinburg. Always keep your distance from the bears (photo 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 own experiences in a lifetime of cruising around Sevier County, running the roads in Pigeon Forge, 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)

Which is safer for kids? Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?

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 isn’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 in heavy rainy seasons it may be somewhat dangerous – but that mountain water can be cold with decent currents. 

Puckers in Gatlinburg
Guests enjoy a drink on the patio at Puckers in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What to look out for in Gatlinburg

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? 

As long as 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.

Read Also: Is it better to stay in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?

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 have 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, what boundaries to set. Be smart, be firm and you should be fine. 

Crime rates in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge

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 on City Data, statically, 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 a 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 Great Smoky Mountains 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.

Read Also: Is it safe to hike in the Smoky Mountains? 8 life-saving tips

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.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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17 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.

  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 🙂

  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

  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!

  5. I really don’t understand the point of this article.
    Are you safe in Rome? or Cary, Indiana ?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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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