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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.