Is There More To Do in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? A Local Declares Winner

space needle in gatlinburg next to sign for pigeon forge tn

There are a few factors that to into determining whether or not there's more to do in Pigeon Forge than in Gatlinburg when planning your trip to the Smokies (photos by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Local compares two mountain towns in attractions, accessibility and more

The towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are only separated by a few miles, but getting back and forth between the two can be a real pain. So, if you’re planning a getaway vacation to Sevier County, you may want to decide which place you’ll be spending most of your time. As a local, here are a few things I think you should consider:

Gatlinburg has a few more unique attractions and things to do compared to its Pigeon Forge counterpart. Gatlinburg is also more walkable and can have better access to the mountains, which is what draws many visitors to the area. However, Pigeon Forge has Dollywood, which is arguably one of the best attractions in all of Tennessee. Ultimately, Pigeon Forge has more to offer than Gatlinburg.

1. Number of quality attractions

There are more establishments designed to take your tourism dollars in Pigeon Forge than in Gatlinburg. There are more restaurants, more mini golf places, more dinner theaters and more museums. Plus, Pigeon Forge has arguably the best attraction: Dollywood. However, that being said, Pigeon Forge’s numbers advantage can be somewhat misleading on repetition alone. After all, how many go-kart and mini golf attractions does one town need? Gatlinburg does offer unique attractions like Anakeesta and Ober Mountain. But places like SkyLand Ranch closer to Pigeon Forge are starting to bring more competition in those categories.

Also, quality attractions can change the equation a bit. By and large, I find Gatlinburg has a higher percentage of things that I view as high quality. For example, buoyed by Anakeesta, Ober and the Ripley’s attractions, Gatlinburg has a nice variety of activities spread throughout the village. So despite being home to Dollywood, Pigeon Forge still has a few more tourist traps.

Winner: Gatlinburg (sorry Dolly).

Traffic Gatlinburg TN
Gatlinburg is much more walkable than Pigeon Forge (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

2. Better accessibility

When Pigeon Forge traffic is manageable, everything is within an easy drive. But I find that when things are bad, they are very bad. My family flirted with Pigeon Forge traffic last weekend, daring a run to the Hollywood Wax Museum. Traffic was busy but not oppressive. However, gazing further down the Parkway to the main strip was a bit like gazing into the gaping maw of the gates of Hell. In Gatlinburg, you can park your car and walk everywhere.

Winner: Gatlinburg.

creek along roaring fork motor nature trail
Gatlinburg has better access to the national park. Above: The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

3. Access to the mountains

Folks come to the area for the natural beauty of the mountains. Gatlinburg is a stone’s throw away from the National Park, with access to Cherokee, North Carolina, Cosby and Hartford. Alternatively, most of Pigeon Forge’s best access to the mountains is through Gatlinburg but it also has the Wears Valley Road connector to Townsend. Wears Valley has turned into this cool little artistic area in the mountains with gorgeous views, interesting restaurants and the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.

Winner: Gatlinburg, but barely.

umbrella sky at dollywood theme park
Dollywood, pictured above during the spring festival, is one of the top attractions in all of Tennessee (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Overall

I like the bars and the restaurants and the shopping and the attractions (for the most part) better in Gatlinburg. I like that you can let the family have some measure of freedom, stretch out and explore. I like the Willy Wonka’s Europe vibes. I like Ripley’s Aquarium and Anakeesta and the ride across the mountains to Cherokee. I just like Gatlinburg better than Pigeon Forge. That being said, Pigeon Forge has Dollywood and the dinner theatres and lots more opportunities to do things, which ultimately is the name of the game when deciding where to vacation.

Winner: Surprisingly, Pigeon Forge.

So to recap, I’d recommend staying in Pigeon Forge if you’re looking for more things to do in the Smokies. I know Gatlinburg won more of the arbitrary categories and that it is my personal choice. But you’ve got to be ready to zag when you’re in the tourism blog game. Dollywood’s footprint is just too big, especially with Splash Country. Throw in the wide assortment of dinner theatres and great big museums like Titanic and the Hollywood Wax Museum and it’s hard to make an argument against Pigeon Forge having the most and best things to do in the county. In my humble opinion, there are simply more things to do in Pigeon Forge.

Do you agree with our assessment? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’re planning a trip to the mountains, be sure to check out our coupons page.

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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7 thoughts on “Is There More To Do in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? A Local Declares Winner”

  1. For our family Pigeon Forge is definitely the winner. We love renting a cabin and going to Dollywood. Most of our favorite restraunts are in Pigeon Forge. We also like the shows it offers. If we want to go in the Smokies we just take the bypass. Plus Wears Valley is easy to get too and also the back way to Cades Cove. We usually spend at least part of a day in Gaitlinburg too.

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  2. To me it’s more to do in Pigeon Forge than Gatlinburg however Gatlinburg is very quaint, unique and one of a kind but is still enjoyable. I prefer Pigeon Forge because the driving space is 100x large than Gatlinburg.

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  3. Yep. Much more to do in Pigeon Forge , but the traffic will get to you quick. When you’re a mom or dad trying to make everyone’s trip perfect, easy to get snippy. When you’re there on a holiday weekend or just the weekend nowadays, it is bumper to bumper from Sevierville to the end of Pigeon Forge. If you have kids from toddler to early teens, Pigeon Forge is the place to be with a full day and a little after dark time spent in Gatlinburg. Plenty to do for the entire family. Around 15 to 20 bucks to park for the day and you can walk the entire city. When I got older, we started staying all our nights in Gatlinburg and drive down to Pigeon Forge earlyish in the morning and back to the room around noon to miss the traffic. If you’re not driving, there’s always plenty to look at out the window. Lol

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  4. How can you say Gatlinburg is better in all of the subcategories but then say pigeon forge is better overall? Not much logic there

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  5. We used to really enjoy gatlinburg several years back but it has changed to cheap dollar stores and extremely hard to drive through. Pigeon Forge has really come along way with better choice of stores and things to do. Plus lots of restaurants to choose from.

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  6. Nope, Gatlinburg is and always has been the place to be. Pigeon Forge doesn’t have the character or charm and does not have that nestled in the mountains feel everyone comes to the area for. Yes, there are a lot of nice things to do there and good places to eat, but ultimately it is no more than Panama City north and that’s not what we come to the mountains for.

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  7. For families who can beat Pigeon Forge. From shopping to shows. There are many more things to do and see in Pigeon Forge. Lots of choices for dinner and breakfast.
    And what can beat Dollywood and the Dreammore resort. The Hearth Song restaurant is a great place for dinner. Pigeon Forge is differently the best choice..

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