An insider’s guide on what not to do when visiting Pigeon Forge, the surrounding area
As someone who frequents Pigeon Forge, I know too well that when planning a vacation, in the words of a musical maestro, it’s about knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them. When you plan your next trip to the Smokies, I want you to be prepared. I want you to understand the risk vs reward of the choice you make. With that in mind, here are some of our best don’ts when it comes to visiting Pigeon Forge.
IN THIS ARTICLE
- Don’t play it safe
- Don’t show up without calling ahead
- Don’t assume Dollywood is open
- Don’t forget to pack an umbrella
- Don’t come during Rod Run
- Don’t expect to strike it rich
- Don’t go looking for real ‘shine
- Don’t be a snob
- Don’t go to Comedy Barn hungry
- Don’t go to a celebrity restaurant for Southern food
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1. Don’t play it safe
A lot of people come to the Smokies and have the same vacation experience over and over again. They stay in the same hotels and eat at the same restaurants. Some people visit the same shows and shop at the same stores. However, one of the great things about the Smokies is that they’re always changing. In the mountains themselves, those changes can take eons, but down amongst the people in Pigeon Forge? They come a bit faster. Try the new things when they come. Try for the right balance of familiar favorites and something completely different. Do you have to visit Dolly’s Stampede every year? Try the Pirates show. Does everyone know your name at Pancake Cabin? Maybe give the Lil Black Bear Café a try.
2. Don’t show up without calling ahead
I am a fairly well-traveled individual. From what I can tell, this is largely a phenomenon that’s unique to establishments in the Smoky Mountains. However, I find, that local businesses rarely keep their Google Business operating dates and hours updated as they should, businesses tend to close and open at random, and few restaurants accept reservations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up at a local restaurant ready to eat only to be greeted by a “Sorry we closed early today” sign taped to the front door. Today, I am a more experienced Pigeon-Forge goer. When I want a day out on the town, I wake up, make a list, and call every establishment on that list to confirm operating hours. I also make reservations whenever possible as crowds can be a problem in the busy season and wait times can exceed two hours or more.
3. Don’t assume Dollywood is open
Here’s another one that tends to get a lot of people – including myself and I should know better – failing to check the Dollywood calendar before you go. Many assume Dollywood is a theme park like any other and open 365 days a year. And that is simply not the case. While Dollywood is an impressive park with coasters and entertainment that I genuinely believe rivals that of Disney World, they are a seasonal park with limited hours. They tend to keep limited hours in the fall and winter (and close 1-2 days per week, usually on a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday) and they close seasonally for the better part of January-March.
4. Don’t forget to pack an umbrella
Speaking of planning … did you know that Pigeon Forge receives almost 50″ of rainfall each year – making it one of the rainiest cities in the United States? Our rainiest month is typically July and our dryest is usually September. But it pretty much rains year-round – wintertime included. In fact, we spend the better part of our winters hovering just above freezing so instead of picturesque snowscapes, you just get ice-cold rain. Don’t let our postcard-esque social media pics fool you. It’s wet down here. Plan accordingly.
5. Don’t come during Rod Run
Okay, if you love classic cars and want to come to Pigeon Forge for the event, knock yourself out. But the rest of you should know that this bi-annual event tends to bring in the biggest crowds of the year. This means serious traffic congestion, limited parking and long waits at local restaurants. Area residents have reported the simple 30-minute drive from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge along the spur turning into a 2-hour commute during on a Rod Run weekend. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Note: Rod Run dates vary each year but weekends usually fall sometime in September and April.
6. Don’t expect to strike it rich while gem mining
This one comes with a caveat. If your kids like to treasure hunt and you want to spend $20 mining, by all means, let them do it for the experience. But for the rest of us, mining does not always offer good odds. Sure, occasionally someone buys a $125 package and walks away with a semi-precious stone, but the house almost always wins. You’re just not going to find a $1000 ruby in a $20 bucket next to a place to lets you feed baby goats. If you want to do some real mining, there are some places in Western North Carolina where there is an actual tradition of finding some gemstones that are a little more of an authentic experience.
7. Don’t go looking for real ‘shine
I kid the tourists about the commercial distillery version of moonshine. I know a guy or two who can put their hands on the real thing, made in a secluded barn in Cocke County. Once or twice I’ve even run across some real, high-quality aged stuff. I’ve also run into a mess of ‘shine that was of significantly less quality. A guy I know got into a batch of it that was poorly made and it messed up his digestive processes for more than a week. You hear about people going blind because of ‘shine, but you never hear of what can happen to millions of innocent gastrointestinal tract microbes. Anyway, don’t get yourself in a similar situation in Pigeon Forge. Just stick to local commercial distilleries – I highly recommend Ole Smoky and Sugarlands.
8. Don’t be a snob
Not everything is for everybody. I have – in my life – felt a certain way about the stereotypes of the mountain people and where I fit into that melting pot. Because I was afraid to be seen a certain way, I declined to do certain things. Comedy Barn? No, thank you, sir. Not for me. I’m not one of the hill people amused by Hee Haw cornpone humor. I’m a sophisticate. Now excuse me while I make plans to see the latest Johnny Knoxville extravaganza. But then, finally, I went and had a great time, despite myself. There’s some risk involved in this. You may find an activity that you legitimately didn’t enjoy. But, often, in the days, weeks, months and years after our vacations, it’s the parts that weren’t a success that we remember and tell others about.
9. Don’t go to Comedy Barn hungry
Speaking of Comedy Barn, here’s another one that I hear people complain about all the time. Because there are so many dinner shows in the area, I find that people often make the mistake of assuming that Comedy Barn is one and the same. What Comedy Barn is: A slapstick good time and one of the best shows in the area. What Comedy Barn isn’t: A dinner show. With that said, they do have a full concession stand that features the standard movie-theater-style fare including candy, pizza, and popcorn. But don’t expect to show up to this one and be greeted with the kind of four-course meal you might find at The Stampede.
10. Don’t go to a celebrity restaurant for Southern food
If you want traditional Southern foods, I don’t recommend going to Paula Deen‘s or Guy Fieri’s Flavortown. Of course, everything is subjective. I know people who really love both of those places. But do they offer traditional food from this region or an authentic experience? That’s a stretch. There are, in fact, legitimately quality authentic places to get true Southern Food in Pigeon Forge – like Mama’s Farmhouse, Old Mill Restaurant, and the Pottery House. Give those people your money instead of ol’ Paula and you’ll be happier for it. Plus, you’ll be supporting local businesses.
Do you have a tip on what not to do in Pigeon Forge? Let us know in the comments.