10 Things Not to Do While Visiting Pigeon Forge, From a Local

person holds trash lid over head to avoid rain

Don't forget to pack an umbrella or you might end up having to improvise (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

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.

When you visit Pigeon Forge, there may be a few things you want to avoid. For example, you don’t want to skip making reservations at popular restaurants, don’t visit Dollywood without checking to see if they are open first and don’t visit when a popular car show is in town because traffic will be awful. Here, a local shares some tips on how to get the most out of your Pigeon Forge vacation by avoiding common mistakes.

 

lil black bear cafe
Don’t just stick to chain restaurants while in the Smokies – give some of the local offerings a try. Like this local favorite mom-and-pop breakfast and lunch restaurant – Lil’ Black Bear Cafe (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

The Local Goat
The Local Goat in Pigeon Forge is a local favorite (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

dollywood at christmas time
Dollywood’s schedule varies from year-to-year but it’s quite common for them to close 1-2 days a week in the fall and early winter. They also usually close for the season for the better part of January-March (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

person holds trash can lid over their head in the rain
A woman holds a trash can lid over her head at the Townsend Christmas parade in the Smokies (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

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.

A classic hot rod makes its way down the parkway
A hot rod slowly makes its way down the Parkway in Pigeon Forge during Rod Run (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Pigeon Forge Gem Mining
Gem mining can be fun, but it’s mostly for the little ones (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Ole Smoky at The Island Pigeon Forge
The ‘shine in the Smokies is good, but it’s not necessarily the real deal (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Actors perform on stage at The Comedy barn
The Comedy Barn features impressive animal acts and is surprisingly funny (photo by Dr. Candi Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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. 

Dolly Parton's Stampede
There are a lot of true dinner shows in the area, like Dolly Parton’s Stampede. The Comedy Barn, albeit an excellent show, is not one of them. (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Trashcan nachos at Downtown Flavortown
A place like Downtown Flavortown offers unique dishes, but don’t expect a traditional Southern experience (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

RELATED VIDEO: 10 Things Not to do While Visiting Pigeon Forge

Do you have a tip on what not to do in Pigeon Forge? Let us know in the comments.

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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22 thoughts on “10 Things Not to Do While Visiting Pigeon Forge, From a Local”

  1. Do not stay at Howard Johnson’s by the Titanic. They had bugs, pubic hair on the bed and floors were so dirty they turned my socks black. I talked to them and they said it would be taken care off. It wasn’t we didn’t even stay the next night expecting a refund as I was told. Been 2 months the manager refused to answer e mails or phone calls.

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  2. Don’t come here: Spring Break, Memorial Day, July 4 and rest of July, Labor Day, October, Thanksgiving and week between Christmas/New Year!!! We stay home at these times!!!

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  3. Nobody is mentioning avoiding Pigeon Forge during any type of car show? Not fun unless you enjoy being stuck in traffic for hours at a time.

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  4. The restaurant recommendations are incorrect. Old Mill food is disgusting, Mamas Farmhouse is expensive as hell and not worth the money

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    • I know everyone has their own opinion, but that is way off, you could of had a bad meal. But their is a reason there is a 2 hour wait. It is consistently delicious.

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  5. You forgot the Jeep convention it’s usually the end of August lots of traffic the Jeep (& the owner) line up on the parkway 😊

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  6. Local Goat ,Smoky mountain brewery and pottery House Cafe are excellent choices for a good bite to eat!

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  7. Don’t stay at Trailhouse Condominiums, they have no cold water in the unit where the uncomplicated game room is, and water comes into the washing machine from another unit. We had to file a BBB report and they replied we don’t know how to use the faucets, and falsely claim that someone came to check things out when they did not.

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  8. Treat us like you want to be treated and you’ll get true southern hospitality! Treat us like servants beneath you and we will “ bless your heart darling” and you probably won’t like it!

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  9. I would have to disagree with Bridie in saying that the Old Mill has exceptional food. We go all the time and every time it’s completely worth the money and even the time spent waiting for a table. Even though it’s so busy most of the time, it is much like a well-oiled machine. The service is quick and friendly. The restaurant is clean and organized. The recipes and portions of the food are incredible. I would say it’s worth it just for the complimentary muffins you get at breakfast time and the corn fritters you get at lunch/dinner. The scenic views of the old water wheel and the river are a very nice touch. And the little gift shop at the bottom has lots of great finds. There are even people playing music right outside on the porch sometimes. It all makes for a really lovely experience and I cherish it.

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  10. The Old Mill has always been our favorite place to eat. The food is always very good. And we like Mamas too. Guess it all depends on what you are expecting.

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  11. Everything is not the same for everybody. If you don’t like it stay at home.pigeon forge,Gatlinburg,Sevierville and Townsend all are great places to vacation in. The traffic tells you that. Be patient and look for the back streets to drive on. Everyone needs to be patients.

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  12. We are there in October and both got sick. I had roast beef and my husband had the pork chops. I will not go there again.

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  13. DONT block traffic to look at an animal. DONT feed or try to get closer to a bear than 150′. DONT leave food in your car.

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  14. I wish someone would talk about the “real Helen, Ga” instead of “oh we had such a great time, blah, blah, blah..
    Come here on any Monday morning during Octoberfest, any of the car gatherings, and motorcycle madness and then tell everyone how great this place is! It’s full of trash, broken bottles, empty drug paraphernalia containers, etc!! Those of us who live here can’t wait for all the tourists (drug addicts, and drunks) to go home!!
    Not to mention the traffic and noise constantly! Do yourself a huge favor and please go somewhere else!!

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  15. Haven’t experienced any “don’ts” other than a crappy motel on the main drag, but don’t recall the name. We almost always rent a cabin, except this time had a certificate for the hotel.
    A MUST if you like the moonshine tastings and yummy food, try Junction 35. The tastings are fun and they have a full service restaurant with a bar that makes cocktails from their moonshine and vodkas.

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  16. Stayed at Days in south in pigeon forge just this past weekend and it was dirty and whoever attempted to clean it apparently had better things to do because the showers were disgusting, the floors hadn’t been vacuumed or mopped, their was random trash behind every door and not to mention dirty sheets on one of the beds. Oh and the sink and commode were stopped up in one of our bathrooms. They gave us a phone number to someone who doesn’t even speak English to try to refund our money and they acted like they couldn’t understand us.

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  17. Thank you for this article and all the great comments. I will check out the Pottery Cafe and watch traffic. From an old Missouri resident who lived near Branson, I’m acquainted with celebrity type restaurants and totally agree with wanting to support the local business. I love the mountains and appreciate any tips from residents here I can get!! Thanks again, y’all!

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  18. We were just there last week. Everything was great! Alittle traffic, but that is to be expected. Even the Shoney’s was good.

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  19. For those of us who live in East Tennessee, we generally avoid Pigeon Forge altogether. Entering the Smokies by way of Townsend when we can. The rest of the time, driving down Chapman Highway to pass only from Wears Valley to the bypass around Gatlinburg to avoid as much of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg as possible.

    Also, much better to see the mountains with friends or family around Cherohala Skyway and the Dragon at least one day. Deals Gap and Lost Sea are a much better alternative than the tourist traps in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

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