A New Attraction Is Slated To Replace the Smoky Mountain Opry

the smoky mountain opry

Get ready to say your final goodbye to the Smoky Mountain Opry (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Get ready to officially say goodbye to an area icon: The Smoky Mountain Opry

As someone who has knocked around the Smoky Mountains for more than 30 years, I remember the heyday of Pigeon Forge music houses. Various country stars tried to use the mountain vacation venues as a place to set up residencies – something like Sinatra or Celine Dion in Vegas. But they never quite worked – or maybe they worked for a while then faded away. 

One such place was the Smoky Mountain Opry which was home – for a while – to Country Music legend Louise Mandrell. But the theatre – which underwent many changes over the years – closed in May 2020 and never reopened. Now, the theatre is ready for a colorful – and squeezable – fresh start. 

The Smoky Mountain Opry closed in 2020 and will soon be replaced by the Crayola Experience which is slated to open in fall 2024. The NERF Action Xperience will be going in next door.

The Former Smoky Mountain Opry Pigeon Forge
The Smoky Mountain Opry was once a vibrant and popular attraction in Pigeon Forge (media photo)

History of the Smoky Mountain Opry

The theater opened for the country music star – maybe legend – Louise Mandrell in 1997. Mandrell hadn’t hit the heights of her sister and variety show co-star Barbara. But she’d had a successful career in her own right in the early 80s. By the early 90s, she was playing a theater in Branson, Missouri. She came to Pigeon Forge in 1997 for the Louise Mandrell Theater – a similar concept to Lee Greenwood’s theatre. Mandrell’s show ran until the end of 2005 when she was bought out.

A multi-million-dollar renovation followed and saw the debut of the Miracle Theater. It was home to religious-themed shows from 2006 through 2011. The Miracle Theater drew international attention following a spat with comedian Kathy Griffin over her Emmy acceptance speech. 

In late 2011, the theater was – if you’ll forgive the term – resurrected as the Smoky Mountain Opry, featuring a variety-type country music show. In 2018, the same people who own Dolly’s Stampede bought the Theater that had closed in 2020. 

Smoky Mountain Opry Closed Pigeon Forge
The Opry never reopened after its closing in May 2020 (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

What happened to the Smoky Mountain Opry?

Well, it closed at first – in May of 2020 – due to the pandemic. But when other attractions returned – the theater next to the Hard Rock Café didn’t. Why? We can only speculate. With the Pirates Show, the Stampede and the Hatfield and McCoy’s, it seems dinner shows are the safest bet for Pigeon Forge. Add in the well-established Country Tonite and Comedy Barn and one would imagine there’s only so many tourism dollars to support live shows.

A lot of other smaller shows have opened and closed without much success.  It seems – from the outside – that there’s no business like show business in the Smokies. 

rendering of the new crayola experience in Pigeon Forge
The Crayola Experience is set to take the Opry’s place (media photo courtesy of the Crayola Experience)

What’s going in its place?

In August of 2023, Crayola announced that its sixth Crayola Experience Attraction will open in the spot. The 30,000-square-foot indoor family entertainment center will have over 20 hands-on attractions and a retail store. It will feature “innovative, never-before-seen attractions.” Included will be one-of-a-kind Crayola Experience Activities such as naming their own Crayola crayon, starring in their own coloring page, and creating melted wax art. 

But that’s not all. Next door to the Crayola Experience will be the NERF Action Xperience. The 29,000-square-foot attraction will feature NERF battle zones, obstacle courses and other challenges. 

Both attractions are slated to open in fall 2024 in Pigeon Forge.

In a way, the legacy of the Smoky Mountain Opry – which began its life as part of the Pigeon Forge celebrity theatre wars – will continue. Now, instead of battling colorful, fading country stars, the location will be home to NERF battles and colorful crayons. 

The NERF Action-Xperience rendering
The NERF Action-Xperience is set to open in 2024 (rendering courtesy of Hasbro/Kingsmen Xperience)

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