A Smoky Mountain local shares his favorite things to do in Wears Valley, Tennessee
Growing up, I mostly treated Wears Valley as a negative space. It was a scenic drive at best, connecting the entrance as the quiet side of the Smokies near my home, with Pigeon Forge and Dollywood. It was a place you drove through to get to other more interesting things. But the scenery was something spectacular. The effect of Cove Mountain’s peak rising 2,000 ft. from the valley’s floor is breathtaking.
But in the last few years, business leaders have recognized the value of land between Pigeon Forge and Townsend. The valley is now a strange conglomeration of all the things people love about the Smokies distilled into a melting pot of RV parks, kitschy stores, independent foodie restaurants and thrill-seeking endeavors. But you might be asking, what is there to do for those on a family vacation or romantic getaway in Wears Valley? Friend, there is everything to do in Wears Valley. Below are a few of my favorites.
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1. Get your shine on at Tennessee XXX Distillery
At this point, it seems like every resident of the Smoky Mountains is legally obligated to own and operate a distillery. Two things happen when you’re born. First, you’re signed up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and you get free books each month until you’re five years old. Second, you’re given the title and deed to your own Smoky Mountain moonshine operation to be opened on the occasion of your 21st birthday (alert reader, this is sarcasm).
It is a little incongruous for there to be a distillery in Wears Valley. I mean sure, the valley certainly hosted its shares of authentic moonshine stills over the years, but it was also settled by hard people with little time or patience for frivolity. I think about the Walker sisters and the other early settlers who lived in the valley. They were Primitive Baptists. They didn’t hold with such things as dancing and certainly not drinking. I, however, am not a Primitive Baptist and I like to dance and occasionally, drink. When I drink, I am significantly more likely to dance. So a moonshine distillery like XXX is right up my valley. Tennessee XXX Distillery is located at 745 Old Douglas Dam Rd, Sevierville, TN 37876.
2. Expore Harper Bros. Mountain
Welcome to Harper Bros. Mountain, one of the newer attractions in Wears Valley. Here, we’ve got a general store, cabins, a skylift and horse riding facility all in one convenient location. In the store, you can find a wide variety of clothing and mountain items of classic (honey) and less classic (Smoky Mountain Southern-style salsa) varieties. In addition to classic mountain cabins, The Hawk Skylift is offering spectacular mountain views. The 30-minute roundtrip 2,800-foot ride is the only one of its kind in the Valley. At the time of this writing, it costs $25 for adults and $15 for children, veterans and seniors. At the top, you’ll find the “Hawk’s Nest” with rockers, swings and complimentary water. It’s almost like a tiny Anakeesta without the multi-million dollar budget. Smoky Mountain Horses offers a beginner 30-minute meadow ride, right under the Hawk Skylift, pricing is the same. Combo tickets are also available. Ticket sales end at 4:30pm daily. Harper Bros is located at 4149 Wears Valley Rd, Sevierville, TN 37862.
3. Go on a zipline adventure
Soar high above the forest on some of the longest and highest ziplines in the region that fly over 43 private acres and provide views of Mt. LeConte and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The maximum weight for the ride is 275 lbs and riders must be at least 5 years old. Riders between 5 and 7 must ride tandem with a guide. At the time of this writing, a 6-line course runs at $ 89.95. But you can find coupons on the official website that will help you knock a few bucks off the price tag. Wears Valley Zipline is located at 1911 Wears Valley Rd, Sevierville, TN 37862.
4. Eat at Pawpaw’s Catfish
There are a lot of interesting dining destinations in Wears Valley. None surpasses Pawpaw’s Catfish Kitchen, a self-styled no-frills Cajun restaurant. Catfish. Boudin Balls. Gumbo. Po’ Boys. Etouffee. Chef Chris learned his culinary skills on a Louisiana tug boat in the Gulf. You know what they say. If you can cook on a tugboat, you can cook anywhere. Pawpaw’s is located at 2760 Wears Valley Rd, Sevierville, TN 37862.
5. Picnic and go water tubing at Metcalf Bottoms
One of the premier cookout areas in the Smokies, the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area was what first brought me to Wears Valley 30 years ago. Great for family get-togethers, playing in the water and tubing when the water’s high enough, Metcalf Bottoms isn’t as well known outside of the area as some other picnic grounds, but it’s beautiful and accessible. It’s a lovely area along the Little River and is also home to the Metcalf Bottoms Trail. It’s one of the under-appreciated gems of the Smokies. And it’s a great place to enjoy some packed sandwiches and take in the beauty of the mountains. To get to the picnic area, just type Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area Rd N, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 into your GPS.
What are your favorite things to do in Wears Valley? Let us know in the comments below!