3 Tourist Traps in the Smoky Mountains You Should Probably Avoid

a t rex and the outside of jurassic jungle boat ride

Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride is so bad it's almost good (photos by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

These are the biggest tourist traps in the Smoky Mountains, according to a local

We certainly didn’t invent the tourist trap here in the Smoky Mountains. But we’ve dang sure come close to perfecting it. For 35-ish years, I’ve given more than my fair share of money to Sevier County tourist traps. I’ve paid money to low-rent museums celebrating the lives of Buford Pusser or Elvis or to gander at the sketchiest animatronics you’ll ever see. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun or at least walk away with an interesting memory. In this article, we’ll talk what I believe are, the biggest tourist traps in the Smoky Mountains and the surrounding areas of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

The entire mission statement of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge involves separating tourists from their money. Just because something is a tourist trap doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. However, you should be aware when visiting places like Earthquake, Jurassic Jungle or Ripley’s Mirror Maze that the decided lack of quality is just part of the experience.

mannequins at earthquake the ride in gatlinburg
There are a lot of tourist traps in Gatlinburg. Read reviews before partaking to save precious time and money. Pictured: The entrance of Earthquake, The Ride with the creepy mannequins (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Earthquake the Ride

With a telling 2.3 star rating on Google and located on the strip in Gatlinburg, Earthquake the Ride is the kind of old-school Gatlinburg attraction that’s so bad it’s almost good. When you return home, what are you going to tell your friends? Will it be your perfectly fine afternoon at Ripley’s Aquarium, or when you paid $15 to spend four minutes being attacked by the worst animatronics this side of Chuck E. Cheese? The plot of this “sensory overload” experience involves getting on a train/subway which is just a row of seats on a track.

The “gut-wrenching high-tech special effects” include some shaking, some strobe lights, and an inexplicable array of animal attacks. Though the effects are promised to be realistic, I’ve been in a few earthquakes. However, I’ve yet to be attacked by the unholy offspring of a gorilla and an underground-dwelling Morlock creature from HG Wells’, “The Time Machine.” I don’t know what town this subway is supposed to be in, but they’ve got gators and gorillas and rats, oh my.

In your four minutes of shaking, you’ll encounter several dangers. The first of which is a near-head-on train collision. It’s got all the realism of your dad sneaking into your room and waking you up with a flashlight and screaming “Train!!!” The scariest part? Aside from the fact that you paid legal tender for this, it’s the “human” mannequins scattered about the place. They are surely the stuff of nightmares.

Earthquake the Ride is located at 653 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. Allow 10-15 minutes to “experience” the excitement. Plan to pay for parking in a nearby garage. Parking is not available on site.

“I’ve been in a few earthquakes. However, I’ve yet to be attacked by the unholy offspring of a gorilla and an underground dwelling Morlock creature from HG Wells.”

John Gullion, Contributor, TheSmokies.com
Some Dinosaurs Inside the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride
The dinosaurs are not particularly scary on the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride (photo by James Overholt/TheSmolkies.com)

2. Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride

Somehow, it seems every YouTuber with a theme park channel finds their way from Auckland to Pigeon Forge and this ride. We’ve got dozens of great destinations and somehow, this is what gets presented to the world. So, is it worth nearly $20 to ride? No. Not under any definition of the word worth. Still, there’s a tradition in the area of serving up pure kitsch and Jurassic Jungle serves that purpose, I suppose. What is Jurassic Jungle? It’s a dark boat ride taking you back to the time of the dinosaurs.

Are the dinosaurs cool? No. They are a step above the plastic toys you can get for $10 a dozen at any zoo gift shop. You ride slowly past a variety of animatronic dinosaurs that move jerkily. But on the plus side, there are a lot of growling and grunting sounds that don’t seem to emanate from any visible orifice on the great beasts. Are there squeaking sounds that make it seem like the animatronics need to be oiled like the Tin Man? Yes. Are there any jump scares throughout the 11-minute ride? No. These animatronics couldn’t jump if you put 25,000 volts through them.
Will you be afraid at any point? Only if you accidentally come in contact with the water in which your boat is “floating.”

Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride is located 2at 806 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863. The ride takes approximately 10 minutes from start to finish. Free parking is available on-site.

A Kid Stands in Blue Lighting in Ripley's Mirror Maze
A young man explores Ripley’s Mirror Maze (photo by Kirby Russell/TheSmokies.com)

3. Ripley’s Mirror Maze

Ripley’s has several great attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. This isn’t one of them. I’m a little perplexed at the existence of the Mirror Maze. Ripley’s has the Aquarium which is very good to great. It has the Believe it or Not Museum, which is also quite good. Mountain Coaster, Haunted Adventure and also a couple of mini golf courses. All perfectly fine. I don’t think the Super Fun Zone is the best arcade, but it’s fine. But the Mirror Maze? What are we even doing here?

What is the Mirror Maze? Well, it’s a maze made of mirrors like you might find at a funhouse. Is it fun? Only if somebody in your party gets disoriented and walks face-first into the glass. Then it’s hilarious. While the hallways full of LED lights and infinity mirrors may seem endless, it’s not the biggest space.

Let’s go over some of the marketing talking points. Over 100 mirrors with LED lights and sounds! But is 100 mirrors a lot for a maze? You can walk through as many times as you want! Is zero an option? If so, I’ll choose zero. A different experience every time! Count me as dubious.

Look, under no circumstances should you spend $15 – plus $1 for the 3D hologlasses – for this attraction. If you choose to get the ticket that covers ALL Ripley’s attractions, I guess you might as well walkthrough. Honestly, your time would be better spent reflecting on the life choices that led you here.

Ripley’s Mirror Maze is located in downtown Gatlinburg in Baskins Square at 623 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. Plan to pay for parking in a nearby lot of walk from your hotel.

With everything said, you might be wondering if you should skip these attractions altogether. Of course, there are much better ways, I believe, for you to allocate your hard-earned vacation money than at these tourist trap attractions. However, I know some people come for the kitsch. They like the cheese. They want the animatronics to look like they’re stored outside in the off-season. Different strokes for different folks. Plan your vacation accordingly.

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains soon? Make sure to check out our coupons page before your trip!

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Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.