A local ranks cities close to the Great Smoky Mountains
As a local, I know a thing or two about Pigeon Forge. For example, I know that several folks come to the mountains looking for some peace and quiet. Then, they arrive in Sevier County and discover a few hundred thousand of their closest friends had the same idea. Dollywood? Packed. The Parkway? Bumper to bumper. Pancake houses and moonshine distilleries? They’re lined up 20 deep at the door. The good news is that there’s more to East Tennessee than Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Here are a few surrounding towns I recommend when you want a getaway from your getaway:
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1. Maggie Valley, NC
Maggie Valley is a tourism town that “lost out” to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Or depending on your view, maybe it won. Anyway, I like Maggie Valley for its natural beauty. The area sits at a higher elevation with less room for more tourist attractions. But, the higher elevations do provide other advantages, including majestic views. Maggie Valley is absolutely gorgeous and offers the feeling of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains as they used to be. It’s about 70 miles from Pigeon Forge. I recommend it for anyone who wants to explore hiking trails, see elk and still have a handful of fun attractions, like the Cataloochee Ski Area.
2. Knoxville, TN
I have a soft spot for Knoxville. In fact, I love it. In the Tennessee hierarchy of cities, it usually ranks well below Chattanooga, Nashville or Memphis. Most of the best-functioning parts of the city are, frankly, not that interesting. It offers all the amenities of a decent-sized city. Still, there are places of real excellence. Obviously, the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium is amazing. The Old City is full of cool and interesting shops and places to eat. The Tennessee Theatre is a great venue. Knoxville also has the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Peyton Manning’s fancy Saloon 16. If you have the money, go to his Saloon for the experience. But if you want to eat a truly memorable meal in Knoxville, go to Gus’s Good Time Deli. It’s a Knoxville institution. Knoxville is about 30 miles from Pigeon Forge.
3. Sevierville, TN
Sevierville used to be the boring, all-business older brother to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. If Sevier County’s towns were the members of N*SYNC, Sevierville would have been Joey Fatone. But over the years, Pigeon Forge’s Justin Timberlake-ness has leaked into Sevierville. Now, in addition to shopping at the Tanger Outlets and the various businesses along Parkway out to the interstate, Sevier County offers some truly interesting dining locations like the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, The Appalachian and Pinchy’s. Sevierville shares a border with Pigeon Forge and is only a few miles away.
4. Wears Valley, TN
Located between Townsend and Pigeon Forge, Wears Valley has grown into a truly eclectic mountain getaway. A wide variety of restaurants and burgeoning tourism attractions make Wears Valley a bustling little place to get away to the mountains. Metcalf Bottoms also remains one of my absolute favorite picnic locations on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. Wears Valley is also only a few short miles away from Pigeon Forge.
5. Townsend, TN
Known as the quiet side of the Smokies, Townsend is still a great place to get away from the crowds – though I don’t think it’s as quiet anymore. Townsend offers access to the national park and Cades Cove, swimming at the Wye and some of the most popular tubing in the area. I like Townsend. It has a nice variety of restaurants and a lot of places where you can find some peace and quiet. Townsend is about 20 miles away from Pigeon Forge.
6. Bryson City, NC
Bryson City is best known for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. I took my kids for the Polar Express train excursion a few years back, and I highly recommend it if you have little ones. But really, it’s a fun town to visit any time of year for train enthusiasts. I also recommend Bryson City for people who enjoy outdoor activities like tubing, ziplining and whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. It would take about 1.5 hours to get to Bryson City from Pigeon Forge.
7. Morristown, TN
Davy Crockett’s history plays a major role in Hamblen County’s seat. The Crockett Tavern is a 19th-century reconstruction of John Crockett’s tavern, which served travelers making their way through East Tennessee. Davy had long since left his father’s care when John Crockett owned the Tavern, but the boy returned home and helped his father work off debt before moving on to other adventures. Also, downtown Morristown, with its famous overhead skywalks, offers a variety of restaurants, antique shops and specialty shops. The Little Dutch has proudly served the community for more than 75 years as arguably the best restaurant in town. Morristown is approximately 45 miles away from Pigeon Forge and is where I call home.
What are your favorite surrounding cities to visit near Pigeon Forge TN? Let me know in the comments.