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. The Foothills Parkway, in fact, is accessible from Wears Valley.
But the scenery was something spectacular. In fact, the effect of Cove Mountain’s peak rising 2,000 ft. from the valley’s floor is breathtaking.
I’ve always been fascinated by Headrick Chapel and its cemetery built right into the side of a mountain. The chapel, built in the early 1900s, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The logistics of Headrick Cemetery has always amazed me. All of the flat valley land right there and they built it in what is likely the least accessible manner I’ve ever seen. Yet, in the 19th century, most funerals and burials in the area were at this site.
Beyond the landmarks, the sweeping views across the valley are spectacular.
I can remember driving to the valley at night when I was young and there was a fire on the mountain. I hadn’t been in Tennessee long at that point, and the fire was exotic and fascinating.
It wasn’t until a couple of decades later that I learned just how dangerous those mountain fires could be.
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The history of Wears Valley
In the 1700s, the valley was known as Crowson Cove, named after the first settler Aaron Crowson. He settled in the area along with his friend, Peter Piercefield.
The settlers erected a log cabin church known as Bethlehem Church. It was used by congregations of Methodists and Baptists alike. It was also used as a meeting place.
Years later, the area was renamed Wear Cove after Samuel Wear, who was a Revolutionary War veteran. Even though he was born in Virginia, his contributions to TN cemented his place in history.
How has Wears Valley changed?
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.
You could certainly say there are a lot more amenities.
But John, 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.
To paraphrase Samuel Johnson; when a man has grown tired of Wears Valley, he can drive up 321 to Pigeon Forge where there isn’t necessarily a wider variety of things to do, just a larger quantity.
Still, you could have a pretty good Smoky Mountain getaway and stay the entire time in this fairly quaint little town.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Wears Valley.
5. 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.
Secondly, 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.
4. Harper Bros. Mountain
Remember the melting pot? Friends, we ain’t melted nothing yet.
Welcome to Harper Bros. Mountain, one of the newer attractions in Wears Valley. Here, we’ve got a general store, cabins, a newly opened 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 2,800-foot ride is the only one of its kind in the Valley. At the time of this writing, it costs $20 for adults and $10 for children, veterans and seniors.
Smoky Mountain Horses offers a beginner 30-minute meadow ride, right under the Hawk Skylift, pricing is the same.
3. Go on an adventure at Wears Valley Zipline Adventures
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.
Prices range from $70 per person to $99 per person depending on the length of the ride.
2. 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. What is a Cajun-style restaurant doing in Wears Valley? Ours is not to reason why.
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.
1. 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 also home to the Metcalf Bottoms Trail.
It’s really 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.
What are your favorite things to do in Wears Valley? Let us know in the comments below!