What not to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge: Our 6 tips

The Mountain Mall in Gatlinburg

The Mountain Mall is located in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)


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There are several ways to approach a visit to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, or really any vacation.

On one end of the spectrum is how my family approaches a trip to Disney World. It’s heavily planned to maximize the experience.

Weeks ahead of time I can tell you where we will be on a certain day at a certain time. Meals are scheduled. Character greetings are booked. Fast passes are plainly accounted for.

I am not regimented by nature, so there’s room to make some audibles, but by and large, we attack Disney with a well-thought-out game plan.

At the other end of the spectrum is our family at the beach. We plan little to nothing. We are open to flights of fancy and whatever mood may strike us. Is the restaurant we want to go to crowded? No problem, that place over there is probably pretty good.

But no matter how you approach it, a vacation is an endeavor of diminishing commodities. There are only so many dinners, so many afternoons and so many sunsets.

While it’s good to try new things and new experiences, a couple of duds in a single vacation can really dampen the whole trip.

So here we humbly offer some of our greatest misses so you can learn from our mistakes.

When you come to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Sevier County, be sure to follow these tips on what not to do around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

The Olive Garden
If you have one of these at home already, try to avoid the temptation of partaking in the same old, same old and try something new while on vacation in the Smokies (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Don’t partake in the same old, same old

I remain perplexed by people who travel large distances and wind up doing the same stuff they can do at home.

We have Pizza Hut at home, Martha. I don’t need to drive 500 miles to try the double stuffed crust buffalo chicken deep dish in a tourist destination.

Places like Shoney’s, Pizza Hut or McDonald’s are fine. Really, they’re fine.

But for the love of all that’s holy, live a little and try something you can’t get back home.

Paula Deen
Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at The Island serves family-style meals (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

5. Don’t assume just because it’s regional food, it’s good

We live in an age of wonder. Nearly everything under the sun is reviewed online. Take two minutes and check whether Judy’s Country Buffet has killed anyone with botulism in the last six months.

Reviews can take some of the adventure out of a vacation, but as someone who once got food poisoning from a back alley Thai place on the way to the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, believe you me, sometimes adventure ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But John, you say, they’re serving a country breakfast, how hard can that be to cook up some eggs and salted ham, maybe a biscuit?

Read Also: Unpopular opinion: A review of Paula Deen’s Restaurant in Pigeon Forge

I don’t know, but I’ll give you one of my little rules. Any place that spells Country with a ‘K’ is immediately suspect.

You got that Jewel Dean? I don’t care how many pictures of happy little hogs you put on the place settings, your business is sus.

Downtown Gatlinburg is full of souvenir shops (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

4. Don’t stop at every gift shop in Gatlinburg

What is it about vacation knick-knacks?

I don’t care where you go; it’s a universal problem – at the mountains, at the beach or in France.

You see shop after shop after shop selling the same things in basically the same price range. I don’t hate the hustle. If they do a good business, good for them.

But pick one or two curio shops and then move it along. There are only so many Big Johnson shirts a person needs, you know?

3. Don’t buy gifts from exotic-themed shops

Why would you come to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains to buy a jade dragon and some ninja stars?

I love Asian culture and Asian history … I might like to own a jade dragon one day. But I ain’t going to Gatlinburg to buy one.

If I am ever lucky enough to travel to China, I ain’t coming back with a corncob pipe and a quart of moonshine pickles, I can promise you that.

Pancake Pantry
If you go to a place that has “pancake” in the restaurant name, be sure to try the pancakes (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Don’t pass on the specialty

Don’t go to restaurants with a food in their name and not at least try the specialty.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind, and you don’t go to Smoky Mountain Trout House and order the barbecue.

Or at least not on the first visit.

Read Also: Tennessee’s first: Pancake Pantry holds the key to local hotcake obsession

If you’ve been a couple of times, you have my permission to experiment.

But if you’re walking out of the restaurant and someone says “How’s the trout?” You darn well better be able to answer.

We live in a civilization, and there are responsibilities.

Westgate Gatlinburg
Westgate is one of the larger timeshare games in town (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Don’t fall for freebies (if you don’t want a presentation)

Look, I understand the allure. A free room. Maybe a free meal. Maybe something else awesome? All in exchange for giving up two hours of your time to hear a timeshare pitch.

Know what you’re signing up for.

They don’t want to give you more time. They want you to share your time with them.

Read Also: Can you stay at a timeshare without owning? Gatlinburg timeshare resort rentals

Sometimes, these aren’t time sharers, they’re time thieves. Remember, the clock starts ticking on your vacation the minute you leave the driveway. You only have so many hours left.

Try not to waste any of them being bombarded by carefully vetted buzzwords each meticulously selected to break down your better judgment.

Remember Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross?” The uber salesman, the “Always Be Closing” guy? That’s a timeshare salesman, and all he ever did was yell at Jack Lemmon and not let him have coffee.

You like coffee? Stay away from the timeshare people.

What are things YOU would recommend not to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in Tennessee?

Let us know in the comments, and click here to view the web story version of this article.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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44 thoughts on “What not to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge: Our 6 tips”

  1. Them guys on the parkway trying to get you talk to them that there main income if they don’t book any tour’s that day they don’t make a dime the refundable deposit they asked you for is your only pay I know because it’s about 6 years ago I used to live in Gatlinburg

  2. Don’t stay in town shopping and eating the whole time. The mountains are what you came for. Get in them.

  3. Please take your garbage back with you, or treat our home area, like your living room, we have trash cans for you. We don’t come to your house and throw garbage in your front yard,

  4. Don’t STOP on the parkway to try to see a bear! There are PLENTY of pullover spots to do that!

  5. Yes Bluegreen timeshare …. beware ! Crooks ! You don’t get to use it it after paying so many fees and Pymts and maintenance fees . They rent it out . You have to use your points and pay someone else an r c I fee to have a vacation . We paid a lawyer to get out of it . He got us out of the main thing but not the Bluegreen cards that come with it . Stay away I beg you !!!

  6. We take an annual trip to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. My husband and I do quite enjoy the taste testings! Moonshine, wine, you name it, we will try it. We leave with our yearly supply. The taste tastes that cost usually aren’t much and are worth it.

  7. I scored 6 tickets to 3 shows..over 300 dollar value for 90 minute listening to their b.s.

  8. Paula Deens is great. One of our favorites. We will keep going back. And time share is a rip
    Off. My family can’t even use theirs when they need it.

  9. Dont get near our wildife…like selfies with bears. You will get the bear killed for your own stupidity. And do NOT leave trash…clean up after yourselves. And do NOT leave masks in trees….thats kills our wildlife also. Be respectful to locals…if you cant drive our back roads stay off of them and take the parkway and drive the speed limit at least. And do not block the intersections…if you cant move through the light stay on the other side so other directions can go.And be resectful to our wildlife…that mens leave them alone

  10. The best thing you can do is Make Sure You Don’t Stop for the Timeshare Crap. They promised us 60dollar refund plus 4 ticketd to shows. The shows were great but no refund. He had marked no refund. We were there over 3 hours. The man told us 4 times it was not a Timeshare. It was being put on by the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce to try to build up the number of people visiting after the fires. SCAM.

  11. We enjoy the mountain streams, not the crowds on the streets. Get off the main drag and try some mom and pop restaurants.

  12. We went in October it was pretty nice not to crowded. Good vibes where ever we went

  13. make sure you visit Cades Cove one of my favorite things to do there is going through the old farm places and the churches and of course i like seeing the wildlife to

  14. Me and my family went to Gatlinburg on November 29 and got back on December 6. We had an absolute blast… It didn’t get crowded at all in Gatlinburg until Friday the fourth, because they were having a parade and fireworks that weekend. That sadly got canceled because of rain. But we had a blast, can’t wait to go back! But we will be going in the spring this time!

  15. Do not bother with the fudge a few doors down from the KITT car (is that still there?). It ain’t all that…you can make better at home with a can of EagleBrand condensed milk and some chocolate chips and walnuts. Do not MISS the ski lift ride (if its still there)…the view is great at the top. Haven’t been there in about 20 years so it may have changed.

  16. Best steak around is the Peddler and their sister steakhouse the Park grill. Both in Gatlinburg. My wife and I go on all special occasions. Costs about 80.00 for a couple to eat steak, baked potato and a hugh salad bar.

  17. This article is very Biast and negative. I did not enjoy this read at all. Do your own research, read your own reviews and be prepared to sit in traffic. That’s it. It’s a great place full of history, fun and culture. Some of the culture may not be to your likes or agreeance but do not bash it for the sake of a negative article.

  18. Get a camper, stay at Camp LeConte. Just outside of the main rush. Beautiful campground, best price in town. Has tree houses and tents fully loaded. We come twice a year. Gatlinburg is our 2nd home in our 💕

  19. I live in pigeon forge.if the tourist want to come here and blow they’re money and act stupid so be it.we locals can’t stop them..

  20. I haven’t been to Paula Deen’s here but the one in Atlanta was the worst place I have ever eaten. Dolly’s great adventure was a great show and the food was fantastic. Maybe Dolly should teach Paula how to cook!

  21. We were there and did the moonshine tastings.
    Always a fun time at the cabin with all the family.
    Mommas farmhouse has best food for the price

  22. Heather G, I was in Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge at the same time. Thursday in Gatlinburg was great, went back Saturday and it was super crowded. We enjoyed our time, ate at Crawdaddy’s, did the escape room and passed on the photo opts about 4 times. Really enjoyed our time there..Always made sure we were back at the cabin by night for family games, hot tub, music, and whatever..

  23. Arrange your vacation so you don’t check out on a Sunday. EVERYBODY seems to checkout on Sunday to get home to wotk on Monday. It’s gridlock all the way to I-40. Take an extra day off, and cruise out of town on Mondsy

  24. I have been to Gatlinburg several times and agree with everything in this article. There are a lot of opportunities to waste time and money that should be avoided. Spend a day on the main drag and a couple days exploring the mountains (and don’t miss out on Cades Cove.)

  25. Try Bush’s Baked Beans museum and the covered bridges and the the town of Serville is a beautiful and fun shops and museums and enjoy the adventure!!!

  26. Definitely take a day trip over to see, Cade’s Cove … Most beautiful place on the planet. Lots of history and cool things to see!

  27. You have to stop by the English mountain trout farm ! They have a stocked pond and let you catch your own trout. You can take it with you to cook or they will cook it for you there. The food and hospitality is amazing. It’s definitely an experience you don’t wanna miss.

  28. I was really surprised to eat at Bennett’s The brisket was amazing and the salad bar was fresh and fully stocked. I agree don’t waste your time on Time Shares. I did one because when I got down there I noticed a knot on my tire. They promised me tickets or money and it started raining anyway so I did their two hours and they paid me enough to get a new tire at Walmart. I figured I would use them for a change.

  29. Very good information. I’ve been going to Gatlinburg for sixty years and still love it ❤️❤️❤️

  30. What not to do… Don’t try to drive anywhere after 11am. Go get your breakfast and back to the motel, leave the car, because its just to crowded on the road.. Even if you go out of the city, like an evening trip to Cades Cove, a must… Traffic back in to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg is backed up for a couple miles. It’s like that for a couple hours after dark. Try the pool and walk the parkway, all the stores and arcades have cold air. Be patient, and try to remember, your on vacation, you could be stuck at home.. lol

  31. We have been to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge numerous times over my lifetime. We enjoy every trip and have done just about everything there is to do there.
    There are two things we do each time we come that are special to us and make the trip complete.
    We chose these two because first, there is nothing like it where we come from and second, they are just beautiful.
    1. We always take one of the Gatlinburg Chairlifts to see the sights and the view, nothing like that in Dallas.
    2. We always play Hillbilly Golf, yes we have putt-putt in Dallas, but not one that you ride an incline up to play and then play amongst the trees with one of the best views in the United States.

  32. Go over to Cherokee nice little place and absolutely love the casino nice scenic drive

  33. We came and visited for a few years and then bought a cabin
    Then another one. Then decided how sad we were every time we left.
    So we finally bought a cabin to live in we did for almost 4 years. Then we decided to move closer to town we loved it our time on the mountain So Beautiful! Now we live in a brick home we love AS well. It’s Beautiful here the sky is wonderful! But I miss my Family so much they are in Florida and Michigan now and son moved last year. We are
    My Daughter.still love the
    seasons! Here it does get crowded here . So much tragic we need more Restaurants Badly! We begged for a chilli’s, and carababas!!! Red lobster has gone down hill. Not many go there anymore there is a great little bar Restaurant balled Bluffs! Amazing food ! Small but such nice people there! Hope this helps! I’m sure you will fall in love with Tennessee!!! Don’t feed our Bears ever ! They put them down when you do. Just enjoy from a Distance please.

  34. You can park on the Parkway until 9am…free. Great way to eat at Pancake Pantry and go back to your cabin early.

  35. If you plan on visiting the Titanic exhibit, I would advise buying tickets on line ahead of time. We waited till the last day and nothing available till the next evening. Otherwise, I agree with all the above comments.

  36. Way to commercial , miss the good ole days, Cherokee reservation , the elk still are awesome on the way to Cherokee ,

  37. We went last April and rented a razor and rode through Cades Cove. I loved it. It was much different than being in a car. One year we went in oct and rode a hayride through cades cove and that was also a lot of fun.

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