Where do the locals go in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge? Our favorite attractions, sites

Downtown Gatlinburg

For the most part, we locals do the same things the tourists do, only with fewer fanny packs in tow (Dawid S Swierczek / Shutterstock.com)

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When travelling I don’t like to feel like a tourist. 

Sure, I’ll still do touristy things like visit the Empire State Building, but I also like to try and participate in the more regular aspects of the local life. I get away from the main strip and explore a little. 

I like nothing better than to feel like a local. 

But even as a local, I’m not sure how you do that in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, places whose entire identity is built around the attraction of tourists and keeping them entertained. 

Sure we might know a secret or two about a new place opening up before the rest of the visiting public is hip to the scene but for the most part, when we go out in Sevierville we’re just like any tourist coming down. 

What do locals do? We play mini-golf, eat and visit Dollywood.

We go to the mountains.

Occasionally we might try to do those things during times when we know traffic will be lower. But for the most part we’re out there mixing and mingling with the rest of the tourists, just maybe without the fanny packs. 

Here are some of the favorite things for locals to do in the Smokies: 

Tanger Outlets
Tanger Outlets is one of the largest shopping centers in the Smokies with over 100 brand name stores. Tanger Outlets is located in Pigeon Forge (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Tanger Outlets (Pigeon Forge)

We like deals, too.

It’s a Christmas tradition for us to hit the outlet malls each Black Friday but it’s more than that.

Given a chance to go to Tanger Outlet Malls or, say, battle the crowds at West Town in Knoxville, the outlet mall is going to win every time.

I like the competition of shopping, getting something on a ridiculous markdown.

Sure, that can happen at a traditional store if you catch the right deal on the right day, but my hit rate at the outlet malls is significantly higher. 

Hillbilly Golf, Gatlinburg, TN
Hillbilly Golf offers guests a chance to golf on the side of a mountain (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

4. Mini golf

Mini golf is great. It’s affordable for families. It’s a good date night activity. It offers significant value in terms of dollars per minute spent entertained.

When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest Putt-Putt was all the rage.

There was a catchy little theme song “Putt-Putt for the fun of it” that I still sing to the kids while playing. Who doesn’t love Putt-Putt? 

Pro-tip: Hillbilly Golf is local favorite.

Read More: Hillbilly Golf is a rite of passage for Smoky Mountain visitors

Dollywood
A number of locals maintain Season Passes to Dollywood and frequent the park often as a mini-weekend getaway (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Dollywood and related properties (Pigeon Forge)

Are you kidding? Dolly is our queen. We support her in any way we can.

Theme park, water park, dinner shows? If you want to find locals out having fun in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, there’s a good chance they’ll be doing it at a venue with the significant backing of Dolly Parton. 

Fan favorites include: Dollywood, Pirates Voyage and Dolly Parton’s Stampede.

Read Also: Dolly Parton accomplishments: 6 amazing things she has done

Ripleys Aquarium is one of Gatlinburg's most popular attractions (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Ripleys Aquarium is one of Gatlinburg’s most popular attractions (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (Gatlinburg)

If I was guessing, and I am, I would say the Aquarium is the most popular spot for locals when they’re looking to spend their entertainment dollars in Gatlinburg.

It is educational and soothing and yet, also exotic.

It’s temperature-controlled and safe from the elements. It’s great for families but can also be a low-key date night that isn’t the movies or more predictable choices.

Unlike some of the museums and oddities, you can visit over and over again while having a new, yet reliably familiar experience. 

Read Also: Is Ripley’s Aquarium worth the money: A review of Gatlinburg’s aquarium

The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee
There’s a lot to see in the Great Smoky Mountains, and even locals have likely only seen a small portion of the park (photo by vovik_mar / stock.adobe.com)

1. The mountains

What do we do? Where do we go? What’s our favorite thing to do? Get into nature.

My family has a trio of locations we target, the Chimney Rock picnic area, Metcalf Bottoms or Cades Cove. There are other places we might go or like to go to, but over the years those three have proven to be our favorites. They all offer close proximity to water, beautiful views and some peace. 

It’s cool to go to other places. The beach. New York. Disney World or even Europe. But it’s the mountains that draw us home.

It’s the mountains that are part of our history and legacy and knowledge that we leave for future generations. 

I want my kids to remember days at Dollywood or the go-kart track or even our trips to the beach. But I also want them to remember the twists in the road as you get closer to Cades Cove.

I want them to be able to close their eyes and see the bright yellow forests of early autumn or snow in the deepest, darkest February. 

Read Also: Picnic areas in the Smoky Mountains: The 4 best kept secret spots

I want them to remember the chilling touch of the mountain stream, the barely bridled power as it swishes around the rocks, slowly carving its way deeper into the bedrock of time. 

Read Also: How to visit Cades Cove, 7 things to know before you go

What do locals do when we get out in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge? We live and try our best to make memories and that’s what you should do, too.  

Are you a local? Which attractions do you frequent in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!

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 info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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