These are the 4 worst times to visit Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg

Traffic in Gatlinburg during peak times can back up for miles (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Traffic in Gatlinburg during peak times can back up for miles (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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The perfect time to hit the Smokies depends wildly on what you want out of the experience.

We love the Smokies in the spring, when the mountains are fresh and green and blooming. They retain a bit of the nip in the air.

We love the Smokies in the summer when nothing is more refreshing than a cold mountain stream.

We love the Smokies in the fall when the kaleidoscope of colors is bursting all around, and the hint of the coming winter is the air.

We love the Smokies in the winter for Christmas traditions at Dollywood and the bright, colorful lights and the holiday spirit everywhere.

So while we here at TheSmokies.com don’t think there’s ever a bad time to go to the Smokies, we acknowledge there is a season for everything and every purpose.

Some seasons are worse to go to the Smokies than others.

Here are the absolute worst times to go to the Smokies:

One of the many eerie sights: The abandoned streets of downtown Gatlinburg last April (Photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
The Smokies can be a bit depressing when everything is closed (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

1. January through February, because it can be depressing

For Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the first months of the year are like one, long December 26th.

The anticipation of the holidays is gone. It’s coldish. It’s gray. The mountains are dormant. Dollywood is closed. Several other attractions are closed or on winter hours.

Sure you can shop. Sure you can do indoor stuff. But a general malaise hangs in the air.

While there’s not much traffic to battle and the crowds have dwindled, there’s a reason.

The best thing to do in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in January and February is look ahead to better days.

Aerial view of traffic in Pigeon Forge
An aerial view of Rod Runs traffic in Pigeon Forge (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

2. Rod Runs, because traffic is a nightmare

Rod Runs are great. The cars are super cool and the people-watching is excellent.

But if you’ve ever accidentally driven onto the main drag unaware that it’s a Rod Run weekend, you are missing out on a special kind of hell.

It’s a little bit like being the victim of a mob hit in a Martin Scorsese film.

Everything’s going along swimmingly; you’re having a nice drive with your family. You see a classic car. Then another. Then the cold realization of what is about to happen hits just as everything goes slow-motion and you’re powerless to stop it.

“Oh noooooooo,” you shout to the family, shoving your children out of the car to the safety of the sidewalk. “Save yourselves.”

Read Also: Watch two guys line dance in the road while stuck in Gatlinburg traffic

Then everything fades to black and you spend the next four hours motionless in the fast lane listening to the Rolling Stones.

Long lines are always expected in the Smokies during the more popular months (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Long lines are always expected in the Smokies during the more popular months (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Autumn, because of the crowds

I’m pretty sure it was Jean Paul Sartre who said “to every yen, there is a yang.” The beauty of the mountains in the fall is unmatched. It is also not much of a secret.

Every family outing to the mountains in the fall requires a certain kind of calculus.

What combination of backroads and main roads is the right combination to get us where we’re going in a reasonable time? Can I risk coming in from Exit 407? Should I go through Newport? Do I need to drive through Cosby?

If you’re planning a Sunday drive through Cades Cove, what time do you have to be there to beat the after-church crowd? What’s the general status of your patience? Has it been a bit of a week at work?

If the nerves are a little frayed starting out, what are the chances you’ll find yourself laying on the horn and telling a tourist from Cleveland that deer are everywhere and certainly are not worth blocking the loop for 35 minutes while you gawk at them.

Yelling “If you stop for anything less than a bear, I will go full Earnhardt and put your butt in the ditch,” is an indication, you picked the wrong day to go to the cove.

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

Dollywood can be a blazing hot in the summertime (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Dollywood can be blazing hot in the summertime (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Summer, because of the brutal heat

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the East Tennessee humidity can be oppressive.

Summer can be a great time to be up in the mountains or it can be a sweltering hellscape of soggy, sweaty humanity.

Once, while traversing the concrete concourse of Dollywood on our way from the Country Fair up to the relative shade of Craftsmen’s Valley, the combined effects of the staggering heat and the relocation of all of the liquid inside my body to dripping off the outside of my body left me shuttling through the relative planes of existence like Val Kilmer in The Doors movie.

I saw a Shaman, a giant sentient lizard and Dabney Coleman in his bondage gear from “9 to 5.”

I literally started looking for a wedding ring I thought dropped from my finger despite the fact that I lost that ring 12 years prior while spinning it like a top.

Summer, my friend, can be brutal.

When do you think is the worst time to visit the Smokies? Let us know in the comments below.

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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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10 thoughts on “These are the 4 worst times to visit Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg”

  1. Rod Run and the 4th of July were horrible for traffic. They both compare to peak week in October but I still love the mountains in all 4 seasons!

  2. There is no bad time to visit the Smoky Mountains. The most beautiful place in the US. There are ways around the main road traffic. Plan meals during times when others may not eat. But, those mountains are gorgeous year round.

  3. Just came back, never go again in October, best time I’ve seen is late April, early may, weather good not so crowded

  4. All I wanted to do is order 3 lbs of taffy logs in 3 flavors from the ole smoky candy kichen. They are not allowing mail orders. There goes a promised Christmas gift down the drain. Very disappointing.

  5. Been going down there for thirty years and this Thanksgiving was the worst ever.Traffic was bad and the crowds on Black Friday were outrageous. I have never seen so many rude and entitled people in my life. If you bring your children out in public you need to teach them how to act in public. Will have to really reevaluate if it’s worth going back.

  6. John Gullion, you are hilarious!

    My husband and I loved this piece! Thank you, and keep writing!

  7. I’m from Texas so I can handle some heat but I’m thinking of going in august and would like to pick a time during the summer that is about the least touristy as you ca. get for the summer anyway. Any suggestions?

  8. I have been there in November to see all the beautiful Christmas lights, been there in May for the Spring flowers, now will be heading there early October. It is what you make of it, and where you stay. I love the place. No matter what time of year it is.

  9. We here full time all year. The class of tourists in recent years has declined to a level that is obnoxious, rude, entitled, inconsiderate, etc. etc. This is my home. Respect it or don’t visit. Parking on the road in the mountain trail heads is dangerous … Glad to see the Park Service regulating that, finally. The unruly visitors are ruining these beautiful mountains that the Indigenous People fought so hard to keep. Don’t feed the Bears! Don’t leave food in your car or outside your cabin, tent or RV. … It will be euthanized. If you don’t pay to park in Gatlinburg, prepare to be towed. THERE IS NO FREE PARKING ! Don’t leave your good manners at home. How would you like it if we came to your home, parked on your lawn, left trash in your driveway, and complained about your personal space, being yours? Such a shame we even have to say these things to adults.

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