These Are the 4 Worst Times to Visit Pigeon Forge, Smoky Mountains

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)

The worst times to visit the Smokies, according to a local

The perfect time to hit the Smokies depends on what you want out of the experience. For example, in the spring, the mountains are fresh, green and blooming. They retain a bit of the nip in the air. Summer is also great when nothing is more refreshing than a cold mountain stream. We certainly love the Smokies in the fall when the kaleidoscope of colors is bursting all around, and the hint of the coming winter is in the air. Finally, the Smokies in winter with its Christmas traditions, and Dollywood with the bright, colorful lights and the holiday spirit everywhere simply can’t be beat. Therefore, there’s never a bad time to go to the Smokies. That said, as someone who has lived in the foothills of the mountains for more than 35 years, I can confidently say that some seasons are worse than others. Here are, in my opinion, the worst:

There’s probably never a bad time to visit the Smoky Mountains, but the less-than-ideal time will depend on your general preferences. Some will say the worst time to visit is during the off-season of January and February when many attractions close or run on a limited schedule. Others will say the worst time to visit is during one of the area’s famous car shows because traffic can be a nightmare.

an empty downtown strip
The Smokies can be a bit depressing when everything is closed (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

1. In the off-season

For Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, January and February (minus New Years and Valentine’s Day), are like one long December 26th. The anticipation of the holidays is gone. It’s cold. It’s gray. The mountains are dormant. Dollywood is closed. Several other attractions are closed or on limited 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 to look ahead to better days.

Classic cars and automobiles line the streets of Pigeon Forge during the spring Rod Run event (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Crowds are brutal during Rod Run events (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

2. During Rod Runs

Rod Runs (held twice a year in April and September) 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 misery. 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 and 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. Then everything fades to black and you spend the next four hours motionless in the fast lane listening to the Rolling Stones.

gatlinburg on july 4th weekend
Gatlinburg is almost always crowded – especially on popular weekends and holidays. Pictured: The Gatlinburg Strip on July 4th weekend (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. On holidays

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 and winter is unmatched and it’s a great way to spend Thanksgiving with the family. It’s even prettier at Christmas with millions of twinkling lights along the Parkway. But every family outing to the mountains during the holidays 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? If the nerves are a little frayed, 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.

a man stands in front of a misting fan at dollywood
Dollywood can be blazing hot in the summertime, despite the abundant shade and misting stations (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Summertime

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. I started looking for a wedding ring I thought dropped from my finger even though 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. Click here to view the story version of this article.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

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20 thoughts on “These Are the 4 Worst Times to Visit Pigeon Forge, Smoky Mountains”

  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • You haven’t been to Colorado if you think the Smokies is the most beautiful place in the U.S. I have lived in Tennessee for the past 19 years and also lived in Colorado twice before. While I appreciate the beauty of the Smokies, there simply is no comparison to the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Take a two-week road trip through the state of Colorado and you will understand.

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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • Easy fix on that make friends with a local and ask if they wouldn’t mind putting in the order for you and send it to you and u send them the money for it.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  6. 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?

    Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
    • Michelle,
      August will be sweltering and humid, and 22nd-24th will be the Smoky Mountains Jeep Invasion (which is the largest Jeep gathering in the southeast mountains). You may need to book your stay now if you plan to go next August. Just my opinion, but September would be a much better time to enjoy the Smokies.

      Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
    • Totally agree. Common sense and manners have gotten lost. Very sad. No respect for nature, animals or humans.

      Reply
  9. The summer heat is terrible for me and the traffic of the rod runs are horrible! I love Spring,But Fall is my absolute favorite with Winter being next!

    Reply
  10. Totally agree. Common sense and manners have gotten lost. Very sad. No respect for nature, animals or humans.

    Reply

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