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Courtesy Poynor's Pommes Frites

The 21 best things to do in Pigeon Forge

The best things to do in Pigeon Forge include Dolly Parton-approved theme parks, local crafts and lots of dinner theater

Written by
Margaret Littman
&
Krista Diamond
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Pigeon Forge isn’t your usual destination city. For one, it has a fantastic name, a moniker that comes from a 19th-century forge and not some sort of pigeon-inspired success. What makes Pigeon Forge famous? Dollywood, in a word. Dolly Parton is everywhere here, but the best things to do in Pigeon Forge stretch far beyond the magic of the country icon.

In a way, Pigeon Forge is a fascinating mixture of Vegas, Orlando, and Branson, a manufactured town of tourism accentuated by unparalleled natural beauty. There is nowhere like it. Family-friendly fun rules the roost, with excellent amusement parks, theme hotels, and fun restaurants. That might be the best word to sum up Pigeon Forge; fun.

Best things to do in Pigeon Forge

Owned and operated by Sevier County native and entertainment legend Dolly Parton, the Dollywood theme park combines excellent amusement park rides with country music and mountain-living kitsch. The park's wooden roller coaster, the Thunderhead, is classic fun. If you don't like those kinds of thrills, the Calico Falls Schoolhouse, and bald eagle sanctuary offer tamer entertainment.

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Horseback Riding

There’s arguably no better way to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than on horseback. Several outfitters will help you see these magnificent mountains from atop a horse, guiding you through more than 500 acres of trails.

WonderWorks

Even if you weren't to stop here, it'd be impossible not to notice what looks like an upside-down building as you drive down the Parkway. The illusion is cosmetic but sets the stage for the over-the-top kid-friendly activities inside. WonderWorks includes an extreme weather zone where you can feel what it would be like to experience a major earthquake or hurricane.

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Sure, you could come here and shop for souvenirs and snacks. You can ride the rollercoaster or eat fudge and ice cream (what else would you eat on vacation?). Or you can head to the Goats on the Roof and help the goats graze from up high. If you are more of a voyeur, you can watch from the air-conditioned second floor.

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Go underground at Forbidden Caverns. While the casual observer may think of music or whiskey first, in truth, Tennessee is known for its caves: It has more than any other state. Take a walk through these well-lit caverns, complete with lighting, handrails, and nature's own air conditioning.

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Hollywood Wax Museum is another attraction you can't miss when you drive by; there's a giant King Kong replica hanging from the building's exterior. Inside you'll see wax creations of celebrities, both real and imagined (from Elvis to zombies). Your Insta followers will appreciate the props that allow you to take selfies with the figures. The museum is pure camp, but it's campy fun.

Stomp your feet at Dolly Parton's Stampede. Previously known as the Dixie Stampede, this is the quintessential Pigeon Forge attraction: campy, dinner theater "comedy." It isn't for everyone, and it isn't something you'd attend every day, but when in Rome… At this show, guests are seated around a circular arena where actors and animals put on a rodeo-inspired dinner performance while enjoying a four-course barbecue meal.

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The Track

If you think go-karts are just a kiddie-size alternative for those who want to stick close to the ground floor, Pigeon Forge will have you thinking again. The Track's go-kart option has three levels, with ups, downs, and even a jump at the end. There's also an arcade, the chance to jump from a 65-foot platform (attached by a harness and elastic bungee cord), and bumper cars.

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Forging metal is a historic pastime and vocation in this area (where do you think the name Pigeon Forge comes from)? At Iron Mountain Metal Craft, they're working at keeping the craft alive. Sign up for a class, or stop by to see the process in action and buy some quality souvenirs to take home.

Where else can you see 20,000 different sets of salt and pepper shakers in one place? Nowhere. At least, that's what the owners of the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum promise, touting their collection as the largest in the world. The charming mountain-style building shows off everything from the charming and the nostalgic to the politically incorrect.

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Anakeesta

Zip down the mountain at Anakeesta. Technically in Gatlinburg, this mountain amusement area takes advantage of the scenery (unlike some Parkway options that are strictly indoors). Race your friends in a dual zip-line ride or climb in the tree canopy walk. Your adventure starts with a scenic 12-minute ride from Downtown Gatlinburg to the summit of Anakeesta mountain on the Chondola’s quad chairlift.

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Another one of Pigeon Forge's signature dinner theater comedy shows, this one features elbow-to-the-ribs gags about two feuding families. The family-friendly performance offers stunts and singin' and dancin' in costumes with fake guns. In December, there is a Christmas-themed option. Classic Southern dinner is included (fried chicken and mashed potatoes, etc.), but there are vegetarian and gluten-free options, too.

When you play around at Anakeesta, you'll already be atop the mountain. Stay put and explore Firefly Village, shopping in a whimsical mountain-top, treehouse-themed village featuring local craftspeople selling their wares. Kids can mine for gems, and everyone can take in 36-degree views.

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Since 1912, this Gatlinburg getaway is where artists have gone to make crafts in the Appalachian tradition. It couldn't be more opposite from the hubbub of the Pigeon Forge Parkway, with its games and attractions and mass-market souvenirs (not that there's anything wrong with that… all things in moderation). If you're not up for taking a class, come to Arrowmont to shop and admire the artistry.

Curious about skydiving but not the sort to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Body flying at Flyaway is the next best thing: an indoor jump in a vertical wind tunnel. You'll get about 20 minutes of instruction, plus the use of a suit, helmet, and other safety gear, and about three minutes of flying time inside the tunnel.

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If a classic game of skeeball or Whack-a-mole gets your endorphins going, this is the place to play. Located right off the Parkway, you can compete against yourself or your friends and family at all the classics. It is perfect for when the weather won't let you explore the nearby mountains, but be forewarned, this is a place for people who like the squealing laughter of kids.

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