The Smoky Mountains receives millions of visitors to the East Tennessee Appalachian region every year. We get a wide, wide, WIDE assortment of guests coming from all around the world (and possibly beyond!) for just as varied reasons and despite all the attractions we are known more, many visitors aren’t sure what to do once they get here that will please everyone in their widely diverse group, or those that live up to their hype.
In this article, we’ll showcase a beginner’s list of attractions in the Smokies based on their popularity. You might be someone who identifies strongly or negatively against the general appeal of popular attractions, but either way, this list will provide you some quality suggestions or itinerary starters for your upcoming Smoky Mountain vacation.
Naturally, Dollywood would be at the top of the list here. Dollywood is the second biggest attraction in the Smoky Mountains and only second to the mountains themselves. The amusement park is one of the main reasons for the city of Pigeon Forge’s continued popularity and Dollywood tops itself year after year to live up to its already enormous hype. If you hear someone call it the “Disneyland of East Tennessee”, that’s what you can expect!
There are three things Dollywood explicitly caters to and guests come whether they’re into all three, just one or a combination thereof; rides for thrillseekers and children, theaters for country music shows and gospel music, and an interactive look and celebration of Smoky Mountain culture with arts and crafts stores, artists and crafters. It also goes without saying the park serves as something of a shrine to Miss Dolly Parton herself, but only to a reasonable degree. You do not need to be a fan of Dolly Parton to enjoy Dollywood, but it certainly helps. There are dozens of rides throughout the park, interactive fun places for all ages, shops, eateries and more things to enjoy than you could do in an entire day.
See more on Dollywood at www.dollywood.com.
2. The Island
While the name “The Island” might give the impression it’s set on some waterbed somewhere in town, it is in fact located dead center downtown Pigeon Forge and has incredibly convenient accessibility from almost anywhere you come in from. You can enter and find parking straight off the main parkway or you can come in from the rear entrance on Teaser Lane to a HUGE parking lot that was designed to be hard to fill up. The Island has its own free trolley service for those who may find it difficult to walk across the length to get to, like Dollywood.
Once you get inside, an awe will come over you as you see exactly why The Island is so popular – incredible sights and stores fill the property alongside restaurants, attractions, and pretty much everything you’d need if you and your group wanted to stay the afternoon. Those attractions include:
– The Island Fountain
– The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
– The Island Ropes Course
– Island Mirror Maze
– 7D Dark Ride Adventure
– The Escape Game
– The Flying Horse Carousel
See more on The Island at www.islandinpigeonforge.com.
3. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
To call Gatlinburg’s Ripley’s Aquarium a must-see attraction barely does the reality of it justice. The fact of the matter is that Ripley’s Aquarium is a literal hub of attraction and activity in the downtown area and anyone who has been to or even viewed pictures of it online can see why. Over 10,000 sea creatures across more than 350 species call the aquarium home and are waiting for you to visit. Like all of Ripley’s museum attractions, the Aquarium is compartmentalized into themed sections – Tropical Rainforest, Ocean Realm, Shark Lagoon, Touch-A-Ray Bay, Coral Reef, Discovery Center, Gallery of the Seas, Stingray Bay and Penguin Playhouse – yes, we have penguins in Gatlinburg! You’ll be able to see them near the end of the museum inside and outside the main building, and before then you’ll find:
* Poison Dart Frogs
* Weedy Scorpionfish
* Green Moray Eels
* Sandtiger Sharks
* Green Sea Turtles
* Nurse Sharks
* Bonnethead Sharks
* Leopard Sharks
* Leopard Sharks
* Clownfish (You know, “Finding Nemo”)
* Puffer Fish
* Horseshoe Crabs
* Japanese Spider Crabs
See more on Ripley’s Aquarium at the Smokies at https://www.ripleyaquariums.com/.
4. Ober Gatlinburg
Before Dollywood, the most affluental and famous amusement park in the Smoky Mountains was, and in many ways still is, Ober Gatlinburg overlooking the city it’s named after. And while Dollywood exploded in size and popularity, Ober Gatlinburg has maintained its own fanbase and is consistently busy during the tourism seasons while maintaining the high quality of its attractions the same as it has for over five decades.
Ober Gatlinburg offers many things Dollywood does not, and even some things you can’t find anywhere else in the county! First and foremost, Ober Gatlinburg’s biggest claim to fame is their iconic Aerial Tramway that carries visitors from downtown Gatlinburg all the way up to the front gates of the amusement park. This is very much considered a ride of its own accord and you and your group can enjoy it without being obligated to visit the main park. The ride is 2.1 miles in length, carries a maximum of 120 passengers, and ascends over Wiley Oakley and Chalet Village providing more than 10 minutes of sights high above the city.
Next, Ober Gatlinburg offers a huge wildlife habitat for local wildlife where visitors can see black bears, river otters, bobcats, an enclosed aviary full of bird species, foxes, raccoons, skunks, flying squirrels, turtles, snakes, insects and more. The main park from there offers its main attractions inside a multi-level facility and outside along the hill. Some of the attractions change seasonally and during the warmer months, you can enjoy a three water raft slides, the “Amaze’n Maze”, a large chair swing, outdoor mini-golf, a scenic chairlift and their famous alpine slide. Year-round attractions include an arcade/redemption center, the ski mountain coaster, indoor mini-golf, classic-style carousel, and the only ice-skating rink in Sevier County!
And speaking of Winter-themed sports, Ober Gatlinburg is also the only place for miles around to offer winter sports between December and March. People come from across states to ski, snowboard, snowtube and receive tutoring on them as well. Ober Gatlinburg is fully equipped to meet the needs of winter sports enthusiasts from amateur to professional and everything in-between.
There’s still more to know about Ober Gatlinburg and whether you’re never been, haven’t been in decades or just haven’t been this year yet, you’ll want to get to know what continues to make Ober Gatlinburg an icon in the Smokies. Get to know this at www.obergatlinburg.com.
5. The Smoky Mountains National Park.
Surely no list of the most popular attractions in the Smokies is complete without the Smokies themselves! Hosting over 9 million visitors annually, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park. It is a landscape that combines natural and cultural history beautifully. History unfolds before the eyes, emerging from lush forests and rich lowland valleys.
Much of the Smokies 500,000 acres are pure wilderness. More species of plants are found within the park than any other area in North America. Over 1,500 flowering shrubs and plants, 124 species of trees and 30 varieties of orchids and grasses can be found here. Interestingly, the Smokies’ unique ecosystem combines two different climates. The lower elevations feature a prime example of deciduous forest while the conifer forests along the mountains’ peaks are more like those found in central Canada. The amazing profusion of vegetation combines with the oil of pine trees to create a vapor that mixes with the moisture-laden air to give the Smoky Mountains their name.
Areas of interest include:
* Sugarlands Visitors Center
* Newfound Gap Road
* Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
* Cades Cove
* The Townsend Wye River
* Chimney Tops
* Metcalf Bottoms
See more on the Smoky Mountain National Park at www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm.