TRAVEL GUIDE: Christmas Fun in Pigeon Forge
The magic of the holiday season sparkles in this eastern Tennessee town
Pigeon Forge Parkway glows with more than 5 million lights that create the city’s Winterfest display.
Courtesy of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism
With enchanting snow-capped mountains all around, twinkling lights by the millions, and entertainment for days, the magic of Christmas shines bright in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Just under four-hours from Charlotte, and hugged all around by the peaks and hills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most-visited of all the national parks), Pigeon Forge is as thrilling or relaxed as its visitors make it.
From November through February, during the town’s annual Winterfest celebration, Pigeon Forge is covered in millions of lights that transform its streets into a sparkling wonderland. Hop on the charming trolley and catch oversized ornaments and trees, plus bear, deer, fox and other area natives — all aglow. Shining with lights, the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a show in itself.
The Parkway (not to be confused with the Blue Ridge Parkway) is the town’s main drag. With dozens of entertaining shows, shops, and attractions, it emits a high-octane, Las Vegas-for-families vibe. Pirates Voyage, the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show, and the Comedy Barn all add warm holiday themes to their popular annual performances. Through early January, Christmas takes over Dolly Parton’s Stampede, too, where the whole family can share a hearty meal as competitive little elves from the North and South poles engage in a harmless rivalry. The show’s live nativity — compete with live camels — is the icing on the Christmas cake.
For a low-key experience, head over to the Old Mill Square, a festive complex of restaurants and specialty and pottery shops centered around a circa 1830s gristmill. Today the Old Mill Restaurant or Pottery House Cafe & Grille are both worthy stops for a family-style bite. For a holiday extra, share breakfast or brunch with jolly ‘ole Saint Nick and his missus.
For another worthy shared-meal experience, go for breakfast at the family-style Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, the oldest restaurant in nearby Sevierville. Buttermilk pancakes, country-fried steak, and biscuits and gravy all follow after sweet apple fritters start the day right. Located on the campus of the Apple Barn and Cider Mill, there’s no shortage of things to do on the premises, including stopping in the Christmas barn for signature candles, ornaments, gifts, toys, and more.
Driving in Pigeon Forge, Dolly Parton appears on local Tennessee tags, a nod to her childhood literacy program. Originally from nearby Locust Ridge, Dolly means business in eastern Tennessee, and Dollywood resort and theme park, just a stone’s throw from the heart of Pigeon Forge, draws 3 million visitors a year. During the holidays, 5 million lights brighten this 150-acre park, featuring nine coasters, thrilling shows, and even a Dolly Parton museum. (Pro parenting tip: Don’t leave without sampling the cinnamon bread.) Kids also can marvel at the live eagle sanctuary, and everyone can watch as working blacksmiths and jewelry makers exercise their talents in Craftsman’s Valley. Holiday-adorned accommodations are available at the adjacent DreamMore resort or in one of the cozy cabins.
For the family that loves a little high-speed adventure, hop aboard the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster, just a stone’s throw from Dollywood. This new stand-alone coaster offers a nine-minute ride with a rush of curves and daring hairpins at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. It’s also decorated and lights up at night during Winterfest. (Check facebook.com/rockytopcoaster before you go for times and closures.) Too cold for the whoosh of the ride? Opt for an inside adventure at Pigeon Forge Snow, an indoor snow tubing and play center that’s open year round.
For an all-immersive experience, look no further than The Inn at Christmas Place. Appropriately located along Christmas Tree Lane, this half-timbered style stately hotel offers all-Christmas accommodations (think: trees in rooms, visits from Santa, elves and wreathes all about, ventriloquist shows and musical acts) and an impressive lobby glockenspiel that plays Christmas carols and strikes on the hour.
Whether seeking relaxation, thrills, entertainment or just plain quality time together, Pigeon Forge is an enchanting option for any family holiday getaway.
Virginia Brown is native Charlottean and freelance journalist, writer and editor who loves sharing stories. Reach out to her at vbwrites.com.