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Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are two charming towns offering vacationers a unique mountain experience. But which is best for you – Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?

collage image of gatlinburg vs pigeon forge

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an adrenaline junkie, or a foodie, both destinations have something to suit your tastes. With so much to see and do, let us help you explore the differences between these two magnificent towns to make your next trip to the Smokies one for the books.

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Overview

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are two charming towns nestled in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, located in East Tennessee. Both towns are popular destinations for tourists and locals, offering various attractions, activities, and breathtaking views. Let’s discuss what makes each town unique and what to expect when visiting.

Gatlinburg is a picturesque small town that sits right at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a vibrant destination with a pedestrian-friendly downtown area, home to shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. One can’t help but be captivated by the impressive mountain views and serene atmosphere.

Pigeon Forge, on the other hand, is a larger city, boasting a wide array of attractions along the famous Pigeon Forge Parkway. This bustling thoroughfare is lined with theaters, amusement parks, and countless dining options. While Pigeon Forge is mountain adjacent, it doesn’t have the same intimate connection to nature as Gatlinburg.

Let’s break down some key aspects of each town:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Gatlinburg offers easy access to this breathtaking national park, making it a popular choice for nature enthusiasts. The park spans across both Tennessee and North Carolina, encompassing over 500,000 acres of wilderness and offering scenic hikes, waterfalls, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
  • Downtown Gatlinburg: This charming, walkable area features a variety of shops, galleries, and eateries. You can find unique souvenirs and enjoy distinct tastes of the region, like mouthwatering local cuisine and homemade sweets.
  • Sevier County: Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are located within Sevier County. The area is known for its vibrant arts and crafts community, offering a unique cultural experience for visitors.
  • Pigeon Forge Parkway: This bustling road connects the two Smoky Mountain towns and is dotted with an incredible number of attractions. From go-kart tracks and miniature golf courses to museums and dinner theaters, there’s something for everyone.
  • Smoky Mountain Towns: Each town has its distinct identity, yet both are quintessential Smoky Mountain destinations. Gatlinburg is more rustic and mountain-focused, while Pigeon Forge offers a wider range of activities and entertainment.

Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are fantastic places to explore, with each offering a unique experience. Whether you are looking for stunning natural beauty or an action-packed vacation, these East Tennessee towns will not disappoint.

Top Attractions

view from the overlook of gatlinburg in the fall


In Gatlinburg, there’s no shortage of amazing attractions for visitors. One of the most popular places to start is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which offers breathtaking panoramic views and plenty of hiking opportunities, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. For adventure seekers, Ober Gatlinburg is a must-visit destination, featuring skiing, snowboarding, and an aerial tramway.

We also highly recommend stopping by Ripley’s Aquarium, where you can explore interactive exhibits and get up close with fascinating marine life. Don’t miss the opportunity to take in the city of Gatlinburg from above by visiting the Gatlinburg Space Needle, providing incredible views of the surrounding area.

Another unique experience in Gatlinburg is the Gatlinburg Skylift Park, where you can enjoy a scenic chairlift ride to the top of the mountain and stroll across the iconic SkyBridge. Afterward, you can unwind with some fun at one of the numerous mini-golf courses or catch some live music at various venues throughout the city.

Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Tennessee Drone Aerial.

Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge is brimming with excitement and fun things to do for everyone in the family. Our top pick for an unforgettable time is visiting Dollywood, a theme park featuring thrilling rides, live shows, and delicious dining options. While you’re there, don’t miss exploring Dollywood’s Splash Country, a water park perfect for cooling off during the warmer months.

To immerse yourself in the area’s rich history, we suggest visiting the Old Mill, a historic grist mill dating back to the 1800s, and making a stop at Cades Cove, a picturesque valley within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For the shopaholics among us, the Tanger Outlets offer a variety of stores and fantastic deals. If you’re interested in learning about the history of the ill-fated Titanic, the Titanic Museum Attraction is a must-see, providing an interactive and educational experience.

Lastly, you won’t want to miss a show or dinner at Dolly Parton’s Stampede or the other great Pigeon Forge dinner shows offering top-notch entertainment and talented performers.

In both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, there are plenty of options for lodging, including cozy cabins, hotels, and bed & breakfasts. With so many wonderful attractions, we’re certain you’ll have an amazing time exploring these charming mountain towns.

Outdoor Adventures

Nestled in the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer a wide range of outdoor adventures for visitors to enjoy. With activities like horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and exploring the Little Pigeon River, there’s something for everyone in these charming mountain cities.

When visiting the area, we can’t miss the opportunity to explore the Anakeesta Mountaintop Adventure Park. Here, we can indulge in numerous activities, such as:

  • Riding the Chondola
  • Climbing the Anavista Observation Tower
  • Conquering the Treeventure

Moreover, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is right at Gatlinburg’s doorstep, making it the perfect basecamp for our adventure. We can plan various excursions, like hiking with family and friends or backcountry camping, to fully immerse ourselves in nature’s beauty.

Near Pigeon Forge, we have the chance to enjoy the thrill of white water rafting down the Little Pigeon River. This heart-pumping adventure is not only exciting but also provides stunning views of the surrounding scenery.

For a more tranquil way to appreciate the outdoors, we can engage in some wildlife viewing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here, we might encounter diverse wildlife, such as black bears, deer, and various bird species.

Lastly, horseback riding near both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is a popular outdoor activity that allows us to experience the region’s beauty at a leisurely pace. By saddling up and exploring the many trails, we can appreciate the picturesque landscapes and make lasting memories.

Entertainment and Dining

Theater and Music Shows

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are home to a variety of theater and music shows that will captivate the whole family. We can enjoy an evening at popular venues like Ole Red for a taste of country music or catch a live performance at the intimate Hard Rock Cafe, where we’ll be exposed to several types of music and might even discover our new favorite artist.

Dinner Shows

If we’re looking for a unique dining experience, dinner theaters are a must-visit in the cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud, for example, combines comedy, music, and mouth-watering southern food for an unforgettable dinner show.

Another option is the Dolly Parton’s Stampede, which offers action-packed performances, thrilling horse riding stunts, and a four-course feast. Our whole family has a blast enjoying these fun activities!


When it comes to satisfying our taste buds, both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg have plenty of options. Some of the best restaurants in the area include Local Goat, which serves up delicious dishes made from sustainably sourced ingredients, and Bullfish Grill, famous for its exquisite seafood and steaks.

While exploring the surrounding areas, don’t forget to stop by establishments like Solorzanos Pizzeria Pigeon Forge and The Pottery House Cafe and Grille, which offer tasty pizzas and paninis respectively.

Our can’t-miss restaurants in the area are Bennett’s Barbecue (they have a location in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge) and Mama’s Farmhouse in Pigeon Forge. Two of our absolute family favorites!!

Our last trip to the Pancake Pantry!

Pancake Houses

Pancake houses are a staple in the Smoky Mountains region, and our trip wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of them. In this country’s most-visited national park area, we can indulge in some of our favorite breakfast treats.

The popular Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg and Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin in Pigeon Forge both serve up mouthwatering stacks of fluffy pancakes, making them excellent spots for a delicious and satisfying morning meal.

We visited the Pancake Pantry the last time we were in Gatlinburg and everything we had was absolutely delicious! Definitely stop by when you are in town, but be aware it gets busy in the mornings.

As we explore the vibrant entertainment and dining offerings in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, we’re sure to create unforgettable memories with our loved ones. So let’s get ready to immerse ourselves in the exciting atmosphere of these charming mountain towns and enjoy some of their best attractions.

Accommodation Options

Cabins and Lodges

In the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are home to a variety of accommodation options that cater to different preferences and budgets. If you’re looking for a cozy and secluded stay, consider renting a cabin or lodge in the area. Many Pigeon Forge cabins and Gatlinburg lodges offer hot tubs, multiple bedroom cabins, and a small-town feel that’s perfect for a family vacation.

During the summer months, we recommend looking for cabins near Big Ridge, where you can enjoy peace and quiet while still being a short drive away from Pigeon Forge’s attractions and Gatlinburg’s fully walkable downtown area. The national park service operates a variety of cabins and lodges in the area, many of which remain open year-round.

Search for a cabin here

Hotels and Resorts

Hotels and resorts are abundant in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, catering to those who prefer a more traditional lodging experience. Some options, such as Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort, offer fun amenities like waterparks and are located close to popular attractions like Dollywood and Anakeesta.

Don’t forget to explore resorts like Dollywood’s Splash Country, which is not only a great waterpark but also has its own hotel. Choosing a hotel or resort close to the main attractions can ensure you’ll have a good time during your stay in either city.

Check out area hotels here

Budget-friendly Stays

For those looking to keep their vacation costs low, there are plenty of budget-friendly stays in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Generally speaking, Pigeon Forge tends to offer lower prices compared to Gatlinburg, so keep that in mind when deciding where to stay. (Often nearby Sevierville is even more affordable and just a short drive)

Numerous motels and economy hotels can be found in both cities, making it easy to find a comfortable and affordable place to rest after a long day exploring the area’s attractions. You’ll find that a little research can go a long way in helping you secure low rates for accommodation while enjoying all that these popular vacation destinations have to offer.

We can often find lodging for our family of 6 for under $100 a night!

Which is the Best Option for Your Family?

When deciding between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge for your family vacation, it’s essential to consider the unique attractions each city has to offer. Both destinations are nestled in the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have plenty to keep you entertained. Let’s look at some highlights of each city to help you decide!

In Gatlinburg, one of the main attractions is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here, you can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing as a family. The city also houses the impressive Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, perfect for a day spent exploring marine life.

Other popular activities include moonshine distillery tours, the Gatlinburg Space Needle, and Ober Gatlinburg & the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway.

On the other hand, Pigeon Forge is known for its family-friendly attractions, such as Dollywood, an amusement park dedicated to the legendary Dolly Parton. Here, you’ll find roller coasters, water rides, concerts, and specialty festivals. Young kids absolutely love the Country Fair area!

Other notable destinations in Pigeon Forge are the Island at Pigeon Forge, the Titanic Museum, and Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show & Adventure Park.

Our family enjoys both cities, but they have a totally different atmosphere. We tend to spend more time in Pigeon Forge because we love Dollywood and get season passes there, but we have also come to town just to stay in downtown Gatlinburg and walk to all our activities.

Both towns are really fun with lots to do and great things to eat. It really depends upon what you want to do in the area.

Final Thoughts on Choosing Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge

While there are similarities between the two cities, it’s essential to consider the interests of your family members. If you prefer outdoor activities and want to be closer to the national park, Gatlinburg might be a better fit.

However, if you’re looking for more theme parks and entertainment options, Pigeon Forge could be more your speed. Whatever you choose, both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are sure to provide unforgettable family memories!

Can’t wait to see you there!

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