Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge? How to Choose Your Perfect Vacation

Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge? How to Choose Your Perfect Vacation

When it comes to East Tennessee mountain getaways, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are where all the action is, but for newbies trying to decide between the two popular destinations, it can get kind of confusing.

They both offer endless entertainment from rollercoasters to moonshine tasting. However, both towns are unique in their own ways.

Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg

When visiting Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge, these are some of the best activities and attractions to enjoy during your stay:

Hit the Trails

With its pristine mountainside location, Gatlinburg TN vs Pigeon Forge offers over 400 miles of winding scenic trails that are perfect for postcard-worthy hikes, wildlife spotting adventures, and taking in those gorgeous Smoky Mountain vistas.

Must-see trails include the quieter 2-mile Rainbow Falls Trail leading to the impressive 80-foot waterfall and the gorgeous 6-mile hike along the Chimney Tops to epic overlooks.

Get Your Thrills

For high-flying adventures in Gatlinburg, visit the Gatlinburg SkyLift and ride the 1.8-mile scenic chairlift high up Crockett Mountain. At the top, thrill-seekers must try the heart-racing Alpine!

Slide back down. For more screams, book a white-knuckle rafting trip down the Pigeon River's Class IV rapids with companies like Raft TN or USA Raft.

If you love water fun, you also have to try their crazy tubing adventures and ride the sky-high Aerial Tramway, North America’s largest, for epic panoramic mountain views spanning 3 states!

Top Attractions

When staying in Gatlinburg cabins, you can’t miss the world-famous Ripley’s Aquarium, where shark-filled tanks and exotic exhibits bring the ocean to the Smokies.

The gorgeous 407-foot-tall Space Needle is another must-visit, especially for its moonshine tastings and revolving glass elevators revealing 360-degree mountain views.

For classic car lovers, the 1909-era Hollywood Cars Museum brings famous film and TV vehicles to life in creative displays and the 7,500 sq ft Mirror Maze will twist your senses with hands-on optical illusions.

Visit Downtown

Gatlinburg’s lively downtown district comes tunefully alive each evening with dozens of unique artisan shops, amazing restaurants dishing up Southern cooking, and dozens of quirky entertainment venues like hillbilly mini golf, magic shows, and musical revues to stroll about.

The main street also hosts seasonal craft fairs and summer block parties.

Wineries & Moonshine Tasting

The surrounding Smoky Mountains have become a surprising wine-growing region in recent years. In Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge, stop into Carr Vineyards, Great Smoky Mountain Winery, or Sugarland Cellars to taste award-winning vintages.

Or visit Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler for the classic Tennessee experience of sampling legendary white lightning straight from the high-proof stills.

Best Things to Do in Pigeon Forge

When visiting Pigeon Forge vs Gatlinburg, these are some of the best activities to enjoy with friends and family:

Family Fun & Games Galore

As the entertainment capital of the Smokies, Pigeon Forge lives for thrilling families and kids of all ages. When staying in cabins in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, you can visit endless attractions like:

  • Dollywood & Dollywood’s Splash Country: Dolly Parton’s 150-acre theme parks offer world-class coasters, shows, and charm galore! Thrill Mountain at Dollywood hosts 9 rollercoasters like the hyper Steel Dragon wing coaster and epic Drop Line tower swings.
  • The Island: This lively entertainment center features the 200-ft Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, flying theater rides, ropes courses, mirror mazes, mini golf, dancing fountains, live music, and more!
  • Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show: This hilarious dinner show mixes music, comedy, and awe-inspiring lumberjack competitions like ax throwing, chopping, sawing, and high-flying acrobatics!
  • Visit the Titanic Museum Attraction: At this stunning half-size replica of the doomed ocean liner, visitors experience what life was like aboard the Titanic via rooms, galleries, and chilling artifacts.
  • Dozens more mini golf courses, racing attractions, haunted houses, indoor skydiving, cabins in Pigeon Forge, and kid zones round out the endless family options.

Indoor Thrills

On stormy days or if you need a break from the summer heat, Pigeon Forge offers dozens of massive indoor entertainment centers to keep your crew busy for hours. Popular options include:

  • The Island Showplex cinema center with a 20-lane boutique bowling alley, indoor amusement rides like the Scrambler and fun house, an arcade, escape rooms, 7D Dark Ride adventure, and Aerial Thrill Arena indoor skydiving.
  • Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen for Southern cooking and entertainment shows like lumberjack acrobatics.
  • Country Tonite Theatre's high-energy music revues.
  • Comedy Barn Theater hosts clean family comedy and magic shows.
  • Alcatraz East Crime Museum to explore mob history and forensic science.
  • The 250,000 sq ft Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet Mall for stormy day shopping.

Outdoor Shopping & Entertainment

Beyond the dozens of massive outlet malls packed with all your favorite brands at a discount, Pigeon Forge also hosts a nice array of local mom-and-pop shops, souvenir stores, old-time candy shops, and entertainment spaces.

Top spots to check out include:

  • The Island complex with fountain shows, attractions, restaurants, and unique artisan boutiques.
  • Artist's Valley houses dozens of local Smoky Mountain craft stores and galleries to find that perfect vacation memento.
  • Dollywood’s Craftsman’s Valley for heritage craft demos from glass blowing to woodcarving and 100+ artisan shops.
  • Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center with celebrity wax figures, Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors, Castle of Chaos 5D Adventure ride, and the Outbreak zombie escape challenge.
  • Five Oaks Farm Kitchen for Southern cooking, shopping, animal interactions, and moonshine tastings.


Similarities Between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

Though each town has cultivated its own unique atmosphere and personality over the decades, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge still share quite a bit in common as sister cities in Sevierville County.

Both mountain towns retain a distinctly Smoky Mountain aesthetic across lodging and shopping destinations with log cabin facades and rustic décor and just being just 15 minutes apart, it’s easy to experience both towns when planning your East Tennessee getaway. Some similarities include:

  • Scenic thrills
  • Moonshine and wine tours
  • Candy stores
  • Family fun
  • Shopping

Differences Between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

Gatlinburg embraces a quieter, more relaxed pace with gorgeous mountain and forest views giving it an authentic woodland charm. Shops and attractions exude rustic elegance with stone and wood facades. You’ll also find more adult-friendly attractions like winery tours, creative culinary scenes, art galleries, and drafting your own moonshine cocktail concoctions.

Comparatively, Pigeon Forge lives large with neon lights, bustling family attractions, dinner shows, wave pools, mega roller coasters, outlet malls, wax museums, dinner theaters, Pigeon Forge cabins, and endless kid thrills. Some more differences include:

  • Scenery and pace
  • Lodging style
  • Dining scene
  • More kid friendly

Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge: FAQs

Is Dollywood closer to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?

Dolly Parton’s wildly popular 150-acre Dollywood theme park sits just 3 quick miles from central Pigeon Forge, making it convenient for guests staying along the lively Parkway strip. The park runs seasonal shuttles to help visitors get around.

How far apart are Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge?

Driving distance between lively Pigeon Forge and scenic Gatlinburg is only about 15 minutes along the winding Route 441 connector road, or about 6 miles apart.

Do you go through Pigeon Forge to get to Gatlinburg?

Yes, the main Parkway (Highway 441) travels right through the center of Pigeon Forge, past popular hotels, attractions, outlet malls, dinner theaters, and family fun centers.

Final Thoughts

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge make planning an unforgettable Smoky Mountain escape easier than ever. With so much to love about both Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge, focus on your travel style and interests to decide if you’d prefer relaxing or staying on the go.

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