During my visit, a local jokingly told me that Pigeon Forge, TN is located in the Bible belt, of the Bible belt. There’s an overwhelming focus on Christianity as you stroll through town and from what I could tell, most of the people in this east Tennessee town seem to be practicing what they preach.
I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and before I began my typical exploring – I decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Obviously, they’re all over this part of the country and a real professional travel writer would have found a unique, local establishment in which to dine. But, 1) nobody has ever referred to me as “professional” and 2) when you want pancakes, you want pancakes!
The only reason I even include my choice of dining is that it was my first brush with residents of Pigeon Forge. As I walked in, the employees were friendly and my waitress for the late afternoon meal was Kaley. She had to have been about 16 years old. I asked her how her day was going. She said it was a bit “stressful”. Turns out it was her first day on the job. I congratulated her on the new gig and asked how it was going so far. She said “I don’t know – you’re my first customer.” She did a great job and we both agreed – Cracker Barrel owns the market on perfect pancake science. Kaley was a good representation of the citizens here – polite, humble and welcoming.
Watch this Bill On The Road episode about visiting Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and a look at one of the most popular shows here – Lumberjack Feud:
Later in the evening, I decided to check out one of the many music and stage shows Pigeon Forge offers tourists. The area reminds me of Branson, Missouri – although unlike Branson, I didn’t find lines of tour buses full of (forgive me, but…) OLD people. It was mainly families – most of them young. As a result, traffic, while busy, was far better than Branson where people drive 3 miles per hour and nobody seems to know where they’re going.
The first show I randomly checked out was called Country Tonite. It was your basic tourist stage show where performers cover popular songs. The performers were solid and although it still had a tinge of “hokey”, there were some bright spots in the lineup. A couple of the dancers were excellent. At one point, they asked veterans to stand and be recognized. The entire cast walked out and shook hands with every one of the men and women who were standing. That was a nice touch. Love of country and love of God were two themes that rang loud and clear during the entire visit.
The highlight of the Country Tonite show was a 13 year old banjo player named Willow Osborne. As she graced the stage, the audience perked up and took notice of her incredible talent and confidence. We devoted an entire Bill On The Road episode to Willow. Her story is really terrific and touching.
Another show here is called Lumberjack Feud. It’s a real competition between professional lumberjacks. (Yeah, that’s a real thing) Audiences can enjoy dinner and root for the family of their choice as they battle head to head with various events, all having to do with cutting, sawing, climbing or throwing. It’s very well done and you get a lot of show for your money. (This coming from a guy who didn’t pay to get in…. however, the show did go on for awhile — without dragging, so you’ll definitely get your dollar’s worth.)
Outside of shows, Pigeon Forge is full of gift shops and fun things to do with the family. You can play mini-golf at what seemed like a half dozen themed golf courses along the main road. There were go-cart tracks, bumper boats and ice cream shops.
The Titanic Museum is impossible to miss as you drive through town. The building is a replica of the vessel that appears to be moving forward with large jets of water in front. The museum is one of two – the other, oddly enough, in Branson. While I didn’t go inside – I know from colleagues that it’s pretty amazing. I just feared having to hear that awful Celine Dion song, quite honestly.
Another large attraction is a Hollywood Wax Museum. Thankfully, these sorts of attractions are typically free for me when I visit – this was no exception. The price seemed a bit steep for what it was – two stories of wax replicas of Hollywood stars. However, they do let you get up close and in some areas, encourage you to pose for photos with them. As you know, I hate places that don’t allow photographs – so for that effort alone, I’ll give this place a thumbs up. While walking through, I asked a tourist to take a photo of me with the Charlie’s Angels. (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and my personal favorite, Lucy Liu.)
One other stop for most Pigeon Forge visitors is Dollywood. While I had no intention on visiting, working on a separate story eventually led me to the theme park. In a nutshell, it was way more impressive than I had imagined. There were more roller coasters than at most Six Flags theme parks. One of them, a tribute to firemen, actually goes backwards at one point – which was a new experience. The park was clean. The workers were friendly and the lines were not as long as most theme parks.
Overall, Pigeon Forge was the real (and surprising) highlight of a long south east road trip. I keep coming back to the friendliness of the people in this town. For it’s people that really what make a destination with worth visiting. If you’re looking for a family getaway – this is it. They may not have the beaches of Florida or California, but the Smoky Mountains are a worthy substitute. Breath taking views are less than 30 minutes away. You could spend weeks exploring and staring at some of the most beautiful scenes you’ll ever witness.
But, even just a quick glance to the skyline here, reminds you you’re in a very special place of America.