From NASCAR to Dollywood to Sevierville, this region offers an unusually interesting array of manmade and natural attractions.
The Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee is one the most beautiful places in North America to visit any time of year. The buds of spring brighten up the valley of the Forks of the Little Pigeon River below, in summer the mountains are thick with foliage, autumn brings spectacular colors cascading down The Smokies, as if painted by an artist’s hand, and winter’s snowfalls blanket the mountains with a pristine white powder.
Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is Sevierville, the eighth oldest town in the state and the birthplace of country music legend Dolly Parton.
Sevierville, Home Base for Fun
In fact, a statuesque statue of the singer sculpted by local artist Jim Gray sits prominently on the lawn of the historic 122-year-old Sevier County Courthouse in the city’s downtown core.
Sevierville, founded in 1794, is named for the first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier. It’s conveniently located for families to drive or fly into as it’s on Interstate 40 at exit 407, just one hour from Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport.
The city boasts of a number of fun family attractions including Rainforest Adventures (109 Nascar Drive, Sevierville, TN 37862, 865/428-4091) – one of the largest reptile zoos in the world, featuring over 600 live animals and over 130 species. Your visit includes a reptile show where snakes are brought out to meet you and those brave enough can pet the slithery creatures.
The nearby NASCAR SpeedPark (1545 Parkway, Sevierville, TN 37862, 865/908-5500) houses eight tracks, including Baby Bristol for Kids, named after Bristol, the NASCAR track about an hour’s drive away. Smoky Mountain Speedway is where adults can emulate Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. by competing with the clock in a 3/8 scale of a NASCAR Cup vehicle. The Kid Zone features family-friendly rides, including small coasters perfect for both kids and parents.
Other attractions include The Apple Barn Cider Mill and General Store (230 Apple Valley Rd., Sevierville, TN 37862, 800/421-4606), a working farm with over 4,000 apple trees. An onsite village features a general store that is chockfull of apple paraphernalia such as apple shaped kitchen canisters and napkins adorned with an apple motif. This is a must-see stop between mid-August and mid-October (though apples may be “all picked out” by then.)
On the outskirts of town are the Forbidden Caverns (455 Blowing Cave Rd., Sevierville, TN 37876, 865/453-5972); this natural attraction has the largest wall of rare cave onyx known to exist and was once home to the Eastern Woodland Indians.
Also open to the public is the Robert A. Tino Gallery (812 Douglas Dam Rd., Sevierville, TN 37876, 800/675-6961, 865/453-6315), showcasing a home-grown artist whose canvases reflect the beauty of the area.
The Tennessee Museum of Aviation (135 Air Museum Way, Sevierville, TN 37862, 866/AVMUSEUM) will appeal to airplane enthusiasts; there’s a kids’ interactive exhibit, historical aviation memorabilia and airworthy Warbird Aircrafts including a T-33 Silver Star T-bird, a Douglas A-1H “Skyraider” and a Beech T-34-B “Mentor.”
One of the most surreal experiences in Sevierville is horseback riding at the 70-acre Five Oaks Riding Stables (1628 Parkway, Sevierville, TN 37862 888/353-4986). The staff is friendly and helpful, for sure. While on the trail, look up and you’ll see the countryside’s picturesque Smokies, and look down and you’ll see Tanger Outlet Center (1645 Parkway, Suite 960, Sevierville, TN 37863, 865/453-1053). This is one heck of a large shopping complex with a parking lot filled with cars and tour buses stopping off before heading to neighbouring Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park in neighbouring Pigeon Forge.
Dollywood & Pigeon Forge
You could also spend a couple of days at Dollywood (2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, 800/365-5996) on the fun amusement rides with names like the Smoky Mountain Rampage and the Tennessee Tornado, and in Splash Country, Dollywood’s water park. Also, in an outdoor area, master craftsmen and women ply their trade and interact with spectators, especially the young ones.
Shows include ’50s and ’60s music shows called Dreamland Drive-In and Gem Tones. Annual festivals include Barbeque and Bluegrass in May, the National Southern Gospel and Harvest Celebration in October, and a Smoky Mountain Christmas in November and December.
Gatlinburg & the GSM National Park
Next to Pigeon Forge is the quaint town of Gatlinburg at the foot of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park (107 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738, 865/436-1200). The park stretches across both Tennessee and North Carolina, attracts more visitors than any other national park in America, and unlike most other national parks – is free to enter. At the entrance to the park is Sugarlands Visitor Center you can check out the nature museum, see a short film and talk to a park ranger.
If you’re out on a drive (and tired of the neon), don’t miss Dandridge, Tennessee. With its idyllic natural setting in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, a welcoming small town spirit and a charming historic downtown, we think your family may discover a real Southern Appalachian town.
Gatlinburg (800/588-1817) itself has its share of tourist attractions and claims to be the wedding capital of the South. Where else could you visit Cooter’s Place (542 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, 865/430-9909), a genuine Dukes of Hazzard museum with costumes and vehicles on display from the show?
Other unusual attractions for little ones can be found at Fort Fun Mini Golf Center (716 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, 865/436-2326). Fish-loving families (not to eat, to look at!) can visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (88 River Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738, 888/240-1358) with its aquatic exhibits including a tropical rain forest, coral reef, shark lagoon, and children’s Discovery Center. Don’t miss the penguin exhibits – they are adorable.
If you can’t get enough of Ripley’s attractions in Gatlinburg, there’s plenty more — the SuperFun Zone, Moving Theater, Haunted Adventure, Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, and, of course, the Believe or Not Museum all fall under the same name.
For more information about the area, call 888-SEVIERVILLE or visit the Sevierville Tennessee Convention & Visitors Bureau online.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.