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Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge: A Smoky Mountains Vacation Guide

Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge: A Smoky Mountains Vacation Guide

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Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are two small Appalachian towns on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Roughly eight miles apart, both of these communities boast enough entertainment to make the most of any vacation — but the question is: Where do you stay?

Deciding on Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge is an important prerequisite to your trip. In this article, we will highlight each city’s outdoor activities, attractions, dining, shopping, and accommodations so you can make a confident decision.

Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? An Overview

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Understanding the differences between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is crucial to finding the perfect fit for your travel preferences. 

Gatlinburg is a picturesque and charming mountain town. With proximity to the entrance of the National Park, this city offers easy access to hiking, swimming holes, and outdoor adventures no matter when you visit the Smokies. The downtown area has craft shops, local boutiques, and small-town restaurants that immerse visitors in the region’s aesthetic.

Pigeon Forge offers a more energetic atmosphere that appeals to all visitors. Roughly twice the size of Gatlinburg, this city has several family-friendly attractions such as museums, dinner theaters, amusement parks, and outlet malls. Blending nature with the comforts of modern society, Pigeon Forge offers a more bustling experience.

Whether you’re going to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg for your honeymoon or a family vacation, there’s something for everyone in either of these great Tennessee towns. Let’s dive deeper into the differences between them.

Nature and Outdoor Activities

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Being so close to 500,000 acres of natural beauty, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer a wide range of outdoor activities. Take a look at how the two cities compare below.

Gatlinburg: The Gateway to The Smokies

Gatlinburg sits at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, serving as a gateway to the expansive nature area. You can experience the wonders of the forest just minutes from anywhere you choose to stay.

In the warmer months, plan a hike on one of the area’s 800 miles of hiking trails, or try your hand at zip lining or horseback riding. Explore the snow-blanketed forest in complete solitude in the cooler months, or participate in one of the city’s many holiday parades and festivities.

A few popular outdoor activities in Gatlinburg include:

Pigeon Forge: A Blend of City and Nature

Pigeon Forge is not as close to the Great Smoky Mountains as Gatlinburg, but there are still plenty of outdoor activities around the area.

Parks, golf courses, and campgrounds permeate throughout the city, and being close to the surrounding wilderness makes it easy for a day trip to the great outdoors. Explore the nearby forests and rivers for an enjoyable afternoon — or make the short drive to the Smoky Mountains.

A few popular outdoor activities in Pigeon Forge include:

Attractions

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While most people come to the area for its abundance of nature, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge also offer several family-friendly attractions. See how the cities compare below.

Gatlinburg: Small-town Fun 

Gatlinburg is a small mountain town with the character and atmosphere to match. While not brimming with amusement parks, you’ll find plenty of things to do downtown.

The main strip is saturated with shops and galleries, while visitors can find arcades and other family-oriented attractions throughout the city. Head to the Skypark or Ober Gatlinburg or try one of the other draws in the city.

A few popular attractions in Gatlinburg include:

Pigeon Forge: Vibrant Entertainment in East Tennessee

Pigeon Forge is the area’s hotspot for attractions, making it an excellent location for a family vacation.

You can explore a large variety of museums, musical performances, and theme parks throughout the city. Most notably, the area is home to Dollywood — a sprawling theme park founded by country music singer Dolly Parton — which features roller coasters and live shows.

A few popular attractions in Pigeon Forge include:

  • Dollywood: A theme park with roller coasters, water excursions, musical performances, and more.
  • Titanic Museum: An interactive first-hand experience of the famed shipwreck.
  • Dolly Parton’s Stampede: An equestrian dinner-and-show experience.

Dining and Shopping

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There are many dining and shopping options available in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to fit anyone’s style. Check out the highlights of each city below.

Gatlinburg: Craft Cocktails, Small Shops, and Unique Eateries

Gatlinburg offers a unique dining and shopping experience that perfectly fits its small-town ambiance.

The city is home to several diners and fine restaurants specializing in southern comfort food and other delicacies of the region. Start your day with one of the best pancake spots in the city, and head to a local staple such as Bennett’s BBQ for dinner.

Explore the downtown area for souvenir shopping experiences that include paintings and memorabilia. Or, take part in the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community which features an eight-mile loop filled with artists, craftsmen, eateries, and more.

A few popular dining and shopping locations in Gatlinburg include:

Pigeon Forge: Equal Parts Charming and Show-Stopping

Pigeon Forge has a dining and shopping scene that complements its vibrant entertainment.

The city has many small-town restaurants and large-scale dinner shows to match your dining mood. Head to Mama’s Farmhouse for award-winning southern recipes, or try out Dolly Parton’s Stampede for a unique experience.

Regarding shopping, you’ll find more of a “big city” feel than in Gatlinburg. While Pigeon Forge has small craft shops, it is also home to several outlet malls and shopping centers, so you can purchase anything from designer clothing to home decor and outdoor gear.

A few popular dining and shopping locations in Pigeon Forge include:

Accommodations

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Whether you’re looking for a rustic cabin or a more upscale resort, you can find accommodations that suit you. Below are the types of lodging to expect in both cities. 

Gatlinburg: Endless Smoky Mountain Hidden Hideaways

Being so close to the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg has lodging that immerses visitors in the expansive wilderness. You can stay in cabins, hotels, and bed and breakfasts that fit the town ambiance perfectly.

At Elk Springs Resort, we offer cabins that come equipped with hot tubs, fireplaces, pools, and more to make your stay unforgettable. Whether you need a Gatlinburg group cabin rentals or a creekside oasis, our amenities can ensure you get the most out of your wilderness experience.

Pigeon Forge: Small-town Feel or Lavish Furnishings

Pigeon Forge allows visitors to stay in either traditional cabins or more upscale properties.

If you’d like a more decadent experience, the Dollywood DreamMore Resort is one of the many accommodation options with premium amenities such as spas and pools. If you’d rather experience the Smokies more traditionally, we also offer Pigeon Forge cabins that make you feel more in touch with the surrounding scenery.

Which is better, Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? 

gatlinburg-pigeon-forge-which-is-betterThe difference between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg primarily lies in the amenities and activities. Pigeon Forge offers both a small-town and upscale experience depending on your vacation goals, while Gatlinburg is a quaint mountain town in every aspect.

Both towns would make a fantastic destination for your next adventure, but let’s recap each city and dive into some pros and cons. 

Gatlinburg: A Charming Taste of the Smokies

If you want to feel immersed in nature and capture a bit of small-town charm, a trip to Gatlinburg will suit you best.

With an expansive array of craft shops, local restaurants and distilleries to go moonshine tasting in Gatlinburg, and plenty of outdoor activities, this town makes anyone feel like they are experiencing the Smoky Mountains in all its glory. Explore the wilderness in the park or experience one of the many outdoor activities, such as Ober Gatlinburg, for an unforgettable trip.

Pros:

  • Situated at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Small-town feel with the shops, restaurants, and accommodations to match
  • Plenty of opportunities for activities in the great outdoors

Cons:

  • Lacking the modern shopping, dining, and theme parks that Pigeon Forge offers

Pigeon Forge: A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock n’ Roll

If you want to pair outdoor activities with exhilarating entertainment, Pigeon Forge is the place for you.

For many people, this town offers the best of both worlds. On the one hand, visitors can experience outdoor activities in town or make a short drive to Gatlinburg to embark in the Smoky Mountains. On the other hand, modern shopping centers and amusement parks ensure everyone in your party has the perfect vacation.

Pros:

  • A blend of wilderness and modern fun
  • Pairs a bit of small-town charm with Nashville-esque showmanship via Dollywood and other amusement parks
  • Close to several outdoor experiences

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have the same small mountain town charm that Gatlinburg does

Plan Your Smoky Mountain Getaway With Elk Springs Resort

If you’re set on a Smoky Mountains vacation but haven’t decided exactly where to stay, evaluating Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge can be a difficult task. Both towns offer outdoor experiences and individual charm that makes either location a great destination.

Whatever destination you choose, Elk Springs Resort has the accommodations you need to take in the Smokies. Whether you’re looking for a Gatlinburg cabin or amenities in Pigeon Forge, we can help you plan the perfect getaway.