A Weekend in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Tennessee Mountains
The RV Tailgate Life is like a the family you pick to be around. We can be pretty dysfunctional at times but we can also have a lot of fun. Earlier this month, we took an offseason trip to the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, in the mountains of Tennessee. Who says life has to always be in an RV anyways?
Now, I haven’t been to the Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg area since I was about 10 years old, give or take a few years. I definitely don’t remember too much of the trip. So it’s like a whole new place for me to visit.
Pigeon Forge is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the US population east of the Mississippi River. Basically, if you are in the south or the east, you can easily get to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. In the car and not driving the RV, it is about 3 1/2 to 4 hours from Atlanta to Pigeon Forge. I took the interstate because I was one of the last ones in our group to get up there (stupid real life job getting in the way of fun, yet again). I’d really like to take the scenic tour through the Georgia and Tennessee mountains, but that’ll be left for another trip with more time.
There were quite a few RV lots around, some that looked to have a good number of vacancies. But remember, this was February. I understand from the locals from our RV tailgating group that own the cabins that the area is basically at 100% occupancy during peak times in the summer. So if you plan on going up there once it gets a little warmer, be sure to make reservations as you aren’t likely to get one just walking in.
Business As Usual After the Fire
I’m sure your first question is “how are Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg doing after the fires last fall?” For the most part, you won’t remember that there was a fire. The main drags in both towns were spared serious damage.
If you take a drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll see some damage – notably to the undergrowth. The Park Rangers and others made a concerted effort to over-seed with grass to keep soil in place along the roadways. So even in February, it’s green grass and not dead burned out trees.
They really did a good job of clearing out the damaged homes and the debris from the fire. Unless you are looking for it, you really won’t see it, except in a few notable circumstances.
Aerial Tram “Over” Gatlinburg
The best way to see the damage though is from above, in the tram at Ober Gatlinburg. The operators brought in engineers from Switzerland to check the tram out after the fire. The State of Tennessee sent its own inspectors out and declared it safe for operation back in December. You can take the tram up to the ski slopes and our favorite – the snowtubing!
On the way up, the tram operator will point out a lot of items of interest and give you stories about the area. They are full of awesome information about the history and what happened during the fires.
Snowtubing at Ober Gatlinburg
First things first, let’s hit the slopes. Now me, I’ll skip the skiing. I have a feeling that I’d end up breaking a leg or something. With the warm weather this winter, if you could find the slopes open, they were full of man-made snow. Which basically means ice. We saw more than our fair share of people wiping out on the ice on the slopes and decided it wasn’t for us.
But the snowtubing! That was fun. For $25 (plus a convenience fee for ordering in advance online), you get as many rides as you can fit into a 90 minute session. At the end of the session, they’ll close for about 30 minutes to give the workers a break plus clear out everyone from your session before the next one starts. And you don’t even have to climb up the hill as a “Magic Carpet” (outdoor moving sidewalk) will take you and your tube to the top. Children under 3 years of age are not permitted and under 5 must ride double with an adult. You do have to sign a waiver that you won’t hold them liable for injuries but in our sessions, we saw no injuries.
Advice for New Snow Tubers
Now, I’m not an expert or anything. But here are a few tips that I learned on this trip and from talking to the locals (or at least frequent visitors):
- Holidays and weekends can get pretty busy – if you want a lot of rides down the slopes, you’ll want to go when there are fewer people there. Try to go during the week, if you can. Purchase tickets in advance. Pick them up before you get on the Tram. Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to get up the mountain before your scheduled time. You don’t want part of your designated tubing time to be wasted just getting up there.
- Does everyone seem to be stopping well short of the black mats? You don’t want to carry your tube half way across the slopes, do you? Ask for slick bottom tubes! You’ll go faster and further on the slushy ice. Plus, it’s just more fun. In really cold weather, the slopes are slick enough that with the slick bottom tube, you’d regularly overshoot and end up in the wall.
- Consider wearing a rain suit or ski suit. You will be exposed to snow and ice and could end up wet. I wore only jeans and was fine but many people decided to go with some more weather resistant outerwear. Strongly consider if it is snowing. Because wet jeans – eeewww!
- Wear good tennis shoes or hiking boots. The areas at the top and the bottom can be pretty slick as everyone packs down the snow and turns it to ice. And do I need to tell you not to wear sandals or flip flops? Well, I hope you realize you are on snow and ice and your feet will get pretty cold. Plus you are likely to loose them on the ride down.
- Wear sunglasses. The snow reflects the sunlight and can be pretty blinding. Plus, the cold air will dry out your eyes pretty fast. They are also good for protection as bits of snow and ice may fly up from the slopes.
Snowtubing is open from mid-November to late-March, weather permitting. Obviously with warmer weather, they will have to close down the slopes.
White Lightning: Tennessee Moonshine
As Ramblin Wrecks from Georgia Tech, we drink our whiskey clear. One theory of “drinking your whiskey clear” is that you are drinking moonshine. Well, this RV crew can drink some whiskey and whether that means moonshine or clear as in gone, well, it doesn’t really matter. After snowtubing, we headed to Ole Smoky in Gatlinburg for a few tastes of moonshine. And Ole Smoky has all sorts of interesting concoctions – some better than others. We all really liked the chocolate cherries and apple pie. The Mountain Java was popular with the coffee drinkers. The egg nog flavor was also great.
So for $5 we tried all of them (if you go to the Pigeon Forge tasting room, I hear they don’t charge you $5) and got a coupon for $5 off our purchase. There were also lots of deals too for bulk purchases. One that I’m looking forward to trying is the Pumpkin Pie moonshine – I wonder how it will taste as a Pumpkin Spice Sangria alternative this fall.
I really recommend the moonshine peaches too! But like Tanner told us, the more you chew the cherries (or peaches) the more you will feel it.
I Feel the Need, the Need for Speed
If the snowtubing wasn’t fast enough for you, then I’ve got something for you – the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. This one looked taller than its nearby neighbor the Goats on the Roof. For $15 you get to enjoy the whole track, about a mile long and 7-8 minutes from the time you take off. If you want to do it again, bring your original receipt back to do it for $8. We wanted to go again at night but just ran out of time! Remember, push to go, pull to slow. And no pulling until you reach the end!
Like many tourist destinations, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are full of race tracks. We went with the Xtreme Racing tracks, which bill themselves as the fastest in Pigeon Forge. We did a two-race special, one in the red cars and then flipped it around and went in reverse in the green cars (which are supposed to be faster – as long as the engines are full of gas and all). When we were done, we were yelling at each other from the noise still in our heads and smelled of diesel fuel, just like after a day at the big car racetracks. Helmets are provided. Oh, and they time your laps so you can compete against your friends. Be careful of the rubbing though – they can blacklist you if you get too rough.
Rub Elbows With the Rich and Famous
It might now really be the rich and famous, but you know what was one of the more unexpected yet enjoyable events? The Wax Museum! We had a couple of hours on getaway day to spend at the Wax Museum. Unlike our trip to Madame Tussauds on the London/Dublin trip last fall, the Pigeon Forge Wax Museum was virtually empty. They also have cool props so you can dress the part and act silly with your friends.
Go On and Enjoy Your Weekend in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the Tennessee Mountains
Don’t let the fire scare you away. There are still plenty of shops, attractions, and restaurants, not to mention hotel rooms and cabins to house you all. We had a great time, with some great hosts from our RV tailgate group. Definitely recommend that you take a weekend trip when you get a chance.