When I talked to my grandpa about my future trip to the Smokys, I told him that I was going to stay in Gatlinburg, TN. As soon as I said that, he said, “I went to Gatlinburg and all I can remember is that it is a town of motels.” He had visited when he was in the Navy more than 60 years ago, but things have not changed much. As soon as I got to Gatlinburg, I was blown away by the touristy atmosphere.
Gatlinburg is not only adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it’s also home to Dolly Parton’s famous amusement park, Dollywood. Driving through Gatlinburg and its adjacent neighbor, Pigeon Forge, reminds me of a combination of the Jersey Shore or Ocean City, Maryland and Las Vegas. An area that is clearly designed for families to stay outside of the park, have a good time, and spend money on various amusements.
While the park allows you to get away and spend time in the beautiful landscapes, Gatlinburg feels like the polar opposite. Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud, Magiquest, Ripley’s Believe it or Not and various coasters claiming they are the “best” in Gatlinburg, are just a few of the attractions that you’ll see as you drive through town. If I had gone there as a child, it would have seemed like a wonderland. I can see myself begging my parents to take me to a variety of the kitschy locations.
Traveling to this area during the Coronavirus pandemic definitely left a different impression on us than if we had gone at another time. Instead of thinking that the town looked fun, we saw crowds of families waiting to ride attractions and we were horrified. It seemed like the perfect circumstances for the virus to run wild and spread quickly. We maintained our own safety, by only driving through town, staying in our car, and spending all of our time in the park and at our campsite (and also the reason I only have one picture of town).
If you are looking for a place where you can experience the beauty of nature and then have fun similar to that at Disneyland, then Gatlinburg, TN is the place for you. For those who just want to enjoy the Smokys without distraction, then you may want to stay in the park or find a quieter location in Cherokee.