The Town That Dolly Built: A Tourist Guide to Pigeon Forge

Travel Features Dollywood
The Town That Dolly Built: A Tourist Guide to Pigeon Forge

Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Pigeon Forge is a town like no other, combining kitschy family fun with a generous dose of southern hospitality and jaw-dropping scenery. Its flagship attraction, the world-renowned Dollywood theme park, opened in 1986 and since then the town has experienced a steady period of growth. 

At the heart of Pigeon Forge is a multi-mile stretch of parkway stacked with attractions, entertainment venues, shopping, dining, and a plethora of hotel accommodations. The destination appeals to multi-generational families that make visiting an annual tradition just as much as adults-only groups looking for a welcomed distraction from reality.

As a theme park enthusiast, Dollywood is what initially drew me to the East Tennessee town, but I find myself returning again and again for the seemingly never-ending number of activities (and it truly feels as though they continue to add at an unprecedented rate). After countless visits over the last decade, here are Pigeon Forge’s must dos.


Dollywood in Pigeon Forge


The crown jewel of the Smokies is the award-winning theme park, Dollywood. With Dolly Parton serving as its dreamer-in-chief, the park is unique for its regional cuisine, numerous live shows, and globally recognized roller coasters.  It’s also home to a water park, Splash Country, that can fill an entire day in addition to the theme park.

Soaky Mountain Waterpark

There are several ways to beat the scorching heat of Tennessee summers, but Soaky Mountain stands out as one of the best. Located in the neighboring town of Sevierville, the sprawling 50-acre property is a quick drive from the heart of Pigeon Forge and offers both thrilling water attractions, like a mind boggling dueling watercoaster, and those suitable for all ages.

The Island

The Island is the town’s hub of dining, shopping, and entertainment centered around a water fountain that comes alive with a light and music show. This self-contained property, complete with a trolley to get around, is home to family-friendly activities including carnival-style rides, multi-level ropes course, and a 200-foot-high observation wheel. Adults can sip on Ole Smoky Moonshine, the brand that popularized legal shine, or visit a number of watering holes. SkyFly: Soar America is a can’t miss attraction similar to Disney’s Soarin’ featuring a steampunk theme.

Beyond the Lens!

Pigeon Forge certainly doesn’t lack family entertainment venues, but Beyond The Lens! packs both value and fun. The multi-hour experience features over 100 exhibits, including interactive games, photo ops, and augmented reality, that marry beloved pop culture fixtures with vintage fun and the latest technology. Exhibits teeter on bizarre but explore iconic moments from history, like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Titanic Museum

The Pigeon Forge location of the Titanic Museum is a permanent exhibit that honors the crew and passengers of the fateful ship. Housed in an enormous replica of the passenger liner that you can’t miss from the parkway, this self-guided tour features hundreds of authentic artifacts. During this moving experience, guests are given an identity of a passenger and in the end, discover that passenger’s fate.

Pigeon Forge Snow

No matter the weather outdoors, you can play in real snow at Pigeon Forge Snow. The indoor venue features snowball fights, snowmen building, and the highlight: snow tubing. Thrill seekers hop aboard a conveyor-style escalator as they are ushered to the top of the indoor miniature mountain.

The Old Mill

Home to a 19th century working gristmill, The Old Mill is where you can get a glimpse into the life of local craftsmen who have relied on the Smoky Mountains’ natural resources for decades. The traditions of the region are celebrated with several shops and eateries, like the Pottery House Café serving standout comfort food in a casual setting.


After relinquishing its ‘dry’ status, the culinary scene has made leaps and bounds in recent years welcoming in bigtime chefs, like Guy Fieri and Paula Dean, alongside local favorites. Our picks are unique to the area and offer a taste of the region.

Song & Hearth

As the signature restaurant of Dolly’s DreamMore Resort & Spa, Song & Hearth serves elevated Southern specialties and regional favorites for breakfast and dinner. In the evenings, you can get a taste of Dolly Parton’s own stone soup, a recipe straight from her childhood. 

Smoky Mountain Brewery

This locally owned restaurant and brewery operates several locations in the area, including Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Part restaurant, part sports bar, the family friendly spot offers a cozy lodge atmosphere, standout pub food, and live music. Operating until late in the evening, they brew their own craft beers on-site, including fan favorite Cherokee Red. Beer lovers won’t want to miss throwing back a flight that allows you to wet your whistle with a taste of them all.

Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse Cafe

There’s an overwhelming number of pancake houses in town, but for the most unique experience, Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse Café is distinctly Pigeon Forge. As you feast on Southern favorites, like delicious chicken and waffles, you’ll be captivated by a choir of singing animatronic chicken, each modeled after a different celebrity, including Dolly PartHEN.  

Dinner Shows

Throughout town, you’ll find three dinner shows each with wildly different themes. Pirate Voyage, Dolly Parton’s Stampede, and Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud all offer a fun evening complete with bountiful food and lots of laughter courtesy of talented entertainers. The foodie highlight, found at all three, is a signature creamy vegetable soup that’s gotten to be so popular they offer a take-home mix—seriously it’s so good!


Dolly's DreamMore Resort & Spa

There are hundreds of hotels and motels—mostly no frills—in the surrounding area making navigating where to rest your overstimulated self each night quite a lofty task. These suggestions offer comfortable accommodations with unique theming that are close to points of interest.

Dolly’s DreamMore Resort and Spa

The luxe but laid back DreamMore Resort and Spa, next door to Dollywood, offers plush accommodations paired with Southern hospitality. The welcoming, full-service resort houses a spa, expansive pool complex, and several dining options. It’s modern while embracing a homey feel, and there are plenty of Dolly touches throughout. Don’t miss a special hallway on the bottom floor lined with the music icon’s many records. At the end, you’ll find Dolly’s “last song” inside a glass enclosed box.

The Inn at Christmas Place

If you ever wished Christmas was everyday, then you can deck the halls (and catch some ZZZ’s) at The Inn at Christmas Place. The cozy hotel oozes old school European charm and remains decorated year-round plus is complete with nightly cookies, holiday activities, and visits with the big man himself.  

Margaritaville Island Hotel

Margaritaville Island Hotel is a boozy blend of island attitude and mountain latitude just steps from all the fun at The Island. Guests can enjoy a newly refurbished rooftop bar and pool (completely with cabanas) in addition to on-site dining and bar—it’s 5 o’clock somewhere after all. After hitting the St. Somewhere Spa, don’t forget to say hi to the hotel’s resident parrot, Max.

Camp Margaritaville RV Resort & Lodge

This new budget-friendly property offers the amenities that Margaritaville is known for—like an expansive pool complex, lazy river, and even duckpin bowling—at a wallet-friendly price. In addition to RV capabilities, the lodge offers family rooms with private kids’ tented sleeping areas and balconies overlooking the mountains.

Carly Caramanna is a theme park and travel journalist who has written for Fodor’s, Travel + Leisure, and more.

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