Planning a vacation can be a little overwhelming if you don't know enough about your destination.
Luckily, our Smoky Mountain vacation guide has 5 easy steps for planning your getaway to the mountains of Tennessee!
Step 1: Pick Your "Must See" Attractions
Visitors should know this: there's so much to see and do in the Smoky Mountains area. It's practically impossible to enjoy everything that this beautiful region has to offer in one trip.
So rather than trying to do everything in a few short days, it's a good idea to pick your top sights you'd like to see. Here are just a few of the biggest attractions that draw vacationers to the Smokies:
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – If you love hiking, nature, wildlife, and historic sights, this destination is for you. Celebrated as "America's Most Visited National Park," the Smokies are a national treasure spanning over 800 square miles of some of the most rugged landscapes in the Eastern US. Cades Cove, Newfound Gap, and Clingmans Dome are some of the most stunning areas in the park.
Dollywood Theme Park – The popular creation of country star Dolly Parton, this family-friendly theme park is known for its exceptional atmosphere, top-notch roller coasters, authentic Smoky Mountain crafts, and excellent music shows.
Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies – Voted America's #1 Aquarium on Tripadvisor, this excellent aquarium in Gatlinburg wins more fans every year with excellent exhibits like the "Penguin Playhouse" and the unforgettable "Shark Tunnel."
Theaters and Dinner Shows – Pigeon Forge, TN is home to some excellent country music revues and dinner shows including feuding lumberjacks, equestrian feats, and even an interactive murder mystery show.
Ober Ski Mountain – Tennessee's only ski resort is on Mt. Harrison in the Smoky Mountains with 9 ski slopes, a terrain park, and many other year-round attractions like ice skating and a mountain coaster.
Additionally, by finding lodging where you'd most like to stay, it makes it easy to prioritize what city or area you'd most like to stay in.
At the same time, where you stay doesn't set your trip itinerary in stone. The communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Wears Valley are no more than a 20 minute drive from each other, so it's easy to see a variety of sights during your trip.
Step 2: Where Do You Want To Stay?
Here's a quick breakdown of the highlights of different cities in the Smoky Mountains:
- Pigeon Forge – This dynamic town is home to mile after mile of shops, attractions, dinner shows, mini golf courses, go kart tracks, and laser tag arenas. Pigeon Forge is also home to major sights like Dollywood and the historic Old Mill. This wide variety options makes Pigeon Forge a popular choice for family vacations.
- Gatlinburg – Styled after a alpine ski village, Gatlinburg is a mountain town with old-world charm. Known as "the gatway to the Smokies," Gatlinburg is home to several entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors also enjoy strolling the scenic downtown, visiting the Aquarium, and skiing at Ober Gatlinburg.
- Wears Valley – This charming mountain community is part of the "the quiet side of the Smokies," a lovely valley with farm country and scenic mountain views. Old-fashioned mom and pop restaurants and a lesser known entrance to the national park make Wears Valley a nice place to enjoy an authentic Appalachian retreats.
- Sevierville – Located just outside of Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, TN is only minutes away from the biggest sights in the Smokies. Better yet, Sevierville features lots of excellent cabin rentals with beautiful mountain views and resort amenities.
While its nice to stay in any of these towns, vacationers also have the option of booking a secluded cabin in the surrounding mountains. These vacation rental properties are a great choice for anyone who wants to enjoy the peace and quiet that the Smokies can offer.
Step 3: What's Your Budget?
Planning on treating yourself during your vacation or are you hoping to keep your expenses down?
Luckily, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are some of the most affordable destinations in America. In fact, one of the best sights, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is entirely free to enjoy.
At the same time, if you want to enjoy a luxurious vacation filled with fun experiences like skiing, helicopter tours, horseback rides, and entertaining dinner shows, the Smokies are a perfect place to enjoy a getaway to the fullest!
In either case, reserving a Smoky Mountain cabin is a great way to save on your trip since you can save on food costs by using your rental's kitchen. Additionally, cabins come with features like game rooms, theater rooms, and pools that can help keep your entertainment costs low.
There are several ways to save on your Pigeon Forge vacation:
Booking A Smaller Cabin – There are hundreds of romantic honeymoon retreats in the Smoky Mountains that are as affordable as a modest hotel room. While many of these cabin rentals cost under $100 a night, they come more features like hot tubs, decks, and pool tables to enjoy. Many 1-bedroom properties sleep up to 4 guests, just the right size for a small family getaway.
Pitching in On A Large Cabin – Large cabin rentals routinely sleep over 10 guests. This allows one rental property to comfortably accommodate several families or a large group of friends. As a result, planning a group vacation to Pigeon Forge is incredibly affordable because you can easily split your lodging costs on a large cabin.
Visiting in the Off-Season – While a vacation in Pigeon Forge is affordable year-round, you're likely to find even better deals on lodging during the off-season that runs from New Years Day to May.
Step 4: How To Get To The Smoky Mountains and Pigeon Forge?
Planning how you'll get to the Smoky Mountains is also important. Most visitors arrive in Pigeon Forge by car, as public transportation in this region isn't well developed.
Luckily, the Smoky Mountains are within a 5 hours drive of many major cities in the southeast:
- Louisville, KY – 4.5 Hours
- Lexington, KY – 3.5 Hours
- Atlanta, GA – 4 Hours
- Asheville, NC – 2 Hours
- Charlotte NC – 3.5 Hours
- Nashville, TN – 3.5 Hours
- Chattanooga, TN 2.5 Hours
- Birmingham, AL – 4.5 Hours
For vacationers travelling longer distances, Tyson McGee Airport in Knoxville is only 1 hour from Pigeon Forge. There are no shuttles from the airport to Pigeon Forge, but there are rental car companies nearby.
For visiting the Smokies, the best way to get around is to have a vehicle. Though there are trolleys that run throughout Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, a car gives you more flexibility to reach the attractions you want to see.
If you're visiting during a busy time of year, check out our guide for dodging traffic in Pigeon Forge, TN.
Step 5: Reserve Your Getaway
When it comes to booking your vacation in the Smoky Mountains, the earlier the better. Here are just a few of the reasons planning your trip far in advance can help you make the most of your trip.
Better Rental Rates – Cabin rental companies love guests who plan far in advance. To reward vacationers, they often provide better rates for cabins with demand is lower.
More Time To Plan – The more time you have to research the better. Every season in the Smokies features different highlights, so knowing what you'd most like to see on your trip can help you make the most of your experience.
Better Selection of Lodging and Attractions – The earlier you reserve your attraction tickets and lodging, the more likely you are to find exactly what you're looking for. During popular times of year like the holidays and the busy summer season, its not uncommon for rentals and attractions to be fully booked, so start reserving early to have the best selection!
If you have any questions about how to make the most of your trip, don't hesitate to contact our reservations staff. We'd be glad to help you find the right attractions, activities, and lodging for your Smoky Mountain getaway!
Also, vacationers should know that Cabins USA provides a 15% discount rate on all of our cabin rentals in the Smoky Mountains area.
Written by Adam Shafer