Get into the holiday spirit with a visit to this fun destination.
Written by Nancy Meeks
Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is a family-friendly destination that embraces fun and festivity during the holiday season. Although the town itself is small, you’ll find plenty of attractions, activities, and restaurants to stay happily entertained and well fed.
Starting in early November and continuing through the New Year, Pigeon Forge welcomes visitors with its Winterfest Lights Driving Tour. More than 5 million lights are used to decorate historic sights and points of interest along Pigeon Forge Parkway, the main street running through town. Whether you choose to drive the tour yourself or see it on one of the town’s affordable Fun Time Trolley rides, you’ll get a good overview of the surroundings and easily spot the major shopping and gathering areas.
Old Mill Square
This historic area is the heart and soul of Pigeon Forge and where the modern town was founded. A forge was built nearby in 1817, and The Old Mill, situated on the Little Pigeon River, named for the huge population of passenger pigeons that were once in the area, followed in 1830. Residents at the time would bring their wheat, corn, and other grain to the mill to be ground, and the area developed into a community gathering spot, expanding to eventually include a post office, a saw and textile mill, and other local businesses.
The Old Mill has been in continuous operation since it began nearly 200 years ago. Much of the mill’s original equipment is still used to power the wheel and grind the grain; in fact, the mill is on only its second set of grindstones. Nearly 1,000 pounds of flour, cornmeal, grits, and other products are produced daily for use in The Old Mill Restaurant and The Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille, as well as for retail sales, all of which are weighed, packaged, and tied by hand.
Staying true to the area’s roots is equally important to the other shops and businesses that you’ll find in Old Mill Square, including a working blacksmith forge where you can create an item yourself; hand-crafted Pigeon River Pottery, which has been in the square for more than 50 years; and Old Forge Distillery, which uses grain from The Old Mill in its spirits.
The Island in Pigeon Forge
One of the town’s most popular areas to spend the day is The Island in Pigeon Forge. More than 60 retail shops and dozens of activities are located here, anchored by the Margaritaville Island Hotel, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen restaurant, and the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel with climate-controlled glass-enclosed gondolas that hold up to 8 people. In the middle of all the action is The Island Show Fountain, which features a water and light show choreographed to more than a dozen pieces of music that runs every hour on the hour.
The Island hosts a tree lighting in front of the fountain to kick off the holiday season. Last year, Santa Claus and Paula Deen were on hand to ring in the festivities, and they were there again for this year’s tree lighting, held November 26 at 6 p.m.
A meal at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen is a must-do for Paula fans visiting The Island. Down-home, authentic Southern dishes are served family style, whether you have two in your party or 20. Lunch and dinner begin with biscuits and hoecakes brought to the table as soon as you’re seated, followed by meats and vegetables such as fried chicken, pork chops, pot roast, meat loaf, green beans, mac and cheese, collards, and candied yams for the entire table to share. For dessert, everyone gets his or her own serving of seasonal fruit cobbler, banana pudding, or Paula’s famous Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. The restaurant also serves family-style country breakfast including chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, grits, hash brown casserole, cinnamon rolls, and more.
Before or after your meal, browse through the 4,000-square-foot Paula Deen Store that’s located below the restaurant. You’ll find cookware and bakeware, linens, cookbooks, children’s items, candles, accessories, food products, and more, plus a replica of Paula’s kitchen from her Dogwood home. For a quick bite between shopping and exploring during the day, The Bag Lady, Paula’s newest restaurant at The Island, offers ready-made sandwiches, salads, and a few sweet treats, all made from Paula’s own classic recipes.
A visit to Pigeon Forge during the holidays simply would not be complete without going to Dollywood. The theme park’s Smoky Mountain Christmas festival features 4 million holiday lights and seven holiday shows, including traditional favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life and Christmas in the Smokies, as well as pictures with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his friends, and The Parade of Many Colors that runs through the park.
More than 20 of Dollywood’s rides and attractions operate in a festive environment designed to get everyone into the spirit of the season, especially the Dollywood Express. The coal-fired twin steam-engine locomotive takes visitors on a 30-minute, 5-mile journey throughout the theme park and is decorated with twinkling lights and plays Christmas carols for fun sing-alongs.
Located next to the theme park, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort is an ideal spot to gather with family and enjoy the season. The resort grounds are decorated with lighted trees that flash along to music during the evening, and a 30-foot Christmas tree and hot apple cider greet guests when entering the lobby. Holiday stories told around the resort’s Living Room fireplace, Christmas carolers, and special Breakfast with Santa events add to the excitement. The resort will even deck the walls of your room with holiday décor and gifts to make you feel right at home for the holidays.
DreamMore Resort guests enjoy exclusive theme park privileges, including trolley transportation to and from the park, a dedicated entrance gate, early Saturday entrance, and time-saver experiences at the most popular shows and rides as part of their resort package.
Endless Entertainment Opportunities
Pigeon Forge has more than a dozen entertainment venues packed with talented singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, storytellers, equestrian riders, lumberjacks, and even ice dancers. No matter which you choose, they are all geared toward families.
Dolly Parton’s Christmas at Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction features a four-course meal and a stunt-filled show for all ages. The experience begins in the Dixie Belle Saloon with bluegrass and country music from Mountain Ruckus, Dixie Stampede’s house band. Guests then move to the 35,000-square-foot arena to watch expert riders guide 32 horses through barrel races and flaming hoops and trick riding amid a backdrop that makes you feel as though you’ve been transported deep into the Smoky Mountains. Fun storytelling vignettes include the Nativity and children’s toys coming alive in Santa’s workshop.
Too Much Christmas Cheer?
If all the holiday festivities have you feeling a little like a grinch, here are three activities to relax and refuel you and get you into the spirit of the season again:
Assume the identity of a real passenger on the ship as you tour the Titanic museum.
Enjoy a scenic hike or drive through nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.