Many of our stops are not intentional, in that they are not a chosen destination. Pigeon Forge happened to be on one of the possible routes from Michigan to North Carolina and the right distance from our last stop. As I explored what we could do in the area I quickly discovered this was the home of Dollywood. We had enjoyed attending the Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Branson and thought there may be similar things to do here.
We booked a site at Clabough’s Campground. We’ve had good luck with campgrounds lately and this was another hit. We had a nice pull through site, there was a good camp store, and laundry room. Our only complaint was that the office is in a building shared with a gas station and we drove right past it without noticing. It was not a big problem as I just walked over, got our site and we pulled into it with no problems.
We took the Pigeon Forge Shuttle into town and did some exploring. I was a bit disappointed with Pigeon Forge. I thought it would be like Branson, but it is much more commercialized and harder to get around town. After exploring the shopping at The Island at Pigeon Forge area, we stopped by Dolly Parton’s Smokey Mountain Adventures and bought tickets for the following night.
The Smokey Mountain Adventures is the story of Dolly Parton’s mother and father as they were growing up and how they met in the Pigeon Forge area. I’m not sure how accurate the story is, but I found it very entertaining. It was a unique combination of song, dance, acrobatics, and comedy. It was a dinner show and the multiple course dinner was served smoothly in an unobtrusive manner. I was impressed by the quality of the food, especially when you consider they were serving hundreds of diners in one sitting.
We thought the Great Smokey Mountains National Park was more interesting than Dollywood, so we drove to the nearby Sugarlands Visitor Center to find out more about the park and hiking opportunities. We learned about the park and talked with a couple of volunteers who gave us some good information on the best trails for us. The next day we drove to nearby Gatlinburg to check it out.
Both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are big-time tourist traps, but I liked Gatlinburg better than Pigeon Forge. We wandered around Gatlinburg checking out the shops and doing a couple of wine tastings. The place was packed and the sidewalks loaded with people from doorway to curb. However, if you’re looking for a variety of places to eat and shop, Gatlinburg is it.
The next morning we drove back into the Great Smokey Mountains to hike the Rainbow Falls Trail. It was a beautiful day for a hike, a little cool and slightly overcast with a forecast of clearing skies throughout the day. When we got to the trailhead there were lots of cars but we were able to find a spot in an overflow lot. The trail is a 5.6 mile round trip (although it felt longer and my GPS agreed with our feelings) and definitely a climb. We could see signs of extensive trail maintenance. There were new erosion control measures and very large tool boxes, like the kind that go in the back of a pickup truck. I couldn’t stop wondering, “How did they get these things up here?” I couldn’t imagine them being carried by workers, maybe they had pack mules?
Because the trail led to a waterfall, we expected to have to do several water crossings. Some were easy with log bridges, others required us to step and jump from one rock to another. All of these added to the fun.
At one point we ran into some hikers who said they had seen a bear. We stopped to take a good look around and look what we found!
We reached the falls and took a break for lunch. Getting to the falls proper required some more climbing, but it was possible to get under the falls. Needless to say things get wet around a waterfall and as I was climbing to get under it I kept hearing my climbing instructors from Ranger School telling us not to climb on wet rock!
The hike back down went a lot faster. As we descended we kept encountering others who were hiking to the falls. They were not encouraged when they asked us how far it was to the top and we told them we had been hiking downhill for the last hour. We had a good time on this hike but it was not one that you want to start late in the day. If this was a good example of the day hikes available in the Great Smokey Mountains, I would recommend the Smokies for anyone who likes hiking.
As a final note, when we stopped at the Visitor Center to get a hiking medallion, I asked a Ranger about the tool boxes and he told me they had been airlifted in by helicopter.
The next day, October 1st, we headed east to North Carolina.