Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, Pigeon Forge has evolved from sleepy village to country-flavored entertainment hub. From Dollywood to magic and comedy shows, country music, and Ripley’s Believe it or Not in nearby Gatlinburg, there’s enough to keep a family busy for days. Those who’d rather commune with nature will find it in the Great Smoky Mountains, where you can hike parts of the Appalachian Trail.
Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport lies in a wide valley. The Appalachians begin about 20 nautical miles east and south of the airport, with Clingmans Dome rising to nearly 6,650 feet msl inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park and on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Pilots are requested to maintain at least 2,000 feet agl above the park. Check winds aloft at 9,000 feet msl and use caution for potential moderate or greater turbulence over, or in the lee of, the Appalachians if winds exceed about 25 knots. At the airport, stop by the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. The 35,000-square-foot hangar is filled with warbirds, most beautifully restored and airworthy, plus a few awaiting restoration. The museum claims to be the only one displaying two airworthy P–47 Thunderbolts (less than a dozen are currently flying worldwide).
The main drag in Pigeon Forge is Parkway, lined with shopping, shows, and restaurants. The Island has a bit of everything: amusement rides, a ropes course, Ferris wheel, bumper cars, fun houses, restaurants, shops, hotels—even a “dancing fountain” that’s lit up at night. Dine family-style on country cuisine at Paula Deen’s Kitchen or stay with the Island theme and raise your glass at Margaritaville. Too many maggies? No problem—you can sleep them off at the Margaritaville Island Hotel. And if you didn’t get enough, each room has its own “frozen concoction maker”! The other way to feel all warm and fuzzy is to book a massage or other treatment at the hotel's St. Somewhere Spa.
There’s more of course, including a Hollywood Wax Museum, right off Parkway. The WonderWorks Museum has an upside-down house that kids find irresistible. A ropes course traverses above the science- and technology-themed rides and hands-on exhibits. Lay on a bed of nails, catch a magic show, or play with a gigantic light peg set. Gatlinburg, by the way, has eight separate Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions. But the coolest thing has got to be the Outdoor Gravity Park, where you can be a human hamster. It’s called Zorbing, something they do in New Zealand (who knew?). Slip on a swimsuit and clamber with two friends into a huge inflatable ball partly filled with water. A push gets you bumping down a hill, your wild ride recorded via GoPro.
If all this sounds too undignified, don’t forget you’re surrounded by nature in the form of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hike part of the Appalachian Trail or walk out to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies. At Cades Cove, you’ll find old mills, churches, log cabins, and other historic buildings. You can tour the Ole Smoky Distillery, with locations in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and sample the dozen moonshine and whiskey offerings. Good Southern eats? Try The Old Mill Restaurant, Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin, and Mama’s Farmhouse. My vote for most relaxing place to stay is the RiverStone Resort and Spa, where you can rent a condo or cabin on the Little Pigeon River with views of the Smoky Mountains, float the lazy river that spans the property, and indulge at the spa. So, fly to Pigeon Forge and try the wild rides, hike the Smokies, and relax by the river in this sweet Southern have-it-all spot.Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!