Pigeon Forge: Family Fun the Old-Fashioned Way

By Wendy K. Leigh, Travel Writer

The term “folksy” doesn’t even begin to describe the foot-stomping, down-home, feel-good flavor of Pigeon Forge, a mountain enclave nestled within the famous Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. Created by Dolly Parton, the dazzling darling of country music, Dollywood Theme Park anchors the Pigeon Forge experience.  This is as close as you’ll get to the days of apple-pie goodness and pure, sweet, simple family fun.

The Strip

Everything in Pigeon Forge centers on the five-mile Parkway, a sizzling strip of amusement parks, arcades, vintage games, magic shows, and waterslides. When the sun goes down, energy levels rise with musical theatre productions, family street dances, fireworks and live entertainment. Dozens of hotels dot Pigeon Forge Parkway, making it easy to stay and play without ever getting behind the wheel of an automobile.


Everyone on the planet loves Dolly Parton, so it follows that her theme park exudes the same country charm and feel-good ambiance that makes traveling with kids pure bliss. The park has an Appalachian theme featuring the Tennessee Tornado roller coaster and a 1938 steam locomotive named the Dollywood Express. A Country Fair section caters to the littlest visitors, featuring carnival rides and attractions with names like Piggy Parade, Lucky Ducky,  and Busy Bees.

Splash Country and Dixie Stampede

Like a twirling tornado that never stops, the Dolly Parton empire spills over into Splash Country water park and the Dixie Stampede dinner theater. Real horses steal the show at the Stampede, prancing and dancing with stunts and music, accompanied by magic tricks, skits and comedy routines. The kids will love the four-course Southern-style dinner, mostly because it’s served with absolutely no silverware. Hands only and finger-licking good; that’s how it goes at this dinner party.


Ever wondered what an upside-down world would feel like? Wonder no more, because you can actually walk through an inverted universe at Wonderworks, an enormous upside-down edifice with at least 100 interactive stations. The kids will encounter natural disasters and overflowing volcanoes, get lost within a sea of bubbles, and navigate a ropes course that glows in the dark.

Endless Days and Nights

There are so many family-friendly things to do in Pigeon Forge that most visitors just jump right in and follow the fun wherever it leads. A fleet of 30-plus trolleys traverse the strip, letting you hop on and off at will.

A few “must do” things include visiting the Titanic Museum and the Alcatraz East Crime Museum, and snagging tickets to one of the numerous musical theater shows taking place every night. When you need a break from the dizzying array of activity, spend some time hiking and picnicking in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Wendy K. Leigh

Freelance Writer

Wendy is a travel journalist and photographer from Seattle. She’s also the owner of Delta Media Seattle and the Islands America travel blog.