Sitting at the edge of the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and its neighbors Pigeon Forge and Sevierville form the busiest tourism hub in eastern Tennessee. The area is popular with vacationing families, and its many wedding chapels also draw couples.
The towns owe their existence, in part, to the steady flow of visitors heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park puts the focus on nature, but the gateway towns are much more about man-made attractions such as water parks, shrines to country-music performers, miniature-golf courses and music theaters.
They're the type of high-volume travel destinations people either love or hate. You'll need a high tolerance for commercialization to enjoy them, but the attractions can be fun and the setting is beautiful.
Winterfest is when Gatlinburg truly glitters, with 2 million lights illuminating the town. Spring's wildflower pilgrimage showcases the area's natural beauty. Other activities include skiing in winter, amusement-park rides and a bear habitat in the warmer months, and shopping year-round.
In town, there's a large collection of attractions owned by Ripley's, including a Believe It or Not! Museum, a "Moving Theater" and the Aquarium of the Smokies (we had never associated the Smokies with the undersea world, but what the heck—everyone loves a shark). Among the many other amusement attractions in town, consider a visit to Mysterious Mansion, a haunted house with moving floors, secret panels and the like.
Christus Gardens mixes sightseeing with religion, offering dioramas depicting biblical scenes. Downtown Gatlinburg is also the site of the prestigious Arrowmount School of Arts and Crafts, which offers classes in everything from woodworking and warm glass to paper and fiber arts and drawing, painting and sculpture. The galleries and gift shop are open year-round to visitors.
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