There’s a reason why this blog is named Gatlinburg NOW and not Pigeon Forge NOW. First of all, I think it has a nice ring to it—and speaks volumes about how much love I have for everything about this magical place. When I wrote my first Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge post, I looked at the 2 from an objective—and quite honestly, rather novice—point of view. In this one, I’m going to be a little more honest, without being overly critical of the Burg’s friendly tourist-laden neighbor. Please take note that I’m clearly biased, having never stayed overnight in Pigeon Forge. Once we hit our favorite PF places on day 1, we are off to Gatlinburg, returning only to pass through on the tortuous home journey. Hopefully, this will still help you decide where you’d like to spend valuable family time!
Same but Different
When you’re doing a Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge compare and contrast, it’s not exactly apples and oranges; there’s still many similarities. The attractions in PF are much grander in style and size, and this makes for an instant attention-grab, especially for the kids in your family. This, sometimes, can lead you to focus on spending much of your hard-earned cash on these larger than life productions and ignore the significant beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I prefer Gatlinburg because of its proximity to the park, and it’s pretty hard to ignore, despite all the things to do in my preferred place for vacation.
Theaters and Attractions
One of the first things that may draw you to a particular location when you’re looking at Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge for your stay involves the theaters and attractions available. Pigeon Forge has tons of live entertainment in the form of talented singers, stunts, comedians, and also unique tours you can do at your own pace. The great thing is all of them are extremely kid-friendly, and a good time is almost guaranteed. We’ve done 3 big-time attractions in Pigeon Forge: Titanic, Country Tonite Theatre, and Wonderworks. We loved them all, but we don’t feel the need to do the latter again—a little too kid-friendly for our small, growing family.
Traffic and Trolleys
The problems I have with the attractions are those shared by a fair amount of people: there’s just too many. I get it, but it seriously puts traffic in a bind at times. Its sheer expanse along the Parkway makes it difficult—and slow to navigate—in the middle of the day. The trolley system is a great mode of transportation, but many would rather come and go as they please, and that consists of constant stopping and starting again in Pigeon Forge.
Gatlinburg also has a trolley system, but what makes a Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge tourist showdown lean to the former is the walkability. The entire downtown Gatlinburg is walkable for anyone of reasonable physical ability. In Gatlinburg, traffic bottles up too, but I’m sorry, it’s just not as bad. You do have to stop at crosswalks and pay extra special attention to walkers wishing to cross the road, but unless there’s a Rod Run in town, it moves rather efficiently.
Note: You have to pay for parking in Gatlinburg, except you can park on the side of the road in the early morning hours; plus River Road is FREE! if you’re lucky enough to nab a spot. Get there early, and it’s easy peasy!
I love Gatlinburg for its unique shopping—The Village, for one—and its carnival-like atmosphere that’s also evident in Pigeon Forge, but it doesn’t have the same emotional effect. Sure there’s The Old Mill—our favorite place in the Forge—and there’s also The Island in Pigeon Forge, but every time we try to enjoy this town, we keep thinking about how soon we can get to Gatlinburg. It just feels like home sweet home to us.
The Arts and Crafts Community is in Gatlinburg, and this is perfect for anyone tired of looking at the same souvenirs that are found in multiple shops in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. This is a loop road where you can drive to the owners’ home and/or their place of business for the most beautiful and original items you’ll see on vacation.
Little Things With Big Impact
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know of my undying love for The Donut Friar, which blows away Krispy Kreme in my humbled opinion. This is part of my morning walk ritual that’s a must at least once on our vacation. I just can’t envision a Pigeon Forge one vs. a Gatlinburg walk—The Village is a perfectly, peaceful beginning to the day, in addition to the lack of tourists on a normally bustling Parkway.
To put it simply: Gatlinburg is skewed toward adults, while Pigeon Forge leans heavily on families and children. A perfect example of this is the proliferation of moonshine distilleries. Gatlinburg has 3 downtown that are all walkable: Ole Smoky Moonshine, Sugarlands Distilling, and Doc Collier Moonshine. You’ll want to avoid if you’re a teetotaler, but it you’re not totally put off, it’s a great experience for meeting fellow tourists and sampling some great legal ‘shine!
I mentioned it earlier, but I highly, HIGHLY recommend a trip into the national park to see the true beauty that’s prevalent within its bounds. It’s a darn good reason why 11 million people visit this wonderful dichotomy of peacefulness and entertainment-overload every year. I hope you enjoyed reading my compare and contrast session between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and I will return for some more informative tips real soon—about Gatlinburg!