One of the main reasons people come to the Pigeon Forge area is for its great location in the Smoky Mountains. Even for those who are not a hikers, bikers, or a nature lover, plan to spend at least half a day at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg. (tel. 865/436-1200; www.nps.gov/grsm/gsmsite/home/), about 11 miles from Pigeon Forge city limits. With over 800 miles of trails, picnicking, fishing, horseback riding, and camping are all possibilities in over 521,000 acres of preserved wilderness. One popular way to enjoy the splendor is by hiking to one of the many waterfalls that can be found fairly easily throughout the park. Perhaps the easiest hike is to the 60-feet-high Laurel Falls. Only 2.5 miles roundtrip, the path is paved and slices through a series of cascades. For those interested in camping, there are two different types possible. There are ten front country, or developed, campsites, with running water and flushable toilets and campsites can be reserved during summer and fall months. Backcountry, or backpacking campsites can also be reserved. Because the park is so large -- it straddles Tennessee and North Carolina -- there is much to explore, including over 4,000 species of plants, some indigenous to the Smokies. To accommodate the different activities in different locations, there are six visitors' centers accessible from the Gatlinburg and Townsend TN entrances and the Cherokee, NC entrance.
A very popular family-friendly option located in the Great Smoky Mountain Park is Cades Cove, 100 Ben Chapman Dr. Townsend, TN (tel. 865/436-1200; www.nps.gov/grsm/gsmsite/cadescove.html). As the most portion of the park, the Cove is best experienced by taking Cades Cove Loop Road, an 11-mile, one-way passage that skirts the bottom of the mountains. The road takes visitors on a tour through 19th and 20th century pioneer farms, fields, trails, and historic buildings such as a gristmill, homes and churches. The loop is open to car, foot and bicycle traffic almost every single day. Hikers will enjoy the five-mile hiking trail to Abrams Falls and a Nature Trail and horseback riding is also a possibility. The 6,800-acre valley that comprises the cove is easily accessible from the Townsend entrance.