Pigeon Forge, TN: Do Not Go Here. Find another way to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Listen, I don’t like to bad mouth a town, and we have been able to find “the good” in many places though they might not be on anyone’s bucket list.  But this place?  Pigeon Forge?   We can’t recommend anything about it.  I know, I know, and I’m sorry if this is your home town or you have fond memories of Dollywood and the unending glitzy, tacky tourist shops and venues along the main strip.  I get it, I really do!  I grew up in Central Florida and have the same soft spot in my heart for Orlando’s unbelievably touristy and tacky International Drive. DSC_0091

But seriously, as an RVer?  Skip this place and Gatlinburg too.  Heck, the only reason we went at all was it seemed like a good base camp from which to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Plus the town offered three Passport-America campground options.  Had we but known.


Yet another back road in Pigeon Forge. 

Start with the roads:  Our GPS was continually trying to route us onto the very twisty, very steep back roads all over town.  This happens occasionally in lots of places, but in Pigeon Forge it happens all the damn time because the too-smart-for-its-own-good GPS is not only foolishly cutting the corners off of perfectly good main highways, but is also desperately trying to help you avoid the horrific traffic jams seemingly present 24 hours a day on the parkway.DSC_0093

And the town!  Good god did I mention that it is tacky?  Words fail.  It is a continuous assault on the visual senses with terribly touristy traps filling every foot of the drag in a density that may very well defy conventional physics.DSC_0064

OK, let me come clean here.  We had a pretty scary RV moment in Pigeon Forge, and it has cast a bit of a pall over our memory of the place.  I foolishly followed one of the many GPS short cut recommendations, and disastrously misjudged a very sharp turn, the ground seemingly falling away from the right rear tires, leaving us precariously balanced on the edge of a ditch.  We were seriously concerned that we might roll over into the creek below.


Within minutes three local gents showed up, then a cop, who was actually relieved to see that the situation was not, as the 911 caller had stated, “a bus crashed into the river.”  We quickly disconnected Loki, and then one of the locals started directing traffic around us (how many places would an on scene cop allows some civilian to do this?)  The other local gents and I walked around the bus wisely scratching our heads and discussing options.


When they learned I had an air ride system, they helped direct my application of it to raise the back end sufficient to remove the tow hitch assembly that had completely bottomed out on the road.  Then I lowered the front air nearly all the way, changing the angle just enough that I could get full traction with the back left tires.  Despite my doubts and The Big Kahuna’s under powered, over-geared set up, and with everyone holding their breaths, we drove out of that ditch and out of danger.


So that was bad, but we shook it off and headed for our RV campground, which took us far longer than expected because even after narrowly escaping total catastrophe, we unthinkingly continued down the back road GPS route.  After miles of winding, narrow, shoulderless and hilly roads we finally stopped short, eyes wide, staring up at the impossibly steep hill to which our electronic navigator had lead us.  Having had enough excitement for the day, we took a deep breath and back tracked to the safer main highway, which of course took us into all that terrible bumper to bumper traffic the GPS was trying to avoid!


So we arrived at Creekside RV after dark, simply thankful that the front office was still open to check us in.  Creekside’s spots are pretty narrow, but certainly not the smallest we have experienced, and bigger than at least one of the other two Passport-America options in town based on a quick drive by.  If we were there for a more relaxed stay we would definitely have kicked in the extra couple of bucks a night for one of the actual creek side spots; the creek running through the property was quite beautiful.  Our site was level enough for us, and mostly solid packed gravel and dirt.  My one complaint was how far back the electrical and cable hook up connections were positioned: we had to borrow an extension to our 25′ cable to reach it.


Let’s add insult to injury:  After all that trouble, finally safe and sound in our spot, could we find a drop of liquor in this town to celebrate?  NO, no we could not.  A partially dry “beer and wine only” town, we had to drive the 25 minutes to Gatlinburg just to get a bottle of the real stuff.  Which we did, of course.


The next day we headed for The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Though we have had some unkind things to say about RV campgrounds in the various national parks we have seen, the visitor centers are universally awesome and helpful.  Smoky was no exception.  We watched the traditional park video, bought another patch for my collection, and got some advice on a nice drive and short day hike from one of the rangers manning the information desk.


We headed up mountain in Loki, marveling at the rapid temperature change as we climbed, and pulled over at the picnic area with an adjacent short mountain hike, Hard Cove trail.  It was fantastic, and we were the only two people on the trail the entire time we were there, despite later realizing that the park was pretty crowded overall.


Afterwards we continued up the Newfound Gap road to the NC-TN border, and then side tracked up to Clingman’s Dome.  The views were fantastic, but due to the cold, wind, and crowds we chose to forgo the hike to the actual observation tower.


Had we been less turned off by the town of Pigeon Forge we might have stayed another day.  As it was we were itching to get out, and took off late the next morning.  Despite my attempt to research the roads and avoid any further difficult maneuvers, we ended up on yet another twisty, hilly, shoulderless road as the beautiful six lane highway I chose narrowed and narrowed down to a tiny two lane path.  That would have been all well in good if it wasn’t for my guilt and stress from holding up a long line of cars behind us as we struggled up the inclines on a road with no pull outs at all to ease everyone’s pain.  We are actually grateful that we have procrastinated getting our Shell On Wheels logo painted or applied to the back of the bus; I can only imagine the hate mail we would have gotten after that long and painful sojourn.DSC_0035

Incidentally, if you are, as I was, confused about the spelling of The Great Smoky Mountains, rather than the Smokey Mountains, let me school you as I have been schooled:

Smokey is a proper noun and first name, whereas smoky is an adjective referring to an object being filled with or smelling of smoke.

Until recently smokey was an accepted spelling of smoky in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, it is now thought of as old-fashioned.”DSC_0023

8 thoughts on “Pigeon Forge, TN: Do Not Go Here. Find another way to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  1. Wow scary! We end up on those type of roads all the darn time. We’re used to being able to just pick up and go on any road in our jeep. Driving an RV and TOWING the jeep is a different beast altogether, it most definitely does not handle those roads as well. My dad grew up in that area so I was excited to visit 10 years ago. It was just as tacky and crowded then too!

  2. Uh-oh! That was a potentially big boo-boo. Glad you escaped from it unscathed! You certainly aren’t alone in those kinds of “oops” moments — we had a big one in Anza Borrego last February — but it involved a boulder. And a lot of time and money. 😦 Keeping a sense of humor is a good thing, which you seem to do very well.

  3. Pingback: 11 Months Fulltiming, November 2015 Report | Shell On Wheels

  4. GPS directions are not reliable. My sister-in-law lives on Cape Cod and when I left her home I put directions into my GPS and it wanted to take me down a right of way which was narrow steps and not a road. I have a co-worker who bought his GPS because he wanted to stay on the main roads and ended up following a road that turned into a cow path and he had trouble turning around his fifth wheel trailer. Instinct, if it looks bad, rethink it, and force your GPS to give you a better route.

  5. Pingback: One Year Fulltiming, 2015 In Review | Shell On Wheels

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