November 7, 2022

Pigeon Forge, TN 12 Ways to Be in the Wild

A summer family vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains means cool nights, sunny days, natural beauty and a dozen ways to enjoy being in the wild.

We have had the good fortune to experience the natural beauty that surrounds Pigeon Forge and enjoy the lively, friendly atmosphere of the mountains. In reality, it is hard to beat summer in the mountains. We have assembled an action list for a terrific family vacation.

Rock and roll.
Rafting the Big Pigeon River, edged by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah National Forest, is a wild time. Class lll and lV rapids set the pace with names like “Vegamatic” and “Razor Blade.” The day trips provide cool water, thrills and laughs amid dramatic natural surroundings. The best news, no previous experience is required to enjoy the river run. Bonus points: During the summer months water is released from the dam at the hydro electric plant so a strong river run is a sure thing.

Tube-time for all ages. The West Prong Little Pigeon River runs through Pigeon Forge and provides anyone who likes to float a waterway of fun at a slow pace. It flows through a beautiful river gorge framed by the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains. Tubing on the river is wet-and-wild and ideal families with young children. Discovery: The Little Pigeon River is natural flowing rather than dam fed, water flow can vary day by day. It is lazy, easy and fun.

Bait the hook.
Summertime and the fish are biting. From stream fishing along East Tennessee's 3,000 miles of pristine, scenic waterways to trying out one of the area’s 11 lakes, it’s all about being in the wild and having fun. Anglers may fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as crappie and bluegill. Find a mountain stream and practice new skills on sometimes elusive trout. Rocky Top Outfitters offers a variety of ways for anglers of all ages to enjoy fishing together. Bonus points: They have a private lake and they’ll even clean the fish for their clients.

See ancient mountains.
Residents of Pigeon Forge will openly certify that the Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world. Not far from Pigeon Forge, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s natural treasures established to protect a portion of the ancient mountain range. Almost 95% of the 800-square-mile park is forested, with about 25% being old-growth. It is a not-to-be-missed paradise for naturalists. Discovery: Awesome and refreshing, the park is a species epicenter. Within the boundaries more than 10,000 species have been identified yet scientists believe the species population may be as high as 90,000.

Hike or walk almost forever.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a dream for hikers. More than 800 miles of trails await footsteps. Routes follow river beds and logging trails to mountain rims with gorgeous views and cascading waterfalls with mountain pools. We walked the 1.3-mile walk to Laurel Falls. It took us about 45 minutes. Paved all of the way, the walkway is ideal for parents with young children in strollers. Discovery: Agile feet may descend to the bottom of the falls and feel the power of the water. We did it. It is worth the effort. Best bet: For families looking for an easy outing, we found the Cucumber Gap Loop Trail offers a beautiful river, birds, squirrels and shade along the way. For all the trail options, obtain a copy of the Great Smoky Mountains Trail Map distributed by the national park office.

Visit a secret valley.
Cades Cove, a 4000-acre open space within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is known for peace and quiet. The bucolic valley provides the perfect postcard mix of forests and meadows framing pioneer cabins and cantilever barns. The Cades Cove Visitor Center provides visitors with a rich menu of vacation activities well-suited to families.
Live the history. In addition to natural beauty 24/7, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 70 historic buildings scattered within its boundaries. Cades Cove is its historic heart. Log cabins, barns, churches and mills stand erect in tribute to early pioneers. Cades Mill area is well-known for its dramatic vistas and the interesting remnants of pioneer life. The 11-mile one-way loop road is an outdoor museum. Discovery: Instead of walking families can meet at the stables to take the two-hour hayride with a park ranger onboard to describe the pioneer connections to the land. Bonus points: We really enjoyed the clever documentary style this excursion option. It is like going on a field trip.

Bike with the kids.
The area offers an extensive variety of biking trails designed to provide fun for beginners and to challenge experienced bikers, including an array of scenic secondary roads ideals for cyclists. The paved routes weave through beautiful forests along meadows, over swinging bridges and past country stores (a.k.a. ice cream stops) and allow kids of all ages to feel the pleasure of being free. Discovery: From April through October bikes of all sizes may be rented in Townsend and Cades Cove.

Ride the trails.
For another viewpoint of the area, saddleback is a popular option for families. In Cades Cove Riding Stables guides are available on a first-come first-served basis. For six generations Bonnie (Myers) McCampbell’s family has been providing excursions on horseback with storytelling as a bonus. Our guide took us along streams, over meadows and down mountain paths. He supplied us with information about the wildflowers and rare plants that we saw along the trail. We saw deer grazing in a meadow and a hawks nest above the trail. Discovery: This is the only trail ride facility that allows double riders so children younger than the age of six may ride with an adult.
Don’t feed the wildlife. Cades Cove has a picnic area near the riding stable. Grills and tables are provided; nearby, lunches are available from Apple Valley Farms Country Store. Signs in the area clearly state that no one should feed the wildlife and not to leave any trash because bears frequent the area. Bear advice: Remain watchful and never approach a bear. If one approaches camp, do not turn and run. Slowly back away to safety watching the bear while doing so. Sounds easy? We didn’t see any bears, which was a good thing.

Hike in and sleepover.
The hike to Mt. LeConte is a dream hike that has been discovered. The summit is 6,593 feet above sea level making it the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains and sixth highest peak in all the Appalachians. For a day junket the Rainbow Trail-Mt. LeConte-Bullhead Trail loop offers a 15-mile continuous loop without backtracking. Discovery: There is a wilderness lodge and cabins at the top. Hikers may find refreshments and friendly faces but to sleepover it is essential to make arrangements almost a year in advance.

Enjoy a bonfire.
Walden Creek Riding Stables provides the Smokies with the spirit of the “Old West”, Tennessee style. During the day they ride the trails introducing riders of all skill levels to the natural beauty of the 500-acre ranch land. Each week during the summer months, they offer a free cookout s complete with frontier style entertainment. Beginning with a wagon train hayride guests become immersed in non stop cowboy antics which include a pretend Western shoot-out, a singing posse, and plenty of storytelling. Discovery: The supper is free for those who have ridden at the stables during the week. The vittles include hot dogs, veggies, chips, tea or lemonade. The bonus item marshmallows toasted over a 14-foot long open bonfire.

Bike in the mountains.
Mountain biking enthusiasts will find both trail variety and natural challenges surrounding Pigeon Forge. Mountain biking is limited within Smoky Mountains National Park therefore the best bet for bored-no-more trails is Big South Fork National Recreation Area. Mountain biking choices include marked off-road bike trails, equestrian trails and 4-wheel drive roads. Terrain is varied offering wilderness challenges. The free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River nourishes the area and provides wide range of natural and historic features. Discovery: Not just for mountain biking, one of many special events during the summer months is 1790's pioneer camp featuring frontier activities including firings of blackpowder muskets and rifles.

Pigeon Forge has vacation packages, discounts for activities and dining available online. To make planning a wild summer in the mountains easy, more than a dozen family vacation packages have been created for inspection.
For more great family vacation ideas try
Pigeon Forge Spring Vacation Packages
More Pigeon Forge Vacation Ideas

USA Raft. They offer rafting day adventures on the Upper and Lower Pigeon as well as on the Nolichucki River also in Tennessee. 1-800-USA-raft, 1-800- 872-7238 or
Rafting in the Smokies. The River Run headquarters in Pigeon Forge, 3249 River Road. They also run the Ococee River and the Nantahala River. 1(865) 436-5008, 1-800-PRO RAFT, 1-800- 776-7238 or

Rocky Top Outfitter. 3361 Parkway Pigeon Forge, 37863. 1(865) 429-3474 or

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 107 Park Headquarters Road Gatlinburg, 37738. Visitor Information Recorded Message, 1(865) 436-1200 or

Great Smoky Mountains Trail Map. Distributed by The National Park Service, 1(865) 436-1230.

Cades Cove Riding Stables. They also offer hayrides with a park ranger for $8 a person for a two-hour narrated ride. A naturalist hayride is offered from June through October. 1 (865) 448-6286.

Walden Creek Riding Stables. 2709 Walden Creek Road, Pigeon Forge, 37862. 1 (865) 429-0411 or 1-888-577-4901 or

Day Hiker. To organize a guided Mt. LeConte adventure, contact Joe Guenther. 1(865) 908-9942 or

Big South Fork National Recreation Area. The Bandy Creek Visitor Center 1(423) 286-7275, 1(606) 376-5073 or
Mt. LeConte Lodge. Reservations can be made each year beginning in October at

Mountain View Canoe Rentals. Canoes and tubes. 1(865) 428-6112.

River Romp. For tubes in the mountains. 1-888-390-1190.