Pigeon Forge (and Gatlinburg next door), to us, is only worth visiting as a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We did not like the town at all, but if you have read this blog at all you should not be surprised. It reminded us of Branson, and just like Branson, I’m sure Pigeon Forge is a super fun town for many people! Just not for us. There’s lots to do: Dollywood, water parks, miniature golf, go carts, zip lines, musical shows, museums, laser tag, shopping, spas… but all we wanted to do was hike in the park and maybe drink some beer. And avoid the Covidy throngs. Grumble grumble grumble.
We stayed at the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA. It was crowded and the campsites are closely packed and service was slow (we waited so long for the (completely unnecessary) escort to our site that we just escorted ourselves) but it was nice enough.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina and is the most-visited national park in the US. Right before Covid struck we were planning a Smokies trip and had identified several hikes of interest (and more desirable places to camp than Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg), but since we only had a brief time in a small section of the park, our options were limited.
We decided to hike to Baskins Creek Falls, a short and easy stroll to a beautiful two-tiered waterfall. With the leaves off the trees, we also had some lovely mountain views on the climb back to the car. Thanks to the drizzle, we had an extra-active waterfall, only had to share the trail with a few other groups, and also got some dramatic fog to spice up our views.
We thought maybe we’d do a little scenic driving in the park while we were there, but the sloooooooow drivers made us reconsider. The sign at the entrance to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail says it’s 5.5 miles and an estimated 1 hour, and it’s a one-way road so once you’re in, you’re committed. Luckily, we saw the sign in time to abort because J would have lost his mind. If you want to hike to Baskins Creek Falls, but don’t want to do the scenic drive, park across from the turnoff for Roaring Fork and walk the short distance down the road to the trailhead.
As with most of the national parks, 1) no dogs are allowed on the hiking trails, and 2) go early to beat the traffic! Here are some suggestions from the NPS on avoiding crowds at GSMNP. We were pleased to have chilly, rainy conditions to minimize the number of people on the trails and cars on the road, as we broke two rules of avoiding crowds: hiking in the early afternoon, and visiting the park in October.
We’ll give the Smokies another shot sometime, but in a less-populated part of the park.