The Great Smoky Mountains are not exactly a secret part of America’s natural beauty. They boast the nation’s most-visited national park, which continues to attract an increasing number of visitors each year. It isn’t hard to see why young and old alike fall in love with not just the mountains themselves, but with the culture of East Tennessee and what it has to offer.
I am so fortunate to have grown up with Sevier County and The Great Smoky Mountains in my backyard. As a child, I was thrilled whenever my parents told me we were going to the Smokies because it was a destination without an itinerary. In Sevier County, you aren’t limited to the boundaries of one theme park or resort destination—you are in the driver’s seat for a day or weeks’ long vacation of endless possibility.
While visitors to Sevier County every year may dream of destinations that include visiting Dollywood, camping in Cades Cove, or climbing Mt. LeConte, it would take a person a lifetime to know all its other riches. Take it from someone who has spent over two decades exploring Sevier County and these Great Smoky Mountains: the best option may not be the first you see advertised on a billboard, but it might be just around the corner. Allow Cityview to take you on a journey into Sevier County and the Great Smoky Mountains to discover some of its treasures hidden in plain sight.
Pigeon Forge is Nirvana for go-kart enthusiasts. In fact, there are so many different options it could be difficult narrowing the choice down to one. But we have a favorite. The Track in Pigeon Forge offers multiple tracks and enough other activities to last hours. The Wild Woody is one of their claims to fame. This classic wooden track is a fun series of spirals, underpasses, and bridges that can bewilder a driver the first time around, but by the time you finish your first turn around the track, you’ll know your way and feel ready for a second circuit. The best way to enjoy the Wild Woody is to blast full-speed ahead and enjoy a little friendly competition with your fellow drivers. As long as the breeze is in your hair and there’s a smile on your face, you’re doing it right. The Track offers single and double occupant karts, and there are also karts available for smaller children to enjoy. The fun doesn’t stop at go-karts though. They also offer mini-golf, bumper boats, bumper cars, and a kids-only area, amongst other activities. There’s something for both the most advanced thrill seekers and the little tykes just starting on their own adventures.
Just a short distance down the road from The Track is one of the very best locations that Sevier County has to offer: The Apple Barn. All I have to do is think of The Apple Barn and I automatically smell cinnamon apples, caramel, and freshly baked pastries. As long as I can remember, my family and I have been regular customers of this fine establishment. When my grandparents would visit from out of town, it was a tradition to drive to Pigeon Forge and partake of The Apple Barn’s delights. Our personal favorites were the freshly baked apple fritters and their home-pressed cider. Traveling there today still provides the same sensations and beautiful memories. In our opinion, The Apple Barn is a must-stop for the Sevier County visitor. After you have had your fill of all things apple from the Apple Barn, you can walk next door to The Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant or The Applewood Farmhouse Grill. Both options have served their apple fritters and apple butter to the community of Pigeon Forge natives and visitors for over 20 years. Their Southern-comfort menu (don’t miss the fried chicken) will tempt you settle in for a meal and plan a return visit. Some of the first trees they planted in the 70’s still grow on site. The Apple Barn has proven itself a tradition that continues, generation to generation.
The Great Smoky Mountains are known for offering plenty of options for outdoor enthusiasts. But maybe you’ve experienced our trails and are ready for a different way to traverse the terrain. Ever had the desire to climb into a giant inflatable bubble and tumble down a hill? The Outdoor Gravity Park in Pigeon Forge is a tradition straight from the “adventure capital of the world”: New Zealand. You begin your own adventure by diving into an OGO—an 11-foot in diameter, transparent sphere. You can choose between a few different courses, but be prepared to get wet. When you hop into your OGO, you’ll also be hopping into ten gallons of water that allow you to slip ‘n’ slide all the way down. And don’t be surprised if you feel yourself running over a little bump at the bottom. The Outdoor Gravity Park allows guests to lay flat on their stomachs and experience an OGO rolling over them as it completes its downhill journey. When Cityview went to check it out, we were told to go wherever we wanted. “Just don’t get hit,” owner Chris Roberts joked, before explaining the rollover practice. We climbed all over the hill and watched multiple OGOs zip past, filled with shrieks of laughter from old and young alike. To top it off, they have GoPro cameras hooked up to each OGO to make sure you cannot escape the joy of laughing at yourself while you play in a human-sized hamster ball.
The tale of infamous moonshine-bootlegger Popcorn Sutton put the corn liquor industry of Tennessee on the map. People found the story intriguing, and before East Tennessee knew it, moonshine was regulated and sold in stores. If you are traveling to Gatlinburg, you will see advertisements boasting the many distilleries in the area. But one of them, pardon us, outshines the rest. Half a dozen different distilleries claim to have the original and best recipe, but we are particularly impressed by Sugarlands Distilling Company. Their motto is “Stories in Every Jar,” which is what attracted us to them in the first place. Sugarlands has a strong connection to the traditions of native East Tennessee moonshiners. They built their still to not only look like the traditional moonshine still, but also to distill the liquor through the same intensive process. The result is a moonshine that narrates the traditions of East Tennessee. You can enjoy samples of their many varieties at their distillery in Gatlinburg. The tour of their distillery is worth a visitor’s time. What better place to learn the story of shine? They go into fascinating detail about why their moonshine tastes so unique and outshines. With the delicious liquor, colorful history, and various flavor options, Sugarlands has become a staple of the East Tennessee experience.
If you ever though you needed a vacation from the wonderful world of Disney, where would you stay? Well, in the 1960s, if you asked the man himself, Walt Disney would tell you that he escaped to Buckhorn Inn in Gatlinburg for month-at-a-stretch vacations. He loved his time at this beautiful bed and breakfast so much that every year until his death he sent a Christmas present to the owners of Buckhorn. This bed and breakfast has been keeping the art of slowing down and enjoying the beauty of the mountains alive since 1938. Shortly after Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, Douglas and Audrey Bebb opened the inn near Gatlinburg with the hope of capitalizing on new tourist business in East Tennessee. Today, over 75 years later, Buckhorn is run by John and Lee Mellor, but the philosophy of the place still attracts the best of the best. Buckhorn’s tagline is “gem from the past in the heart of the Smokies,” and truer words cannot be said. Buckhorn sits on 30 acres of land with a beautiful view into the heart of the Smokies. Guests have been describing Buckhorn as peaceful and serene for as long as it has been open. If you’re looking for a true taste of the philosophy of East Tennessee and the Smokies, look no further than the natural wonder and beauty of Buckhorn Inn.
Highway 411 in Sevier County may not look much like a vacation destination, but it boasts one place you absolutely cannot pass up if you travel that way. Do you like delicious, made-from-scratch, no-shame, piled-high burgers with all the fixins’? Then Chubby’s Deli is the place to visit. Clyde and Carolyn Williamson opened the doors of Chubby’s in 2013, but their dedication to fun, delicious, and filling fresh food hearkens back to decades passed. You won’t find frozen fast food burgers at Chubby’s; you’ll find a freshly made patty, hand-crafted by the smiling faces of folks who truly care. Chubby’s is located inside New Center Market & Grill, and when we visited the place was packed to the seams. Almost every table was filled with happy diners, not to mention the long line of customers waiting to put in an order. Chubby’s is a family business and a staple of the community. In just four years, they have earned consistent five-star reviews, gaining particular recognition for “famous Chubby burger,” which boasts not only a hamburger patty, but also BBQ pork, onion rings and cheddar cheese. And while Chubby’s can deliver on all of your traditional lunchtime favorites, they also have a stellar breakfast menu, featuring biscuits and gravy. They’re only open for breakfast and lunch, and are closed on Sundays, but it’s worth scheduling a visit to see Clyde and Carolyn when you plan your visit to Sevier County. You’ll leave Chubby’s with a full belly and new friends.
Sevier County is one of the most colorful corners of this beautiful planet. From the mountain trails to the bustling strips of tourist attractions, it has something to offer every visitor. It is far too big a place to experience everything in your first trip, but these destinations are a place to start. Whether you choose to discover the gems we’ve recommended, or you venture on your own personalized journey, we hope Sevier County feels just as much like home to you as it does to us. You may come a visitor, but you might just leave feeling like family.