National Forest or National Park?

I had no idea there was a difference. In fact I’ve probably been heard using ‘Forest’ and ‘Park’ interchangeably all my life when referencing our National treasures. Today I found out the nuances. Ancora imparo.

Turns out a National Forest serves many purposes for United States residents; grazing, timber, recreation, and animal habitats. A National Park is mostly preserved as it exists, the only changes being natural. They are each managed by a different department of the government as well. The National Forest Foundation explains this and gives further statistics about some of our existing Forests and Parks.

I chose to hike a spot in Great Smoky National Park today that is not frequented, and I’m so happy I did! I was on the path alone and thoroughly enjoyed the gems I found. I took a right at this sign to see the Cemetery – it was fenced and gated so I didn’t go in. I could see both old and new gravestones from my spot on the road. A quick turnaround and I was off to Jakes Creek Trail.

Although I think I’ve been down this trail a few years ago, it looks so very different now. The only thing left standing from a long ago past of summer cottages are the fireplaces. And they are lined up one after another all along the river. They almost look like soldiers. I’m curious why they all seem to be on the same side of the houses that are no longer present?

Then there was this one across the road – all alone. Weird.








The single remaining structure on this road was once inhabited by Col. David Chapman who was tasked with raising the funds to preserve these lands as Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Thank you Col. Chapman!




Dolly Parton to be in Local Parade May 10th

Did you know Dollywood Theme park is only 15 minutes from Gatlinburg, and Southern Serenity, in Pigeon Forge? You can spend a day or two at Dolly’s theme park on your Gatlinburg vacation. If it’s warm enough you can spend all or part of your day at Dollywood’s Splash Country as well. Ticket prices can found here. But I digress – I want to tell you about the parade with an appearance by Dolly Parton herself!

Dolly in the Pigeon Forge parade

That’s right, every year for the last 25 Dolly Parton has a homecoming parade in Pigeon Forge, which also marks the beginning of the Pigeon Forge Springfest celebration

Personally I prefer to spend most of my time in Gatlinburg rather than Pigeon Forge. But if I was here the weekend of this parade I would probably attend.


Pigeon Forge is situated in a large, flat valley of the mountains. This could be a very pretty place, but the retail industry has overrun the area. There are a lot of opportunities to shop, and spend money on carnival-like rides, and shop, and go to the strip mall, and buy one get one free, oh – and did I mention shop? There are a lot of lights and neon, not my cup of tea, but you might like it. If you come to Gatlinburg from the north you have to come in via Pigeon Forge, but just be patient. After stoplight #10 in Pigeon Forge you enter the Foothills Parkway of the Smoky Mountains National Park and it is a beautiful 5 miles to Gatlinburg, and a short ride to the Smoky Mountains National Park entrance.

Aerial view of Pigeon Forge

Dinner Shows and Movies

I must confess we don’t attend many of the dinner shows in the area, but it’s not because there are limited choices. We aren’t opposed to dinner shows, we just prefer to spend our time in the park during the day and are usually pooped out by the time the sun sets. If you like the nightlife a dinner show or two might be just the ticket to complete your Smoky Mountain vacation.

Comedy Barn

Comedy Barn (Photo credit: fahrenheit45one)

When you travel to Gatlinburg from the north the advertising starts on the Interstate and continues to bombard you about all the different dinner shows in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. Most of them are in Pigeon Forge.

Just a few of the dinner shows that come to mind are Fanny Adams, Comedy Barn, Dixie Stampede, Lumberjack Feud, and the Smith Family something or other. These apparently did the best job of advertising as I remembered them, and I’ve only been to one of them!


Phil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been to the Dixie Stampede and can tell you that the setup is similar to Medieval Times, and I think many of the other dinner shows are similar. You are seated around the arena or stage at a table facing the show. The food is prepared en masse and served while the show is taking place. Food at the Dixie Stampede was abundant and good, although I wouldn’t attend just for the food, and the show was very entertaining. It was a fun evening.

Show listings by city:
Pigeon Forge

If you are interested in a movie date night you’ll find The Forge Cinemas in Pigeon Forge. There is also a Movie Theater in Sevierville, their schedule can be found at

Wilderness Wildlife Week

Wilderness Wildlife Week Photos

I got an online newsletter from Jim Eastin at “Taking Better Photos” which reminded me of the Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, just up the road from Gatlinburg.  This event takes place at the Music Road Hotel and Convention Center. All lectures and seminars are FREE to the public. Jim Eastin will be teaching classes there on January 12th and 17th. In addition to classes there are organized hikes and field trips as well. There is even a photo contest for you amateur photographers.

What a wonderful way to take a mid-winter vacation with the family! We haven’t attended yet but it is on my bucket list to get to some of these interesting lectures about the area.  You can view the Class List to see the subjects and find out who is presenting, or pack your lunch and head out with the group on an organized hike. There is a wide array of subjects from photography to snakes to fly fishing to music. A bit of everything for everyone including classes for kids. Sounds fun!

Shopping in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

Gatlinburg has burgeoned into a popular touris...

Downtown Gatlinburg Image via Wikipedia

So you like to shop and you want to do some shopping on your vacation in Tennessee?  Pigeon Forge is the place to go if you really want a large number of stores.  Don’t get me wrong, Gatlinburg has plenty of shopping as well, but the stores are more limited since they are mostly in the 1 mile that is downtown Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg has smaller stores and it’s best to park your car behind the main drag or in a lot and walk the sidewalks going in and out of the specialty stores.  Lots of fudge and candy stores.  There’s also a McDonald’s, Bubba Gumps, KFC, and Walgreens on the main drag, so you’ll have some mainstream stores and familiar restaurants to suit your taste.  I hear the Outpost close to stop light 10 is a really great store for outdoor gear, we haven’t been there yet.

Pigeon Forge is a whole other story, on the main drag you’ll find one store after another.  A lot of them are even repeats of stores found a few blocks away.  There is a whole shopping center just for Christmas, and you can do lunch there as well.  For those of you who are die-hard designer shoppers you’ll find plenty to buy at the Tanger Outlets just north of Pigeon Forge in Sevierville.

Happy shopping!

Two Hours From Gatlinburg

What can you do within a two hour drive from Gatlinburg?  If you get bored with the hiking and shopping in Gatlinburg, and the attractions and shopping available in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, there are plenty of things to do and see.  I’ve listed a few of them:

  1. Cherokee, NC – Take Hwy 441 south through the park to Cherokee and visit the Cherokee museum, or go to Harrah’s Casino to gamble.
  2. Bristol, TN – Drive 2 hours northeast to tour the Bristol TN Nascar racetrack, or see a race.
  3. The Biltmore Mansion – Drive about an hour and a half to Asheville, NC to see The Biltmore Mansion.
  4. Dragon’s Tail  – Take your motorcycle west through the park and Townsend to Foothills Parkway on the west edge of the park.  Follow Foothills Parkway south to The Tail of the Dragon, also known as Deal’s Gap in NC.  318 switchbacks in 11 miles!!
  5. Cataloochee Valley – See the Elk in Cataloochee Valley on the southeastern side of the park.  The Elk were reintroduced in 2001.
  6. Cumberland Gap National Park, KY – Take I-40E to Hwy. 32N to the park.
Maybe you have some ideas I’ve missed?  Feel free to post them – and happy travels!