Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are popular Smoky Mountain towns located right next to each other in Tennessee, however they offer distinctly different experiences for visitors.
This post will look at the differences between them to help you decide where to visit on your next trip! It covers hotels, activities, atmosphere, nightlife, shopping and more!
Summary – Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge
|Smoky Mountains |
|Less kid friendly||More activities for |
|Limited shopping – |
mainly arts & crafts
|Wide range of shops|
|Busy, lots of hustle |
|Much quieter, |
|More expensive||Less expensive|
|Incredible mountain |
|Nice mountain |
The two most popular places to visit in the Great Smoky Mountains are Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Gatlinburg is located at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The area has a relaxed small-town feel and has a fully walkable downtown area.
Pigeon Forge is located just 8 miles south of Gatlinburg. This mountain resort city is most known for being the home of Dollywood, a theme park dedicated to the famous country singer Dolly Parton.
One of the main differences between the two towns is that Gatlinburg is very walkable whereas you’ll need transport in Pigeon Forge as all the main activities are based around the Pigeon Forge Parkway.
The Parkway isn’t walkable at all and most of the activities are more spread out. You’ll need a car or alternatively you can hop aboard the Pigeon Forge Trolley.
There aren’t many activities for kids in Gatlinburg, most activities here revolve around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In Pigeon Forge however there is a wide range of fun activities for kids including mini golf, go kart racing and trampolining.
Pigeon Forge is also much better for shopping. They have a large outlet with a range of shops selling everything you could want.
Shopping is much more limited in Gatlinburg and is mainly arts and crafts items made by the local community. Despite having less range, you will likely find something unique in Gatlinburg that you won’t see anywhere else.
You’ll find a much wider range of hotels, restaurants and entertainment activities in Pigeon Forge. Gatlinburg has less choice.
When it comes to views and scenery, you just can’t beat Gatlinburg. It’s located right next to the mountains and the views from here are just out of this world.
Pigeon Forge does also have glorious mountain views but they’re not quite as good as Gatlinburg.
Which Is Bigger? Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is bigger than Gatlinburg in area as it covers 34.5km2 of land compared with Gatlinburg’s 26.9km2.
Pigeon Forge also has a higher population of 6,000 people. Gatlinburg has a population of just 4,000.
Gatlinburg is nestled within the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, meaning there is little room for it to grow.
All of the town’s contents are squeezed together in a small area but this does mean the town is extremely walkable.
The main reason that Pigeon Forge is bigger is that there is more space available. Pigeon Forge, in general, is more spacious and things are spread out more.
Which Has Better Activities? Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge
Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have a range of fun activities. Overall, Pigeon Forge has a wider range of activities, entertainment and restaurants compared with Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg is more adult-oriented. Pigeon Forge is much more fun for kids as they have a range of fun activities to keep children entertained.
Activities In Gatlinburg
The majority of the Gatlingburg’s most popular attractions, restaurants, and shops are all located in the downtown area known as The Strip.
The Strip is the heart of the city and it’s only made up of just a few blocks, but it is packed with fun things to see and do.
Whilst The Strip does get busy during peak tourist times, it does still retain a small town vibe and nothing beats those mountain views in the distance.
Best Activities In Gatlinburg:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Ober Gatlinburg
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
- Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
- Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park
- Ole Smoky Moonshine
One of Gatlinburg’s biggest draws is that it is located right at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the USA’s most visited national park.
There’s endless possibilities of things to do in the park including over 800 miles of hiking trails, scenic tours, picnic areas, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and much more.
Join a tour through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a professional naturalist who will show you some hidden hiking trails and waterfalls!
You can also join a helicopter tour and see the Smoky Mountains from the sky.
Head over to Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area & Amusement Park which offers mountaintop fun for all the family. Take part in ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, shopping and much more.
For a unique experience, the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, which stretches across a deep valley, does not disappoint. Longer than 2 football fields and 1,800 feet above sea level, the SkyBridge is the longest cable bridge in North America.
If you like being up high then take a helicopter tour and get a birds eye view of Gatlinburg from above.
When it comes to shopping, Gatlinburg gives visitors a taste of the local community. You can buy unique arts and crafts items throughout the downtown area.
Wind down in the evening at a fun magic show of impossibilities at the Iris Theater.
Activities In Pigeon Forge
Most of Pigeon Forge’s main attractions are located on the Parkway. The Parkway is a main road lined with theaters, go kart tracks, shops, restaurants and more.
The best way to explore it is by car as it’s not very walkable and the attractions are spread out. There are tons of free parking lots up and down the Parkway though so you won’t have to pay for parking.
If you don’t have a car then you can use the Pigeon Forge Trolley instead! This transit system is super cheap (an all-day pass is $3) and really convenient.
In Pigeon Forge, you’ll still have epic mountain views (but you won’t be as close to the mountains as in Gatlinburg).
Best Activities In Pigeon Forge:
- Bungee jumping
- Titanic Museum Attraction
- The Old Mill Square
- Tanger Outlets
- The Island at Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge’s most famous attraction is Dollywood, a fun theme park named after Dolly Parton who is a native of the area.
At Dollywood you can enjoy thrilling rides, world-class festivals, music shows and much more. Dollywood even has its own hotel and waterpark!
Many Pigeon Forge accommodation options also offer complimentary transportation to and from Dollywood which is a huge plus.
Pigeon Forge has much better shopping options compared with Gatlinburg. Head over to Tanger Outlets where you can shop until you drop.
Pigeon Forge is also a top option if you’re wanting to go and see a show. From hilarious dinner shows to impersonators, there’s a wide range of shows to choose from. One of the best ones is the murder mystery dinner show where you can help to solve the mystery.
Some other top shows are Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show, The Country Tonite Show and the Conway Twitty Tribute.
If you have kids then Pigeon Forge will probably be a better option for you as there’s lots of fun activities available for children in Pigeon Forge from mini golf to trampolining.
Which Has Better Accommodation? Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge
Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have a variety of places to stay including luxury 5 star hotels and cosy log cabins.
There is much more choice in terms of hotels in Pigeon Forge and less choice in Gatlinburg.
Cabins are one of the most popular places to stay in both of these Smoky Mountain towns.
Accommodation In Gatlinburg
The majority of Gatlinburg’s hotels and cabins are located right near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which offers the ultimate convenience if you plan on spending a lot of time there.
There are plenty of amazing hotels in the area with excellent facilities.
Best Hotels In Gatlinburg:
- Gatlinburg River Inn
- The Greystone Lodge On The River
- Courtyard by Marriott Gatlinburg Downtown
- Country Inn & Suites by Radisson
Accommodation In Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge also has a great range of luxurious mountain side hotels, all of which are modern, clean and comfortable.
You could also opt for a cabin if you prefer.
Best Hotels In Pigeon Forge:
- The Inn at Christmas Place
- Margaritaville Island Hotel
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Pigeon Forge
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Pigeon Forge
Which Is Better for Nightlife? Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge
After the sun sets, Gatlinburg definitely has a more vibrant nightlife scene compared to Pigeon Forge.
If you’re traveling with children though you may still prefer Pigeon Forge as it has more children-friendly evening activities.
Nightlife In Gatlinburg
For a small mountain town, Gatlinburg has a very lively nightlife scene. If you’re getting cabin fever and are ready for a night out on the town then there’s a range of bars and pubs that are sure to delight.
You’ll find a range of establishments in Gatlinburg including places for the grown-ups and places for the whole family.
Hogg’s Upstairs Tavern is a popular choice as is Blaine’s Grill and Bar.
There’s tons of awesome things to do at night in Gatlinburg including checking out a bar or distillery, listening to live music at the Ole Red or even watching a Smoky Mountain sunset.
Nightlife In Pigeon Forge
After dark, Pigeon Forge comes alive. Head over to the Iron Boar Saloon for a drink – this classic dive bar even has its own homebrew called the Iron Boar Lager.
If you’ve got kids then a dinner show is the way to go! These fun live theater dinner performances are fun for the whole family – why not try an Elvis Presley tribute or join a murder mystery dinner show.
In terms of bars and pubs, there aren’t many in Pigeon Forge. Alcohol isn’t served much in Pigeon Forge due to it being in a ‘dry county’.
If you’re looking for somewhere to drink and party all night long then Gatlinburg will probably be a better choice for you.
Which Is More Affordable? Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is cheaper than Gatlinburg in most aspects.
In terms of hotels and lodging, you’ll certainly find a cheaper price in Pigeon Forge compared with nearby Gatlinburg.
Even though you will pay a higher price for a hotel in Gatlinburg, you do get the convenience of being able to walk everywhere within the town.
In Pigeon Forge, you’ll need to drive or use public transport to get around which will add on extra costs.
Pigeon Forge also has a wider range of restaurants with lots of budget options so you’ll be able to spend less on food there too.
Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are fantastic vacation destinations.
I hope this article was helpful in highlighting the main differences of Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge.