By Ken Mink
PIGEON FORGE-GATLINBURG-SEVIERVILLE, Tn. — This little 20-mile corridor along U. S. Highway 441 of East Tennessee has become one of the hottest vacation spots in America in recent years and continues to grow faster than kudzu.
The queen bee lure of the area is the Dollywood theme park, now one of America’s top 10 attractions with more than three million visitors each season. It is now the largest ticketed attractions in Tennessee, bordering the Great Smoky National Park and its more than eight millions visitors per year.
Dollywood will be opening a 300-room hotel resort in July. The park, in addition to standard amusement park thrill rides, Dollywood features traditional crafts and music of the Smoky Mountains area. The park hosts a number of concerts and musical events each year, including appearances by Parton and her family, as well as other national and local musical acts, and is the site of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.
Alongside its sister waterpark Dollywood’s Splash Country (35-acre, and Dollywood’s Dixie Stampede dinner attraction (5 acres), Dollywood is the anchor of Parton’s 295-acre Dollywood amusement resort.
As goes Dollywood, so goes the rest of this three-town entertainment mecca. And all three keep growing each year. There is practically an unlimited number of things to see and do here.
The three-town complex includes thousands of hotel rooms, hundreds of restaurants, dozens of hotels, hundreds of shops and dozens of top entertainment venues, including the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Sky Lift, the Titanic Museum exhibition, Terry Evanswood Wonder of Magic at Wonderworks, nine theatrical shows (comedy and music…several presented as dinner shows), ziplines, helicopter rides, Deer Park Zoo, Muscle Car Museum, numerous outlet shops, etc.
Creeks and rivers run through much of the complex, offering hundreds of waterside hotel units. River canoeing and tubing is also nearby. For those who like to get away on their own, numerous firms offer cabin rentals in the area.
There is also quality golf, with nearly half a dozen courses within the complex (see separate story on this page).
And only about 35 miles north of this complex sits the city of Knoxville, with a metro population of nearly one million and numerous attractions of its own, including professional baseball, hockey and major college sports events at the University of Tennessee.