Gatlinburg Vs Pigeon Forge: Our Recommendation

Picking Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge as a base is one of the top questions we get. Both towns are in the Smoky Mountains, so you’ve already made a great choice!

And even if you pick the wrong town, you’re less than 30 minutes away from the other one. Even though these cities are close, they’re different. We’ll carefully compare these two destinations to help you choose.

Key Takeaways

  • Gatlinburg is a village town in a valley. Its downtown area is walkable. If you’re staying in downtown Gatlinburg, you can get by without a car. And you’ll want to walk. The traffic in Gatlinburg makes driving slow on a weekend.
  • Pigeon Forge is much bigger and spread out, with attractions throughout its Parkway. You’ll need a car to drive between them.

Gatlinburg Vs Pigeon Forge Overview

Gatlinburg Overview

Gatlinburg is in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. It feels like you’re close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park(apart from the traffic), which is just a couple miles south of town

gatlinburg overhead view from the gatlinburg skypark
Overhead view of downtown Gatlinburg from the Gatlinburg Skypark. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

There are scenic views of the mountains around the town and from the top of the mountains, looking down into the town. Multiple rides, like Ober Mountain’s aerial tramway or Anakeesta’s chair lifts, will take you up the mountains.

The attractions are unique and mountain-themed. They differ from Pigeon Forge, which we’ll discuss below.

downtown gatlinburg view with anakeesta in the center
Gatlinburg and the Anakeesta Base Station. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The downtown area is a cluster of tourist shops and many restaurants, nearly all centered on the main road, the Parkway.

east end of gatlinburg
East end of Gatlinburg near Gatlinburg Aquarium. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Lodging is different than in most towns in Gatlinburg. There are more older motel-style accommodations, along with a few newer resorts.

Pigeon Forge Overview

pigeon forge at the island. view of down the parkway
Pigeon Forge Parkway from The Island. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Just outside the mountain valley that Gatlinburg sits in, Pigeon Forge is only a few miles away.

But it has a whole different look than Gatlinburg. While (smaller) hills are still in view, the city is wide open and spread out.

skyland ranch view of north pigeon forge
North Pigeon Forge from SkyLand Ranch . Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Pigeon Forge is also centered on the Parkway. But it’s a large multi-lane road, and the attractions are spread out. It doesn’t have the village charm that Gatlinburg does.

You’ll need a car to get around Pigeon Forge. There is a trolley system, though you’ll likely need a car anyway if you’re planning on visiting anything in the National Park.

The Island in Pigeon Forge. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

But with more space, there are a lot more attractions in Pigeon Forge. Especially large attractions that Gatlinburg doesn’t have room for.

Navigating Pigeon Forge Vs Gatlinburg

The two cities have very different layouts. Nearly everything is walkable in Gatlinburg, while in Pigeon Forge, it isn’t. If you’re on vacation in the area, you’ll likely do things in both cities.

Getting Around Gatlinburg

gatlinburg parkway at night
Gatlinburg on a slow night. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Our only dislike of Gatlinburg is the traffic. The one main road that makes the town so walkable also makes driving in and out of town hard.

There’s only one main road, with three entrances to town.

On a summer weekend, traffic can back up for miles. If you’re planning on driving into town and staying in the area for a few days, Gatlinburg is perfect.

Downtown Gatlinburg Road
Downtown Gatlinburg in Winter. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The Parkway is a four-lane road with only a few stop lights and plenty of pedestrian crosswalks to stop at.

There’s no left-turn lane in most places, either. You’ll need to rely on the courtesy of Tennessee drivers to make a left turn. Tennessee is the only place we’ve lived where you only have to wait a couple of cars before someone stops to let you make a turn!

gatlinburg parkway at night
Gatlinburg Parkway at night. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

So if you’re visiting many places outside of the downtown area, the traffic in and out of town can add a lot of driving time getting in and out of town.

gatlinburg intersection and stop light on cloudy day
Gatlinburg on a cloudy day in March. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Getting Around Pigeon Forge

Getting around Pigeon Forge is much easier. While the Parkway does get packed entirely with traffic, it’s easier to navigate. It’s a wide road with plenty of stoplights and turn lanes.

But more importantly, there are backroads you can take to avoid the slowdown on the Parkway.

Veterans Blvd is just east of the Parkway and runs parallel to it . So if you’re going from one end of Pigeon Forge to the other, it’s much faster to take Veterans Blvd, then go back over to the Parkway.

But Pigeon Forge is so spread out that a rental car is needed for almost everything.

There is a trolley system in Pigeon Forge that we’ve used, but we find it more convenient to drive.

Attractions Pigeon Forge Vs Gatlinburg

The cities’ attractions are also very different, so you’ll often find yourself traveling between them to see everything they have to offer.

Gatlinburg Attractions

Gatlinburg is an excellent place for attractions you won’t find elsewhere. Because space in the town is at a premium, many of the newer attractions are built into the surrounding mountains.

gatlinburg skybridge
Ski lift to Gatlinburg Skybridge. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Like the Gatlinburg SkyBridge. It’s the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the U.S.

Ride a ski chairlift up to the mountain, then walk across the bridge, which even has glass floor panels.

skybridge gatlinburg
Gatlinburg Skybridge. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Or, there is Anakeesta, a newer mountaintop destination (and one of our favorites) accessible via ski lift. It has huge playgrounds for kids, restaurants, and several mountain-coaster-type rides.

And one of our favorite things at Anakeesta is the tree-top walk across these hanging bridges.

Anakeesta Hanging Bridges. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

There’s more to cover in Gatlinburg than we can fit in this comparison, such as Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and Ober Mountain, which you can read our review on.

Pigeon Forge Attractions

Over in Pigeon Forge, there are enough attractions to entertain you for the whole trip. With much more open space, there’s room for theme parks like Dollywood and other big attractions.

dollywood wild eagle
Dollywood’s Wild Eagle Roller Coaster. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

 Dollywood is a must-visit! It’s one of our favorite theme parks in the country, and we renew our annual passes for it most years.

Dollywood merges an old-time Appalachian experience with modern thrill rides.

dollywood at christmas
Dollywood at Christmas. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

There are some of the fastest rollers around here, but there’s plenty to do for everyone else.

You can ride an authentic steam train. Or watch blacksmiths, glass blowing, and candle making.

dollywood daredevil falls
Dollywood Daredevil Falls. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The Island in Pigeon Forge is a newer entertainment and shopping hub.

the island in pigeon forge
The Island in Pigeon Forge. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Everything is centered around the dancing fountain area.

It’s a great place to spend part of a day and an excellent walkable area if you want to stay at one of the nearby hotels.

If you’re visiting in the summer, there are a few large water parks in Pigeon Forge, too, including one of our favorites, Soaky Mountain.

Read more about things to do in Pigeon Forge on our list, there’s plenty!

Accommodations In Gatlinburg And Pigeon Forge

Whether you’re leaning towards a cozy cabin with mountain views or the convenience of a hotel near all the action, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer many accommodation options.

The two main options are a cabin in the mountains or a hotel in town.


We love staying in cabins, but if you want the great mountain views, you’ll be a bit of a drive from town and the attractions.

Many cabins with great views are west of Pigeon Forge, up some fairly steep, windy roads. There are also cabins close to town in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, which puts you close to the attractions.

Hotels In Gatlinburg

Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg Looking Out Front
Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg Looking Out Front. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

If you’re staying in Gatlinburg, we recommend staying at one of the hotels on our list downtown within walking distance of the attractions.

Gatlinburg has several newer hotels, including our favorite, Margaritaville Resort, which we reviewed on our last stay.

Hotels In Pigeon Forge

The Island in Pigeon Forge. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

We’d recommend a hotel in Pigeon Forge somewhere in or around The Island.

Our favorite there is also a Margaritaville, the Margaritaville Island Hotel, viewable in the picture above (not to be confused with the adjacent Margaritaville Island Inn).

We don’t have any ties to the Margaritaville brand; they’re just newer hotels in great locations, both in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Which Is Better For Your Family?

Do you love the outdoors and a small-town feel? Choose Gatlinburg. Do you prefer lots of activities and easy to get to other places? Go with Pigeon Forge.

Our pick is Gatlinburg, but we’d recommend splitting your stay if you have more than a week: spend a few days in Gatlinburg and the rest in Pigeon Forge. Either way, you’ll be close to all the attractions in the area.

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  1. I love both , but Gatlinburg has always been my favorite. It was a place where I could run in morning and still sit and see the mountains .PF is my shopping place. I just love both

  2. I love both . But Gatlinburg has always been my favorite I can do morning run , sit on balcony look at mountains PF is my shopping place just love both

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