The areas of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg sit right in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. These areas have become sort of resort towns in a way with the millions of visitors that go through on their way to the park. Because of this high volume of tourists, there is no end to the somewhat cheesy places to spend your time and money. Mini golf, dinner shows, wax museums, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not places abound through these towns but it is actually quite fun to see all the different options there to entice visitors. We weren’t drawn to the big flashy places, but we did still manage to find some lesser known, delightfully kitschy, places to enjoy.
The Christmas Place
The first place we stopped was The Christmas Place. Nothing will get you into the holiday spirit all year long like a visit here. This multi-building store has everything, and I mean everything, that one could possibly want for holiday decorating. Rooms one after another go on with every style of Christmas décor. An entire room has walls lined with all the different Christmas Villages. Trees and lights fill other areas and there is a room specifically for personalized ornaments.
And what would a Christmas place be without the presence of the man in red himself. Santa has his own building where youngsters can come and place their requests with promises of good behavior for the rest of the year. A visit to Santa will get you a discount at their on site candy shop where the Smoky Mountain taffies are a local favorite.
And if you’re looking for some inspiration on how you can decorate with the many styles offered, then take a walk across the street where the Christmas Inn has taken all the products from the store and arranged them throughout the hotel. Year round Christmas lights and decorations adorn this hotel and it is a lot of fun to wander through and look at what they have created.
The Apple Barn
The next place we visited was The Apple Barn where you can find anything apple. The apples all come from the family’s orchard that sits above on the hillside and stretches out for miles to the side. This place has numerous buildings that all serve different parts of the apple farm. There is a restaurant, a candy apple shop, an apple cider bottling plant, a restaurant, and an apple general store.
The general store was charming and bursting with jams, syrups, ciders, and breads. There were other fruit options for things but those were largely untouched compared to the apple products. And throughout the store you can find apple themed home goods and decorations as well.
We definitely got caught up in the apple-mania of the store and our basket was soon full of raspberry apple cider, some apple peach jam, a mix for apple pancakes, a couple loaves of apple cinnamon bread, and some apple tea bags. We even managed to come away with apple decorated pencils and paper that Tessa wrote little notes on for the rest of the day.
After the store we wander down through the rest of the buildings. We watched through the window as apple cider was poured into bottles. Our mouths watered at the sight of the rows and rows of candied apples. And were tempted to try out their apple taffy in the candy shop but we figured we had already spent enough on apple food. The place was actually quite charming and with Brad’s love of apple cider I’m sure we will come back to again.
The Donut Friar at The Village
We drove into the central part of Gatlinburg and headed to an area called The Village where they have created a cute assortment of shops.
But we were not there for the shops, we were there for donuts. The Donut Friar has been serving up fresh donuts to locals and tourists alike since 1969. It is a family business where the son has recently taken over from the father and he loves to chat and get to know all the people that come through the door. For being in such a touristy place you would expect the costs to be much higher, but these donuts still come at their old time prices making them a great inexpensive treat.
Anakeesta Mountain Park
As we licked the last of our donuts off our fingers we enjoyed some of the picture spots set up at the entrance to Anakeesta. Anakeesta is an outdoor mountain top park that offers ziplining, mountain coasters, and bridges through the tree tops. At the top there are also a few shops and a few restaurants to enjoy. We really loved the giant grass armchair to sit on and getting to take our picture with some tourist black bears.
If going to Anakeesta, you begin at the building just off the main street of Gatlinburg and buy your tickets. Tickets are $33/person and are good for all day so you can go up and down the mountain as many times as you would like. You can ride either the covered gondolas or the ski lift chairs up to the top where the park is.
What most visitors come to Anakeesta for is to take a walk along the tree top bridges. There are 14 bridges, standing 50-60 feet high, and they are all connected making a fun walk through the trees and looking out over Gatlinburg below. If you come in the evening all the bridges are lined in lights which gives the experience a whole different feel. I think I would love to come back in the fall when all the leaves have changed colors. Anakeesta wants to immerse visitors in the natural beauty of the mountains.
Museum of Salt & Pepper Shakers
Yes, you read that right- there really is a museum of salt & pepper shakers. Being a fan of museums, whether historic or bizarre, I knew that I couldn’t pass up on a chance to see this uncommon collection of such a common item. The museum is just past the central part of Gatlinburg and was far more interesting than we expected it to be.
We paid the entrance fee of $3/person and entered the hallway lined floor to ceiling with salt and pepper shakers. This collection was started by a woman named Andrea Ludden 40 years ago. She was born in Belgium and worked for most of her adult life in South America as an archaeologist. But while traveling through North America she began collecting these common household items.
Today this museum holds over 20,000 different shakers. The museum has entire cases dedicated to different categories of shakers. Andrea Ludden felt that salt and pepper shakers offer quite a rich historical significance because you could do a study and see how civilization changed from the 20’s, the 40’s, the 60’s, up until the present day.
We walked through and marveled at each display case. The sheer number and variety even within one category was astounding. There really is an artistry, creativity, and obvious passion to these shakers when you see how many there are and the different characters and symbols that have been used in making them. We really loved the pop culture shakers and the international shakers.
While hard to really decide on a favorite shaker, if I had to pick a favorite it probably would have been the complete map of the United States. Each of the states has a place for both salt and pepper. I remember my grandmother had one of Colorado and one from New York that sat on her dining table for every meal.
There is just so much to do in this small area of Tennessee that really to do it all could easily take a week or more. I really enjoyed these smaller, lesser known places in a area so full of tourist traps. They were clever and fun and made for a great day.
If you have enjoyed this somewhat kitschy day and the places we explored, you may be interested in these other places:
Thanks for coming along as we explore Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. May your basket be full of apples and your shakers full of salt.