Gatlinburg Getaway

Follow the miles of lights to find the most festive winter celebration this side of the North Pole.
Wanda McKinney

Whether you are a "Jingle Bells" type of person or a "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" grinch, dust off your sleigh and take the high road to the Smokies this month.

The cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, sing with entertainment, glow with millions of lights, and lure visitors with special treats not even Santa Claus can match. So y'all come on down. It's gonna be fun!

Festive Friday
For convenience, ambience, and amenities, check in to Bearskin Lodge on the River. Located in downtown Gatlinburg (just behind Burning Bush Restaurant), this balconied log hotel offers large rooms, many with hot tubs and fireplaces. (Rooms with queen-size beds are $50-$150 per night and include Continental breakfast, (865) 430-4330.)

While you're fresh and your feet don't hurt, take a dash down to the outlet shops. In Pigeon Forge and Sevierville--Gatlinburg's two busiest neighboring cities--three outlet malls await your last-minute holiday shopping needs. And if you want to shop and others in your group don't, have no fear. Hop on the Pigeon Forge Fun Time Trolley and, for a small fee, it will take you to the Tanger (nicest and newest), Belz, and Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet Malls. The shoe stores alone (Bass, Hush Puppies, Naturalizer, etc.) make you feel a little elfish.

After depositing your new treasures back at the hotel, get ready for a wonderful evening meal in Gatlinburg. It's just a short drive down the parkway to Smoky Mountain Trout House. The folks here serve fresh trout 12 different ways; I recommend the Eisenhower, which is pan-fried, served with a tasty side sauce, and made me salute ($14.95). For non-fin folks, they also serve up a mean prime rib.

Before turning in for the evening, cruise through the town and take in the holiday lights. You'll sing carols all the way back to the warmth of your lair.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll on Saturday
You will need a good breakfast today, so choose a pancake house, and stoke up. The Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area probably has more pancake houses per capita than Santa has dependent Clauses. My favorite is the Log Cabin Pancake House on Airport Road; it has been there pretty much forever and stays busy, so go early.

Okay, now yell out a mighty chorus of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and descend upon Dollywood. Take the parkway to Pigeon Forge, and turn at traffic light number eight to indulge your senses in the theme park that Dolly built.

Christmas is a terrific time to visit, with 31?2 million lights all aglow and Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas in full swing. Adults pay $40.15 and children ages 4-11 pay $30.10 to see all the special shows, such as Christmas in the Smokies, which features a live orchestra.

Between performances, soak up the demonstrations of glassblowing and blacksmithing. And if the chilly weather shoos you inside, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate in one of the wonderful eateries. At the Backstage Restaurant, you'll get full table service and a great home-style meat loaf.

You have three choices once you leave Dollywood for after-dinner, live entertainment. Kick back at the Louise Mandrell Theater ($26.46), Black Bear Jamboree ($34.95), or Dixie Stampede ($34.99). Take your pick; they're all first-rate.

So, yes, Virginia, there is more to see than Dollywood. After a good night's sleep, you'll be ready to tackle the other options.

Swing Low, Sweet Sunday
So you overdid it yesterday? Not to worry. Take yourself just one block away to the Burning Bush for a leisurely breakfast. Order the Bountiful Breakfast, which includes eggs, cinnamon apples, grits, home fries, buttermilk biscuits, and sausage gravy. Add some bacon or sausage, and you'll be as full as a tick for $8.95-$9.95, depending on meat selection.

Now it's time for a little Gatlinburg shopping. Try the Village, which is downtown and covers 27 shops, including the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, where you can watch employees making taffy and fudge. You can even ship a token of your confection to your favorite someone.

When it's lunchtime, go down the street to The Park Grill where you'll find the best in service and food in Gatlinburg. Save room for the Jack Daniel's Crème Brûlée or the Chocolate Ecstasy. You'll ho-ho-ho all the way home.

For more information
Contact the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism at 1-800-251-9100 or www.mypigeonforge.com; contact the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-568-4748 or www.gatlinburg.com.

This article is from the December 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.