As a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee's School of Architecture, Jon Felderman savored free time away from his office job in downtown Knoxville. Ditching his button-down shirt and tie, Jon headed to the Pigeon River on the weekends during the spring of 1996 to begin his training as a river-rafting guide. In just a year, Felderman's skill and enthusiasm had earned him promotions from river guide to trip leader and then to river manager—all while he maintained his full-time architecture job. Finally, in 2004, the inexorable draw of nature inspired a massive change: Jon abandoned the rigors of city life for good, founding his own rafting company, Big Creek Expeditions. Staffed by experienced guides who share Jon's love of the great outdoors, today the company leads trips down both the upper and lower Pigeon River and orchestrates rafting and camping packages for overnight expeditioners.
Dollywood’s Splash Country lives up to its name, with more than 23 rides and attractions that draw their inspiration from the water park’s scenic Smoky Mountains setting. Fire Tower Falls—the park’s tallest and fastest slide ever—exaggerates the steepness of the nearby mountains’ slopes with a 70-foot plunge that barely gives riders time to scream. For a leisurely counterpoint to this free-fall thrill, look no further than the 1,500-foot lazy river, which charts its course through the park’s forested hills.
Though a sense of calm pervades the lazy river, a battle rages not far from its banks. Pirates of all ages fight for the title of captain at the popular Bear Mountain Fire Tower, where they commandeer water cannons and wait for an enormous wooden bucket to dump 1,000 gallons of water from above. Those weary from battle can retreat to the lagoon-style pool at The Cascades, where more than 25 interactive elements include a multitiered waterfall and an active geyser that spews water 20 feet in the air. Lifeguards split their duties between this rocky grotto and Mountain Waves, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool filled with the tears of decommissioned sailors.
When the corn grows so high that you can barely see the top of the classic red barn at Pigeon Forge Corn Maze, it’s a sure sign that autumn has finally arrived. The farm helps families celebrate the changing seasons with a trio of fall attractions, starting with the two all-ages corn mazes, where kids and adults can bask in the crisp autumn air as they collect clues and play games to determine the best route through the wending green pathways. Outside the leafy walls, miniature ponies and donkeys, pygmy goats, and giant rabbits clamor for a scratch behind the ears in the petting zoo, and farmers take guests on bumpy, tractor-pulled hayrides that tour the borders of both corn mazes. Classic farmstand snacks such as funnel cakes, kettle corn, and apple cider help fuel the fun and reward those who resist the urge to eat their way out of the corny labyrinth.
Adventure Ziplines of Pigeon Forge offers thrill seekers the unique opportunity to take in breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains, all while flying over 400 acres of forested canopies at 50 miles per hour. Zipliners cascade down six lines, each stretching up to 3,400 feet in length, while secured in a double-line system that ensures their safe arrival at ground level after two hours and 4.5 miles of fast-paced fun. Certified by the Association for Challenge Course Technology, staff members guide groups along every limb of the scenic course, which affords zippers views of Mount LeConte and 1,600 species of flowering plants from a vantage point normally reserved for birds or hang-gliding cows. Zipines can be traversed under the early-morning sun or the glow of moonlight seven days a week.
Golfers descend to valley floors and climb up mountain slopes as they traverse Smoky Mountain Country Club’s 18-hole, 6,097-yard course. Cleaved through dense curtains of trees, the course’s bermuda-grass fairways and bentgrass greens undulate over more than 400 feet of elevation changes, giving an advantage to golfers who can adjust their yardages when aiming at targets positioned uphill, downhill, or behind a large yeti.
Throughout the round, various shots from high elevation let golfers enjoy some extra distance off of the tee while offering sweeping views of the Smoky Mountain scenery. To prepare for their round on the par 70 course, golfers can warm up their swings at the club’s practice area and post-putt celebration dances on the putting green.
The Comedy Barn Theater's family-friendly acts alternate between the sidesplitting and the awe inspiring, all unified by a fun-loving Southern sensibility. Magicians, fire-eaters, jugglers, and ventriloquists make jaws drop; clean family comedians draw guffaws; and live country and gospel music keeps the energy high with mandolin-fueled romps. Designed to appeal to even the tiniest tots, the show also ropes in a menagerie of barnyard animals—foremost among them the Comedy Barn Canines, who delight all ages with their impressions of famous presidential pets.