A great excuse to brave the cold of the Great Smoky Mountains is to see the Smoky Mountain Winterfest Lights that cover Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg in Sevier County, Tennessee. Over three million lights are arranged in traditional, patriotic, and artistic winter themes all along US highways 441 and 361 and State Route 66, and all roads throughout the three cities.
Hundreds of local businesses get into the spirit as well, decorating their trees, buildings, and even trucks and fire engines. There is no more beautiful backdrop for these little points of light than the Great Smoky Mountains.
SEVIERVILLE – In the County Seat of Sevier County (Named for founder and former Tennessee Governor John Sevier), live music, hayrides with Santa and hot cocoa by the mugfull kicked off this event on November 2nd at the Community Center, just off the Dolly Parton Parkway (named, of course, for Sevierville’s favorite and most famous daughter). The city’s power poles are adorned with illuminated wreaths, bells, angels, and snowflakes, while such wonderful light displays are strung across the main roads through town (such as an animated dove flying across the DPP).
Also offered, of course, is tons of holiday shopping at the many outlet malls in the area. Hundreds of restaurants and shopping centers work together, each doing their part to bring holiday cheer to the Smokies. Outlet shopping with famous brand names offer the hottest gifts at rock-bottom wholesale prices, and extended shopping hours can really put you in the holiday spirit!
PIGEON FORGE – Winterfest Festival is kicked off in Pigeon Forge each year at Patriot Park, just off Pigeon Forge Parkway on Old Mill Avenue. Family oriented fun comes in the form of live music and entertainment, plus special guest appearances from local celebrities (Gee, ya think DOLLY might show up here, too?)
With more than 300 factory outlet stores within the city limits, Pigeon Forge is easily the Wholesale Outlet Capital of East Tennessee, offering everything from Nike and Reebok shoes to Levis and Carhartt Jeans to Ryobi and Black and Decker power tools.
Oh, but don’t forget to see the lights! Many amusement parks, shows, and arcades stay open just for the event, covering their properties in millions of twinkling lights. The animated falling snowflakes on the power poles along the median strip along the Parkway compliment the huge, animated light displays, like Pigeon Forge’s trademark overall-clad blacksmith, tirelessly hammering away all night on his anvil, and Santa and Frosty cheerfully waving to every car that passes by!
GATLINBURG – Nestled deep in the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is easily my favorite place to be during Winterfest. Visitors are greeted by a giant banner across US 441; thousands of blinking colored lights welcoming everyone to Winterfest in Gatlinburg. Along every street, the light poles have been done up with little pale blue lights in the form of dormant deciduous trees, and every business has unique displays out front, such as the four lighted skiers in front of Ober Gatlinburg, the area’s ski resort.
If you can brave the cold, by all means take a ride up the mountain on the chair lift ($12.00 per adult) to the unique little gift shop at the summit. It is worth it to see the entire town covered in millions of colored lights on the way down, and nothing beats crossing the Little Pigeon River in the chair lift at over 30 feet! This is a “must do” when in Gatlinburg in the winter, but not for the faint of heart or the altophobic!
Outside of the souvenir shops and arcades in Gatlinburg, there isn’t much in the way of shopping. However, Gatlinburg is well known for its clubs, great five-star restaurants (such as the Hard Rock Cafe), and nightlife. Yes, being among these lights really puts a person into the partying spirit, that’s for sure!
Although it may be a little too late to experience Winterfest in the Smokies this year, you can always make plans for this perennial event next November. Winter rates for lodging tend to be much lower than in the peak summer season, and you can get some pretty good deals on dining, shows, and attractions. I could’ve gone into much more detail about these, but I decided not to because for me and Luchrisa, Winterfest in the Smokies is all about the LIGHTS; those millions of wonderful, blinking, colored lights!