Great Smoky Mountains National Park To Charge Fees For Camping

Earlier this week the National Park Service announced that it would begin implementing a reservation system and charging fees for the use of backcountry camping sites inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The move was announced last March, but it has taken until now for the system to be put into place. The NPS says the new fees will be used to improve customer service in trip planning, reservations and permits.

Starting February 13, the Park Service will begin charging $4/person for anyone looking to camp inside the park. On that same day, a new online reservation system will go into operation, allowing visitors to book a campsite up to 30 days in advance. Permits will also be available within the park itself at the Backcountry Office inside the Sugerlands Vistor Center. The NPS hopes these options will allow campers plenty of flexibility in their plans even if they are attempting to make a last minute booking.

Visitors to the park should see a direct impact from the fees that are collected as they’ll help fund additional staff in the Backcountry Office and put more rangers into the field. Those rangers will help ensure a safer and cleaner environment for hikers and backpackers, while enforcing regulations designed to make the park safer.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the entire U.S. system. On an annual basis it sees more than 9 million visitors pass through its gates. With over 522,000 acres of wilderness, it is also one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States, which only adds to its popularity as a great travel destination.

[Photo Credit: National Park Service]

Pigeon Forge Winterfest in Tennessee to open with veteran dedication of 5 million lights

Not sure where to spend the winter this year? Head over to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for their 22nd annual Pigeon Forge Winterfest. The four month long event will go from November 8, 2011 until February 26, 2012. This year, with the opening day of the festival being near Veteran’s Day, the event will open with a special parade dedicated to veterans as well as a ceremony in Patriot Park that will feature 5 million Winterfest lights.

The origin of Pigeon Forge Winterfest comes from the goal of the town to create activity and tourism in the area during their off-season. Luckily, the festival helps to bring many people to the area during this time and having an off-season is not a problem for Pigeon Forge any longer.

Some of the highlights that event attendees can expect include:

Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas
November 5-Decemeber 30

Not only will this event feature 4 million twinkling lights, it will also be the opening day for “Christmas on Ice” held in Dolly Parton’s Celebrity Theatre. The show will feature the Ice Theater of New York, the country’s leading ice dancing group, as well as singers who will sing Christmas song favorites.

The Titanic Museum Attraction
November 8-December 31

This event marks the actual ship’s centennial throughout 2012. There will be real snow every Friday and Saturday from November 25 to December 12. Attendees can also enjoy an ice carving competition, taking place on January 14, where people will be able to see the artists working with small hand tools as well as chainsaws.

Wilderness Wildlife Week
January 7-January 14

This week is sponsored by the city and includes educational programs about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other topics pertaining to the outdoors. All activities are free, and include events such as guided hikes, classes, seminars and workshops. Learn about park wildlife, enhance your nature photography skills, or gain knowledge on the sport of fly fishing.

Saddle Up!
February 23-February 26

Also sponsored by the city, this portion of Winterfest is a tribute to the American West. Attendees can expect cowboy poetry, Western music, and an authentic chuckwagon cook-off. Don’t miss this, as Saddle Up! attracts some of Western music’s biggest performers, such as Kent Rollins, Ray Doyle, Saddle Cats, Chuck Pyle, and more.

Top 5 Alternatives to the Dirtiest Hotel in America

When TripAdvisor recently announced Pigeon Forge, Tennessee’s Grand Hotel and Convention Center as “the dirtiest hotel in America,” the biggest surprise may not have been the reviewers’ reports of “makeup on the pillowcases,” “dogs urinating in the stairwells,” or “food underneath the bed.”

No, the biggest shocker to those familiar with the area in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains was that so many people opted to stay in an Orwellian concrete-facade building in the middle of a congested city strip while so close to one of the country’s loveliest national parks.

If you’re traveling in the Appalachians and plan to stay in or near Pigeon Forge, flee the fleas and choose one of these options instead:

Tent Camping

Pigeon Forge doesn’t really have anything to do with pigeons, but it does have a fair share of the Tennessee Valley’s nature and wildlife once you get away from the neon mini-golf and moccasin stand areas. Pitch your own tent at one of several parks, such as Twin Mountain, which charges a fee of about $25 for renting a pastoral spot by the river.

Cabin Rentals

Pigeon Forge‘s cabin rentals put you right on the mountaintop. Expect a drive up a steep incline past roads with names like “Boogertown,” then stay in roomy, pine cottages that rival Twin Peaks’ fictitious Great Northern Hotel for rustic appeal.

Bed and Breakfasts

Tennessee is in the heart of the Bible Belt, so a B&B isn’t the best option if blasting grindcore music helps you drop off to sleep, but for those who want to stay in small, quaint historic houses run by friendly country folk with Southern accents, Pigeon Forge has –to use the local venacular– a mess of ’em.

Themed Hotels

If you’re one of the thousands drawn to Pigeon Forge by Dollywood, Archie Campbell’s Hee-Haw Village and the Elvis Museum, you might as well make it a full-on kitschy tourist adventure. Take the fam to the Inn at Christmas Place , where ’tis the season, even in the blazing summer.


Do you really need to stay in Pigeon Forge? With the actual mountains a mere six miles away, spend the day if you must, then keep driving. It gets prettier.