Located just five miles north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge is literally surrounded by beauty. And although it’s easy to lose sight of the natural side of things while you’re enjoying a show or visiting a museum, you can still get a peek at Mother Nature if you know where to look. With that in mind, here are five places where you can catch a bird’s eye view of the surrounding natural beauty in this Tennessee mountain resort.
The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
Located in the newest development in Pigeon Forge, The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel tops the “good view” list, largely due to its size and location. The 200-foot tall wheel offers visitors an excellent view of nearby Mt. LeConte; and although the view is great from anywhere on the wheel, it’s especially impressive from the top. Access is good at the wheel too, with ramp access to the air conditioned glass gondolas, folding seats, and plenty of room for a wheelchair aboard. And although the view is stunning all day long, it’s especially scenic in the late afternoon, when the sun shines directly on the mountain.
Hollywood Wax Museum
After you’ve had your fill of fun and selfies with the 108 celebrity figures in the Hollywood Wax Museum, save some time to steal away to the third-floor observation deck. Not only is this a good vantage point for a view of the Smoky Mountains, but it’s also a nice spot for a closer look at the great ape that clings to the building King Kong style. Although this prime vantage point is easy to find, most visitors completely pass it by, as it’s tucked away near the elevator. There’s level access out to the deck, which has plenty of room for a wheelchair; but only stair access to the upper viewing platform. Still the view is great from the third floor. Try and schedule your visit in the afternoon though, as the morning sun can get pretty intense on the deck.
Wonders of Flight
For another aerial view of the mountains, head on over to Wonders of Flight, located a half-mile up the Parkway from the Hollywood Wax Museum. This tethered balloon measures 72 feet in diameter and can take up to 30 guests 400 feet above Pigeon Forge, for a panoramic view of the Smokies. And the good news is, manual wheelchair-users and slow walkers can access the balloon via a level walkway and a portable ramp. The balloon gondola is a bit different from one on a standard balloon, in that the passenger compartment consists of a 31-inch wide aisle that encircles the tethering equipment in the center. Wheelchair-users need to be able to negotiate a 90-degree turn with a 29-inch clearance at the entrance; but employees are well trained and happy to assist with the boarding process. And after takeoff there’s a great view from everywhere. Mornings are the best times for a flight, as sometimes the wind kicks up in the afternoons, and flights have to be suspended. Additionally, you’ll also save a few bucks in the morning, as there’s a $5 discount on all flights before noon.
Dollywood’s Dream More Resort
An often overlooked spot for a good view is located at one of Pigeon Forge’s newest additions — Dollywood’s Dream More Resort. And you don’t have to go far to find the view either — just walk in the front door. The magnificent two-story lobby looks out over the countryside and offers a commanding view of the Smoky Mountains. You don’t have to stay at the resort to enjoy the view either, as you can always stop by for a bite to eat at the Song & Hearth Restaurant. And as with all things Dollywood, there’s excellent wheelchair-access at Dollywood’s Dream More Resort, with barrier-free pathways to all areas of the property. Although the mountain view is spectacular in the day, the resort also offers a good nighttime view of the Dollywood fireworks during the summer months.
Wild Eagle Coaster
For the ultimate aerial view, hop aboard the Wild Eagle Coaster at Dollywood. Not for the faint of heart, this thrill ride features a 135-foot drop, four inversions and extreme banking. And although it’s not exactly a mild ride, a special harness makes it accessible for wheelchair-users. There’s also a sample seat near the entrance, to help folks determine if this ride will work for them. The steel wing coaster travels over 3,000 feet of track at a top speed of 61 miles per hour; and the best view is from the top, right before the ride takes a 21-story dive. Granted the view is fleeting, and you do have to keep your eyes open, but it’s definitely one that you won’t forget.
Editor’s Note: All attractions mentioned in this article were undamaged by the 2016 fires, and they are all open for business.