The new year is the traditional time for recharging your batteries. And there's no better place to destress and refresh than the breathtaking Smoky Mountains. Especially from January through May, when the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area hosts an array of events and festivals, culminating in Wilderness Wildlife Week. (More about that in a bit.)
Far from the Madding Crowd... Close to Everything Else
Best of all, you can enjoy your Smoky Mountain getaway in affordable comfort within a quick, easy walk or drive of all your favorite sights.
For example: You can stay at the Valley Forge Inn right on the main Pigeon Forge Parkway, between lights 3 and 4. If you book early, you'll have your pick of gorgeous rooms and suites, including luxurious two-level townhouses and spacious rooms with relaxing jacuzzis.
Winter Heritage Festival
From Friday, January 26, through Sunday, January 28, 2018, the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center hosts its annual Winter Heritage Festival, celebrating the rich history and culture of East Tennessee's mountain communities. Visit the center's spacious venue in scenic Townsend to hear eye-opening presentations, participate in fascinating programs, and browse historically authentic exhibits. In the process, the Smokies' fabled past will come to life right before your eyes. Ideal for school groups, homeschooling families, history buffs, and just about everyone else.
Gatlinburg Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights
Christmas may be over, but festive lights still shine brightly in Gatlinburg and neighboring areas. In fact, the legendary Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights continues all the way through January 27, 2018. So, you still have time to take a comfortable tour – in an enclosed, heated trolley – through a glistening winter wonderland of LED-lit displays.
Each evening at 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30, specially designated trolleys set off from downtown Gatlinburg, then wind along the River Road (adjacent Highway 321). Along the way, passengers thrill to eye-popping LED creations, including realistic local "wildlife" (foxes, deer, squirrels, and rabbits); breathtaking winter forests; giant sparkling snowmen; dazzling, dancing fountains; clusters of cute international children; and much more. Tickets are just $5 each, and kids under 3 ride free if they sit on an adult's lap.
January & February Family Fun at Winterfest
In nearby Pigeon Forge, the brilliant Winterfest extravaganza runs even longer – clear through February 28, 2018. Take the Winterfest Driving Tour of Lights to view spectacular displays lit by more than five million LED lights. Or, hop aboard the Pigeon Forge Fun Time Trolley to see the lights & sights in cozy comfort (while leaving the driving to the professional trolley driver).
Either way, you'll witness everything from stirring patriotic tableaux to magical fairy-tale scenes featuring beloved Mother Goose characters. Not to mention towering LED-lit trees, sparkling Smoky Mountain critters, and much more. For extra excitement, visit Dollywood for the nightly Parade of Lights, still going strong (and bright) in February.
Spectacular Mountain Trails
Prefer to get away from it all? Winter's a wonderful time to hike the Smokies' fabled trails. Just be sure to check ahead of time at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Sugarlands Visitor Center to learn which trails are open and accessible. Then head out for a brisk, invigorating hike along a short, easy nature trail.
Winter's also the perfect time for leisurely mountain drives, with stops at scenic overlooks. When the trees are bare, you can see for miles, especially on sunny days when the winter air is crystal-clear. You'll be amazed by the breathtaking vistas.
When you're finished sight-seeing for the day, relax in cozy warmth at one of the area's fine restaurants, savor a mouthwatering meal, then take in an exciting show at Country Tonite, the Comedy Barn, or another local venue. Your options are endless!
And, Finally... the Legendary Wilderness Wildlife Week Festival
As winter melts into spring, the Smokies gear up for a popular annual highlight: Wilderness Wildlife Week. Formerly held during January, this five-day event now takes place several months later. For 2018, it's slated for May 8-12 at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, with related events throughout the region.
Each day during Wilderness Wildlife Week, you'll experience the Smokies' natural wonders in a wide variety of ways... through guided walks and hikes; informative talks and presentations; fun interactive workshops; special kids' activities; thrilling black-bear viewings; and loads of colorful exhibits. Noted natural-history authorities from all over America will join expert local residents to explore the region's history and folklore.
It's a great way to deepen your appreciation for this uniquely beautiful area, with its abundant wildlife and resilient mountain people. No wonder Wilderness Wildlife Week has been named the Best International Event (2016) by the International Festivals and Events Association. Bring your family or school group this May and see for yourself!
Don't Forget to Stay Close to It All
At Pigeon Forge's Valley Forge Inn hotel, you can relax and revitalize just minutes from major attractions. Book your winter/spring getaway now!
About Darryl Payne
Darryl Payne is a native of East Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. He is a web developer with a passion for building great websites. As a local, he can offer a unique perspective on where to stay and things to do while on vacation in the Smokies. To read his latest recommendations, please click the Google+ follow button.