* Population: 5,988 (2012)
* Biggest employers: Dollywood; retail; tourism and hospitality industry
* Landmarks or geographic features: Located along the Little Pigeon River and the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
* Date founded: Settled in the early 1800s, the city was incorporated in 1960
* History: The area now known as Pigeon Forge was once a Cherokee hunting ground and used by European settlers as a passage into the western frontier. It was settled by pioneers in the late 18th century and gets its name from an iron forge built on the Little Pigeon River by Isaac Love in 1817.
* Odd/unique traditions: Visitors can ride the Pigeon Forge Fun Time Trolley, the city's mass transit system, designed to provide a means to see the town's many attractions and cut down pedestrian vehicle traffic in an effort to preserve clean mountain air. Pigeon Forge hosts 10 million visitors per year, more than 1,000 times its residential population. To accommodate the 2 million annual visitors who stay overnight in Pigeon Forge, the area boasts around 12,000 spots to lodge.
* Fun fact: Pigeon Forge takes its name partly from a breed of extinct North American bird called the Passenger Pigeon, which dwelt in large numbers along the Little Pigeon River.
GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
For more tips that will help you find the best things to do in the Chattanooga region, pick up a copy of Glimpse, a travel guide that will be inserted into your newspaper on Aug. 30. Glimpse covers the hottest activities and best-kept secrets in nearly 100 cities across Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina and will be accessible online from TimesFreePress.com.
Signs leaving Pigeon Forge say, "Y'all come back now, ya hear!" and chances are, you probably will. In fact, more than 10 million folks do annually.
Now home to the amusement park Dollywood, a half-scale Titanic museum, a NASCAR go-kart track and more pancake and knickknack shops than you can shake a stick at, Pigeon Forge is one of the most magnetic tourist spots in the entire Southeast. And with a residential population of less than 10,000, it's even a genuine small East Tennessee town to boot.
With its enormous winter lights festival and its hidden-away natural gems, Pigeon Forge is a must for Tennessee residents and visitors to the Southeast in general.
Source: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce
Can't pass up Dolly
• Dollywood. Sevier County native and country music superstar Dolly Parton transformed Silver Dollar City, a theme park owned by Branson, Mo.-based brothers Jack and Pete Herschend, into what is now Tennessee's most-visited attraction. The park has thrill rides such as roller coasters, carnival rides and plenty of things for the kids and less-adventurous. Tickets are $57 per adult, $45 per child and $52 per senior. The park is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Aug. 4, then 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through the end of August. In September, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., then 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October. Dollywood is closed every Tuesday and Thursday beginning Aug. 13 and closed only on Thursdays beginning Oct . 3
• Dollywood's Splash Country. Dollywood's water park opens Memorial Day and operates through Labor Day with 35 acres of water attractions and Tennessee's only water coaster that gained Splash Country the title of America's Must-See Water Park in 2009 from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. It features the Brush Grill, The Cascades leisure pool, the Mountain Waves wave pool, the Downbound Float Trip lazy river and 35 water adventure slides. Tickets are $47 per adult, $42 per child and $42 per senior. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Old Mill, a 175-year-old grist mill uses classic technology to crank out stone-ground product every day. Sure, it's antiquated, but the folks at The Old Mill take adages seriously: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Roger. That's led to a series of shafts, pulleys, belts and stones being powered to this day by the waters of the Little Pigeon River and the wooden water wheel.
Six days a week, the grist meal converts around 1,000 pounds of grain into meal. Some of that goes into the dishes that are served at the Old Mill Restaurant, including biscuits, cornbread, pancakes, hush puppies and grits. Some goes on sale as fresh bread at the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grille. After a hearty serving of Appalachia cooking, visitors can hit up the Old Mill Candy Kitchen and square area for homemade sweets.
The Old Mill also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pigeon Forge pickins
• Shopping. Pigeon Forge is home to many outlet stores and the Tanger Factory Outlet, a conglomerate of big-name clothing lines selling attire at discount prices.
• Eating. The city's restaurants are bursting at the seams with traditional Appalachian cuisine along with pancake (or hotcake or griddle cake) restaurants that pop up all over the main drag, with Log Cabin Pancake House, Red Rooster Pancake House, Smoky Mountain Pancake House and Flapjacks Pancake Cabin among the most well-known.
Source: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, www.dollywood.com, Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce
Off the asphalt path
Nature trails and Appalachia heritage are hidden gems for visitors
• The Pigeon Forge Greenway Trails. A four-mile organic getaway from the buzz of Pigeon Forge's neon-lit, tourism-geared attractions, the trails scale the foothills of the Smokies and following the Little Pigeon River, offering a small window into the Pigeon Forge from the area's settler days.
• A Mountain Quiltfest. Hosted every March by the city of Pigeon Forge, quilters can submit a handmade piece for a shot to win an $18,000 grand prize. The festival offers quilting classes for beginners, and a quilt show where viewers can see the works of rookies to seasoned veterans.
Source: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism
Beyond shops and shows
• Wilderness Wildlife Week. Eight days of free activities connect Pigeon Forge to nature in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Guided walks and expert talks give participants ample opportunities to interact with the mountain environment. Runs Jan. 25 to Feb. 1, 2014.
• Saddle Up! Pigeon Forge's annual cowboy and Western-theme festival features cowboy entertainers, Western dancing and a chuck wagon cookoff. Runs Feb. 19-23, 2014.
• Patriot Festival. Pigeon Forge's annual Fourth of July event, the Patriot Festival features free admission, free parking and free shuttle service at Patriot Park. Performers take the stage starting at 1:30 p.m. Free activities continue throughout the afternoon and evening, and a headline performer takes the stage just before a free fireworks show around sunset, concluding the festival.
• Winterfest. More than 5 million lights illuminate the streets of the city during its annual winter display. On opening night of the festival, the Salute to Veterans Parade takes to the streets and kids enjoy a play area while adults can browse the goods of vendors and sign kids up for photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. The lighting ceremony is followed by a fireworks show, sending the festival into the winter months in the Smoky Mountains. Runs from Nov. 12, 2013 until Feb. 28, 2014.
Source: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce, www.mypigeonforge.com