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The Sevierville Top Ten

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The Sevierville Top Ten
The Top Ten Family Attractions to Visit in Sevierville, Tennessee and the Surrounding Area
By Rochelle Caviness - December 16, 2003

Located in Sevier County, Tennessee near the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Sevierville has long been a popular destination with family travelers. Sevierville has something to offer every member of the family, from outdoor activities to shopping. Additionally, the city is located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, and it serves well as a home base for touring the surrounding area.

Paring the list of family-friendly attractions in this area down to ten was not easy. In making this selection the primary criteria used was whether or not a particular venue offered activities that are accessible for visually impaired visitors, and secondly, if the venue offered 'something' for everyone! The following attractions are just the tip of the iceberg of what you will find in Sevierville and Sevier County. For a complete list of all the attractions, shopping and dining options, and information on accommodations, visit the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce's website, located at:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

2. DollyWood

3. Smoky Mountain Deer Farm & Exotic Petting Zoo

4. Tennessee Museum of Aviation

5. Ripley's Complex

6. Dixie Stampede

7. Rainforest Adventures

8. NASCAR Speedpark

9. Forbidden Caverns

10. The Old Mill

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934, it currently encompasses about 521,490 acres of land. Millions of people visit the park each year, and at times the park, and the park's campgrounds, do get crowded. However, once you get away from the roadways and begin to enjoy the Parks 800 miles of trails, you'll find that the crowds thin out, or disappear all together.

There is one trail in the park that will be of special interest to visually impaired visitors. This is the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail, which is located about a quarter of a mile from the Sugarlands Visitors Center / Park Headquarters. An audio tape is available that provides a descriptive commentary on the trail. This tape, along with a tape player, can be borrowed at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. In addition, many of the signs posted along the trail feature raised reliefs of tree leaves that allow you to tactually see the shapes of the different types of leaves.

Besides touring the park on your own, you can also hire the services of a step-on-guide who will join you as you tour the park. Your step-on-guide will regale you with stories related to the park, as well as offering stories and insights into the history of the park, the flora and fauna that you find there. One outstanding step-on-guide that I'd recommend is Jim Jenkins, who works with Smoky Mountain Tour Connection. Jenkins is a fine story teller and very knowledgeable about the history and lore of the Smoky Mountains. Not only does Jenkins do step-on-tours for groups of any size, but he also offers his services as an outdoor guide.


Sevierville is Dolly Parton's hometown, and she developed her DollyWood theme park in the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge. Dollywood offers something for everyone in the family from thrill rides to craft exhibits. The first thing that you'll notice when you enter the park is that is does not look like your traditional theme park. Rather it looks like a village, with streets filled with shops, restaurants, theaters, costumed craftsmen, and unique exhibits. One such exhibit is the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, which provides a home to bald eagles that can never be released back into the wild due to lack of survival skills or injury. Hidden throughout the village streets are access points leading to the thrill rides. Unless you are looking for these thrill rides, which range from roller coasters to log flume rides, they are hard to spot. The only exceptions are the family rides, which are more noticeable.

One of the biggest draws at Dollywood are the musical shows and reviews, which run the gamut from traditional Cherokee Indian music and dance to gospel music. The entertainment schedule varies, so be sure to check out the schedule for the days you plan on visiting the park to ensure that you don't miss anything. Besides the music, another big attraction at Dollywood, for both visually impaired and sighted visitors is the food! Vendors offering everything from funnel cakes to deep-fried corn on the cob are scattered throughout out the park, as are a variety of sit-down restaurants.

Dollywood has taken several steps to ensure that the park is accessible for disabled visitors. These steps include providing relief areas for guide dogs, as well as a large print brochure on the park's disability policies.

Smoky Mountain Deer Farm & Exotic Petting Zoo

For an unbelievable hands-on experience, I highly recommend that you visit the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm & Exotic Petting Zoo. This petting zoo features hundreds of animals that you can touch, including deer, kangaroos, camels, reindeer, a zebra, pygmy goats, sheep, wallabies, peacocks, Sicilian donkeys, guanacos, llamas, miniature horses, and even a zonkey, to name but a few.

When visiting the zoo, be sure to wear casual or even 'junky' clothes as they are going to get, at a minimum, slobbered on. For safety reasons, most of the animals can only be touched through, or over, the fences of their compound. However, if you are brave, you can go into the compounds of some of the animals, such as those of the deer and goats. This is a wonderful and exhilarating opportunity to meet these friendly creatures on very intimate terms. Before going into the enclosures, be forewarned, some of these animals can be a bit pushy - and some of them do have horns and they might try to butt you in order to get your attention and they might nibble on your clothes!

Tennessee Museum of Aviation

The Tennessee Museum of Aviation is a state of the art facility that is a must see for history and aviation buffs. The museum features static museum 'behind glass' displays, and a hanger full of warbirds. Most of these are flyable planes, and when you visit the museum you might just be lucky enough to be on hand when one of these 'birds' takes to the air. This museum also hosts the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame.

At first glance, this museum might seem to be unaccessible to visually impaired visitors. However, the truth is far different. The staff at the museum is passionate about the museum's mission, and guided tours of the facility can be had simply by asking for one. In addition, normally you cannot touch the planes displayed in the hanger. However, the staff at the museum has expressed a willingness to make an exception for visually impaired visitors. If possible, call before you visit and explain your needs. If the staff is available, they will arrange to have someone give you a guided tour of the museum, and the hanger, and allow you to touch, and maybe even sit, in some of the planes.

Ripley's Complex

Ripley's has five different attractions in the town of Gatlinburg, all within walking distance of each other. The five attractions are: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Ripley's Haunted Adventure, Ripley's Moving Theater, Ripley's Believe it or not!, and Ripley's Davy Crockett Mini-Golf. The big three Ripley attractions for visually impaired visitors would be the aquarium, haunted house, and the moving theater.

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show

Food is always an important component of any vacation, and Sevier County offers a variety of dining options ranging from pancake to steak houses. One of the more unique dining options that you will find in the area is Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show. Part dinner theater, part Ice-Capades on horseback, the Dixie Stampede is 100% memorable.

What is it? Short Version: At the Dixie Stampede you sit in a 1,000 seat auditorium, watching a horse show while eating dinner. Long Version: Before the main show begins, you are treated to a live, musical pre-show in the Carriage Room. Afterwards, you file into a 1,000 seat indoor arena where you will be served a four-course meal that will have you unbuttoning your pants before the meal is over. The meals are served from a set menu that includes soup, roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, vegetables, and desert. Beware, the entire meal is eaten without silverware - licking fingers is allowed! Vegetarian meals are available, and they should be request at the time you purchase your ticket for the show.

The seats ring the arena, within which actors dressed as members of the Northern and Southern Armies engage in a friendly competition of horsemanship, trick riding, and high-jinks. You may notice that the people serving the meals are also dressed in military garb, and they also do double duty as actors in the show. The show is conducted while you eat, and the audience is highly encouraged to root for their 'side' and to stamp their feet, yell, and otherwise participate in the show. Remarkably, the arena is kept dust free, and even when they are having wagon races no dust is kicked up.

The Dixie Stampede was the brainchild of Dolly Parton, and she knows how to treat a star. Before going in to eat and see the show, be sure to walk around the facility and visit with the equine stars of the show, in their dressing rooms. The Dixie Stampede offers a unique dining experience, and they put on a terrific show. Even if you cannot make out what is happening on the 'stage', you will enjoy the ambience, the food, and the entire 'Dixie Stampede' experience!

Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo

Rainforest Adventures is an indoor zoo that specializes in reptiles, although they do have animals of all types on display. In all, they have over 500 live tropical animal exhibits ranging from African Giant Scorpions to skinks. Most of the exhibits are, by necessity enclosed, either to protect the animal, or the human. However, Rainforest Adventures does offer daily educational programs that give visitors the change to touch, and at times hold, a range of exotic animals including snakes, legless lizards, alligators, turtles, and frogs.

The mission of Rainforest Adventures is to educate the public about the animals in their collection, and about animal conservation. If you plan on visiting the zoo with a group of visually impaired students, the education department at Rainforest Adventures can probably develop a special program designed specifically to meet the needs of your group.

NASCAR SpeedPark

Fulfill your need for speed by racing a 'car' on one of the eight tracks at the NASCAR SpeedPark! Most of the cars that you can race at the speedpark are go-carts designed to look like NASCAR race cars. On one track, the Smoky Mountains Speedway, you can race 5/8 scale Winston Cup style cars - if you are over sixteen, have a valid driver's license and if you sign a waver... For some visually impaired visitors, driving a race car, even a mini one, might not be a safe option. You can, however, enjoy the racing experience from the passenger seat. The eight tracks at the speedpark have different eligibility requirements (mostly height related) and differing maximum speeds at which the cars will go. Several tracks are suited for young or new drivers, with the cars going at slow speeds on a simple oval track and several tracks have cars that allow for a child passenger, although most of the tracks have only 'single' person vehicles.

Besides the race cars, the speedpark also has a variety of kiddie rides, an arcade, a racing simulator, an indoor climbing wall, and an indoor playground. Also, if you don't want to play on any of the games, or race in any of the cars, they do not charge you to enter the speedpark. Therefore, if you just want to watch you kids race, it will not cost anything extra. If you do plan on racing, you're in for a unique and stimulating experience!

Forbidden Caverns

A tour of Forbidden Caverns offers you a change to go beneath the Smoky Mountains, and visit a surreal world where the walls are made of onyx and a crystal clear stream that has never seen daylight runs beneath your feet. Visitors are led on a guided tour through the caverns that includes a light show and stories about the caverns use by Indian and Bootlegger. The walkways through the caverns are lit, but at one point during the tour, the lights are turned out. For many visitors, this will be the first time they were ever truly, in the dark.

The tour through the caverns takes about an hour. The pace of the tour is fairly slow, so visually impaired visitors who may need to take special precautions to avoid hitting any outcroppings should not have any trouble keeping up with the group. The pathway through the caverns is fairly flat. There are, however, some uneven and slippery sections, and several odd shaped steps that you'll have to walk down. Therefore, you'll want to take care while walking through the caverns, especially if you are not with a sighted companion.

The Old Mill

The Old Mill is, well, an old mill. Built along the edge of the Little Pigeon River, in the 1800's, this water powered grist mill is still being used today to grind flour. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mill, and handle samples of the various grains that are, and were, ground at the mill.

Surrounding the Old Mill are a variety of unique shops including a pottery barn where you can watch artisans at work, an old-timey general store, and a candy kitchen. After touring the Old Mill, you'll want to visit the Old Mill Bakery Café where you can sample breads and cakes made with grains ground at the Old Mill. This café also serves a full menu, featuring speciality salads and sandwiches that will provide the necessary fuel to keep your touring going at full speed!

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