Smoky Mountain Winterfest

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A magical world of lights and wonder abound in the beautiful Smoky Mountains during a seasonal celebration in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

With the hectic hustle and bustle of the holidays in motion, you might have fanciful dreams of an easy family escape for a long weekend — or a few days! At a convenient three-and-a-half hour drive east of Nashville, the Smoky Mountains offers an enchanting family getaway during its Winterfest celebration happening now through the end of February in beautiful Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Each of the three, distinctly inviting communities shine bright with more than 14 million holiday lights and scenes illuminating the streets and the main Parkway — kids love the slow drive, mouths agape, just taking in the magical glow of all those lights! You can even book a trolley tour to take in the view.

Before you set out to take in the lights, pick up “Winterfest in 3D” glasses for $1 (while supplies last) at the Sevierville Visitor Center. The specs shift each point of light into snowflakes, making the light displays even more fun for kids.

Wilderness at The Smokies:
The BEST Place to Stay!

We recently enjoyed a quick weekend getaway specifically in Dolly Parton’s hometown of Sevierville. With kids, the best place to stay is The Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort.

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Kids can swim with Santa in the Wild WaterDome at The Wilderness at the Smokies on Saturday nights through Dec. 19.

Get your room in the River Lodge building — that’s the one that houses the awesome indoor water park as well as the fun Wilderness Adventure Forest featuring aerial ropes courses, mini bowling, laser tag, a laser maze, a rock climbing wall, a climbing playhouse for tots and a huge arcade with fun games for everyone in your family.  The Adventure Forest activities require separate admission to the attractions, and you can buy either all-inclusive single-day passes or ones good for your entire stay.

The Wild WaterDome’s huge wave pool makes for fun floating, and the four massive water slides are a blast. Kids love the giant Washout Mountain multi-level play structure, and nearby you can even test your body surfing skills. All water park attractions are part of your resort admission.

The resort has fun holiday happenings for kids this month. Kids can visit with Santa in the River Lodge Lobby on weekends, and on Saturdays from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. through Dec. 19, they can swim with Santa in the WaterDome. Little ones can also pop into Santa’s Workshop on Friday and Saturday nights for storytelling with St. Nick, cookie decorating, holiday arts and crafts, and more — and it’s all free with your resort stay.  The resort also offers dining where kids eat free, and your stay at The Wilderness means you don’t really have to go anywhere else, but there is more fun around town awaiting your family.

Holiday Fun in Sevierville & Great Eats

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Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas of LIght show.

Keeping with the holiday lights theme, head over to Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland located at the Smokies Baseball Stadium. This massive drive-through experience features millions of LED lights that put on an awe-inspiring show choreographed to music (tune in on your car radio). Kids will love the area depicting fairy tale characters, and you’ll want to make a pit stop at Santa’s Village so your little ones can meet the jolly old elf, enjoy refreshments and burn off energy at the obstacle course and inflatable area. Shadrack’s is open nightly from 6 – 10 p.m. and costs $25 per car.

If you’re a fan of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings, you might want to consider the newest show in the Smokies this season: Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas of Light. The show features live holiday music (a few classics with original tunes by Gary Baker) with seven giant screens projecting 175 pieces of Kinkade’s Christmas/winter-themed artwork.


The yummy seasonal Apple-Pumpkin pancakes at Flapjacks.

There are lots of dining options in Sevierville, but three spots in particular are musts: Flapjacks  specializes in fluffy pancakes in seasonal flavors; Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ & Grill  boasts succulent, fall-off-the-bone ribs (and the best pies and cakes in Sevier County!); and the landmark Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant  features a mouth-watering menu of down-home, country-style offerings — and you start things off with a basket of fresh, warm apple fritters.

There are many family entertainment options in the Sevierville area, and it all makes for a perfect getaway with the kids that’s not too far from home.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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