Sharing 7 miles between Pigeon Forge TN

Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts / Blended Family TravelingMom

The adrenaline rush of Wonders of Flight, Xtreme Racing Center and the Zorb inflatable globe in Pigeon Forge aren’t the only ways to delight in this eastern Tennessee mountain town in sight of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

If you think you understand what this vacation place is all about, look again. I had to adjust my attitude too.

Explore America’s most-visited National Park

Drive just seven miles along the lovely Foothills Parkway to transition from energetic Pigeon Forge to the serene Smokies. Easy back-and-forth to satisfy activity preferences of everyone in the family.

Consider the “quiet walkways” system in the park; they’re short walks, hardly a hike, and a fine introduction for those who don’t yet know they love a vacation in the forest.

The nature museum in the visitor center nearest Pigeon Forge is called Sugarlands, good way for getting eyeball-to-eyeball with possum, red fox and lots of Smokies birds in handsome display cases.

Volunteer in advance, even for a couple of hours; inside tasks also available. “The park is a big jewel of eco-diversity,” says Volunteer Coordinator Christine Hoyer. “We always have opportunities.”

Count the traffic lights

Practical, sensible this Pigeon Forge. “Turn at traffic light #7,” someone will say to discover the Old Mill.  How easy is that.

Assign the little kids who sit up high enough in the back seat to know which light for turning. First assignment to guide their traveling skills? Count it out on the city map.

Old Mill flowers

Old Mill flowers. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts / Blended Family TravelingMom

Step into 1830

History really is living in the mill producing flour, grits, cornmeal since 1830. Show and tell, sure, but for real.

Shafts, bells and pulleys get the job done with the giant water-powered wheel on the Little Pigeon River. Take a tour.

Artisan Tommy Boullon creates functional pieces in the Old Mill Square, following designs of legendary Pigeon Forge potter Douglas Ferguson.

Dine with his plates and bowls and exquisite recipes in the Old Mill Pottery House Café and Grille.

Discover new bugs

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is full of living things, and scientists who welcome volunteers are discovering never-known-before species. Close to 1,000 plants and creatures new to science are already identified by DLIA – Discover Life in America.

They’ve documented 7,636 in the Park, where the announcement signs are in chalk. Always changing.

Wonder who gets to name a new creature? Could your kids?

Winter holiday wilderness

School break in late January – or homeschool lessons in abundance – is an astonishing way to go to Pigeon Forge. Block out Jan. 24 – 31, 2015 for Wilderness Wildlife Week.

I did in 2014. So did people from 32 states, Canada and the United Kingdom, and here’s why.

Dowsing with forked sticks at Wilderness Wildlife Week

Dowsing with forked sticks at Wilderness Wildlife Week. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts / Blended Family TravelingMom

People with a passion for the Smoky Mountains, many of them with great-great-great grandparents and no telling how many cousins living their lives here, come together to sing the ballads, teach the crafts, tell the stories while rejoicing in their heritage all week long.

Great Smoky Mountain Wheel

Great Smoky Mountain Wheel. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts / Blended Family TravelingMom

Hundreds of interesting programs. Dozens of chances to put your hands on the activity. I learned how to be a dowser, finding water with a forked stick from experts. Ever discovered that other places you go?

Unlimited is the feeling at Wilderness Wildlife Week with stunning pieces of American culture and heritage to make your own.

Plus, you can all ride the Great Smoky Mountain WHEEL, just a short walk from the event. Climate controlled cabs for winter Ferris wheel.