When in Dollywood, Explore Sevier County

Scratch the surface of what Sevierville and Sevier County, Tenn., has to offer to discover some amazing spots where you can commune with nature and come face-to-face with a variety of creatures both great and small.



Photo by Steven Franczek

Mention the town of Sevierville—not far from Gatlinburg, Tenn.—and most people are likely to respond with a quizzical look. Even though thousands of tourists visit the nearby Smoky Mountains and the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, and most of them will stop in Sevierville (pronounced “suh-VEER-ville”) only if they want to do some outlet shopping or grab a bite to eat in an upscale dining establishment.

But if you just scratch the surface of what Sevierville has to offer, and that surface largely comprises miniature golf courses and discounted clothing, plus move into Sevier County, you’ll discover some amazing spots where you can commune with nature and come face-to-face with a variety of creatures both great and small.

Next door to the Nascar Cafe, the RainForest Adventures Zoo houses more than 600 animals. Boasting some pretty exotic creatures, such as sugar gliders, serval, coatimundi and the red-eyed tree frog, to name but a few, RAZ started as a showcase for reptiles. These days, the zoo belongs to a group that facilitates trades between zoos so as to help with breeding-in-captivity programs. A 10,000-foot walk-through aviary surrounds you with winged creatures, and cards detailing the species’ natural habitats add helpful context. For instance: Did you know a chinchilla can jump as high as 5 feet into the air? Or that the African serval has 20 different muscles in each ear? The highlight for many visitors is an introduction to the African porcupines, which are just as lovable as they are dangerous-looking.

There’s something very special and sweet about Dollywood, an homage to the “country life” of Dolly Parton lore and situated near the mountains she adores. Along with its stupendous rides and high-quality entertainment, Dollywood also offers a show tailor-made for animal lovers.

Overseen by the American Eagle Foundation, “Wings of America: Birds of Prey” takes place in an indoor theater, where audiences are wowed by the aerial acrobatics of a variety of raptors, including owls, hawks, vultures, and eagles. The foundation is authorized to possess birds for education, exhibition, rehabilitation, and breeding under special permits from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, so the birds in captivity are all handled with great care.

But the show is only part of the story; the Dollywood complex includes not only the theater, but also the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, an eagle breeding and rehabilitation facility, and an eagle medical clinic and nursery, which is not open to the public. The Eagle complex is a cooperative effort between the foundation and Dollywood, and the sanctuary itself houses non-releasable bald eagles in 1.5-million-cubic-foot aviary. Additionally, the nearby Breeding and Rehabilitation Center has been the home of numerous bald and golden eaglets that have been hatched by permanent resident birds, then released into the wild.

Behind the Oak Tree Lodge, Five Oaks Riding Stables offers short trail rides perfect for riders age 6 and up. Regardless of age or ability, you’ll be paired up with a horse reflective of your riding prowess, then head off into a wooded area just behind the parkway. A guide will entertain you with tales of the local mountains and a brief history of the area before Dolly’s “Wood” came to town, all to be enjoyed from the comfort of your leather saddle.

At Smoky Mountain Llama Treks, you’ll be introduced to llamas and alpacas while simultaneously discovering the local flora of the Smokies. You’ll also learn fascinating facts about those two-toed animals as you cross over streams and follow the trail through a wooded forest blooming with wildflowers in vibrant purples and yellows. For a real immersion in the llama experience, the outfitter coordinates overnight treks into the nearby Pisgah National Forest and surrounding area.

Simply put, Circle G Ranch Camel Safari is one odd offering. Who’d have thought that in the middle of Tennessee you could find a place to climb atop an enormous ungulate? Though technically not in Sevierville (the Circle G is in Strawberry Plains), you’ll still feel like you’re miles from anyplace else as you enter the compound—which also sports a drive-through animal and a petting zoo with more than 30 species of animals on display. If you opt to take a camelback ride, be assured that it will be leisurely. Camels don’t like to run.

And that’s a great way to think about a trip to Sevierville and environs: Go ahead and, like a camel, ramble slowly through the area. There’s so much to see beyond those typical tourist attractions.



RainForest Adventures Zoo: 109 Nascar Drive, Sevierville, 865-428-4091, RFAdventures.com.

Dollywood: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, 865-428-9488, dollywood.com

Smoky Mountain Llama Treks: 640 Padgett Mill Road, Cosby, 423-487-0600, SmokyMountainLlamaTreks.com.

Circle G Ranch: 831 Thorngrove Pike, Strawberry Plains, 865-932-0070, www.CircleGRanchEvent.com.

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