When it comes to outdoor destinations that are major draws for leisure and business travelers, Tennessee has more than its fair share of blessings.
Despite being the 34th-largest state by land area, it is home to all or part of 12 of our country’s national parks and another 56 state parks.
If your meeting attendees are drawn to the outdoors, consider choosing one of these Tennessee sites for your next event.
If you’re looking for a meeting destination with a sheer visual wow factor, it’s hard to beat Gatlinburg, often called “the gateway to the Smoky Mountains.” Downtown Gatlinburg lies on a flat area high in the mountains with views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s massifs in every direction, particularly from the 407-foot-high Gatlinburg Space Needle, and a cable car available to whisk visitors directly up to the peaks.
Though Gatlinburg is right in the heart of the park, it connects meeting groups with the amenities of a much larger urban environment. Gatlinburg’s convention center sits right in the center of it all, on Gatlinburg’s main thoroughfare, and offers more than 148,000 square feet of meeting space, with a 67,000-square-foot exhibit hall for major conventions and rooms as small as private parlors for more intimate gatherings of 10 or fewer people. It is also connected to the W.L. Mills Conference Center, adding an additional 50,000 square feet of meeting space and another ballroom.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 800 miles of hiking trails are a short drive away, but in Gatlinburg, planners looking to add short team-building activities throughout their agendas can take advantage of the mountain terrain without leaving town.
Downtown, near the Gatlinburg Space Needle, Zip Gatlinburg offers nine zip-line courses through the surrounding forest and a canopy adventure course through the trees. Group golf tournaments take on an extra element of difficulty in Gatlinburg due to the area’s unique mountain courses designed by Gary Player and William Langford. Gatlinburg is also home to Tennessee’s only ski resort, Ober Gatlinburg, accessible by tram from downtown, making it a desirable destination for winter meetings as well.
Like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge is a brief drive outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the 15-minute drive between the two towns is enough to create a different vibe, especially where groups are concerned.
Where Gatlinburg is tightly snuggled in a small valley high in the mountains with restricted hotel and attraction space, Pigeon Forge has room to spread out, allowing space for attractions like amusement and water parks and more than 14,000 lodging units that include such options as traditional resorts, cabin resorts and chalets.
“My experience — and I’ve been here for 27 years — is that most meetings have better attendance because they bring their families because there’s so much to see and do,” said Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, a nonmembership organization within the local government that oversees tourism promotion to ensure that all tourism-related businesses are promoted equally. “A lot of groups come in for events and stay a couple days to do sightseeing, and a lot of hotels will extend the conference rate.”
The Department of Tourism works with retired park rangers to create bus and walking tours of the park, from step-on storytelling history excursions to hikes up to Clingmans Dome, the highest spot in Tennessee, as well as private fly-fishing lessons for groups looking for an out-of-the-box team-building experience. It can also coordinate with the park service for groups to hold events in a former ranger clubhouse in the park, now available for rent during the warmer months.
Several lodging options just outside the city center allow groups to hold their meetings in a more natural setting without heading into the park. Music Road Hotel on the Little Pigeon River offers 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space that includes an outdoor terrace, and RiverStone Resort Resort has 3,600 square feet of meeting space overlooking the river. The Dollywood theme park, home to everything from craft demonstrations to thrill rides, offers a theater that can be booked for private meetings and events.