Are you planning a wedding in the mountains of Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg? As a Smoky Mountain native, literally born and raised here, I can offer tons of advice. I began my career as a professional photographer in 1999, and established my own wedding venue, Honeysuckle Hills, in 2006. After traveling to numerous other venues and chapels to photograph weddings in the early years, I kept notes on how to make a couple’s wedding day the best it could be. Every wedding I photographed was unforgettable in one way or another… I either remembered the things NOT to do that made it disastrous, or the little details that locked happy memories in my heart forever. When my Daddy passed in 2005, converting his barn and farm into a garden venue with horses (and of course, artistic photography,) was a dream come true for me. Knowing that weddings were my calling in life, being able to honor my father’s memories at the same time was icing on the cake.
Even if you don’t get married at my Honeysuckle Hills venue, I hope this article will help you plan your wedding wherever your heart is happiest. It is my sincerest wish that your wedding day is everything you dream it will be. Whether it’s your first time getting married or your next time, I hope this information will be a blessing. Destination weddings are a little different than having a wedding in your own home town, so let’s start planning!
Still on the fence between a wedding at home or a wedding in the beautiful mountains of Tennessee?
Ten Reasons a Smoky Mountain Wedding is Better Than Anywhere
- You can combine the wedding and honeymoon
- It’s a good excuse not to have to invite 300+ people back home
- The Smoky Mountains have the most beautiful scenery than anywhere on earth
- Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are packed with restaurants, attractions, and lodging selections
- There are plenty of choices for either romantic seclusion or fun on the town
- If you have kids, the Smokies have amusements, including the Dollywood theme park and dozens of race tracks and arcades
- The hiking trails in the Smokies are calling your need for exploring!
- There’s a wedding venue here to match any couple’s needs and desires (literally hundreds to choose from)
- It’s a central destination point for most of your guests, wherever they are traveling from
- I’ve photographed beach weddings and promise you a mountain experience is far better.
So, you’ve decided to get married in the Smoky Mountains. Now what?
1) The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is decide on a wedding date. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but I also encourage you to have some flexibility with it. Yes, I know that a lot of you choose a date to honor your first kiss, the first date, or even a grandparent’s wedding anniversary. But if you find the perfect venue and they are already booked, here’s an idea you may not have thought of… Schedule a minister to meet you literally anywhere on your chosen date. This way, you’ll have the anniversary you wanted. Then, schedule the actual celebration with family and friends on a date the venue has available. This way you’ll have an intimate, romantic memory to hold close to your heart, and don’t have to sacrifice for that second-choice venue.
Check the Pigeon Forge Calendar of Events to avoid high traffic weekends such as “The Grand Rod Run” or “Shades of the Past.” These car shows are usually scheduled for the third weekend in April, and the first two weekends in September. Unless you’re coming specifically for one of these car shows, AVOID those weekends or book lodging as close to your wedding venue as possible. Otherwise your guests can get stuck in up to three-hour delays on the main parkway, Highway 441.
2) Make sure your wedding venue is available BEFORE booking lodging. Your wedding date suddenly becomes set in stone once the lodging is secured, unless you don’t mind losing your non-refundable deposit. It’s true that lodging books as fast as wedding venues, but Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg have even more cabins, hotels and resorts than they do event spaces. Book your wedding venue first, because there’s nothing more heart-breaking than thinking you’re ahead of the game when now you have to change your wedding date or settle for your second choice.
3) The next thing in order is the budget. Ahhhh…. What a sensitive subject! Before exploring wedding venues, have a realistic idea of what you can afford to spend. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg have wedding packages for every budget, big or small. Not all venues post pricing on their sites, because they want to encourage a relationship with you. You may think you know what you need, but a venue’s coordinator can help you avoid the regrets of under-spending and being rushed through or over-spending and having buyer’s remorse. You can usually get a feel for what they charge by the photographic experience on their website. Some of them will naturally stand out better than others, because of their reviews and their investment into landscaping, amenities, and photography. These venues will cost a little more, because they provide a better experience.
4) Decide what kind of wedding experience you want to have that is line with your budget, and start looking for your venue.
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Wedding Options Explained:
The Full-Service, All-Inclusive Wedding Venue for Ceremony and Receptions
These venues provide the best kind of experience for a wedding with reception. Let’s face it… Carrie Underwood didn’t choose Blackberry Farms for no good reason. But since most of the rest of us can’t afford that kind of wedding heaven, there are some awesome alternatives in the Smoky Mountains. Honeysuckle Hills is my favorite, naturally!
- More privacy since these kinds of venues are often located outside of city limits
- More conveniences provided such as dressing areas, restrooms, décor, seating, tables, linens
- The ability to dress and prepare on-site at your leisure
- A coordinator is typically included to direct, plan, and eliminate wedding stress
- Higher guest counts permitted
- There is usually more room for your guests to spread out and enjoy themselves since these venues are situated on acres of land
- Better opportunities for photographers with more variety in scenery and landscaping
- Back-up plans for rain
- More parking for your guests
- Established relationships with vendors they know will take excellent care of you for catering, DJ entertainment, bouquets and photography (And it’s usually included in your wedding package)
- Expect to pay a little more, since the quality of service is considerably higher
- Book in advance, especially for venues with better reputations since they are in higher demand
Here are my favorite all-inclusive venues in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Naturally, the first on the list is our beloved Honeysuckle Hills. However, if a couple has a guest count over 100 or we can’t provide exactly what they’re looking for, this is where I send them.
This venue is my entire heart, and our family loves nothing more than caring for yours. We strive to create an atmosphere where you and your guests will feel loved and welcome. Mountain ridges and rolling hills surround us, along with plenty of room to explore our gardens, creeks, and play outdoor yard games. Spacious bridal suite with kitchenette, and everything is decorated and ready to go. Our photography is the number one reason couples come here, second to our famous horses, Sugar and Ben. Our horses thrive on posing and performing for unique wedding photographs.
I love this venue because their photographer, Rick King, is one of the best. He’s also the owner and has a heart to serve just like we do at Honeysuckle Hills. His venue can accommodate up to 200 guests, and they even offer lodging on site. One of our wedding officiants, brother Phil King, often performs ceremonies for them when he’s not at Honeysuckle Hills.
Hands down, this venue has the most majestic mountain views in the Smoky Mountains. Yes, you have to drive steep roads to get there, but it’s totally worth it! However, their drive is not nearly as contrary as roads to some of the other venues, and when you get to the top they have more yard space for an outdoor wedding. This is especially important to note, because many other venues with mountain views have a structure that covers the entire land space available to them. This means the only place guests have to enjoy are indoors or on a deck with a railing.
The Alternative to the Traditional Elopement
There’s a better way to get married in the Smokies if it’s just the two of you, or a few family and friends tagging along. Traditionally, a couple eloping to Pigeon Forge would seek out a wedding chapel or other service provider like the ones described next. However, couples are literally running from these options in droves, because it doesn’t fully give them the loving marriage experience they desperately want.
I invite you to consider the elopements we’ve designed at Honeysuckle Hills. After years of watching couples get rushed through a marriage assembly line or bombarded with commercialism, I decided there had to be a better approach. To me, marriage is a covenant, not a retail sale.
How a Honeysuckle Hills Elopement is Different
- We only do one wedding each day…yours
- Access to dressing areas & bridal suite with kitchenette any time on wedding day
- Lasting friendships with our family are often made
- More creative photography with the most variety in outdoor scenery & props
- Opportunities for adventure (bring your own ATV or take a short hike to a private waterfall)
- Photographs with horses trained to pose and perform (running behind you & walking with you)
- Exclusive privacy, because our venue isn’t open to the public
Here are my favorite restaurants for the after-wedding dinner if you’ve chosen to elope:
If an all-inclusive elopement is a little too personal for you, keep reading. The Smoky Mountains has other ways to marry your sweetheart. The options are diverse and plentiful!
The Wedding Chapel
A long-time favorite for Gatlinburg weddings, I still sing the praises of the late Reverend Ed Taylor who started this marriage trend. If your wedding is smaller and your budget is tighter, this is an excellent choice. A wedding chapel emulates the sanctity of a church wedding, and can be romantically quaint. Unfortunately, the photographers at wedding chapels tend to be entry-level professionals at best, so be careful choosing if photography is important to you. Ask if you can hire an outside photographer whose style and experience you prefer instead. If this is not allowed, ask for the photographer who has been there the longest or who is their most requested.
Also be sure to ask how long you are allowed to use their dressing rooms, and what time you can have access to them.
- Cheaper pricing, with an average of $150 to $750
- Much better atmosphere than your local courthouse
- Back up plans for rain
- Organized staff who can keep you focused and on time
- One-stop shopping for dress and tux rental, flowers and more
- Quaint, romantic ceremony atmosphere
- Less time to enjoy the wedding experience, since you’re on a strict timeline (Don’t be late!)
- It’s a more social atmosphere, with likelihood you’ll meet couples entering and exiting before and after you
- Photography by staff is exposed properly, but not necessarily creative
- Limited guest counts (usually restricted to 30 or fewer)
- Some are more personal than others, so do research and read reviews
Here’s my Favorite Wedding Chapel in Gatlinburg:
This wedding chapel has been around a long time, and their reputation precedes them. They have made excellent use of their outdoor space with enchanting gardens. It’s kind of like being in your own miniature version of the Smoky Mountain National Park.
The Cabin Wedding
Quite often, couples perceive that a cabin wedding will save them money and hassle. If planned properly, I agree, but if not… it’s one of my least favorite ways to see couples tie the knot. This is where intense research can come in handy.
A cabin wedding is one of the least expensive ways to get married in the Smoky Mountains if it’s just the two of you. All you need to do is hire a minister, with charges ranging from $100 to $300. Photographers range from $300 to $1500, depending on their level of artistic experience and demand.
A cabin wedding with reception can be a nightmare unless you choose one with enough space, a big enough dining room, adequate parking, and enough furniture for seating. It’s very difficult to find a cabin suitable for both a ceremony and reception for over 30 people. In this case I recommend a DIY facility. Some have more wedding conveniences than others, so here’s where research becomes extremely important.
- You don’t have to leave your cabin to get married
- Mountain resort feel and ambiance
- Everyone comes to you
- You can combine the wedding and honeymoon in one
- More private than the public park, but not by much…
- Neighboring Cabin Noise (some cabins are closer together than others)
- Photographers have fewer opportunities and often work in cramped quarters
- Parking can be an issue for a wedding with a high guest count
- More work for yourself with decorating, etc.
- Potential chaos unless you hire a coordinator
- Guests will linger a lot longer than you may want them to
Here are my favorite cabins and officiant for both lodging and elopement style weddings:
Dolly never does anything second rate! She has many beautiful cabins to choose from, many with multiple bedrooms and spaced further apart than most other cabins in the area. Her standards are high, so expect a well-appointed, clean home-away-from home. Don’t forget to add tickets to her theme parks, Dollywood and Splash Country!
These cabins are just around the corner from Honeysuckle Hills, and my late father used to hunt with the owner back in the day. The owner’s son, David, now runs their little mountain paradise and will take excellent care of you. They boast a little fishing pond and small gazebo for family gatherings that brings their customers back year after year. These cabins are best for elopements or smaller weddings of 10 or less. You can also rent these cabins if you want to be close to your Honeysuckle Hills wedding!
Pastor Tommy has done many weddings at Honeysuckle Hills. He is in high demand, so be sure to secure him as quickly as possible! He is a high energy pastor dedicated to an unforgettable ceremony, wherever it might be in the Smoky Mountains. He will travel in his jeep to anywhere you want to say, “I Do.”
The DIY Wedding Venue
If you’re a crafty bride with a large support group of Pinterest-savvy wedding planners, the DIY wedding venue is a God-send. They allow you to basically do whatever you want, with some restrictions. It’s similar to renting a cabin. You reserve, they provide the key that opens the door on wedding day. Everything else is up to you… but for hands-on brides who want full control of everything, it’s perfect!
The DIY venue is a much better choice than a cabin wedding because they have all the things you’re going to need for a wedding like tables, chairs, parking, wedding arbors, and a better atmosphere for your wedding photographer. Be kind to your wedding photographer… give them a better location to capture your memories!
Here’s my favorite Smoky Mountain DIY wedding venue:
From the moment you drive up to this amazing venue, you’ll smile, especially if you’re a bride who likes a touch of class and elegance!
Here are my favorite wedding service providers for DIY Wedding Venues:
When artistic experience matters, this is my photographer of choice. He and his wife, Melissa, photographed my wedding over two years ago, and I just can’t compliment them enough. I watch the wedding video they made for me over and over again, and my house is filled with portraits they created. Don and Melissa will travel to anywhere you decide to get married, and it’s an investment you will never regret. Don Fields Photography is also the outside vendor of choice for our Honeysuckle Hills venue when Regina is unavailable.
Tony has been to Honeysuckle Hills on more than one occasion, and he’s well known in the area for his upbeat personality when it comes to DJ entertainment! You won’t be disappointed asking him to DJ your wedding, wherever it may be.
While they are mostly found at our Honeysuckle Hills wedding venue, they also travel to destination wedding venues all over the Smoky Mountains. Bluetooth speakers, convenient on-line music and announcement planner, plus a crazy-fun staff help make your wedding one to remember. The DJ can make or break your wedding experience… don’t ask a friend to stream music on their smart device. 99% of the time it causes glitches in the flow of the wedding. Interruptions are not good!
If you’re a foodie, you NEED Chef Tony Catering! Be sure to reserve him well in advance, because he’s the most coveted caterer in the Southeast. Chef Tony is the wedding reception caterer included in most all of our all-inclusive packages Nothing he makes is out of a can, and he’ll also box up any leftovers (if you’re lucky enough to have left-overs, that is…)
Please, please don’t make the mistake of trying to plan and direct a wedding on your own if you have more than 20 guests and are using a DIY wedding venue or cabin. Lindsay and her crew will pull together all the vendors you need, plus give you a peace of mind that you can’t put a price on. The wedding coordinator is the single most important thing for any wedding, destination or otherwise.
The Public Park / Smoky Mountain National Park Wedding
This is cheapest wedding you’ll find in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. All you have to do is call an ordained officiant to meet you literally anywhere in town. In the case of the National Park, permits and restrictions apply, with a small permit fee. This type of wedding is spontaneous and fun, catering to naturalists and minimalists alike.
- The absolute cheapest way to get married in the Smoky Mountains
- Spontaneous Romance, perfect for last-minute weddings
- Quick, easy, and no-fuss
- City parks often have beautiful scenery, and the National Park is well known for its scenic views and rivers
- No back up plan if it rains in most areas
- No restrooms at the ceremony site
- No seating for your guests
- Little privacy (National Park weddings do not restrict other tourists from your ceremony site)
- Restrictions for using wedding décor in the National Park
Here are some links that will assist you with booking a minimalist-style wedding in the Smoky Mountains:
This is the site with all the information you’ll need to plan a wedding within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Pastor Buddy’s crew is the best I’ve ever seen at scheduling quick elopements or smaller weddings just about ANYWHERE in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. I honestly don’t know how they keep up with all of them. Ask for Jill when you call. She’s been with the company for as long as I can remember and knows all the best public parks and other locations for a public wedding elopement. Pricing is super cheap, too!
5) Don’t forget your Tennessee marriage license. The Smoky Mountains want you to get married here! Therefore, they make it so easy to get married you won’t have to blink an eye. There’s no waiting period, no blood tests, and you can literally use it the second they hand it to you over the counter.
Here’s the official link for how to get your marriage license for a Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg wedding:
If you’ve made it this far through the planner, but still have questions, never fear! Reach out to me right now with your question, and I can help you plan a wedding that is absolutely unforgettable!