Right at the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a fine place to mark the Fourth of July. The city knows how to celebrate America’s birthday bash in style, and meanwhile, nearby Pigeon Forge has its own fun and stirring festivities to offer.
This year’s Fourth of July events have been impacted (like so much else all across the country) by COVID-19, but there’s still plenty to enjoy while practicing social distancing and other responsible behavior. Here’s the lowdown on what’s on (and what’s off) for Independence Day 2020!
The Fourth of July Midnight Parade in Gatlinburg: Not This Year
Unfortunately, the coronavirus situation means Gatlinburg won’t be holding its famous Midnight Parade for the Fourth of July this year. This much-loved tradition is advertised as “The First Fourth of July Parade in the Nation,” kicking off as it does at the stroke of midnight on the holiday. It often draws more than 100,000 spectators, many of whom begin staking out their streetside spots along the downtown route on the morning of July 3rd.
So start looking forward to next year’s Midnight Parade, when you can once again experience the marching bands, floats, and other patriotic pageantry this nocturnal procession features!
Independence Day Race Down the Little Pigeon: The Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta
Another Fourth of July tradition in Gatlinburg that’s still on the roster is the River Raft Regatta, a race of unmanned floatables speeding and spinning their way down the flow of the Little Pigeon River. Registered race “vessels” can be either handmade constructions or anything else that can float, and you can be as meticulous and competitive about the engineering or jury-rigging as you want. New for 2020, there’ll be rubber ducks available to rent for the race for $2 (or three for $5), with proceeds going to the Gatlinburg Chamber Foundation; if you happen to have a rubber duck of your own, you can use it at no fee.
Registration for the Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta takes place at 10 AM on the Fourth, with the race itself kicking off from a starting line at the Christ at the Smokies bridge at noon. The finish line is at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
Trophies are handed out to first-, second-, and third-place finishers in a number of categories, including Most Creative Float and (debuting this year) the Duck field.
Space Needle Pyrotechnics: The 2020 Gatlinburg Fireworks Finale
Though the Midnight Parade won’t be happening this year, Gatlinburg’s Fourth of July Fireworks Finale will still provide quite the whiz-bang showstopper for Independence Day! This free fireworks display, which kicks off at 11 PM, has a new twist this year: The pyrotechnics will issue from the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle, some 400 feet above town. That elevated launch site will ensure awesome views of the bursts and streamers from all around Gatlinburg.
Fourth of July Festivities in Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge opted to cancel its 2020 Patriot Festival, normally held in Patriot Park on the Fourth of July, due to COVID-19 concerns; the scheduled Patriot Festival concert headliner for this year, country legend Clint Black, will come back for the 2021 edition.
But there’ll still be a fireworks show in Pigeon Forge: It’ll start off at 9:30 PM and strut its stuff for about 20 minutes.
Fireworks at Dollywood
Pigeon Forge’s world-famous amusement park Dollywood, meanwhile, will be running its Dolly’s Night of Many Colors event from June 20th through August 2nd: nightly fireworks show that features a musical composition Dolly Parton wrote specially for the occasion, “Paint Your Dreams Across the Sky.” Prime viewing of the colorful shells and skyrockets can be had at spots such as Wildwood Grove, Timber Canyon/Wilderness Pass, and in front of the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame at the Front Gate, among other vantages.
Tips for a Fourth of July Visit to Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg’s always busy in the summer, but expect all the more crowds and traffic for the Fourth of July holiday. Coming to town a few days ahead of the holiday, if you can swing it, gives you a more relaxed interval for getting situated. July 3rd will likely be a bit less congested downtown given folks won’t be setting up their chairs for the MIdnight Parade this year.
For the Pigeon Forge fireworks show, the city is recommending drive-in viewing given social distancing concerns.
Even though this year’s Fourth of July festivities in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are being affected by COVID-19, the events that are taking place are sure to dazzle, from the River Raft Regatta to both big fireworks shows.
Here’s a very Happy Fourth to you from all of us!