Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa

Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa: Old Fashioned Family Fun in Pigeon Forge
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Smoky Mountains are filled with adventures, but few offer the old-fashioned and memory building activities like the Big Rock Dude Ranch. From riding horses to touring the mountains on an ATV, there's something for everyone. You may even take home a beautiful gemstone!

- The Local Expert Team

Experience the Smokies like they did generations ago; on horseback at the Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa just outside of Pigeon Forge. Riding horses, however, is just the start of the family fun at this throwback attraction. Here, you can mine for gems (and keep what you find!), visit the petting zoo, go fishing in the pond, hop on an ATV, or explore the museum and general store. Create lasting memories with some classic adventures at the Big Rock Dude Ranch.

The centerpiece of the Big Rock Dude Ranch is the riding stables and the beautiful collection of over 80 horses. The Ranch is a member of the Quarter Horse Association and horses are chosen for their good temperaments and dispositions. After watching a brief safety and orientation film, riders can mount their steeds for an unforgettable experience. Loading ramps make it easy for just about anyone to ride without having to pull themselves up onto the saddle. Riders are then treated to a 3.5-mile mountain ride with extraordinary views of the Smoky Mountains. This is truly the only way to experience the region like the early settlers did…on horseback! Safety is a priority at the ranch and it is the recipient of the Gilliham and Associates #1 Rating for safety, a challenging rating to achieve. Helmets are available upon request.

After your ride, the family may be ready for some gas-powered fun aboard the 4×4 ATVs. The thirty-minute rides start at the ranch near the bottoms and go through creeks and along ridgelines. Exceptional views abound as your guide takes you through the heart of the Smoky Mountains. Riders do need to be at least 16 years of age or have a permit to drive.

Enjoy the thrill of finding Quartz Chrystal, Amethyst, Pyrite, Blue Calcite, Serpentine, Septarian Agate, Rose Quartz, Selenite, Jade, & Turquoise when gem mining at Big Rock Dude Ranch. Unload your bag of ore at the flume next to Little Cove Creek and discover potentially valuable keepsakes to take home. Take pleasure in hearing shouts of “Look what I found!”, “I got something!” and “Cool! Come see what I got!”.

Young visitors, in particular, will enjoy the free petting zoo with goats, ponies, rabbits, llamas, emus, chickens, ducks, peacocks, geese, and birds of all kinds. Visitors can just enjoy viewing and petting the animals or pet food is available for purchase at the General Store. The store is also where you can pick up a souvenir T-shirt, snack, or cowboy hat. Inside the General Store, you’ll find a museum with artifacts from the civil war era.

City slickers will love the opportunity to enjoy the catch-and-release fishing pond stocked with Blue Gill, Crappie, Catfish, & Bass. Reels and bait are included. Get ready for some more shouts of “I got something!”

Of course, any day filled with horseback riding, mining, ATV riding, fishing, and fresh air is sure to build an appetite. That’s when a visit to the Chow Boys Cafe comes in. Nuthin’ fancy here but sandwiches, hot dogs, snacks, and drinks but belly up to a nearby picnic table and enjoy some well-deserved grub.

Insider Tips: 
– Horseback riding is available, weather permitting, seven days a week from 9 am until 5 pm. “Big Boy” horses (for those 250 lbs. or more) are frequently out on rides so you may wish to call ahead.
– The ranch offers a variety of money-saving combo packages that combine activities. Be sure to ask if there is a package for the activities you have the most interest in.