Backstage Pass: Smokies get in Victoria Henley’s eyes


Millions of tourists travel to the great Smoky Mountains season after season for a variety of reasons, and springtime is a particularly exciting time to visit Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas.

Over 400 varieties of wildflowers (most notably, the breathtaking dogwoods) are in full bloom, the icy winter chill is beginning to melt away as the warm sun glows on the mountaintops and endless nature hikes (many leading to the area’s famous cascading waterfalls) are waiting for you. These are just a choice few reasons why the Smokies are a “Must Visit” vacation destination in the springtime.

The arrival of spring also marks the opening of the area’s beloved outdoor attractions and musical variety shows.

Let me give you an exclusive, inside look at all the “Must See” attractions to add to your mountain vacation bucket list.



Country Tonite, consistently voted “Best Show of the Year” by media outlets and audiences alike, is currently celebrating its 25th season in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. It is offering a brand-new show to kick off 2021, which is guaranteed to surpass expectations with an exciting mix of classic country hits and top 40 favorites. Country Tonite is one of very few area venues to feature youth performers as principal cast members, with show-stopping, one of a kind, custom made wardrobes, expertly choreographed dance numbers, a live house band and singers with unbelievable vocal range. It all adds up to a top notch show that you won’t soon forget.

Chan Mullinax, who provides comic relief, reprises his roles of “Bubba,” “Mamaw” and “Papaw” with brand new material.

Country Tonite constantly changes and revamps its show, so even if you have previously visited, be sure to call the box office for the newest show announcements, as well as to keep updated on the upcoming Celebrity Concert Series. The series features household names like Diamond Rio, The Oak Ridge Boys and Ronnie Milsap.

During intermission, be sure to check out the encased gowns and suits worn during concerts and performances by some of your favorite country superstars.


PHONE: (865) 453-2003

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Biblical Times Theater combines state of the art 3-D technology and actors on holographic screens paired with live performers, in its newest production, “Ruth.” “Ruth” tells the story of love, loss and redemption through a powerfully written and carefully researched script, accompanied by a stunning, memorable musical score.

The first half of the show features a variety of Christian music including Southern gospel, contemporary hymns and worship, while the second half of the show takes a theatrical turn for “Ruth,” as the Biblical Times cast (including newest male lead, Kyle King) convincingly slip into their roles while seamlessly shifting from lighthearted to emotionally charged moments, punctuated by song throughout the production.

The menu– featuring a scrumptious smoked chicken breast, seasoned pork loin with maple glaze, country green beans and garlic mashed potatoes– is sure to satisfy.

Be sure to check the website for the other exciting productions and stay tuned for a line-up of touring Christian and gospel artists who regularly make appearances at the theater. Be sure to also check out Feaster’s on Teaster’s (, a brand new Native American-themed restaurant on the Parkway of Pigeon Forge, as well as the Grand Smokies Lodge (, both of which are next door, for your dining and lodging needs.


PHONE: (865) 908-3327

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The Rocky Top Mountain Coaster is the premier mountain coaster attraction of the Smoky Mountains, featuring four themed tunnels, incredible mountain scenery and 360 degree turns on a cart that can go up to 30 miles per hour (drivers control their own speed) during the nearly 10-minute adrenaline-pumping ride.

We highly recommend visiting during day and nighttime for a completely unique and different experience on each ride, and the magnificent multi-colored lights adorning the steep, rolling hills, make the night-time experience a favorite late-night attraction for the thousands of tourists who visit each year.

The creative and innovative team at the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster is always brainstorming ways to give their fans an experience they can’t find anywhere else, so be sure to come back during the Halloween season to experience a “haunted ride” for some frightening fun that will stay with you long after your visit…if you dare.


PHONE: (865) 453-0033

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Opened in 2008, Wahoo Ziplines was the first Zipline course built in the Smoky Mountains and has since hosted thrill-seeking adventurers from across the U.S., garnering over 3,500 TripAdvisor reviews in the process. Featuring zany antics and wild shenanigans from tour guides, who not only permit, but enthusiastically encourage front somersaults from platforms and upside-down riding positions, as you fly high over the treetops.

A professional photographer is stationed at several areas of the course to capture your special memories in both individual and group photos, and Go Pro devices are also available for rental so you can relive your ride from start to finish time and time again.


PHONE: (865)366-1111

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The Great Smoky Mountain Murder Mystery Dinner Show is a unique, one-of-a-kind, interactive murder mystery show, where you just might “Laugh ‘Til You Die.” Numerous original shows run in rotation (be sure to check the website or call the box office to ensure you get tickets for the exactly the show you want to see). But off-the cuff, heavily improvised, and slightly edgier dialogue than some of the comedy you might find in the Pigeon Forge area make the Moonshine Murders a must see for fans of interactive, slapstick comedy.

The chemistry and comedic timing among the cast– including Jamie Goldman (playing two roles), Chase McMichen and Emily Yates– as well as the sound tech, Ni Crowe, paired with the palpable energy of the live audience makes for an unforgettable comedy experience.

Guests enjoy a hearty, delicious, three-course meal, including a choice of three different soups, fried chicken, pork roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, a dinner roll and cheesecake (along with unlimited choices of soda, tea, and coffee) while using a provided clue packet to deduce “WhoDunnit.”

Join the Lukes– Daisy, Duke, and Bessie — as they wheel and deal their family shine recipe to a potential buyer on the same week Boss Boar is having his Bi-Weekly Celebrity Concert series, featuring Elvis.

All guests who correctly solve the murder are entered in a drawing to win several exciting prizes.

If you can’t figure out “WhoDunnit,” don’t to worry: just make something up, write it down and if it’s funny or crazy enough to make the cut, you just might get a shout out at the end of the show!

This show is rated PG and suitable for audiences of all ages.


PHONE: (866) 624-7185

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The Lost Sea is America’s largest underground lake (the only underground lake in the world available for public tours) and a registered National Landmark nestled in the beautiful, peaceful Sweetwater, Tenn.

Visitors and media outlets alike (including National Geographic, The Guinness World Records, which featured the caverns in its book, and more) flock from around the world to tour this majestic attraction, which must be seen in order to be believed.

The Lost Sea Adventure begins with a guided tour of the caverns, which involves a 3/4 mile walk around the sloping and winding pathways. A tour guide speaks on the extensive and vast history of the caverns, taking guests on a journey back in time with stories of Cherokees using the caverns, mining expeditions by the Confederate soldiers and shocking tales of the brief period during which the cavern hosted a speakeasy where patrons could drink freely underground without feel feeling the effects of the alcohol (this did not apply once they resurfaced).

Upon reaching the bottom of the cave, you will embark on a boat ride on the Lost Sea, where illuminated crystal blue waters gleam under the looming cave walls, and fish follow the boat through the icy cold waters in anticipation of a feeding.

Casey, our tour guide, was personable, knowledgeable and informative; plus, he will gladly breakdance for visitors, upon request.

Note: Specialty tours and bookings for private events are available at the caverns; however, capacity is extremely limited, and tours fill up quickly, so be sure to call ahead to check availability/reserve your spot.

Be sure to also check out the glassblowing shop, gemstone mining, and general store on property…as well as the nature trail — if you feel like taking a short hike!


PHONE: (423) 337-6616

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An elegant base camp building, featuring free sodas and hot beverages, convenient, scenic location, experienced, courteous and well-trained guides, make The Smoky Mountain Ziplines and Canopy tours a Zipline experience like no other.

The longest running canopy tour in Pigeon Forge, Smoky Mountain Ziplines utilizes high quality gear and military grade transportation trucks to ensure you have the smoothest and safest Zipline experience possible.

Tree platforms give you the best view of some of the highest points in the Smoky Mountains (including a picturesque panorama of Mt LeConte) as you “zip” across lengths of 800 feet, and heights over 150 feet high above the forest floor, while you maneuver through some 4,200 total feet of cable across seven lines.

Our tour guides, Drew and Frank, were hospitable, helpful and extremely safety conscious, ensuring we were both comfortable and relaxed throughout our tour.


PHONE: (865) 429-9004

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Victoria Henley, a former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” is host of Backstage Pass on iHeartRadio and is a regular contributor to