Ripley's Aquarium
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19 of the Best Museums in Tennessee Smoky Mountains

The Smokies draw more than 14 million visitors yearly, but not all the adventures are outside under the lush forests and misty peaks. The best museums in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains give visitors a sample of Appalachia, adventure, and some oddities.

A hidden treasure trove sits tucked along the busy parkway with museums in Gatlinburg, museums in Pigeon Forge, and unique historic gems in nearby communities.

Whether you need a rainy day activity or just want to curiously explore in climate control, the awesome museums in Tennessee are sure to be worth the time.

Some of these popular attractions are even free!

One of the newest Pigeon Forge museums on our list might make you plan a trip to the Smokies by the end of the article.

Titanic Museum - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - Fall in the Smoky Mountains
Titanic Museum | photo via @terinuprealestate

Alcatraz East Crime Museum

Pigeon Forge

We know how popular true crime is, and you can tap into the darker side at Alcatraz East.

This museum uniquely blends the history of crime, law enforcement, and forensics in an evolving exhibit rotation that includes mob history, the JFK assassination, and Bonny and Clyde antics.

Permanent displays give you hands-on attempts to crack a safe or step into the tight confines of prison cells.

Cooter’s Place

Pigeon Forge

“Craaazy Cooter comin’ at you” at this sort-of museum in the Shops of Pigeon Forge celebrating the Dukes of Hazzard. Memorabilia from the show is on display, including the General Lee and Daisy’s Jeep.

The museum is owned by Ben Jones, who played Cooter Davenport in the Dukes of Hazzard.

Dolly Parton Experience (New in May 2024)

Pigeon Forge

The new Dolly Parton Experience will surely be one of the most talked about museums in Pigeon Forge for 2024 and beyond.

It replaces the Chasing Rainbows museum and triples the size with an immersive experience that walks you through the life of Dolly Parton. Imagine video walls showcasing big moments in her life with the story told by Parton herself.

At least four sections will open, and more expansion is planned, including a replica of her childhood home in Sevierville.

You will need a ticket to Dollywood to access the Dolly Parton Experience.

Summer Concert Series - Townsend, Tennessee - Summer in Gatlinburg
Summer Concert Series | photo via @benhowington

Hollywood Wax Museum

Pigeon Forge

So close to real life that they’re almost creepy – the largest wax museum in the nation brings the biggest stars in entertainment through the ages to a galley filled with Instagram moments.

Displays come with props so you can pose alongside Marilyn Monroe, moonwalk alongside Michael Jackson, or sing “Shallow” alongside Bradley Cooper (in wax form).

You’ll also get the scoop on the stars, from favorite foods to pet names.

Mountain Wildlife Museum

Pigeon Forge

So you wanna see a bear in the Smokes? Stop by the Mountain Wildlife Museum to safely see all the wild animals of the wilderness.

This is one of the newest museums in Pigeon Forge. The taxidermy talents showcase some of the most dangerous animals in the world, from wolves to crocodiles to cougars.

Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Pigeon Forge

The Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum celebrates the soul-stirring genre of Southern Gospel music. It’s a hallowed space where the harmonious echoes of legendary gospel singers resound.

With a treasure trove of memorabilia and interactive exhibits, it brings the genre’s rich history to life and can be visited alone or in tandem with a night at the Biblical Times Dinner Theater.

Tennessee Bible Museum-Pigeon Forge
Tennessee Bible Museum | photo via jeremyhart

Tennessee Bible Museum

Pigeon Forge

You’ll never look at the Bible the same way again after seeing the historical artifacts and hearing the stories along the narrated tour of the Tennessee Bible Museum in Pigeon Forge.

The owner, known as “The Bible Guy,” amassed a collection of Bibles and Christian collectibles. He shows them off in an hour-long narrated tour of the museum.

Titanic Museum Attraction

Pigeon Forge

What does Pigeon Forge have to do with the sinking of the RMS Titanic? Absolutely nothing, but that doesn’t stop the Titanic Museum Attraction from being one of the most popular Pigeon Forge museums.

As guests enter the museum, each person becomes a Titanic passenger on the ship and waits until the end to find out if they “survived” the night.

More than 400 artifacts from the Titanic are on display as you walk through replicas of the ship’s sections, including a $1 million Grand Staircase.

DID YOU KNOW?: Titanic Museum Attraction is available for birthday parties and weddings.

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center


Museums in Tennessee celebrate heritage, and at this Townsend location, you can go back in time to a working village with live demonstrations.

You’ll learn about Appalachian traditions as you meander through 17 historic buildings. Christmas in the Village and other special events make this a unique experience throughout the year.

Little River Railroad Days
Little River Railroad | photo via Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum

Little River Railroad & Lumber Museum


While you’re in Townsend, head to the Little River Railroad & Lumber Museum to learn about these industries’ big influence on the Little River region.

While business was shut down to make way for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, artifacts and a train engine are on display so they aren’t forgotten.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies


Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the best museums in Gatlinburg for aquatic animal lovers. It’s more than just a collection of marine life; it’s a portal to a realm of oceanic wonders.

Ride a glass-bottom boat above Shark Lagoon, where 8,500 animals await. Feed lettuce to Sally the Sea Turtle. You can also attend daily shows about penguins, stingrays, or coral reefs.

Oh, there’s a live penguin camera. BRB.

Animal lovers also visit the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo in Sevierville to see more animals.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Ole Red Gatlinburg
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies | photo via @laadylyssaa

Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum


Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is an extraordinary attraction that appeals to the curious and the adventurous looking for museums in Gatlinburg.

This remarkable museum showcases a mind-bending collection of bizarre and fascinating exhibits from around the world.

From shrunken heads to optical illusions and interactive oddities, it’s a sensory overload of the strange and wondrous.

With multiple themed galleries and hands-on experiences, Ripley’s provides an entertaining blend of the weird and the wonderful

Hollywood Star Cars Museum


There’s a car to rev the engine of every generation at the Hollywood Star Cars Museum and oodles of pop culture nostalgia.

The collection of Fast and Furious cars might be your thing, or perhaps you want to ask, “Are you telling me you made a time machine out of a DeLorean?”

Even Smoky & the Bandit and the Batmobiles from “Batman Returns” and the “Batman” TV show have a place in this hot rod hideaway.

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum


What started as a collection hobby has turned into one of the most unique Gatlinburg museums.

Salt and pepper shakers dating back to ancient times through modern-day rare finds fill the shelves of this museum that started when a husband said, “Enough is enough” to a collection taking up space in a Gatlinburg home.

Bush’s Visitor Center

Chestnut Hill

Bush’s Baked Beans now has a visitor’s center and museum open in Chestnut Hill, one of the many Tennessee museums about food.

Visitors during the holidays might get lucky enough to tour the Bush Homeplace. There is a cafe on site where you can try abundant bean recipes, including pinto bean pie.

The museum is just 20 minutes from Sevierville.

If you want to meet Duke, check the Facebook page for his appearance schedule. He will not tell you the secret recipe.

Historic Gatlinburg Inn


If these walls could talk, you’d hear from Liberace, J.C. Penney, and even Lady Bird Johnson. It’s also where the famous song “Rocky Top” was written.

It’s one of the best places to stay in the Smokies, given that it dates back to when the national park was established, but it’s also worth a walkthrough.

Tennessee Museum of Aviation


The Tennessee Museum of Aviation at the airport in Sevierville is home to many types of Warbird aircraft.

Visitors can explore an impressive collection of vintage airplanes, from World War I biplanes to modern fighter jets.

It’s a place where aviation enthusiasts and history buffs can marvel at the evolution of flight. You might even be lucky enough to visit on the day of a flight demo.

Mountain Farm Museum-Cherokee
Mountain Farm Museum | photo via wherethedogwoodblooms

Mountain Farm Museum

Cherokee, NC

Even though it’s technically in North Carolina, one stop that should be on the list of Tennessee Museums is the Mountain Farm Museum in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This captivating step back in time takes guests through an open-air museum that’s also an authentic 19th-century Appalachian farmstead.

Visitors can explore original log cabins, a blacksmith shop, and a springhouse, gaining insight into the rugged lifestyle of early mountain settlers.

The serene setting, with grazing farm animals and picturesque gardens, offers a tranquil and educational escape.

Museum of the Cherokee People

Cherokee, North Carolina

Just across the Tennessee border is a museum that tugs at your heartstrings through history and homage to the Cherokee Indigenous tribes.

Promising a “full sensory experience,” guests learn about the 11,000 years of history behind the Cherokee members that still call this land home.

The trials and tragedies of the millennia are displayed but shift to a celebration of the culture and capturing the enduring spirit of the Cherokee.

Tennessee Museums Travel Tips

When planning a trip to the Smokies, look for discounts or bundle deals for the different incredible museums in Tennessee, either in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.

Most major museums in Tennessee will have seasonal activities, like fall harvest events or Christmas decorations.

Always check a museum’s social media page to see if there’s an expected change of hours or opening days.

We recommend starting at the heritage and history museums so you can learn about Appalachian lifestyles. It will make the larger experience that much more special for your Great Smoky Mountains getaway!

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