Sevierville, Tennessee offers a plethora of outdoor recreation options, and you can also find lots to explore indoors—which can be especially welcome news if the weather muddles up any outdoor plans. Even on the sunniest days, however, these nine extraordinary museums are worth a visit.
If the word “museum” tends to make you grimace, fear not: Far from stuffy, these one-of-a-kind places are packed with eye-popping exhibits, fascinating facts, and even hands-on activities that make learning fun. Hyper-focused on topics that range from muscle cars to crime, airplanes to personalities, history to beans, these museums aim to deepen knowledge, whether you opt to immerse in a favorite subject or discover something new.
1.) Alcatraz East Crime Museum opened at The Island in Pigeon Forge in 2016, but it began as the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington D.C. in 2008. The new museum is housed inside a unique two-story building that’s design was inspired by Tennessee’s first state prison and Alcatraz lighthouse guard towers. Taking a hard look at U.S. crime history, the museum displays over 500 artifacts from different eras in five galleries: History of Crime, Consequence of Crime, Crime Scene Investigation, Crime Fighting, and Pop Culture/Counterfeit Crimes. Artifacts include John Dillinger’s death mask, Al Capone’s rosary, several items from Bonnie & Clyde, the white Bronco made famous during the OJ Simpson chase, an FBI polygraph machine, and Ted Bundy’s VW Beetle, among others. Case the joint to find interactive stations like a CSI lab, simulated shooting range, a safe cracking challenge, digital fingerprinting, and DUI safety training. From gunslingers to white-collar criminals, mobsters to opportunists, the museum explores crime and its consequences by taking aim at criminal intent, criminal profiles, the penal system, victims’ stories, crime prevention, law enforcement, forensic science, and the justice system.
2.) BUSH's Visitor Center, in nearby Chestnut Hill, celebrates the family-owned company that produces Bush’s Best Beans and related products. Housed in the original A.J. Bush & Company general store, which was founded in 1897, the Visitor Center offers a museum, theater, gift shop, and café that serves a range of Southern dishes including the “No. 1 Baked Beans in the World” and, perhaps most notably, Pinto Bean Pie dessert. The museum screens a short film that features a welcome from Jay Bush (the founder’s great-grandson) and Duke (the dog who notoriously offers to reveal the secret recipe in ads), Bush family history, and a behind-the-scenes peek at how beans are processed. Displays include a giant replica can of Bush’s Baked Beans, a scale that reveals your weight in beans, the laser-protected book with the secret recipe, and more that detail a bean’s journey from farm to can as well as global food value. A timeline shares how the company and local community have changed over the years. The gift shop stocks logoed merchandise plus wholesome goods, cookbooks and cookware.
3.) Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum, in Sevierville, showcases high-performance automobiles from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Whether perusing the collection feels like a trip down memory lane or a peek into a wheeled fantasy, all 90 American-made cars on display are in excellent condition. The “muscle cars”—two-door sports cars with powerful engines for high-performance driving including drag racing—on exhibit include a 1969 Pontiac GTO “Judge,” 1967 Firebird, 1969 Camaro, 1965 Dodge Coronet, and super rare specimens like the 1970 Torino King Cobra that’s one of only three ever made! The total collection is valued at over $8 million and represents the decades-long passion of collector Floyd Garrett. Car Collector Magazine ranks the museum as “one of the finest collections of American muscle and stock car-based race machines!” More than 5,000 treasures with a Muscle Car theme are also on display and the gift shop offers over 18,000 Muscle Car collectibles.
4.) Hollywood Wax Museum Pigeon Forge, which opened in 2012, is both the nation’s largest wax museum and only wax museum focused exclusively on celebrities. It’s your chance to pose for photos with movie stars and pop culture icons like Johnny Cash, Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Johnny Depp, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway, Brad Pitt, and others. Displays include a reinterpretation of Mount Rushmore with the faces of legends John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin. The figures are so spot-on and lifelike it’s eerie they’re not breathing and signing autographs. Beyond photo ops, you can gain insights into celebrities’ accomplishments and eccentricities. Souvenirs and memorabilia are available in the gift shop.