CURATED INDOOR FUN
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sevier County Heritage Museum, located in historic downtown Sevierville, invites you to delve into Sevier County’s past. Founded in 1794, Sevier County’s diverse and engaging history ranges from the Eastern Woodland Native Americans to living legend Dolly Parton. The museum, founded in 1995, is located in the former Sevierville Post Office building just one block from the iconic courthouse. The Colonial Revival-style building was completed in 1940 by an African-American construction company and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Displays include ancient artifacts from Native Americans and first settlers, items from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II, and more. A special exhibit honors local veterans. Another includes personal items and artifacts collected by renowned local historian Wiley Oakley. In addition to its displays, the museum hosts a variety of lectures and classes.
Smoky Mountain Relic Room, in Sevierville, is not a museum in the strict sense, but we’d be remiss to skip this local treasure that’s tucked inside Smoky Mountain Knife Works, “the world’s largest knife showplace.” The Relic Room is one department of the store—that’s right, every bit of history on display here is for sale—and “it’s a whole bunch of awesomeness,” says Chase Pipes, co-owner and operator. “It’s the greatest diversity of history you can find anywhere, from literally the oldest fossil known to science to the oldest tools used by prehistoric upright-walking hominids to old stuff from the Romans, Vikings, Native Americans, World War I, the Civil War” and much more. The Relic Room is packed with 3.4 billion years of history that you can see, touch and even buy. Hundreds of thousands of fossils and artifacts represent every period of geological and human history and the authenticity of every item is guaranteed. Pipes’ main goal is to bring history to life. “When you hold an artifact in your hand—a bone from a species that doesn’t exist anymore, an arrowhead from Rome—it’s a way to connect to the past.” Pipes strives to ensure that history is accessible to all. “An equal obsession for me is to make this stuff affordable,” he says; indeed, your loose change may be enough to buy some treasures. Browsing is always free.
Tennessee Museum of Aviation, in Sevierville, is Tennessee’s official repository and archive of aviation history. Several vintage aircraft are on display in the hangar alongside some engines and military vehicles. Airworthy Warbirds are the collection’s foundation and the museum is the only place in the U.S. that boasts two airworthy P-47 Thunderbolts—less than a dozen of these World War II planes still fly in the world! You can even climb into an A-4 Skyhawk Cockpit for a pilot’s-eye view of flying. Other historic artifacts are on display throughout the exhibit hall, several focused on military flight, including uniforms, aircraft models, memorabilia, and photographs. A “Wave Wall” offers a timeline of aviation history milestones starting before the Wright Brothers. Outside the museum stretches a runway of the Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge Airport, so you can also watch planes arrive and take off.
Titanic Pigeon Forge, billed as “the world’s largest museum attraction,” invites you to experience the Titanic in all its glory and tragedy. The $25 million facility was built half-scale to the original ship from the actual plans used by Harland & Wolff. Though smaller, the grandeur and old-world craftsmanship of the original was not compromised. The Grand Staircase was built at a cost of over $1 million and is the only replica in the world that you can actually climb. Described as “a museum not to be missed” by USA Today and endorsed by the Titanic Historical Society, the museum holds more than 400 genuine artifacts from the ship and its passengers, the largest display anywhere and valued at more than $4 million. Upon entering, you’ll receive a boarding pass detailing an actual Titanic passenger or crew member. On a self-guided discovery tour, you’ll then pass through the hallways, up the grand staircase, and past first- and third-class cabins. In interactive areas you can touch an iceberg, reach into 28-degree water, and try to stand on the sloping decks of a sinking ship. Rescue and salvage efforts are detailed. The last stop is a memorial wall where you can find out the fate of that individual on your boarding pass among the 2,208 names listed.