TN Smokies towns ranked among most popular 2020 travel spots

Two towns in the Smoky Mountains were named “trending destinations” in 2020. National Park Service

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Two towns in the Smoky Mountains were named “trending destinations” in 2020.

National Park Service photo

Two of the trendiest U.S. travel destinations are nestled near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a new report finds.

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in Tennessee ranked among the places that saw positive traveler ratings go up the most in 2020, Tripadvisor said Tuesday in a news release.

While some of the data was collected before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism website said travelers showed increased interest in venturing to outdoor places following the introduction of coronavirus-related restrictions.

As COVID-19 continues its spread, health officials have said staying at home provides the best protection against the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to wear face masks and practice social distancing in public.

For those who decided to travel in 2020, Gatlinburg was the No. 1 trending spot. Tripadvisor said travelers gave the destination high marks for its nearby hiking, fishing and rafting options.

Pigeon Forge was further down in the rankings, scoring a No. 4 spot nationwide. The destination is known for its outdoor activities as well as the Dollywood amusement park.

“With travel restrictions in place for much of the year, travelers explored the world very differently — they took more local trips closer to home and favored outdoor spots, away from crowded cities,” Tripadvisor said in its news release.

The two cities are near the North Carolina border and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was named America’s eighth-favorite national park on a separate Tripadvisor list.

To come up with its list of trending places, Tripadvisor said it considered towns that had the “biggest increase in a combination of positive ratings and reviews over the last year.”

Rounding out the top five hottest destinations in the country were St. Augustine, Florida, at No. 2; Fort Myers Beach, Florida, at No. 3; and Moab, Utah, at No. 5.

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Simone Jasper is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer and real-time news in the Carolinas.