If you’ve ever traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Cincinnati, chances are you’ve run the gauntlet at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Traffic on this stretch of 441 moves slower than moonshine in January thanks to the knife emporiums, outlet malls, and Vegas-sized attractions—like Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Theater and the WonderWorks Indoor Amusement Park—that line the highway. You can have your kitsch and eat it too by routing yourself through Chestnut Hill instead and stopping at the Bush’s Beans Visitor’s Center.
Housed in the original A.J. Bush & Company General Store (founded in 1897) and located across the road from their canning facility, the visitor’s center features a gift shop, museum, and movie theater. Ever wondered how one ton of tomato paste gets added to their secret sauce? Don’t miss the free, short film, narrated by Jay Bush, which provides a snapshot of their canning process and water conservation methods, as well as an overview of Bush family history. Spend some time in the museum where you can brush up on the history of canning (Can Openers Through the Years!), walk through a giant can of Bush’s Best Original Baked Beans, and have your picture snapped (for free) against an Olan Mills style backdrop idyll featuring a waterwheel and Duke, the golden retriever that serves as the Bush family mascot.
Have lunch in the café, where the menu features Southern favorites like pimento cheese and (of course) pinto-bean pie. But they also have a killer BLT, stacked with warm, perfectly cooked bacon. While scanning the menu, you’re treated to a tasty amuse bouche: their Bean of the Day (we sampled the sweet n’ slightly spicy Barbecue Grillin’ Beans). When you’re–ahem–full of beans, continue on route 411 toward Sevierville, but head south on route 416 before going west on route 321. Not only will you bypass the bottleneck at Pigeon Forge, you’ll get a preview of the kind of winding, scenic roads you’ll be traveling throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.