Gatlinburg is one of the top destinations in the United States, and for a good reason. There’s something for just about anyone there. It’s great for singles, couples, and families, from the youngest visitors to the elderly.
Because there’s so much to do in Gatlinburg, developing a game plan is best long before you leave. You want to make sure you get the most out of your trip.
While there are things to do year-round, certain times of the year may give you more of the type of vacation you want. Below, we’ll help you figure out some of the best and worst times to visit Gatlinburg and some fun things to do while you’re there.
Why You Should Visit Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg offers a variety of fun things to do. From hiking in the mountains to unique shopping, excellent dining experiences, and family fun stops, you’re sure to stay busy for your entire stay.
Gatlinburg is home to the Smoky Mountains, and much of the area is set up like a quaint mountain village. There are hiking areas, mountains, and whitewater rafting for those seeking outdoor adventures.
Ober Gatlinburg is open in the winter for skiing and ice skating and year-round for its famous Alpine slide. Or, ride a chairlift to Anakeesta, an outdoor adventure center high in the mountains. For tamer activities, consider browsing the shops downtown.
The area is known for its homemade saltwater taffy. You can also try one of the area’s many unique restaurants, including The Pancake Pantry. Dolly Parton’s Stampede is nearby if you’d like a show with your dinner.
Overall Best Time to Visit Gatlinburg
Overall, the best time to visit Gatlinburg is in the fall, especially between mid-September and early November.
By mid-September, the daily temperatures are cooling off to highs in the low 70s and dropping to the 60s by October. Evening temperatures are chilly but not freezing. Gatlinburg’s fall weather is nearly perfect.
It’s warm enough to spend your days outside but not so hot that you’re sweltering. The evenings are cool, but not so cold that you can’t get out. The temperatures create the perfect atmosphere for a cozy yet lively vacation.
One of the significant draws of Gatlinburg in the fall is the changing of the leaves. The mountains are beautiful when the surrounding wooded areas are covered in red, yellow, and orange foliage. Just a drive into the mountains can be remarkable.
During the fall, the area is decorated for Halloween. There’s also a Harvest Festival along the strip. Many shops on the main strip offer trick-or-treating, which can be fun for families with kids.
If you visit in late fall, you can experience some Christmas events. The main road is decked out with festive trees and lights. There are light tours and a Christmas parade. Anakeesta’s Astra Lumina is a night walk through the stars that will enhance your family.
The only drawback to fall is that it’s one of the most crowded seasons. People come from all over to see the changing leaves, so you can expect to deal with crowds. If you go earlier in the season, the crowds can be lighter. If you don’t mind a few extra people, then fall is the best time to visit Gatlinburg.
Cheapest Time to Visit Gatlinburg
Like every other popular vacation destination, a trip to Gatlinburg can be costly. It’s a tourist town, so you can expect to pay tourist prices. Fall, mid-spring, summer, and Christmas are among the most expensive times to visit.
If you want to visit Gatlinburg on a budget, then your best bet is to go during the off-season. January and February are considered the off-season. March and May are also among the more affordable times to go.
January and February are the cheapest times to visit. The highs are usually in the 40s or low 50s, but you can expect freezing temperatures at night. It’s pretty cold, but you can get a good deal on a cabin rental.
Winter is the best time to save money if you don’t mind braving the cold or want a cozy vacation with beautiful views. March or May are good options if you want to go when it’s warmer.
You’ll avoid the spring break and summer crowds without having to freeze. Hotels will also be at some of their lowest prices of the year, although higher than you’ll find in January or February.
You can expect low crowds during January and February. The cold is enough to drive out a lot of tourists. You may be colder, but you won’t have to wait as long to get into restaurants or visit most of the attractions.
Crowds are a light higher in March and May due to the warmer weather. However, many people don’t travel in May as it’s the last month of school.
Least Busy Time to Visit Gatlinburg
If the crowds in Gatlinburg are too overwhelming, you may not get to enjoy your trip as much as you’d like. You may face long waits at restaurants and attractions. The sheer amount of people may take away from the area’s breathtaking natural beauty.
January through March will see the least crowds. Fortunately, Gatlinburg’s least busy times are also its cheapest. January and February are the coldest months, and most people vacationing at this time either opt for someplace with better snow for skiing or a warm destination.
While you won’t find the town empty, it’ll be much more manageable than during the peak season. January through March may give you a more relaxing and affordable vacation if you don’t mind the cold.
Worst Time to Visit Gatlinburg
All seasons in Gatlinburg have their positives and negatives. As with many family destinations, summer is one of the worst times to visit Gatlinburg. The crowds are heavy because kids are out of school, and it’s the only time some people can visit.
The weather makes summer one of the worst times to visit Gatlinburg. While you may get lucky and visit on a cool week, the heat will likely be sweltering. It can get into the 80s and beyond during the day.
When added to the crowds, it can make for a grueling vacation. Fortunately, the nights are cooler. Your vacation will be more bearable if you can spend your mornings and evenings sightseeing.
During the middle of the day, when the heat is at its worst, you can head back to the hotel pool, hit up the aquarium, take a long lunch, or do some indoor shopping.
The crowds can be a problem in Gatlinburg during the summer. Families pour in while their kids are on school vacations. You can expect longer waits for attractions and restaurants. Walking the main strip can be a pain as the sidewalks are narrow.
Summer Isn’t a Dealbreaker
That said, if summer is the only time you can visit, don’t be deterred. You can still have plenty of fun, even in the heat and crowds.
You may just have to go a little slower and wait a little longer. You can plan your activities for early mornings and evenings. If the heat gets too much, you can always escape into the mountains.
Things to Consider
Now that you know the perfect time to visit, are you ready to start planning your trip to Gatlinburg? Below are a few important things to know before you go:
- Pack for different types of weather. The temperatures in Gatlinburg can change quite dramatically from day to night, especially in the spring, summer, and fall. You’ll want to pack jackets and sweaters so that you can dress in layers as needed.
- Don’t forget a stroller. There are a lot of hills in Gatlinburg, and you’ll do a lot of walking. If you have small kids, you’ll want to pack a stroller. Go for an all-terrain stroller if you plan on hitting up some outdoor attractions.
- Choose your hotel carefully. Gatlinburg is a highly walkable area. However, if your hotel is too far away, you’ll either be walking a good distance to get into town or paying for parking. Try to get a hotel close to town. You may also consider taking the trolley, as it’s cheaper than paying for parking.
- Samples, samples, samples. Many of the specialty shops offer samples. You can get fudge and other candy samples at many of the candy shops. Moonshine and whiskey distilleries and wine stores offer free sample flights as well.
- Start early in the day. The area gets crowded quickly. If you want to eat at the coveted Pancake Pantry, you should get there close to 7 AM when they open. Otherwise, you may be waiting in line for hours. Attractions also fill up quickly. Some of the specialty shops close early, so be sure to hit them up before it gets too late.
- Check online for discounts. Most of the museums and attractions in the area charge an entrance fee. You can often get a discount if you purchase your tickets online.
- Book early. If you plan on visiting during one of the peak seasons, you’ll have a better chance of getting a good hotel if you book as early as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have some questions about Gatlinburg and the best times to visit? We have answers!
Should I go to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are neighboring towns in the Great Smoky Mountains. The two are around five miles apart, and the drive between the two takes 15-20 minutes. There are a few major differences between the two.
Gatlinburg is a quaint mountain village with small shops, charming restaurants, and wine/whiskey tastings. It’s easily walkable. Pigeon Forge has many tourist attractions, including Dollywood, dinner shows, family activity centers, and museums.
Because the two are so close, most people opt to spend time in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. You rent a hotel or cabin in either one and easily drive between the two.
How many days do you need for a Gatlinburg trip?
One of the best things about Gatlinburg is that you can have a wonderful weekend trip or spend a week or more. You’ll never run out of things to do. If you just want to check out the landscape, walk the village, and try out a couple of restaurants, you can have a great trip in just two or three days.
If you want the full experience, including visiting some of the mountain areas outside of the city, like Clingmans Dome and Cades Cove, and taking in some of the attractions in Pigeon Forge, then you may want to consider five to seven days.
When is Gatlinburg’s off season?
Gatlinburg doesn’t have much of an off-season, but January and February see the lowest crowds. These months tend to be cold and dreary. The excitement and festivities of the holidays are over, so there isn’t as much to compel people into the cold.
While Gatlinburg does get some snow, people who want a “snow” vacation that allows for skiing, sledding, and snowball fights, tend to visit other places. Gatlinburg snowfall typically isn’t heavy enough for these types of activities.
Is it worth visiting Gatlinburg?
A visit to Gatlinburg is definitely worth the trip. It’s family-oriented, but there are plenty of fun things for couples and singles as well. There’s so much to do in Gatlinburg that you can have almost any type of vacation you want.
Most people have a great time visiting Gatlinburg. The park had over 14 million visitors in 2021. People like the eclectic opportunities offered by the area. Few locations have as many outdoor activities along with special dining experiences and family-friendly attractions.
Some people may find it a little too tourist-oriented, but your trip is what you make of it. If you’re up for scenic views and kitschy-but-fun attractions, you’re sure to have a great time.
What are the best things to do in Gatlinburg?
One of the best things about Gatlinburg is the sheer number of things you can do there. While the scenic views and rustic cabins make it possible for you to have a laid-back vacation, you’ll always have fun activities if your family always needs to be doing something.
There are plenty of activities for those seeking outdoor adventure. For example, you can hike through Smoky Mountain National Park or take a spin around an alpine rollercoaster.
If you’re traveling with young kids, there’s an aquarium, several amusement parks with rides for smaller guests, and several larger-than-life candy stores.
Singles and couples will enjoy fun dining experiences like The Peddler or Howard’s Restaurant on the river. In addition, there are distilleries and breweries nearby with tours and complimentary tastings.
So What’s the Best Time to Visit Gatlinburg?
Overall, the fall is the best time to visit Gatlinburg. You’ll get to see the fall colors and experience fun holiday events. The crowds can be heavy, but the sights and perfect weather far outweigh a few extra people.
So what are you waiting for — book a trip and check it out!