Craving your next weekend getaway or need help planning the ultimate family vacation this summer?
When choosing your next travel destination, there are several things to consider, like how far you want to travel, when you want to take your trip, and what you will do once you arrive.
Keep reading to learn why Gatlinburg, Tennessee, should be top on your list of places to visit.
15 Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a charming mountain town located in eastern Tennessee. While only having a population of 3,944, the area receives over 12 million visitors a year, making it one of the most visited national parks in the United States.
Suppose you want to experience a relaxing weekend for two or an adventure-filled vacation for the entire family.
In that case, Gatlinburg offers tons of history, culture, entertainment, and the best things to do. Let’s take a closer look at 15 of the best things to do in Gatlinburg to make your trip one to remember.
1. Anakeesta Mountain Top Theme Park
Anakeesta Mountain is an award-winning theme park located in downtown Gatlinburg. It is open daily from 9 am to 9 pm, depending on the season and the calendar of events.
Home to over 3000 plants, flowers, and sculptures, Anakeesta Mountain, features a beautiful botanical garden, a 14 bridge treetop skywalk with over 880 feet of connected bridges, and a viewing tower with a 360° view of the majestic Great Smoky Mountains.
After taking a scenic Chondola ride from downtown Gatlinburg to the summit of the Anakeesta Mountain, visitors can enjoy a fun, family-friendly outdoor experience complete with shopping, dining, and the great outdoors.
Whether you’re looking to spend the day taking in the scenic mountain views or racing your friends on the Dueling Zipline Adventure, Anakeesta Mountain Top Theme Park is the place to be.
2. Skylift Park & the Skybridge
Skylift Park opened to the public in 1954, carrying its first visitors to the top of Crockett Mountain in the now-iconic yellow chairs.
When visitors arrive at the top of the mountain, they can enjoy amazing views of the Smoky Mountains from the Skydeck amphitheater or have a few refreshments at the SkyCenter.
Today, visitors can also take a hair-raising walk across the Gatlinburg Skywalk, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge, spanning 680 feet and hanging 140 feet in the air at its midpoint. Skylift Park is a Gatlinburg must-see adventure.
Skylift Park is open seven days a week, year-round. However, there are times when the chair lift must close due to inclement weather and scheduled maintenance. Please check the website for more details.
3. Ober Gatlinburg Arial Tramway
Another high-scoring outdoor adventure in Gatlinburg is the Ober Ariel Tram. The tram departs every 20 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg and can hold up to 120 guests per trip.
Visitors can either stop at the world-famous amusement park or continue onto the peak of Mount Harrison by riding the scenic chairlift.
Once at the top, visitors can explore the Amusement Park and Ski Area or dine at one of the park’s restaurants, cafes, or eateries while taking in all the breathtaking mountain views.
The Ober Arial Tram is open year-round and offers downtown or mountain top parking for a small fee.
4. Great Smoky Mountain National Park
One of the most visited national parks in the United States and the only free admission park, the Great Smoky Mountains offers tons of natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and a unique outdoor adventure.
The park is one of the largest protected areas for black bears, features miles of hiking and biking trails, and offers several camping options, including backcountry campgrounds and group campgrounds.
The peak season is during the summer, from May until August, so plan for more traffic and larger crowds during this time.
If you are a first-time visitor, be sure to allow enough time to explore the area. Three to four days at a minimum should be enough time to sightsee, do a little hiking, and enjoy the great outdoors.
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5. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Voted one of the best aquariums in North America by USA Today, Ripley’s Aquarium provides visitors a one-of-a-kind underwater experience.
The aquarium features exhibits like the Savage Seas and the Mysteries and Tall Tales while offering tons of education and interactive encounters with crabs, jellyfish, and stingrays.
Take a ride over the shark lagoon in one of the glass bottom boats or journey through an underwater tunnel to admire 12-foot sharks, giant sea turtles, and more!
Tickets for the aquarium can be purchased online or at the ticket window. They are good for one year after the purchase date. Parking is available at the city-owned parking garage directly behind the aquarium.
6. Gatlinburg Space Needle
One of the most iconic Gatlinburg attractions is the Gatlinburg Space Needle. It is a 407-foot observation tower that offers a panoramic view of the area. Located in the heart of Gatlinburg, visitors take a ride to the top of the needle in a glass elevator.
Once at the top, visitors can dine at the restaurant, play in the 25,000-square-foot arcade, or walk around the observation deck that offers 360° views of downtown Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.
The Gatlinburg Space Needle is open 365 days of the year. It offers general admission and group rates, while children under three are free with the purchase of an adult ticket.
7. Gatlinburg Trolley
If you’re visiting Gatlinburg for the first time, hop on the Gatlinburg Trolley to do a little sightseeing and get a lay of the land. Trolleys operate daily, 365 days of the year, and visitors can board and jump off at several destinations throughout the city.
The trolley has three routes to offer convenient access to several malls, museums, hotels, and restaurants.
- Yellow Route travels along River Road and features stops in downtown Gatlinburg and the arts and crafts community in Gatlinburg.
- Blue Route travels along the East Parkway and features stops in the community center area, the Rocky Top Sports World, and the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
- Purple Route travels along the North Gatlinburg Parkway and features stops at the Spur Welcome Center and on parts of Ski Mountain Road.
8. Cades Cove Self-Guided Driving Audio Tour
Cades Cove is one of the most popular driving loops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. First settled by the Cherokee Indians, the valley features tons of history, log cabins, churches, barns, and early European settlements.
The self-guided audio tour is an 11-mile driving loop with approximately nineteen tour stops where visitors can choose to hike to several fascinating attractions.
The loop is open year-round, with the most visited season beginning in the fall. Expect high traffic and large crowds during peak season.
9. Hollywood’s Star Car Museum
If T.V. shows and movies are more your style, the Hollywood Star Car Museum is just what you’re looking for. This collection of 45 cars from some of the most famous movies and T.V. shows is on full display for visitors to admire and take pictures with.
The most famous car housed in the museum is the Batmobile from the 1966 T.V. show; however, there are many more cars from over 50 years of the movies, including several from the Fast and the Furious movies.
Other famous cars in the museum are:
- Ecto-1 from the Ghostbusters movie
- The General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard
- The DeLorean Time Machine from Back to the Future
- The Mello Yellow Car from Days of Thunder
The museum is open seven days a week from 9 am to 9 pm. Holiday hours are subject to change, so be sure to check the hours of operation before arriving.
10. Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery
You can’t visit downtown Gatlinburg without stopping for a taste at the famous Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery.
Ole smoky has been making moonshine in Gatlinburg for many years, but it wasn’t until the Tennessee State liquor law changed that they could open the first moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg.
With four locations throughout Tennessee, visitors can stop in to taste several moonshine flavors like Limon Drop, Apple Pie, and Blackberry, old fashion Tennessee whiskey, or shop around for unique southern merchandise.
Reservations are not needed for the moonshine tasting; however, if you’re interested in taking a guided tour of the distillery, be sure to check the website for the booking schedule.
Note: Visitors must be 21 or older to participate in all Ole Smoky Moonshine tastings. A valid I.D. is required.
11. Gatlinburg Tours & Activities
Gatlinburg offers several tours and activities for visitors of all ages, from the creepy and spooky to the delicious mouth-watering cuisine. Most tours are relatively budget-friendly and are accessible by all.
Here are a few popular tours in Gatlinburg.
- Ghost and Haunt Tour of Gatlinburg
- Thundering Streams and Falls guided hiking tour
- Gatlinburg Ghost Tour
- Wine and Shine walking tour
- Simpler Time Smoky Mountain tour
- Pink Jeep tour
12. Hiking Laurel Falls
Laural Falls is an 80- foot waterfall located deep in the Great smoky Mountains National Park. The trailhead begins in Cades Cove and stretches 2.6 miles roundtrip, where visitors can hike to the falls and back.
The trail to Laurel Falls is moderately challenging, with a few short, steep sections on rough terrain. It is not recommended for baby strollers, nor is it wheelchair accessible. Bring lots of water, and expect the rocks to be slippery around the falls.
Once visitors arrive at Laurel Falls, there is an upper section and a lower section, providing several viewpoints for pictures, relaxation, and birdwatching.
13. Gatlinburg Farmer’s Market
Gatlinburg visitors can enjoy the Gatlinburg Farmer’s Market from May to October. The market features over ten vendors selling everything from local produce to arts and crafts.
Activities are provided for the children while families can shop around for farm-fresh produce, specialty foods, and unique handmade crafts made right in the heart of the Smokies.
14. Historic Ogle Log Cabin
Explore the historic Ogle log cabin, a fascinating attraction located in downtown Gatlinburg, not far from other modern-day attractions. The cabin has a rich history beginning with a South Carolina farmer who had a dream of building a home in the area for his family.
With the help of a few Cherokee Indians, William Ogle began constructing the cabin. But unfortunately, he died before the home was complete.
So it wasn’t until four years later that his wife, Martha, and the rest of his family traveled to Gatlinburg and finished William’s dream home. In 1807, the Ogle log cabin was constructed, and the family became Gatlinburg’s first European settlers.
15. Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
Founded in the 1950s, the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen has been a constant staple in Gatlinburg. What began as a modest mountain candy shop has now become the place where visitors can go to fulfill that sweet tooth craving.
There are 33 flavors of homemade taffy to choose from, including a moonshine flavored taffy and sugar-free taffy. The taffy candy is still made using the same recipe as it was all those years ago; guests can observe the candy being made and purchase an assortment of taffy flavors.
Other candies made at the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen are:
- Peanut brittle
- Pecan Logs
Things to Consider
Gatlinburg is one of the most popular areas to visit due to the cooler weather, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and tons of outdoor adventures. When planning you’re trip to Gatlinburg, Tennesse, there are several things to consider.
- The peak season is during the summer, so expect more traffic and larger crowds.
- Determine if you want to stay in a hotel, cottage, or campground, and make reservations before you arrive.
- Because mountains surround Gatlinburg, cell service is not always good. Be prepared for a quiet, relaxing vacation with no disturbances from the cell.
- Dining out can be one of the most expensive things when on vacation. Plan to bring lunch and snacks while exploring during the day. This will save money on eating out at expensive restaurants, cafes, and eateries.
- Make sure to bring comfortable shoes. Gatlinburg is full of steep inclines and slopes, so be prepared to get a little exercise while out exploring the town.
- Do not leave trash in your car or outside your cabin. Bears and other wildlife are attracted to it and will rummage through your garbage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions when visiting Gatlinburg:
When is the peak season for visiting Gatlinburg?
The peak season for visiting Gatlinburg is during the summer, from June 15 to August 15. Due to the cooler temperatures and kids being out of school, Gatlinburg makes the perfect summer vacation.
Does the Great Smoky Mountain National Park charge an admission?
The national park does not charge an entrance fee; however, there may be fees for overnight camping and activities within the park.
Where is the closest airport to Gatlinburg?
The nearest commercial airport to Gatlinburg is McGee-Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee. This airport is 40 miles from Gatlinburg and provides visitors to the area with seamless flight and car rental options.
What do I do if I see a bear?
Yes, bears have been seen in the Gatlinburg area. If you happen to see one, DO NOT approach the animal. Instead, keep you’re eyes on the bear and walk away slowly. If the bear follows you, stand your ground, talk and scream loudly, and make yourself as big as possible.
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So, What Are the Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg?
Gatlinburg is a small mountain town that hosts over 12 million visitors a year. It is known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and provides visitors with a step into history, culture, and nature.
In downtown Gatlinburg, visitors can enjoy shopping, dining, and several unique attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the aquarium, or Hollywood’s Star Car Museum.
If you’re new to the area or need help discovering the many places to visit, try planning to spend the day on the Gatlinburg Trolley as it boards and stops at popular locations throughout the city.
Now, if the great outdoors is more you’re style, attractions like Anakeesta Mountain Top Park and the Skybridge may be calling your name.
These parks are open year-round and offer visitors a complete outdoor experience with a high soaring suspension bridge, a treetop observatory, and fabulous mountain views.
Whether you want to visit for the day, the weekend, or for the ultimate bucket list trip, Gatlinburg offers a fun, family-friendly atmosphere with several amazing things to do. Book your trip today!