Best Things To Do in Gatlinburg
No matter the season, Gatlinburg offers a wide variety of attractions and activities. In the summer and fall, adventurers can hike, bike and horseback ride through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In the winter, visitors can ski and snow tube at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort. Year-round, this mountain town offers plenty of unique diversions you won't find anywhere else, including moonshine tastings and an 8-mile loop of galleries and boutiques featuring Appalachian arts and wares like wood-carving and broom-making. For a bird's-eye view of the city, take the elevator up to the observation deck of the Space Needle or hop on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram.
Updated June 22, 2017
- #1View all Photos#1 in Gatlinburg7.1 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND7.1 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
One of only a few national parks that do not charge an admission fee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also the most visited, welcoming more than 10 million travelers annually. The 522,427-acre park is shared by Tennessee and North Carolina with the border running through the center. In addition to hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, the park offers historical exhibits, including original Appalachian cabins, and scenic drives to popular spots like Cades Cove and the waterfalls on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. If you love seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, Cades Cove is a great place to spot deer and black bears. Start at the Sugarland Visitor Center to get an overview of the area's history and pick up trail maps, or head to what is known as "the locals entrance" at Greenbrier a little more than 2 miles east of Gatlinburg. Trailheads to Ramsay Cascades, Porter's Creek and Injun Creek start here, and it's often much less crowded than other areas of the park.
Recent visitors raved about the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, describing it as "a must-see" with awesome views. The one-way, narrow road can be crowded in peak seasons (summer and the month of October), so reviewers advised going early in the morning, especially to hike the many trailheads that originate along the way. Many visitors recommend hiking to Grotto Falls (stop No. 5 on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail) and most were also excited to see bears and other wildlife along the route. Recent visitors also said the Cades Cove Loop is a great place for viewing wildlife, but they advise packing a lunch and drinks and to be prepared to spend a half-day or more exploring the historic cabins and sites along the way. As with the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, traffic can be heavy during peak times.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Gatlinburg0.5 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Tours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.5 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Tours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Moonshine tastings have become one of the trendiest activities in Gatlinburg for visitors of age. The Appalachian tradition of making moonshine in hidden mountain stills took hold in the early 20th century. Immigrants from Scotland and Ireland, who had settled in the mountains, found that the abundance of corn and clear mountain streams were perfect for making whiskey. Plus, the mountains provided plenty of hiding places for their illegal stills. The area eventually became known as Moonshiner's Paradise.
Recent visitors to Sugarlands Distilling Company, named for the area filled with sugar maple trees that was once the heart of moonshine country, didn't mind the 15-minute wait for the free moonshine tasting. Many commented on the great personalities of the hosts and the service. Nearby, the Ole Smoky Distillery also received kudos for its tastings and free live bluegrass music. Many visitors called this a must-do and some congregated daily in the rocking chairs in front of the open-air stage to listen to the music. Some visitors commented on a new ordinance that requires guests to purchase a $5 tasting ticket, but noted that they received a $5 voucher to spend in the store at the same time.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Gatlinburg4.9 miles to city centerShopping, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND4.9 miles to city centerShopping, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you're interested in art and authentic Appalachian crafts, you'll want to spend a day exploring the 8-mile Arts & Crafts loop in and around Gatlinburg. Watch mountain craftsmen and women make brooms, baskets and pottery or peruse the paintings, hand-blown glass and photography at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, which features five galleries with work from local, national and international artists.
Most recent visitors said this was a great way to find special souvenirs unique to the area. Several shoppers recommended picking up the complimentary map in advance to help you decide which of the more than 100 shops and galleries to visit, and some mentioned perks like free parking and out-of-state shipping services offered by many of the stores. Although the trolley does have a route on this loop, reviewers suggested driving to avoid long waits for the trolley pick-up. Winter visitors also noted that from January through April, many stores don't offer regular hours.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Gatlinburg0.7 miles to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
For a bird's-eye view of the Gatlinburg area and the Smokies, hop on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway, one of the country's largest tramways. Catch the tram in downtown Gatlinburg for a 2.1-mile ride up the mountain to its peak at 11,088 feet. At the top, you'll find shopping, dining, an amusement park, an ice skating rink and a small zoo (note that all of the Ober Gatlinburg attractions require additional fees not included in your tramway ticket). To continue your vertical ascent, you can take the chair lift from the peak (for an additional charge) for even more incredible views.
Although most recent visitors said the views were amazing, some described the cable car ride as scary. Others were disappointed with the state of the attractions at the top, and more than one recent guest complained about the customer service. However, other travelers loved the variety of shops, as well as the Ski Mountain Coaster and the alpine slide.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Gatlinburgless than 0.1 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDless than 0.1 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This vaudeville theater pays homage to the music halls of the late 19th century with variety shows that include singing, dancing, magic and audience participation. According to recent travelers, the two-hour shows are suitable for all ages.
Recent visitors said this local theater is great for kids and described it as an affordable activity the whole family can enjoy. Attendees particularly enjoyed the "Paper Dance," a routine performed by men in their underwear that consistently has the audience laughing, and the skits that required audience participation.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Gatlinburg0.5 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.5 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This 407-foot tower overlooks the town of Gatlinburg and offers 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains. The observation deck is equipped with viewfinders and educational exhibits that detail the history of the town and the surrounding mountains. Arcadia, a 25,000-square-foot arcade with video games and a playground is also located here, as are the Iris Theater and Slice Pizza.
While most visitors agreed that the view from the observation deck was unbeatable, many thought the attraction was overpriced. However, recent guests appreciated that the admission included a second free visit, allowing visitors to take in the view by day and by night.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Gatlinburg0.7 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Recreation, SkiingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Recreation, SkiingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area is open 365 days a year. During the winter months from mid-December to mid-March, skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes and even non-skiers enjoy snow tubing. The amusement park, which offers several rides, including a mountain coaster, an indoor ice skating rink, a kiddie park, shops and restaurants and a small zoo, is open throughout the year. Although the resort itself does not offer accommodations, its location just a few miles from Gatlinburg makes it easy to find lodging. You can drive up to the resort (weather permitting) or take the aerial tram from downtown.
Winter visitors raved about the ski instructors, but bemoan the long lines and lack of tickets for snow tubing on weekends and during holidays when the demand for this activity far exceeds the available reservation times. Recent travelers also loved the views from the aerial tram and all of the dining and shopping options at the park, as well as the rides like the mountain coaster, but said the facility could use some maintenance.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Gatlinburg0.1 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.1 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
One of the most popular attractions for children, Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies offers unique opportunities to get up close and personal with a wide variety of marine life. You can pet a penguin, splash around with a stingray in Touch a Ray Bay or take a behind-the-scenes tour. A people mover takes you through an underwater tunnel, where you can watch green sea turtles, big snappers, tarpons and sharks through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall.
According to recent visitors, the tunnel, the sharks and the resident mermaid were a hit with kids. But more than one reviewer noted that the aquarium is somewhat dated and that the large crowds make it difficult to enjoy, especially with young children. Still, many families who visit often said this is an experience that they enjoy year after year.
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