Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies#8 in Best Things To Do in Gatlinburg
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.
The aquarium is located at traffic light No. 5 on River Road; a city parking garage is located directly behind the attraction. Parking costs $6. To avoid the fee, consider taking the trolley instead. If you purchase tickets at the aquarium, you'll pay $29.99 for adult admission and $15.99 for kids tickets. Discounts are available if you purchase tickets online in advance. Note: If you want to see any of the other Ripley-related attractions, such as the Odditorium, you'll have to purchase separate tickets; combo packages are also available. Hours vary seasonally, but generally, the aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 9 to 11 p.m. For more information, head to the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies website.
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#1 Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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.
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