USA Travel

Top Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

By
Tim Gillespie
on
July 12, 2021

If you are heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you should consider spending time in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg provides three entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, providing better access to sites like Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Laurel Falls Trailhead. However, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not the only attraction in Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg embraces its small mountain town culture with local farmer’s markets, live street performance festivals, and galleries featuring Appalachian arts.  

The wide variety of lodging, dining, and shopping options, along with countless opportunities to explore the outdoors, makes Gatlinburg, Tennessee the perfect destination to serve as your base camp when visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

We’ve compiled a list of the top things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee that will fit any travel enthusiast's style.

Traveling Solo? Check out our Top Travel Solo Destinations in the United States.

Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only the top attraction when visiting Gatlinburg, but it is also the most visited national park in the United States. So most likely, if you are in Gatlinburg, you’ll be entering the park as well. Especially since there are no entry fees to visit the park!

Renowned for its diversity in plant and wildlife, and the beauty of its mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park never seems to disappoint. Hikers can choose from over 150 official trails that chase waterfalls, summit bald-faced mountaintops, and meander through old-growth forests.  

Driving along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail provides access to three different waterfalls as well as a few historic homesteads. Please advise that this road is only accessible from May until mid-November. 

Further reading:  Visitor Guide to Smoky Mountains National Park

Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community

Dedicated to the culture of the Appalachian people, The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community preserves history by continuing several arts and crafts that have been passed down from generation to generation. It is the largest independent organization of artisans in the United States. 

The community is an 8-mile (12 kilometers) long loop of unique shops and locally-owned restaurants. Over 100 artists and craftsmen are on hand, skillfully demonstrating their abilities while offering opportunities to discuss their culture and the history of their craft with visitors. Some of the techniques used by the artisans include whittling, basket weaving, candle making, silversmithing, pottery making, leather making, painting, sculpting, and more.  

The community hosts events throughout the year including an annual craft show and workshops where you can learn how to do some of the crafts and arts that they do. Finding the perfect souvenir to remember your Gatlinburg vacation is easy when you visit the Arts and Crafts Community. 

Gatlinburg Space Needle

This iconic landmark is a 407-foot (124 meters) observation tower that overlooks downtown Gatlinburg and provides an incredible 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains.  

Visitors can ride glass elevators up to the top observation deck where free viewfinders are available to enhance the scenery. The Higher Learning exhibits, located in the observation deck, feature educational facts about Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.  

While visiting the Space Needle be sure to check out Arcadia, a 25,000 square-foot playground with the latest video and redemption games.

Not sure if a group tour is for you? Read our Group Travel vs Solo Travel article. 

Mountain Moonshine Tastings

The making of moonshine is rooted in the tradition of the Appalachian mountains. Dating back to the early 20th century, immigrants from Scotland and Ireland found that the abundance of corn and clear mountain streams were a perfect combination to make whisky. The local mountains provided plenty of hiding places for their illegal stills, thus giving the area the name Moonshiner’s Paradise.

Nowadays, moonshine is made to professional-grade standards, but that hasn’t stopped visitors from going on moonshine tasting tours. Tours are offered at local distilleries providing opportunities to taste different blends and even enjoy some live entertainment.

  • Ole Smoky Moonshine - The Holler is America’s most visited distillery. Here, you’ll see authentic-working moonshine stills and take in the entire process, from beginning to end. End the tour with the opportunity to taste from 13 different samples made right on site!
  • Sugarlands Distilling Company - sample moonshine straight out of a mason jar at this local distillery named after the maple trees that were once the heart of moonshine country. Led by an expert TasteMaker, your round of samples will come with tasting notes and cocktail ideas.

Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area

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.

The Ski Mountain Coaster, open year-round, provides a thrilling experience. Riders begin with a comfortable tow up to the top of the mountain and then descend nearly 3,000 feet (914 meters) of zig-zagging, corkscrewed tracks gaining speeds up to 25 MPH.  

Race a friend down the 1,800 feet (548 meters) of tracks of the Alpine Slide through beautiful forests with views of the Smoky Mountains. Tickets can be bought for a single ride or an all-day pass.

The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway offers a bird’s eye view of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains. Catching the tram from downtown Gatlinburg provides a 2.1-mile (3.3 kilometers) breathtaking ride as you soar over 1,500 feet (457 meters) in elevation. 

Additional Reading:  24 Must-see Parks in the Southeastern United States

Take a stroll along the Riverwalk Greenway

This 4-mile (6.4 kilometers) Greenway along the Little Pigeon River is a hidden gem of nature. Benches, bathrooms, and water fountains are spaced out along the way, providing plenty of opportunities to take a rest. Walkers can also take a break on the banks of the river to cool off their feet in the water.  

The Riverwalk Greenway links several attractions and community parks of Gatlinburg. Walkers can connect to the hub of the city's trolley system and explore the iconic Old Mill district, home to boutique shops and restaurants.  

Go Rafting

Whether you are looking for a scenic float trip or ready to take on some Class II and IV rapids, Gatlinburg has a rafting adventure for you. Several regional rivers are located just minutes from the city center and local outfitters operate trips daily right from town.

  • Nantahala Outdoor Center - Guides can take you on an adrenaline-rushing adventure to the upper portion of the Little Pigeon River to experience the thrills of the whitewater. Float trips with opportunities to relax in swimming holes are offered on the Lower Pigeon trip.
  • SMO Rafting - family-owned and operated, SMO's Upper River Trip was named a Top Ten experience in the United States. Offering both scenic floats and whitewater adventure, as well as a combo trip that includes ziplining.

Grab a bite to eat

Gatlinburg is home to some incredible outdoor activities, historic attractions, and some incredible nature. Hopping around in between all these amazing activities will sure build up an appetite, luckily, Gatlinburg is home to some incredible eateries for all taste buds. Here are a few we recommend checking out.

  • Crystelle Creek - offers dining options with large windows showcasing a view of the creek below, a full bar, and an outdoor sports porch. The menu features wood-fired steaks, signature trout dishes, and homemade desserts.
  • Pancake Pastry - a local favorite that has been serving up delicious meals for over 60 years. Tennessee’s first pancake specialty restaurant serves only breakfast and lunch.
  • Howards Restaurant - chow down on hand-cut steaks, gourmet. burgers, and fresh mountain trout while dining on an outdoor patio next to a mountain stream. The menu also includes a wide selection of traditional Southern entrees.
  • The Hungry Bear BBQ - enjoy coleslaw, potato salad, and baked beans just like Mom made them. Locally owned and operated, this restaurant serves up some of the most authentic BBQ ribs, pork, and chicken.  

No matter what time of year you find yourself in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you will find that there is always something exciting happening. This article features a shortlist of things to do while visiting Gatlinburg. Use this as a guide to get you started and then find your adventure as you explore the surrounding areas and this unique Smoky Mountains town. 

Come explore the Great Smoky Mountains with like-minded travelers on our 4-day Asheville & Great Smoky Mountains experience.

Other articles featuring towns near USA national parks:

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Tim Gillespie
Tim is U30X's Thailand Manager & Community Builder, and has been living, traveling and accumulating experiences in SE Asia since 2009. He loves being in the outdoors, immersing himself in local cultures, and tasting exotic foods.

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