The Ultimate Guide To Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg, a quaint mountain resort town with a wealth of natural scenery & family-friendly attractions!
Gatlinburg, located near the northern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, serves as a gateway to the Park for many, but the town with a plethora of family-friendly attractions is a destination on its own!
Gatlinburg, located in east-central Tennessee right outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Tennessee and North Carolina state border, is a small picturesque mountain town surrounded by lush mountain ridges! The town’s several resorts, hotels, and cabins serve as a base for many visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the city of Gatlinburg has a lot more to offer, including observation decks, aerial gondolas, museums, amusement parks, an aquarium, many shows, and several shops and eateries!
The history of this bustling resort town dates back to the 19th century when Gatlinburg was known as White Oaks Flats due to the abundant white oak trees found in the area, and before the permanent settlers arrived in the area, it was mostly used by Native American hunters. The Ogle family from South Carolina were the first settlers in the region and later followed by several other pioneer settlers due to the boom in the lumber industry in the area. However, to protect the area’s natural scenery, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was soon established, which turned Gatlinburg and its neighboring town, Pigeon Forge, into a popular tourist destination.
Undeniably, Smoky Mountains is a must-see if it’s your first trip to Gatlinburg, but a trip to Gatlinburg is incomplete without exploring the several other attractions of the town!
The majority of tourists go to Gatlinburg to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which requires a minimum of two days. However, I strongly suggest that if you’re in the town of Gatlinburg, do plan on spending an additional couple of days exploring the several attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Though this article is about Gatlinburg and most of the time, Gatlinburg is in the limelight, the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge is equally charming and also features quite a few popular attractions, which I have included in this travel guide to Gatlinburg.
Here is my ultimate guide to Gatlinburg, featuring essential trip-planning information, things to do, Gatlinburg attractions map, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants in Gatlinburg!
Planning Your Trip To Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is a year-round destination; summer’s great for outdoor activities, fall brings spectacular fall colors, and winters with mild temperatures and a little snow is a great way to beat the crowd at the Gatlinburg!
Best Time To Visit Gatlinburg: Summer and fall are the peak seasons in Gatlinburg, with the highest visitation occurring in the months of June through October. While summer months are great for outdoor activities and sightseeing, the gorgeous fall foliage in October is a huge draw and brings a ton of visitors to the city. However, summer and early fall are also the busiest seasons in Gatlinburg, and you may experience extended wait times at the Smoky Mountain Park entrances and other attractions in the town. So visiting Gatlinburg during the shoulder months, November through May, is a great way to beat the crowds at Gatlinburg. However, if visiting the Smoky Mountains is the primary purpose of your trip to Gatlinburg, you must know that some sections of the Smoky Mountains remain closed during the winter months.
Time Required At Gatlinburg: If you plan on visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and also exploring the town of Gatlinburg, I recommend spending a minimum of four days, as visiting Smokies requires at least a couple of days, and to see the major highlights of the town of Gatlinburg, you would need an additional two days. If you’re visiting only Gatlinburg, two days are sufficient to visit most of the attractions in Gatlinburg and the nearby town of Pigeon Forge. However, if you’ve more time, you could spend an entire week hiking, tubing, visiting museums, amusement parks, and watching shows in the charming mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Getting To Gatlinburg: Gatlinburg, located in the southeastern US, is pretty far from all the major international airports, making the regional and domestic airports the best choice to get to the town. There’s no direct Amtrak train service to Gatlinburg, but Greyhound offers bus services to Knoxville, Tennessee, which is just 35 miles from Gatlinburg.
- Flight: The McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), Knoxville, Tennessee, about 42 miles from Gatlinburg, and the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), Asheville, North Carolina, around 85 miles from Gatlinburg, are the closest major domestic airports to the town of Gatlinburg. The international airports are pretty far from Gatlinburg and require a good amount of driving – Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Charlotte, North Carolina, approximately 190 miles from Gatlinburg, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 205 miles from Gatlinburg.
- Train: There’re no direct Amtrak train services to Gatlinburg, and the closest Amtrak station to town is located in Greenville, South Carolina, approximately 135 miles from Gatlinburg.
- Bus: The closest Greyhound bus stop near Gatlinburg is located about 35 miles from Gatlinburg in Knoxville, Tennessee, where you could rent a car and drive to the Gatlinburg.
Transportation & Parking In Gatlinburg: Parking is not a problem in Gatlinburg as most resorts, hotels, attractions, and even the Great Smoky Mountain National Park has ample parking spaces. However, there’s a ton of traffic in the Smokies during the peak seasons, so it’s a good idea to get an early start and hitting the popular vista points early in the day. Though Gatlinburg offers a Trolley System serving the town of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, I recommend renting a car when visiting Gatlinburg.
Lodging & Dining In Gatlinburg: Gatlinburg, being a resort town and a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers plentiful lodging options, including resorts, hotels, cabins, and bread and breakfasts. The town also features several dining options, including fine dining, lively local eateries, and dinner shows which I have reviewed in detail in the later section of the post.
Things To Do In Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg Attractions Map
Unquestionably, if it’s your first trip to Gatlinburg, you must visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, Gatlinburg and its neighboring town of Pigeon Forge, featuring several great family-friendly attractions, including several museums, theme parks, and spectacular dinner shows, are a destination on its own! With so many options, it often becomes challenging to pick one over the other, and so I recommend spending a couple of days exploring the Smoky Mountains and a couple more enjoying the attractions and the charm of Gatlinburg. The other option is to make multiple trips to Gatlinburg, one trip to just explore the Smokies and a second trip to explore the quaint mountain towns for Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Here’re the must-see places on a trip to Gatlinburg, listed south to north, including the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Gatlinburg, located on the northern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, serves as a gateway to the Smokies! If it’s your first trip to Gatlinburg, you must visit the Smoky Mountains, which is a world of beautiful nature featuring spectacular mountain vistas, historic sites, waterfalls, hiking trails, and a diverse variety of flora and fauna!
Ober Gatlinburg, a mountaintop amusement park accessible via an enclosed scenic glass gondola ride, features several family-friendly activities, including summer tubing, coaster rides, ice bumper cars, alpine slides, scenic chairlifts, mini-golf, ice skating, and shopping and dining. Ober Gatlinburg is open year-round and is an enjoyable place for all age groups!
Hollywood Star Cars Museum
Hollywood Star Cars Museum
Hollywood Star Cars Museum, showcasing several real cars used in Hollywood movies and TV series, is a unique museum and one of the most popular attractions of Gatlinburg! The museum’s fascinating car collection includes – the Fast and Furious Collection, Michael Jackson’s Mercedes-Benz, and Two Batmobiles from the popular Batman TV Show.
Gatlinburg Space Needle
Gatlinburg Space Needle
Gatlinburg’s iconic Space Needle is a 400 feet towering observation deck, accessible via an elevator, features spectacular views of the city and the Smoky Mountains. The Space Needle also features a gaming arcade and the Slice Pizza Bakery offering Italian delicacies and is open year-round.
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
SkyLift Park, another great way to enjoy Gatlinburg’s alpine scenery, features a chairlift taking visitors atop the Crockett Mountain, where you’re greeted with phenomenal views of the city and the Smoky Mountains, and can walk the SkyBridge, which is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the US with see-through glass panels.
Anakeesta, one of Gatlinburg’s most beloved amusement parks, features a myriad of fun-filled family activities, including the AnaVista observation tower, a mountain coaster, a zipline, a scenic gondola ride, a treetop skywalk, and several dining and shopping options, catering to all age groups and interests.
Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Gatlinburg is home to eight unique and fascinating Ripley’s attractions, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, 5D Moving Theater, Haunted Adventure, Marvelous Mirror Maze, Guinness World Records Adventure, two fully themed mini-golf courses, and the most popular of all, the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
The Island in Pigeon Forge
The Island in Pigeon Forge
The Island in Pigeon Forge, located just 10 miles from Gatlinburg in the town of Pigeon Forge, is a family fun center bustling with several eateries, shops, rides, a ropes course, a musical fountain, and the iconic Great Smoky Mountain Wheel. The Island in Pigeon Forge is a great place to spend the day, however, with colorful lights, the place comes to life at night.
Hollywood Wax Museum
Hollywood Wax Museum
Pigeon Forge’s Hollywood Wax Museum is more than just a regular wax museum! The Hollywood Wax Museum does have wax replicas of Hollywood celebrities but also features a few other attractions, including Castle of Chaos – a 5D experience, Hannah – a maze of mirrors, and Outbreak – a scary and fun-filled experience through a zombie-infested territory.
Dollywood, located in Pigeon Forge, is Dolly Parton’s famous theme park featuring several thrill rides, family-friendly rides, shows, live music, and dinner shows. Dollywood is a great way to spend an entire day with family, and I have a comprehensive guide for Dollywood to help your plan your day at Dollywood and its waterpark, Dollywood’s Splash Country.
WonderWorks, one of Pigeon Forge’s popular indoor amusement parks, features several brain-tingling hands-on exhibits, an indoor ropes course, a 4D motion theater, and a laser-tag arena. WonderWorks, being one of the few indoor entertainment destinations in the area, it’s a popular destination during the winter months.
Lodging & Dining In Gatlinburg
I recommend staying in one of the resorts located in the heart of the mountain towns of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge and enjoying one of the dinner shows on a trip to Gatlinburg!
Hotels In Gatlinburg: Gatlinburg, being a popular tourist destination and gateway to the Smokies, features various lodging options, including resorts, hotels, cabins, and bread and breakfasts. While Gatlinburg is the closest town to the Smokies and home to the major attractions in the area, the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge is equally charming and also a great place to stay on a trip to Gatlinburg. Here’re are my top picks for hotels and resorts in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge-
- The Inn at Christmas Place: The epitome of luxury in Gatlinburg, The Inn at Christmas Place features a Christmas-themed resort with fantastic mountainous vistas, tranquility, excellent guest service, and amenities and is a great place to spend your Gatlinburg vacation.
- Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg: Located in downtown Gatlinburg within walking distance from several major attractions of Gatlinburg, Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg is another luxury resort featuring stylish and modern decor, private pools, spa, excellent guest service, and quite a few dining options.
- Holiday Inn Club Vacations Smoky Mountain Resort: Featuring a large and luxury property with modern amenities, the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Smoky Mountain Resort is conveniently located close to major attractions in Gatlinburg.
- Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa: Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa, is a sprawling resort in the town of Pigeon Forge featuring luxury suites and guest rooms, quite a few dining options, and excellent guest service and is one of the best places to stay in Pigeon Forge.
- Music Road Resort Hotel: Featuring modern amenities, contemporary decor, and a few excellent dining choices, the Music Road Resort Hotel features a resort and a hotel catering to different preferences.
Restaurants In Gatlinburg: While there’re numerous restaurants and local eateries, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer a few spectacular dinner shows that you mustn’t pass on your trip to Gatlinburg! Here’re the two most popular dinner shows in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge – (1) Dolly Parton’s Stampede, an extravaganza of live performances, music, and comedy paired with a four-course meal, and (2) Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, enjoy a delicious four-course meal while watching Blackbeard, a legendary pirate leads his crew through a battle on a life-size ship.
Other Tennessee Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Gatlinburg, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to Gatlinburg. You can find other attractions in Tennessee in my Tennessee Travel Guide.
Happy feeding your soul!
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