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33+ ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN FOR FAMILY FUN

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Gatlinburg, Tennessee is home to a bustling downtown area filled with interesting attractions and delicious restaurants; and it’s also home to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park – a natural oasis hosting thousands of miles of fun for outdoor lovers.

If you’re heading to a place packed with so much adventure, you need to know the best ways to spend your time and the essential things to do in Gatlinburg TN. Follow our huge list to select the right items for your Tennessee itinerary, regardless of your travel style!

ENJOY MOTHER NATURE AS YOU EXPLORE

33+ ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN FOR FAMILY FUN © Provided by 365 Atlanta Traveler 33+ ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN FOR FAMILY FUN

Gatlinburg is absolutely filled with outdoor activities your family and friends will love!

ESCAPE THE CITY HUSTLE AND BUSTLE AT ANAKEESTA

A quick look at the Anakeesta website indicates it is “an outdoor family theme park.”

Hold on a second…

I guess you can call it that…but it is such an understatement. It is so much more than that…so much better than that description indicates.

In fact, I worry that my own words will not do it justice either. You must must go for yourself…but in the meantime, let me tell you nearly a dozen reasons everyone in our family LOVES Anakeesta!

THE CHONDOLA. You get to Anakeesta from main street in Gatlinburg, right across the street from aquarium… but it sits on top of the mountain high above the city. To get to the top, you ride the chondola….it’s a chair/gondola like you’d take when skiing. It’s not your average chair lift. Each seat holds 4, with a security bar and I felt perfectly safe with my boys. They loved it, in fact, and we saw a momma and baby bear below us (in the forest) as we climbed! Enjoy the gorgeous views during these scenic rides.

If that makes you nervous, or it just doesn’t work for you, there are also two gondolas you can step into for the ride. They come every 7 minutes.

Here’s the coolest part – if you have a ticket to Anakeesta, you can ride the chondola up and down as much as you’d like. Read on to find out why this is even better than you think. We waited in line to ride over and over!

Don’t forget to smile for the camera! You’ll want a photo climbing up the chondola, for sure!

RIDGE RAMBLER ADVENTURE. The Ridge Ramblers provides guests with another way to get to Anakeesta other than its Chondola. Anakeesta has two Ridge Rambler trucks, which are 35 feet long, nearly 14 feet tall, and can hold 45 passengers.

THE BEST VIEWS AROUND. We were  lucky to have a special tour from one of the owners, who told us that they first procured this land before the wildfires of 2016.  At that time, the views were nice…but there were plans to build an observation tower to take you over the tree-level to see the amazing view.

With the advent of the fire, the top of the mountain lost a ton of trees. Of course, it was devastating to everyone. The silver lining, though, is that the clearing made it easy to see the surrounding mountain-scape no matter where you stand.

In the early morning when we visited, the mountains were embracing their name…the “smoky” mist obscuring the vista by bits and pieces. By afternoon, the fog had cleared, and the views were pristine for miles and miles and miles.

And remember how I said you could come back up again and again, if you’d like? Sunset is the perfect thing to bring you back here. Dine at Cliff Top and then enjoy an after-dinner cocktail as you watch the sun set. It’s unbeatable. In fact, the west-facing deck is called The Sunset Deck.

IMPECCABLE EATS. There are three excellent ways to eat here. If you’re looking for something casual, consider Smokehouse, serving BBQ. The smells coming from the smoker will set your tummy growling early in the morning! And the picnic tables there offer fantastic views to match your sandwich.

For a few more choices, or a sit-down meal (with a full bar!) then try Cliff Top Restaurant. You’ll love the salads, burgers and kids’ selections. It’s all “outside” dining, but under a giant roof….so it’s like the best of both worlds.

Finally, to satisfy your sweet-tooth, try a slice of pie or ice cream from Pearl’s!

THE CANOPY WALK. This was my personal favorite! A boardwalk-style treetop skywalk winds you through the trees on such a peaceful and relaxing walk. You’ll see a few zip liners overhead, but it’s mostly quiet and serene…and high in the trees.

ZIPLINING (WITH A BONUS). Yes, I did mention ziplining! We didn’t partake, since the boys are not yet 70lbs….but we did watch other tree-swingers, and they seemed to love it. Anakeesta offers “dueling” ziplines, so you can challenge your friend to a flight to the finish!

There are 4 stations, with the last one ending at the mid-point of the chondola…so you can catch it back up and easily go again!

Here is the coolest thing, I think….from two of the stations, you land on an upper deck in the tree….and then repel down to the lower deck to head to the next station….is that not AWESOME!? What a cool zip lining bonus!

ANAVISTA TOWER. Take your visit to new heights atop AnaVista Tower, the highest point in downtown Gatlinburg. This one-of-a-kind observation tower provides guests with 360-degree views of the smoky mountains.  See peaks as far away as Kentucky and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the park and lush botanical Vista Gardens 60 feet below!

THE PLAYGROUND. The boys and I fell head over heels for this playground. The wood is knotted and twisted, and all-natural. I love the climbing, tunneling, winding paths through the houses. There are rope bridges and lookouts…even a bird’s nest.

VISTA GARDENS. Ok, can I have multiple favorite places? The winding vista gardens was previously filled with trees – prior to the fire. So the owners, with their amazingly talented landscaping background, put this space to work as a high-point garden.

You’ll find a walking trail, spectacular art like the arch the boys are posing in, a gnomes house, ideal selfie-spots….and bright, fun plants and flowers.

Discover TreeVenture Challenge Course perched on the mountainside of  Vista Gardens. Climb, crawl and slide your way through this interactive challenge course for all ages to enjoy.

THE MOUNTAIN RAIL RUNNER. The Mountain Coaster opened shortly after the park opened! It starts at the top of Anakeesta and takes you on a winding journey down the mountain.

What I think is so special about this coaster is that it has a first-of-its-kind in the US single rail system. It is so un-intrusive! Your views of the mountain from ON the coaster and as you watch the mountain side are not obscured by lots of winding metal. It’s fun, while still being respectful of the environment!

SHOPS YOU’LL LOVE. While there are many quaint shopping experiences in Downtown Gatlinburg the ones at Anakeesta. You won’t want to miss Firefly Village!

Catching Fireflies is the sweetest store, with a genuine appreciation for the natural wonder of Anakeesta. You’ll find gifts and souvenirs that offer the same lovely feeling that Anakeesta provides as a whole. My favorite is the tree in the middle of the store that changes branches with the season!

SEASONAL ACTIVITIES. Keep an eye on their calendar, as there are seasonal activities. For summer we enjoyed s’mores in the evening and live music…plus free activities for the kids on select days. Things like making a birdhouse are super ways to keep the kids engaged.

Gatlinburg is a tale of two cities. There is the downtown area, filled with restaurants, attractions, lights and excitement. Then there is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park – serene and peaceful, with Mother Nature as the only show in town. Anakeesta, in my mind, is the perfect middle ground. It shows off the FUN that Gatlinburg offers, while still paying homage to the surroundings. It’s pretty close to perfect.

SPECIAL EVENTS. At the heart of Anakeesta lies Black Bear Village. An elegant and intimate wedding venue, guests can take in the sweeping views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The venue includes access to the Cliff Top Restaurant and the Tap House.

Insider Tip: Make sure at least one evening is spent at Cliff Top restaurant, taking in a view of the sunset. You can save $3 per person with tickets from our friends at Tripster.

ADVENTURE AT GATLINBURG SKYLIFT PARK

Located in the heart of the downtown area, you’ll be whisked 500 vertical feet high via the Gatlinburg Sky Lift, for spectacular views from an area surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Once there, your first stop should be Sky Bridge, where you can walk 680 feet across the valley. It also includes a 30-foot span of glass so you can peer 150 feet to the bottom. It’s the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, and the most spectacular experience in the Smokies!

After that, head to SkyCenter on the SkyDeck for a selfie in the iconic 1950s yellow SkyLift chair, then grab a pizza and a soda or beer and sit back and soak up the view.

Finally, hang tight for phase 1 of the SkyTrail, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2021. A quarter-mile roundtrip boardwalk will showcase unmatched views of the record-breaking Gatlinburg SkyBridge, and panoramic Smoky Mountain vistas.  

SOAR TO NEW HEIGHTS AT OBER GATLINBURG

Ober Gatlinburg offers so much to do in every season — making it a great place to visit!

The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram departs from Downtown Gatlinburg to the Ober Amusement Park and Ski Resort. The tram takes you on a 2-mile, 20-minute ride up the side of the mountain in the counter-balanced tram car. The views from the tramway are glorious, and it’s a quick way to get to the activity area without having to drive there. That’s especially helpful for those who have already paid to park in the downtown area.

In the winter, the Ski Area offers access to the ski slopes for a single session of skiing or snowboarding during day or night sessions. For families hitting the slopes for the first time, there are ski classes for children (starting at age 4) and adults, as well as snowboarding classes. A limited number of jackets, pants and helmets are available for rental.

We visited in summer and loved the Ski Mountain Coaster, which climbs 1000 feet uphill before racing downhill to almost 3000 feet of turns, dips, zip-zags and corkscrews. The ride is perfect for any age, and each 2-person pair chooses how they want to experience it. You can zoom at up to speeds of 25 MPH or use the handbrakes for a more relaxed pace.

We also enjoyed the children’s maze, mini golf, ice bumper cars, indoor-ice skating (yes, even in summer!) and more.

FLEX PASS: Breathe in the rich splendor of the majestic Appalachians with the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Flex Pass. Save up to 30% of admission costs at over 30 attractions and tours throughout the Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Smokies.

DISCOUNT FOR ONLY THE AERIAL TRAM: Save $2 per person on tickets here.

GLIDE THROUGH THE TREES ON A ZIP LINE

As we mentioned earlier, Anakeesta offers a dueling zipline excursion, so you can race and experience flying through the air with your family and friends. Participants must be 7 years old and at least 70 pounds to zip.

CLIMBWorks is also a great place to get your zip on! The tours here take you into the tree canopy for more than 2 hours, with 9 ziplines and 3 sky bridges over trees, ravines, streams and maybe even wildlife. They offer two different tours — the Mountaintop Zipline and their top-rated Treetop Zipline. The tours start with an escorted ATV ride to the top of the mountain. Must be at least 7 years old to participate.

GO FOR A RIDE WITH SMOKY MOUNTAIN STABLES

With no experience necessary to ride, Smoky Mountain Riding Stables has over 40 mountain trail horses from 13 to 17 hands tall to meet the needs of all riders. All horseback rides are great for beginners through advanced riders, with beautiful wooded scenery and mountain streams.

The trail rides are at a walking pace through the terrain of the Great Smoky Mountains.

HOOK A FISH WITH SMOKY MOUNTAIN ANGLERS

As the oldest fly shop in Gatlinburg, The Smoky Mountain Angler is the first place to head for trout fishing gear, guided trips, and information. They are a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency license agent and can get you licensed for fishing.

Insider Tip: When you stop by, ask about the “kids only” designated areas in the city of Gatlinburg stocked weekly.  They also provide guides for experienced fly fishermen to have a trip to remember.

CRUISE AROUND IN STYLE

Gatlinburg is a great town filled with great adventures — all you need is an awesome ride to cruise around in. Enter: Jeep rentals!

A Jeep rental allows you to go where you want, when you want, so you can explore all Gatlinburg and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park have to offer. Rent a jeep for a day, a week, or even a month! Convertible tops are available. Cars and passenger vans are also available for rent.

WALK ONE OF AMERICA’S LONGEST SWINGING BRIDGES

One of the wonderful things about Foxfire Mountain are the beautiful trails and bridges that meander throughout the 150 acres of pristine forests, bubbling creeks, delightful Lost Mine Falls, beautiful vistas, and lazy creek-side treks.

Throughout these easy to moderate trails you will cross multiple unique bridges — from log bridges to covered bridges to cable bridges — including America’s second-longest swinging bridge, 70 feet above the east prong of the Little Pigeon River.

This Foxfire family fun adventure is great for all ages and even includes an on-the-ground obstacle course for both children and adults.

TAKE ON THE WHITE WATER WITH NOC

Nantahala Outdoor Center offers whitewater rafting trips for almost every age! Guests as young as 3 years old can raft on the Lower Pigeon section of the Big Pigeon River.  It’s a short family-friendly float trip with gentle rapids, swimming holes, and beautiful scenery.

For more advanced adventurers, take on the Class III rapids with a white water rafting trip down the Upper Pigeon with full-on excitement, and the Smoky Mountain scenery in the background.

THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN: AREA ATTRACTIONS

33+ ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN FOR FAMILY FUN © Provided by 365 Atlanta Traveler 33+ ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN FOR FAMILY FUN

Gatlinburg has so many activities to choose from — the hard part will be deciding which ones to visit on your trip!

DRIVE AND EXPLORE THE GREAT SMOKY ARTS & CRAFTS COMMUNITY

The Arts & Crafts Community is an 8-mile driving loop of independent artisans who create original collectibles and showcase the cultural history of the state. With over 100 world class artisans, they are the largest organized group in North America, and offer a wide variety of art pieces to add to your collection. This is where to pick up a memorable and meaningful souvenir of your trip.

Besides exceptional artisans and shops, you’ll find great eateries, quaint accommodations, and more. We adored getting a rootbeer float from Glades Soda Fountain, an old fashioned soda jerk with an antique cash register that the kids will love. And Split Rail Eats makes a mean salad for lunch!

The trail is about 3 miles outside of the downtown area. Everywhere we saw and visited included free parking (unlike the downtown area). But, if you prefer to leave your car at the cabin, use the Yellow Line on the trolley to get here.

Insider Tip: Look for  “Create Your Own” banners at certain shops. Some artisans offer hands-on workshops or make-your-own crafting opportunities. Ask for information as you visit all the shops around the loop.

More: 29 Delicious Gatlinburg Restaurants & Foodie Treats Our Family Devoured

SAY ‘CHEERS!’ AT EAST TENNESSEE’S FIRST MOONSHINE MAKER

There are a number of Moonshine establishments in Gatlinburg, but you’re going to want to head to Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. It was Gatlinburg’s first legal moonshine maker; they worked to change the law, update the stereotype, and make it easy for us all to indulge.  “The Holler” also claims the title of America’s most visited distillery.

Your visit gives you the true moonshine experience from the scent of fermenting grains, through the work of the authentic-working moonshine stills.

In addition, the distillers are proud to answer your questions about the history of East Tennessee while you sample their moonshine during the affordable tastings for adults 21+. Be sure to check out their resident musicians for a special show too.

More: Ole Smoky: Gatlinburg’s First Moonshine Maker Does It Right

WATCH THE SHARKS AT RIPLEY’S AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES

As the home of a 340-foot underwater tunnel – one of the longest underwater tunnels in world –  a visit to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies will bring you face-to-face with sharks, sea turtles, swordfish and other sea animals.

While you’re there, you have to experience their new, indoor Glass Bottom Boat Adventure!  Just 3 inches of glass will separate you from the 12-foot sharks that call the aquarium home. (You can make reservations for this at Guest Services or the Glass Bottom Boat area.)

It’s not just underwater animals here — the Penguin Playhouse introduces visitors to endangered African black-footed penguins through the combination of crawl tunnels, pop-up domes, and a swim-through passage.

Kids (and adults!) are guaranteed to love this place!

More: 29 BEST AQUARIUMS IN THE U.S. YOU HAVE TO VISIT

MORE RIPLEY’S AWESOMENESS

Perfect for families, friends, or anyone, Ripley’s Odditorium showcases more than 500 exhibits and oddities from around the world in 16 themed galleries.

The Oddities are a mix of artifacts and just truly…odd collections! Some of the oddities are authentic shrunken heads, a sculpture made from car parts, and a life-sized skeleton of an ostrich. This was my personal favorite among the Ripley’s museums.

In the labyrinth of lights and mirrors at Ripley’s Amazing Mirror Maze, you’ll see yourself over and over and over and over again as you’re trying to find your way to the exit.

Families are welcome to join in the fun, and don’t worry about getting too lost. It’s kid-friendly, and declared the favorite attraction by my 6-year-old!

If your kids are too young for the mirrors, then consider swapping this option out for the Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater. It’s a state of the art theater with digital effects and motion seats will have you feeling like you’re in the movie!

Finally, if you prefer to tee it up, then head to the Davy Crockett Mini Golf Course. It replicates the “old days” when Tennessee hero Davy Crockett roamed the area. Thirty-six holes cover two themed courses.

Ripley’s sells combo passes or single attraction tickets — so you can go to one, or all!

SHAKE THINGS UP AT THIS MUSEUM

With more than 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers, Gatlinburg is home to the world’s only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum!

The collection includes salt and pepper shakers from all over the world, and also has a huge pepper mill collection.

Children ages 12 and under are FREE. The $3 admission charge for adults goes toward any salt and pepper shaker in the shop.

POSE FOR A PHOTO WITH A STAR’S CAR

The Hollywood Star Cars Museum offers the best cars from movies and TV in recreated settings complete with sound, lights and action.

The most famous car of the collection is the Batmobile from the 1966 TV show, but other cars include The Ghostbusters Ecto-1 (original movie version), and General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard.

Cars from every generation are represented — from the Beach Boys 1955 Thunderbird to The Fast and the Furious — and even the future, with the Back to the Future DeLorean. FREE entry for children under age 6.

RIDE AN INCLINE TO MINI GOLF

Ready for the most unusual mini golf ever?! Then head on over to Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg. Here, you’ll ride an incline 300 feet above the city before arriving at two 18-hole putt-putt golf courses.

Each course is filled with mountaineer hazards — like outhouses and stills — and you and your crew are sure to have a memorable mini golf experience here. Part putt-putt, part adventure, a visit here is a must-do.

SEE GATLINBURG FROM EVERY ANGLE

The Gatlinburg Space Needle provides a 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains from the observation deck after taking a ride up their glass elevator over 400 feet!

You’ll able to take in a full view of the tallest mountain in the park, Mount LeConte, or use the FREE SeeCoast view finders and focus on the smallest details of the Smokies. 

The newest feature, Higher Learning, offers an educational experience based on the local history and geography of the region. Children ages 3 and under are FREE with a paid adult ticket.

CATCH A CLASS ACT

Impossibilities Magic Show boasts 40 years of performing! The duo of Magical Comedian Chris Collins and Master Mentalist Erik Dobell showcase family-friendly magic, mind reading, special effects, and generally clean fun with a little mayhem for good measure. Get your skip-the-line tickets here.

RIDE A MOUNTAIN COASTER

As mountain coaster newbies, we got our feet wet on the one at Ober Gatlinburg, but the Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster is a little more intense and was a perfect “follow up” ride for the kids.

The Rowdy Bear coaster goes about 35 mph and includes some intense turns. Sometimes they run “all you can ride for an hour” passes that make for affordable fun, especially in the off season. If you are only riding it once, I recommend going at dusk and coasting through the lights.

Another option is the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster.  Reaching speeds upwards of 30 MPH, you can choose between single rider, double rider, or an adult/child combo.  They also offer an unlimited 1-hour pass ticket, or an all-day pass for those who just can’t get enough!

A special note: The Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre was another great Gatlinburg classic, but it permanently closed at the end of 2020 after 44 years.

TAKE THE GATLINBURG TROLLEY ACROSS THE CITY

The Gatlinburg Trolley is FREE and it runs every day of the year. Visitors in the area can board a Trolley at any stop in Galtinburg. All Trolleys stop at the Mass Transit Center, located at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

It’s an easy way to get into downtown without the hassle of driving into Downtown and finding a parking spot. You can use the Park N Ride Lot at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. Board a trolley and be in downtown Gatlinburg in a matter of minutes!

PLAY AT WILD BEAR FALLS WATER PARK

Regardless if the hot summer sun is brightly shining or the cold winter snow is steadily falling, the weather at Wild Bear Falls at Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Water Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee will always be perfect.

This smoky mountain oasis boasts a state-of-the art retractable roof and heated indoor water for complete comfort no matter the season. Envision floating along the lazy river, gliding down one of two giant water slides or adventuring through the interactive treehouse. Immerse yourself into 60,000 square feet of aquatic atmosphere with 300,000 gallons of flowing water for your next mountain getaway!

You don’t have to stay here to enjoy the water park!

THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN: GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

33+ ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN FOR FAMILY FUN © Provided by 365 Atlanta Traveler 33+ ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN FOR FAMILY FUN

From auto touring and bicycling to horseback riding or exploring burial landscapes, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers activities beyond just “exploring nature.”

There are also areas for fishing, hiking, picnicking, and experiencing waterfalls. Check out one of their historic buildings, or stop by a ranger-led program if you’re looking for guided explorations.

There are some great campgrounds within the GSMNP, but also in Gatlinburg!  Greenbriar CampgroundCamp LeConte , and Twin Creek RV Resort  are all amazing choices.

Looking for more? Find more great glamping options near the National Parks here.

WALK TO THE TOP OF CLINGMAN’S DOME

Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the GSMNP, and it is a must-do! In fact, at 6,643 feet, it represents the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. On clear days you can see for about 100 miles!

Don’t forget that you’re in the Smoky Mountains though, so many times you’ll experience the fog and mist with limited site view (that’s what we got on our last hike to the top). It’s still worth it!

The climb to the top is a mere 1/2 mile from the parking lot. It is paved, but is an intense slope. Of course, my kids ran the whole way, but I would have preferred a walking stick, so bring one if you have one. You might also want to bring a jacket; the temps at the top can be up to 20 degrees colder than in the parking lot.

Finally, during peak seasons (like holiday weekends, etc), you can expect a wait to get into the parking lot. It can be discouraging if this is your first visit, but it does move quickly. Bring snacks and water. Port-o-potties are available in the parking lot.

STOP AT A SCENIC OVERLOOK

If you’re looking for an ideal roadside spot to capture a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains, make a stop at the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook located on the Gatlinburg By-Pass. 

The views are incredible, and you are guaranteed a perfect picture.

ASK A GUIDE FOR SOME HELP

Smoky Mountain Guides offers a variety of guided hikes, auto tours, and backpacking trips.

Their daily tours include hikes to hidden gems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, local history walks to farms from the early settlers, wildflower hikes, and auto tours to Clingman’s Dome – all guided by local guides with a history of backcountry ethics and safety.

HIKE WITH FIDO

The Gatlinburg Trail is one of only two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allows dogs and bicycles.

The trail is almost two miles and offers views of the river, foundations and chimneys from several old homesites.

It’s accessed from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg.

FYI: The other pet-friendly hiking trail is the Oconaluftee River Trail, located at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC.

REVISIT AN HISTORICAL HOMESTEAD

You’ll step back in time with a visit to the homestead of Noah “Bud” Ogle. The homestead includes a cabin, barn, and tub mill typical of a 19th-century Southern Appalachian mountain farm.

The Ogle cabin — “a saddlebag” — is a rare design for the region with two cabins joined by a common chimney. The tub mill is the last surviving operational tub mill in the park, and one of the few in the region.

EXPLORE THE VALLEY BY CAR

In addition to the mountain tops, some of the best opportunities for viewing wildlife come within the valley during a driving tour of Cades Cove.

White-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, groundhog, turkey, raccoon, and skunk are just a few of the animals you may see. The Cove can be viewed on a leisurely drive on the 11-mile, one-way loop road, or via a hike through the area’s trails.

Note: In the summer months, Cades Cove is vehicle-free on Wednesdays.

SELF DRIVING TRIP PLANS: Want to dive deep into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s rich past and present? Download the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Self Driving Trip!

HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS BY CAR

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5-mile loop driving trail that takes its name from the stream next to the trail — Roaring Fork.  You can choose your own pace, and take in the wooded views and a partial history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on this popular drive.

There several spots to pull off the trail and enjoy the mountains while you capture a picture, or you can drive straight through – the choice is yours.

Hike One of These Awesome Trails

Alum Cave Bluffs is a 5-mile round trip hike through a hardwood forest and the narrow tunnel of Arch Rock. The Alum Cave Bluffs are a dry spot, even when the air and ground outside are very wet. If you continue on the trail, the summit of Mount Le Conte provides amazing views.

Charlies Bunion is a stone outcrop overlook along the world famous Appalachian Trail. The hike to Charlies Bunion is 4 miles each way.  The trailhead is 13.2 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center or 16 miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Rainbow Falls Trail is just over a 5-mile round-trip path to the summit of Mount Le Conte, accessed from the Roaring Fork Drive Trail. It takes its name from the rainbow produced by mist from an 80-foot high waterfall, visible on sunny afternoons just a mile into the hike.

Chimney Tops Trail is a 2-mile path one-way, that gains 1,400 feet to its summit for a steep climb.  This hike is one of the most popular because of its length and views. It follows along the side of Sugarland Mountain with a view of Mount Le Conte. The trailhead is 6.7 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

WHERE TO STAY

GATLINBURG HOTELS

Best Near Downtown: Located near downtown Gatlinburg, The Appy Lodge has it all! With an outdoor pool with a waterslide, an indoor pool, hot tub, free WiFi, and a fitness center — it has everything you’ll need. And its location cannot be beat.

Best Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Located right outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Park Vista is located in Gatlinburg and features a multi-level indoor pool.

Best Near Ripley’s Aquarium: Bearskin Lodge on the River features free WiFi and views of the river in Gatlinburg. The property is located within walking distance of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

CAMPGROUNDS NEAR GATLINBURG

Best Pool: As one of the best resorts near Pigeon Forge, Sun Outdoors offers an outstanding location near exciting local attractions, plus wonderful accommodations and amenities to complete your getaway to the great outdoors.  Their pool also includes a lazy river and a splash pad!

Best Activities: Enjoy trout fishing, themed activities, a craft center, arcade, and more at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in nearby Cherokee, NC.

Best on the River: Smack dab in the middle of all that is good, Grumpy Bear Campground in Bryson City, NC is a place for relaxation, fishing, hiking and so much more. Campers will enjoy the sound of the river flowing nearby.

STAY SOMEWHERE SPECIAL

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Do you remember the Gatlinburg fires of November of 2016? Careless fire play at Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ignited a fire dubbed the worst natural disaster in Tennessee. 14 lives were taken, 16,000 acres impacted, 2,000 buildings damaged, and 14,000 were people forced to evacuate.

High winds, failing power lines, and blocked roads created a tumultuous situation for the towns firefighters. Thank God for the rain that eventually fell, and for the hundreds of area firefighters and police that risked their lives to save the town and its people.

people.

The best way to help Gatlinburg now? Come and visit! And when you do, be sure to ask for DJ’s Station from Parkside Cabin Rentals. This rebuilt cabin rental home was dedicated to the firefighters who fought those blazes….and you are going to LOVE it!

“When we decided we were going to rebuild, we wanted to honor the firemen that saved our downtown,” Dorthy Johnson, the owner, told WVLT. “I’m real proud of our firemen because they did save the core of our lively hood. None of us would be here if they hadn’t.”

She collected helmets, photos, and memorabilia to decorate the cabin and honor the firefighters. It’s gorgeous, spacious, and makes a visit to Gatlinburg even more special.

Beyond the sentimental value, which is really the best part….here are six things to know about renting here.

LOCATION IS EVERYTHING. We love the location of this cabin, right off light #6. You are only a short, easy walk from all the great attractions and restaurants…Anakeesta, Ripley’s Aquarium, Pancake Pantry, Donut Friar….you couldn’t ask for a better location!

TONS OF SPACE. Three bedrooms and three bathrooms were available to our family of four, but they would easily have accommodated 2 or 3 families who might want to share the space. With the full sized kitchen and gloriously large dining table, it would be a super multi-family escape.

HOT TUB. Dan and I loved the hot tub on the patio. Yes, you’re in a neighborhood, but the space is blocked off and private. We sat out here every night after the kids went to sleep. There is also a table for enjoying breakfast and a fire pit for cooler nights.

FIREPLACE. As much as I wanted to, it just didn’t make sense for us to use the fireplace…but I’m anxious to head back in the cooler weather when Anateeska opens their mountain coaster amid the changing leaves, and soak up a fire in this cabin. So cozy in the living room, with the stone mantle and leather sofa.

GAME ROOM. Mark this as #1 for the boys! They loved the upstairs game room, complete with a pool table, old-school arcade, and tables for playing cards or board games.

WASHER/DRYER. If you’ve ever taken kids hiking in a national park, then you know the value of a washer and dryer. Bringing enough clean clothes on a trip is impossible…no worries!

EASY RENTAL. Parkside Cabin Rentals are super easy to deal with, making this a dream. They have free parking on the main street in Gatlinburg, so it’s easy to jump out and get your map and key code. I love love love that they use key codes and not keys. We didn’t have to worry about keeping up with an extra set of keys…and we didn’t have to bother dropping anything off when we left. Plus, check out is easy…just throw the dishes in the dishwasher and go. They handle sheets and towels (they even ask you not to strip the beds!) And trash always stays inside the cabin – this is bear territory, after all!

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RUBY FALLS

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Daniel Peterson

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