This small mountain town in eastern Tennessee has a population of less than 4,000 but despite being a small town, Gatlinburg is packed with attractions and outdoor activities. There’s no change of being bored in this charming town and the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is a popular place to go hiking, go cross-country skiing, camping and fishing.
Its breathtaking scenery, with gushing mountain streams, waterfalls and thick forests will take your breath away. Back in the town, you can explore moonshine distilleries, wineries, cider breweries, museums and haunted houses. Restaurants and bars in the downtown dish up southern specialties and international cuisine. For fantastic views, take the aerial tramway, the mountain coaster or ski lift to the Sky Bridge.
Summers are long, warm and humid in Gatlinburg, and the winters are short, cold and wet, with a good chance of snow. Even so, Gatlinburg has attractions for all seasons, so it doesn’t matter what time of the year you decide to visit, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Gatlinburg. Start with these:
- Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- Top Tours
- Things To Do In Gatlinburg
- 1- Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- 2- Ride The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
- 3- Visit Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies
- 4- Enjoy A Tasting At Ole Smoky Moonshine
- 5- Visit The Gatlinburg Pinball Museum
- 6- Play Hillbilly Golf
- 7- Head Up The Space Needle
- 8- Take A Walking Ghost Tour
- 9- Take A Ride In The Gatlinburg Sky Lift
- 10- Visit The Hollywood Star Cars Museum
- 11- Take A Tour To The Rocky Top Wine Trail Wineries
- 12- Have Fun At Anakeesta Theme Park
- 13- Visit Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum
- 14- Take A Ride On The Moonshine Mountain Coaster
- 15- Ride The Gatlinburg Trolley
- 16- Whizz Around The Forests On An Off-Road Buggy Tour
- 17- Get Lost In Ripley’s Marvellous Mirror Maze
- 18- Have Fun At Gatlinburg’s Outdoor Gravity Park
- 19- Watch The Sunset From The Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
- 20- Have Fun At The Nantahala Outdoor Centre
- Ghost and Haunted Tour of Gatlinburg – scare yourself silly on this spooky tour.
- Mountaintop Zipline – a 2-hour adrenaline rush activity.
- Impossibilities Magic Show at the Iris Theater Ticket – the whole family will love this show!
Things To Do In Gatlinburg
1- Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is spread across a massive 520,000 acres and is a stunning natural area for including hiking, with many trails on offer.
If you want a gentle hike, take the 4-mile round-trip Gatlinburg Trail, which doesn’t have any steep climbs but allows you a relaxing stroll in beautiful surroundings.
If you enjoy climbing and want something more energetic, take the Rainbow Falls Trail, which ascends up 457 metres (1,500 feet) to a spectacular waterfall, making it well worth the climb.
If you are interested in the history of the area, there are 90 historic buildings dotted around the park, such as houses, churches, schools and mills.
One of the best places to see these buildings is at Cades Cove.
Winter is the perfect time to visit the National Park and you can still hike during this season but make sure that you look up the weather forecast and dress to stay warm.
The trails may be snow-free, but they could also be ice-crusted.
Good trails for this time of year are the Laurel Falls Trail and the Alum Cave Trail, both of which are popular with snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
Some campsites, such as Cades Cove and Elkmont, are open during the winter, as are some picnic areas.
In the summer, you can also hike and camp, but there are other activities, such as fishing and horseback riding.
Remember to bring your binoculars so that you get a chance to see wildlife, like black bears, white-tailed deer, foxes, bald eagles, salamanders, coyotes, bobcats, and elk.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park Self Driving Tour
- Thundering Streams and Falls of the Smokies Guided Hiking Tour
- The “Classic” National Park Tour
2- Ride The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
If you’re not scared of heights, you will love riding the aerial tramway and enjoy what is at the end of it, the Ober Gatlinburg Sky Area and Amusement Park.
The length of the aerial tramway is 3.38 km (2.1 miles), and it reaches a height of 857 metres (2.813 feet) above sea level.
During the journey, you will have fantastic views of the Smoky Mountains.
It is a comfortable and safe ride and leaves every 20 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg between 9.40 am and 5 pm.
There are plenty of options at the amusement park when the weather is good, such as hiking, snowless tubing, water rides and an Alpine slide.
During the winter, you can ski and snowboard, and there is an indoor ice skating rink that is open all year.
The park has a restaurant too, so you can easily spend all day here.
3- Visit Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies
If you are interested in sea life, head to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which houses over 10,000 sea creatures in 10 galleries.
There’s the Shark Lagoon, Tropical Rainforest, Coral Reef, Stingray Bay and Penguin Playhouse as well as glass-bottom boat rides.
Children will love meeting the penguins and they can even create artwork with them.
The great thing is that 50% of the proceeds from this activity are donated to SANCOBB, a group involved in penguin conservation.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is at Traffic Light 5, 88 River Road, Gatlinburg 37738.
4- Enjoy A Tasting At Ole Smoky Moonshine
Ole Smoky Moonshine has been making moonshine for over 100 years.
It wasn’t always legal, but state laws have changed, and you can visit them safely in the knowledge that you won’t be breaking the law.
Ole Smoky Moonshine has several distilleries, but their Gatlinburg distillery, The Holler, is the original and the most visited distillery in the county.
They still make moonshine with a kick, but they also make milder moonshine with innovative flavours such as apple pie, lemon drop and peach.
You can try whisky and canned cocktails like apple pie and ginger moonshine.
A tour of the distillery reveals how moonshine is made and offers the opportunity to try 13 samples of moonshine and whisky.
They’re strong so don’t drive and make sure that you have your ID stating that you are 21 or over.
The Holler is at 903 Parkway, Suite 128, Gatlinburg 37738.
5- Visit The Gatlinburg Pinball Museum
If you are a fan of pinball machines and arcade games, you will love this museum, and although the games are nostalgic and retro, your kids will be fascinated.
There are over 100 games on offer, such as Space Invaders, Lord of the Rings and the legendary Pacman.
Many of the games are limited editions and you would be hard-pressed to find this many in one space.
Admission includes unlimited play on the pinball machines and arcade games without having to pay more means you could spend all day here having fun.
The Gatlinburg Pinball Museum is at 205 Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg 37738.
6- Play Hillbilly Golf
Hillbilly Golf has been around for over 50 years and offers an exciting and different way to play golf.
A cart takes you up a mountain, where you will find two challenging golf courses.
Yes, you heard that right.
You will be playing golf on a mountain, so don’t putt too hard otherwise your ball may roll all the way down!
The golf courses are topical and decorated with Appalachian traits such as moonshine stills and wagons.
Another fun golf course in Gatlinburg is Ripley’s Davy Crockett’s Mini Golf, where there are five putt-putt courses and two 18-course golf courses.
It is an interesting place to play golf, as it is designed to replicate the landscape of Tennessee.
Hillbilly Golf is at 340 Parkway, Gatlinburg 37738. Davy Crockett’s is at 188 Parkway, Gatlinburg 37738.
7- Head Up The Space Needle
The Space Needle is one of the highlights of Gatlinburg.
It towers at a height of 124 metres (407 feet), and there are two glass elevators to take you to the top, where there is an observation deck.
You can watch the scenery change as you travel up and then have 360-degree views of the National Park, the town, and Mount Le Conte.
Head up towards the end of the day for a beautiful sunset.
The Space Needle has a 2,787 square metre (30,000 square foot) amusement centre that has games, simulators, and other activities on offer.
You can spend some time here as there is a restaurant, the Slice Pizza Bakery, which serves New York-style pizzas, calzones, salads and sandwiches.
The Space Needle is open year-round and can get crowded on holidays, but it is worth going up to see the fireworks.
The Space Needle is at 115 Historic Trail, Gatlinburg 37738.
8- Take A Walking Ghost Tour
If you have a fascination with the occult, you are in the right place, as there are many stories of ghosts and haunted buildings in Gatlinburg, so why don’t you take a nighttime walking tour of the haunted places in town?
Gatlinburg seems like a friendly town, and it is, but it has a past filled with tragedy and murders and is said to be haunted by spirits that are unable to rest.
The tour starts at the Space Needle, where, tragically, a young man died in an accident in the 1990s.
Your guide will take you from here to haunted locations such as White Oak Flats Cemetery and the Gatlinburg Inn and will tell you fascinating stories about the ghosts that haunt the town, such as the Gatlinburg witch.
It isn’t a tour for the faint-hearted!
Recommended tour: Ghost and Haunt Tour of Gatlinburg
9- Take A Ride In The Gatlinburg Sky Lift
Another attraction that gives panoramic views over Gatlinburg is the Sky Lift, which takes you 548 metres (1,800 feet) above sea level on a chairlift.
It travels from downtown Gatlinburg to the top of Crockett Mountain.
However, this isn’t all.
Once you get to the mountain, you will be able to walk across the magnificent Gatlinburg Sky Bridge, the longest pedestrian cable bridge in the US.
The Sky Bridge is almost 213 metres (700 feet) long and crosses a valley.
Halfway along, you will find yourself walking on glass, and, looking down, you will see Gatlinburg from a height of 152 metres (500 feet).
The view is spectacular.
You can enjoy a leisurely hike from either end of the bridge on the Sky Trail, and you can climb up the 21-metre (70-foot) steel tower for fantastic views and information about the flora and fauna of the region.
In the Sky Centre, there is a cafe and a bar, so you could easily spend the day here.
10- Visit The Hollywood Star Cars Museum
If you are a fan of Hollywood movies and love cars, you should visit the Hollywood Star Cars Museum.
Many of the cars have been made by George Barris, who created more cars for Hollywood movies than anyone else.
The museum houses 40 cars from films such as ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, ‘Fast and Furious’, ‘Batman Returns’, and ‘Ghostbusters’.
It even has cars from TV shows from the 1960s like the ‘Batman’ TV series and ‘The Munsters.
The ‘Back to the Future’ DeLorean time machine from the 1980s is also housed in the museum.
In addition, there are a few celebrity cars showcased, belonging to stars such as Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney.
Hollywood Star Cars Museum is at 914 Parkway, Gatlinburg 37738.
11- Take A Tour To The Rocky Top Wine Trail Wineries
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t just offer hiking, fishing, camping, and horseback riding.
There are also wineries to be found, and you can follow a trail leading to some very different wineries.
What is even better is that the tastings are all free!
One of the wineries that you can visit is Hillside Winery, which offers a selection of Italian-style wines.
Apple Barn Winery, on the banks of the Little Pigeon River, produces handcrafted apple wines, while the oldest winery in the state, Mountain Valley, showcases sweet fruit wines.
At Mill Bridge Winery, you can sample the tastings overlooking the Little Pigeon River.
As well as wine, they produce hard cider.
If you prefer to do an organised wine tasting with a guide, wine tours visiting two or three wineries are on offer.
12- Have Fun At Anakeesta Theme Park
Adults and children alike will enjoy this theme park, as it offers something for everybody.
If you are a thrill-seeker, hurtle down the zipline or take a walk along the 14-bridge Treetop Skywalk.
For something a little more relaxing, enjoy a gondola ride or wander along the trails of the Botanical Gardens and Forest, which have 3,000 species of plants as well as waterfalls.
For a great view of the mountains, climb the 18-metre (60-foot) high AnaVista Tower.
There are shops in the park, and if you are looking for unusual gifts, you will find them in Firefly Village and Black Bear Village.
If you are hungry, Cliff Top serves gourmet burgers, steaks, and quick bites like pizza, while Smokehouse offers southern BBQ.
13- Visit Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum is one of the strangest places in Gatlinburg, but it is a place that will appeal to both adults and children, although young children may be a little scared of some of the exhibits.
The museum houses around 600 items, including shrunken heads, deformed animal skeletons, and an 1800s vampire killing kit.
There are also interactive displays and games, as well as pop culture memorabilia.
Spend about an hour here before visiting other Ripley attractions such as the 5D Movie Theatre and the Guinness World Records Adventure.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum is at 800 Parkway, Gatlinburg 37738.
14- Take A Ride On The Moonshine Mountain Coaster
This roller coaster is an exciting and family-friendly attraction at the start of downtown Gatlinburg.
A lift takes you to the top of the ride, so you don’t have to walk uphill to get to the coaster, giving you a chance to admire the Smoky Mountains before the thrill begins.
Each car takes up to two people, and they go separately on a silent track.
You can control your speed with a brake and can go up to 56 kph (35 mph).
You can go as fast or as slow as you want but remember that you may hold up the coaster behind you if you go at a snail’s pace.
The ride lasts around seven minutes and there are plenty of plunges, dips, and turns to keep the adrenaline going.
The Moonshine Mountain Coaster is at 306 Parkway, Gatlinburg 37738. Skip the line and book your Moonshine Mountain Coaster Ride.
15- Ride The Gatlinburg Trolley
If you are looking for an unusual way to get around town, ride the Gatlinburg Trolley and take a step back in time.
What’s even better is that it’s free, and you can board and disembark at any stop.
There are three routes to choose from.
- If you are interested in art, take the Yellow Route, which travels through the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community and takes an hour to complete.
- The Purple Route travels down River Road and goes to downtown Gatlinburg, passing the shopping malls, museums, and restaurants.
- If you are interested in seeing more of the nature surrounding the city, the Blue Route travels along the Historic Trail/Airport Road and allows you to check out the parks and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Apart from the Yellow Route, which is seasonal, the trolley operates 365 days a year.
16- Whizz Around The Forests On An Off-Road Buggy Tour
If you want to get your adrenaline going and want to see places that are more remote, take an off-road buggy tour.
These buggies easily conquer off-road terrain, and you can either venture out on your own or take a tour.
I suggest a tour if you haven’t driven an off-road vehicle before.
You can rent buggies with two, four, or six seats from different companies all over town, including Mountain Life UTV Rentals.
Some roads in Gatlinburg, such as the Tail of the Dragon, don’t allow these buggies, but there are other options that are allowed, such as Jeeps, Slingshots, and Rykers.
Mountain Life UTV Rentals are at 826E Parkway, Gatlinburg 37738.
17- Get Lost In Ripley’s Marvellous Mirror Maze
Ripley’s Marvellous Mirror Maze is fun for all the family.
The attraction includes both a mirror maze and a blacklight mini-golf course, which is a type of miniature golf that is played in the dark with glowing balls and putters.
You can choose to go to just one of these, but the combo ticket is great value.
The Mirror Maze is a labyrinth of hallways filled with reflecting mirrors and flashing LED lights.
There are red zig-zag lines on the floor, which are lit up to help you get out of the maze, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
You will get distracted by the flashing lights and the reflections in the mirrors.
Ripley’s Marvellous Mirror Maze is at 623 Parkway, Gatlinburg 37738.
18- Have Fun At Gatlinburg’s Outdoor Gravity Park
If you’ve seen photos or videos of people rolling down a hill in a Zorb ball, you might have thought that it looked like fun and would like to give it a go.
Well, you’re in luck if you’re staying in Gatlinburg, as there is a dedicated zorbing park just down the road in Pigeon Forge.
At the park, you will have the opportunity to roll down a 305-metre (1,000-foot) hill in a giant bubble.
You need to bring your swimsuit and a towel, as the ball is filled with 68 litres (15 gallons) of water.
You can choose between three tracks or have a go at all of them.
They are the speedy roll, the combined tunnel and zig-zag course, and the extreme zigzag course.
The Outdoor Gravity Park is at 203 Sugar Hollow Road, Pigeon Forge 37863.
19- Watch The Sunset From The Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
One of the loveliest things to do when you are on holiday is to find the best place to watch the sunset.
In Gatlinburg, the Scenic Overlook provides the best views of the town and of the Great Smoky Mountains.
It’s easy to get to by car and is between the Gatlinburg Spur and the mountains.
The scenery changes with the time of year.
In spring, you have blossoms, and in summer, everything is in bloom.
The trees look beautiful in their autumn colours, while you may see a sea of white in the winter.
While the sunset is spectacular, the view is also beautiful here at sunrise when the town is shrouded in mist.
After dark is also a good time to go, as there will be stars above and the town will glitter with lights.
- High Points Driving Tour
- Clingmans Dome Hike
20- Have Fun At The Nantahala Outdoor Centre
The Nantahala Outdoor Centre offers camping and ziplining, but its focus is on whitewater rafting, which you can enjoy on the Pigeon River on the outskirts of Gatlinburg.
Don’t worry if you haven’t taken part in whitewater rafting before as you will have a trained tour guide with you throughout the whole experience and you will be given lifejackets for safety.
There are two experiences you can have.
The Lower Pigeon Gorge has bouncy waves and gentle rapids so is suitable for children as young as three.
However, for older children and adults, there is the Upper Pigeon Gorge where there are bigger rapids and a thrilling ride.
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