Words by Laura Drummond
Nestled in the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is one of the country’s most renowned mountain resort destinations with a proud heritage. For more than seven decades, the quaint town of 3,900 residents has welcomed millions of visitors with warm Appalachian hospitality. The city prides itself on its walkability, featuring countless centrally located options for dining, shopping, attractions, and accommodations. With three entrances to the national park in town, Gatlinburg is a brilliant basecamp for anyone eager for outdoor adventure and exploration. Join people from all over the world in celebrating the abundance of what Gatlinburg has to offer. Your incredible excursion awaits!
3 Must-visit Restaurants
- Pancake Pantry – Gatlinburg is known for its plethora of pancake houses, but this one has a rich history spanning more than 60 years! Adjacent to The Village Shoppes, the Pancake Pantry serves up signature stacks as wholesome as the warm, welcoming atmosphere. There’s no better way to begin a day of your Gatlinburg getaway. Pass the syrup!
- The Greenbrier Restaurant – The ultimate occasion destination, the Greenbrier boasts a chef-driven menu, featuring hand-cut, dry-aged prime steaks and carefully crafted cocktails. Sip on “The Dylan,” an old-fashioned with a beautiful table-side presentation, or sample the new “Elevated Dylan Experience,” which substitutes the Heaven’s Door 92 proof bourbon with a cask strength exclusive to this upscale establishment.
- The Park Grille – Located right next to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Park Grille is a must-visit for explorers. The interior, designed like a rustic mountain lodge, will make you feel right at home. Once seated, you’ll enjoy a menu loaded with the flavors of southern Appalachia.
3 Must-visit Nature Scenes
- Alum Cave Trail – For stunning scenic sights, hike this popular trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Journey the five miles up to the summit of Mount Le Conte, the third highest peak in the Smokies, and you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view. If you’re feeling less adventurous, stop at the Alum Cave Bluffs, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead. Along the way, you’ll cross through Arch Rock, a rare, natural slate rock arch.
- Clingmans Dome – Climb to the highest point in Tennessee—at 6,643 feet! From the observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome, you’ll be treated to the most spectacular 360∞ views of the Smokies. Be prepared for a temperature change and wet conditions, as the dome’s coniferous rainforest can be as much as 20∞F cooler than the area below. The dreamy atmosphere feels like you’re walking through a cloud.
- Gatlinburg SkyBridge – Peep a picturesque panorama with no hiking required! Ride the SkyLift, Gatlinburg’s longest running attraction, up to the top of Crockett Mountain. Then take in the awe-inspiring views while walking along the SkyBridge, North America’s longest pedestrian cable bridge. It’s an ideal spot for watching the sunrise or sunset—and a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
3 Must-visit Attractions
- Anakeesta – There’s something for thrill seekers of all ages at this mountain top theme park. Race a friend on the zipline and sprint down the mountain on a roller coaster. Venture across the longest tree-based skywalk in North America, check out the view from the observation deck, and complete an interactive challenge course. Grab dinner and watch the sunset from Cliff Top Restaurant or chow down with some barbecue from Smokehouse. Stick around after dark for Astra Lumina, an enchanting experience unlike any other found in the U.S. You’ll never want to leave!
- Ober Mountain Adventure Park and Ski Area – The southernmost ski resort in the country—and the only one in Tennessee—offers slopes for all skill levels. You can also enjoy snowboarding, ice skating, and snow tubing. Snow sports not your thing? Have fun on the scenic chairlift and mountain coaster. In the warmer months, Ober Mountain operates an alpine slide and more. Don’t forget to stop by the Wildlife Encounter to see animals native to the area.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – Dive into the underwater world of this special aquarium! Enjoy an immersive experience in the Shark Lagoon, a glass tunnel with a moving glidepath that gets you up-close to sharks, sawfish, tarpons, and sea turtles. Visit Touch a Ray Bay to feel the rays’ smooth skin as they glide by. Time your visit to catch the daily Penguin Parade, a procession of these cute creatures. The attraction also gives you the chance to take part in special events, like a painting experience with penguins, a glass-bottom boat ride, and an overnight sleepover with sharks.
- Don’t leave Gatlinburg without taking time to browse the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community. With more than 100 members, this is the largest independent organization of artisans and crafters in the U.S. There are so many handmade treasures to discover along the 8-mile loop, including pottery, glass-blown objects, paintings, and jewelry. Most of these handcrafted pieces are one-of-a-kind and only found in Gatlinburg.
- If you want to see the sights of the Smokies from the comfort of your car, tool along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The 5.5-mile loop will have you meandering through lush forests and historic homesteads. Look out for The Place of a Thousand Drips, a low-flow waterfall with chutes and cascades intricately woven along the mountainside.
- Cades Cove is a favorite of Gatlinburg visitors because it features exceptional views of the Smokies, opportunities to see wildlife, and historical information along the way. On Wednesdays, the 11-mile loop is closed to vehicles, so you can take in the sights on foot or bicycle. This option is a unique way to see a popular destination and allows you ample time to explore.
- With so much to do in the Smokies, you’ll likely need a refreshment. Check out the welcoming wineries and delightful distilleries in the area to help you quench your thirst! Visit Ole Smoky Moonshine for a tasting of one of the most popular—and deeply rooted—spirits in the region. Sip and stay awhile at Tennessee Homemade Wines for a truly local experience. Stop in at Sugarlands Distilling Company for a guided tour and taste their award-winning Sugarlands Shine and Appalachian Sippin’ Creams.