The Top 15 Things to Do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, at sunset in fall

Jonathan Ross / Getty Images

Gatlinburg may be well known as the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park—America’s busiest national park—but you don't have to leave town to experience the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. You'll find more things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, than can be squeezed into a weekend trip. Gatlinburg boasts many opportunities to enjoy Appalachian culture beyond moonshine tastings and the many kitschy, family-friendly activities. If you're planning a trip, here's what to have on your list.

01 of 15

Shop for Local Art and Handicrafts

An artisan making pottery in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Address
668 Glades Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738-5417, USA
Phone +1 865-436-6921

A seemingly endless amount of shopping is available right on Gatlinburg's main strip, but for authentic, locally produced Appalachian artwork, head out to the nearby Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community. The 8-mile driving loop is home to more than 100 artists and independent craftspeople selling their creations. Cliff Dwellers, one of the shops, dates back to 1933! Wares are authentic and handmade; imports aren’t allowed. Food, workshops, and demonstrations are available along the route.

To reach the artists’ loop, take Glades Road at Light #3 or jump on a trolley (Yellow Route).

02 of 15

Walk Across the SkyBridge

Chair lift at Gatlinburg Skylift

wbritten / Getty Images

Address
765 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Phone +1 865-436-4307

Suspended 150 feet above town, the Gatlinburg SkyBridge is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. The chairlift to the observation deck has been in operation since 1954. Once on top, you’ll enjoy some beautiful photo opportunities of Gatlinburg with the Smoky Mountains as a backdrop. Perhaps the most thrilling part of the 680-foot-long SkyBridge is walking across the 30 feet of glass panels at its midpoint.

Look for the SkyLift next to the historic Gatlinburg Inn; the legendary song “Rocky Top” was written there in 1967.

03 of 15

See Sharks Up Close

The outside of Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Address
88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Phone +1 865-430-8808

There are plenty of indoor things to do along the strip, but one of the most memorable ways to spend a rainy afternoon is by visiting Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. The popular attraction opened in 1997 and is home to the marvelous marine life you would expect at a world-class aquarium, along with some other exotic surprises.

04 of 15

Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains

Hiking a creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Dan Reynolds Photography / Getty Images

Address
United States
Phone +1 865-436-1200

Gatlinburg serves as a perfect base for exploring the most visited national park in the United States. Entrance to the park is free, and roads and facilities are very well maintained. Stop in at the Sugarlands Visitor Center (10 minutes into the national park on US-441) to enjoy exhibits and grab a map. Quite a few scenic trails to overlooks and waterfalls are available to suit your time and energy.

You can also walk into the national park via the Gatlinburg Trail; look for the trailhead at the south end of town. The leisurely Gatlinburg Trail is dog friendly (most in the national park are not) and follows a river 1.9 miles past the remains of old homesites to the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

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05 of 15

Spend a Day at Anakeesta

Anavista, the observation tower at Anakeesta

Anakeesta

Address
576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Phone +1 865-325-2400

Perched atop a mountain 600 feet above town, Anakeesta is a 70-acre theme park that quickly became one of the top things to do in Gatlinburg after opening in 2017. The beautifully manicured grounds feel like one big botanical garden set high in the mountains.

Along with food, drinks, and activities, Anakeesta is home to a unique observation tower that offers 360-degree views of the national park. The Treetop Skywalk (the longest in the United States) is over 880 feet of connected bridges suspended above the forest floor. Lucky guests can sometimes spot bears from the aerial vantage point.

Reach Anakeesta from the center of Gatlinburg by riding a Chondola chair lift or taking the “Ridge Rambler” to the summit.

06 of 15

Ride the Aerial Tramway to Ober

The tramway to Ober, Gatlinburg

Jan Butchofsky / Getty Images

Address
1339 Ski Mountain Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Phone +1 865-436-5423

Ober is one of very few ski destinations in the southeastern U.S., but the 10 slopes, three chairlifts, and advanced snow-making capabilities draw a crowd. Indoor ice skating and a mountain coaster, alpine slide, maze, miniature golf, rock climbing, and other entertainment keep non-skiers busy. The massive lodge pleasantly held onto its 1970s vibe and hosts live music. A small wildlife area at Ober is home to black bears and other rescued creatures found in the region.

Ober is approximately 3 miles southwest of Gatlinburg. Get there by driving for 10 minutes on Ski Mountain Road. For more excitement, take the aerial tramway to the top.

07 of 15

Tour and Support Arrowmont

A complex basket created by artists at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Greg Rodgers

Address
556 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738-3202, USA
Phone +1 865-436-5860

Located downtown, the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts began as a settler’s school founded by a women’s fraternity in 1912. The operation was instrumental in Gatlinburg’s early success and was home to the first electric generator, telephone, newspaper, and health clinic in the area.

Today, Arrowmont offers residencies, classes, and workshops. Visitors can visit the galleries and explore the grounds on foot; check the calendar for special events that support Arrowmont's philanthropic causes.

08 of 15

Sample Moonshine at a Distillery

Wooden sign advertising moonshine tasting in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

miromiro / Getty Images

No list of things to do in Gatlinburg seems complete without a mention of moonshine. Legal moonshine has become big business in Gatlinburg; now, there’s wine, cider, and whiskey, too. The flavor spectrum leans toward fruity, but a few exceptions are available. Even if you don't partake in a tasting with free samples, you can still hear live Bluegrass music and learn a little about the operations. Ole Smoky Moonshine and Sugarlands Distilling Company are the most popular options, but you’ll see plenty of other places offering free tastings throughout Gatlinburg. Cheers!

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09 of 15

Check Out Quirky Museums

Ripley's Believe It or Not in downtown Gatlinburg

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Gatlinburg boasts several unique museums that will fit travelers of all kinds. Car and car-movie enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the collection of iconic cars featured in hit movies such as "Ghostbusters" and "Back to the Future" found at the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is home to 20,000 sets of shakers that were collected by its owners over 35 years. Visitors are encouraged to play the large collection of rare pinball machines and retro arcade games at the Gatlinburg Pinball Museum, a must-see for any arcade lover. And Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a one-stop-shop for oddities ranging from shrunken heads to Zoltar machines in a sideshow atmosphere.

10 of 15

Drive to Newfound Gap

View of the Smoky Mountains from Newfound Gap

Dean Taplin / Getty Images

Address
Newfound Gap Rd, United States

With an elevation of 5,048 feet, Newfound Gap is arguably the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the national park there in 1940. The 16-mile drive from Gatlinburg offers plenty of scenic overlooks and beautiful views of Mount LeConte.

If you’ve ever wanted to take a short walk on the famous Appalachian Trail, you can do so at Newfound Gap. You may even see thru-hikers bound for Katahdin, Maine, a grueling 1,972 miles away! Along with enjoying the views, you can straddle the state line and stand with one foot in Tennessee and the other in North Carolina.

11 of 15

Walk and Play on the Strip

Village Shops area of Gatlinburg main strip

Greg Rodgers

Gatlinburg’s main strip is pleasantly pedestrianized with lots to see and do. You’ll find galleries, arcades, candy shops, and kitschy attractions tucked between eateries and souvenir shops. The options for family-friendly entertainment are many, or you can simply stroll and people watch.

The main strip gets chaotic on summer weekends. For some tranquility, duck into the Village Shops, a cobblestone nook with a fountain and benches reminiscent of Europe.

12 of 15

Enjoy Live Country Music

A live concert at Ole Red in Gatlinburg

Jason Kempin / Staff / Getty Images

Address
511 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Phone +1 865-325-3101

Gatlinburg has never really been known for its nightlife, but some exciting new options are popping up. Country music star Blake Shelton’s Ole Red is a two-story bar and restaurant wrapped around a large stage. Daily live music from well-known performers keeps the new venue packed. Big acts regularly take the stage—most are planned, but some are unexpected, so keep your eyes peeled.

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13 of 15

Celebrate Holidays Differently

Fourth of July Fireworks Over Gatlinburg, TN
Joshua Moore / Getty Images

Although July is the busiest month in Gatlinburg, it’s also when you can see the first Independence Day parade held in the United States each year. Gatlinburg’s award-winning parade begins at 12:01 a.m. every July 4 and features patriotic floats along with an Army band.

Summer isn't the only time to celebrate. Gatlinburg is lit up and especially festive for Christmas. Even Oktoberfest gets observed in a big way at Ober.

14 of 15

Experience Appalachian History at Ely’s Mill

Appalachian scene at Ely's Mill near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Greg Rodgers

Address
393 Roaring Fork Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738-4804, USA
Phone +1 865-719-4078

Located less than 10 minutes outside of town along Roaring Fork Road, Ely’s Mill was built in 1925. Today, it’s an outdoor event space that backs up to the national park. You can see the historic mill, enjoy a unique 100-year-old shop, or just relax in the clean air by the rushing river. Cabin rentals are also available.

15 of 15

Sleep Somewhere Unique

Treehouse accommodation at Treehouse Grove near Gatlinburg

Greg Rodgers

You could stay at a regular hotel in town—there are plenty— or rent a cabin, but why not stay somewhere unforgettable? Gatlinburg boasts some incredible lodging options, including Treehouse Grove, which was designed by the star of the television series "Treehouse Masters," retro campers and safari tents at Camp LeConte, and Appy Lodge, featuring an Appalachian Trail décor and theme that easily makes it one of the most unique hotel choices in town.

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The Top 15 Things to Do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee