Road Trip: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg is a small town nestled in the valley of the Great Smoky Mountains and is a close neighbor to Pigeon Forge — home to the famous Dollywood amusement park. Gatlinburg is roughly 10 square miles, so it is very walkable with many different theatres, activities, restaurants, shops and even an aquarium. The nearby Smoky Mountains receive 12 million visitors per year and is the most visited national park in the United States, so you can imagine how busy Gatlinburg can get. 

With Gatlinburg being such a busy town, plan ahead and be prepared. If you’re not staying in a hotel near downtown, parking can get pretty limited and pricey; it is $20 for day parking in town, but you can also use the town trolley, which is a much cheaper option. To avoid larger crowds in town, plan to visit earlier in the day, during the week or in the off-season, closer to the winter months. 

If you’re looking for fun activities, no matter if you’re a couple or have a family, you’re in luck. There are activities for every age in town. Some kid-friendly activities you can do include any of the experience theatres (3D to 5D shows), the mazes, museums and Ripley’s aquarium. You can also head to the SkyLift, which leads you up to the SkyBridge, a new addition to Gatlinburg and the longest pedestrian sky bridge in North America. You can also take a gondola ride up to the Anakeesta Village, which has an assortment of activities from rope courses, zip lining, gem mining and a mountain coaster. For the adults out there, you can try the Ole Smoky Distillery moonshine and whiskey tastings or the many wine bars in town. There’s also plenty of nightlife with bars where you can go for live music and a good time. 

If you’re feeling outdoorsy, we definitely recommend heading over to the Great Smoky Mountains. The visitor center is a great place to learn more about the park and the flora/fauna that live there. Some popular hikes include Cades Cove, Alum Cave (for a longer hike, you can continue up to Mount LeConte) and Chimney Tops. If you continue further down the road, you can head to Clingman’s Dome, which is on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s about a 1.5 mile walk from the parking lot to the Dome. If you aren’t in the mood for much physical activity but want to experience nature, you can stop off at all of the different overlooks in the park or rent a UTV and drive through the park. 


Go to some different tasting rooms around downtown. So, try the famous Ole Smoky Distillery‘s moonshine and whiskey tasting rooms. Both options are outstanding, but the whiskey tasting was a favorite! If you’re in the mood for some grub, you can choose from the many options you’ll find around every corner, but some fan favorites are Southern Comfort and the Log Cabin Pancake House. 


You can stroll through the whole town of Gatlinburg pretty quickly since it’s a small town, but the most unique strolling spot we found was called “The Village.” It is a section of the town that has an old-time European village aesthetic. It makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a small Italian village.


If you’re in the mood to get spooky, you can do one of Gatlinburg’s most popular tours which is the Ghost & Haunt Tour of Gatlinburg. You can also book a moonshine tour where you do moonshine tastings and get go behind-the-scenes to check out the distilleries and how they work. Tennessee is, after all, famous for their moonshine!


The most popular lodgings in the town of Gatlinburg are the Margaritaville Resort and the Graystone Lodge. The Bearskin Lodge on the River is also an excellent option for a rustic feel with a view of the river. There is plenty more lodging on the outskirts of town, or you can stay in the nearby city of Pigeon Forge, where the prices drop just a tad.