While you may know Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as a fabulous place to visit for warm-weather and outdoor adventures, did you know it’s an equally amazing place in visit in the winter? With Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s only ski resort, a charming downtown and dozens of adventures to enjoy any time of year, it’s got plenty for you and your family to enjoy during the colder months.
Check out our list of activities perfect for a winter escape. Celebrate the holidays in Gatlinburg or plan that first trip of the new year here – there’s no reason to wait until spring for your next family getaway.
At Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park & Ski Area
1339 Ski Mountain Road, Gatlinburg, TN l 800-251-9202 l Website
The skiers and snowboarders in your group will be in heaven on the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg, but with so many to choose from, every member of the family can find a favorite activity.
In addition to winter sports and attractions, there are several places for shopping and dining and annual special events you can’t see anywhere else.
Fly down a mountain by skiing, snowboarding or snow tubing
From its beginning as a private ski resort in 1962 Ober Gatlinburg has always being about skiing. While the resort now offers so much more, it never lost its original focus.
Ski and snow season starts around mid-December and ends sometime around mid-March, depending on the weather. There are 10 ski trails with one double chairlift and two quads. Skis, boots, poles and snowboards are available for rental, as are jackets, helmets and pants for adults and children.
Never skied before or maybe you need a refresher? Enroll in the Ober Gatlinburg Ski School to learn how to experience those adrenaline thrills while getting safely down the slopes.
No instruction is really needed for snow tubing – just hope on and enjoy the ride! Snow tubing season begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving and runs until April 1. Purchase a 90-minute session, then hop on the Magic Carpet, an outdoor escalator, to take you up the mountain for some snow tubing fun.
Kick off snow season with the annual free Back in Blue Rail Jam. Have those cameras ready to capture photos of the unbelievable tricks these skiers and snowboarders from several states perform on the frozen rails. Snow is guaranteed with Ober Gatlinburg’s “Snow Magic” refrigerated snow making system.
Insider Tip: If you bring your own snowboard or ski equipment, you can get it tuned up at Ski Mountain Sports and lock it up for free at the Courtesy Booth. Leave it overnight for a small fee.
Play in the snow with your children in Cubbies Snow Zone
Some little ones see snow for the first time in this enclosed area at Ober Gatlinburg created just for them. Remember how much fun it was to make snow angels? Show your kids how it’s done and then share your best snowman-making techniques.
Glide (and twirl?) on the ice-skating rink
The large (140’ x 75’!) indoor ice skating rink is at the center of Mountaintop Mall, making it a perfect place to glide along any time of year. If you need a break, there are plenty of places to relax around the rink during your three-hour session.
Spin and bump on the Ice Bumper Cars
If ice skating isn’t your thing, you can still get out on the ice and have a blast on the Ice Bumper Cars. Just hop on board one of the colorful tubes for 10 minutes of non-stop giggling while you bump, spin and zoom around the ice.
Ride above the trees on the Aerial Tramway
For breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains, get on board the Aerial Tram from downtown Gatlinburg for a 2.1-mile trip up, up, up the mountain to the Amusement Park and Ski area. After boarding one of the two 120-passenger trams, you’ll glide slowly up above Gatlinburg with magnificent views all around through the large glass windows during the 10-minute ride.
When you’re visiting in the winter, it gets dark earlier so you have more time to take a nighttime trip and experience beautiful views of the sparkling lights in downtown Gatlinburg.
You’ll definitely want to ride the aerial tramway, built in 1972. It’s one of the country’s largest Aerial Tramways and can carry 30,000 people a day, which translates to millions of passengers over its 45-year history. The ride is suitable for all ages.
Ski to church on Sunday to attend Church on the Slopes
No need to get off your skis to attend church at Ober Gatlinburg. Every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. during ski season, a church service is conducted at the top of Castle Run by Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries.
Race at your own speed on the Ski Mountain Coaster
Do you have some family members who are speed devils, while others may be a bit more cautious? This is the ride to please everyone.
The more cautious folks don’t have to worry about zooming down a mountain out of control – you control your own speed on the Ski Mountain Coaster, the highest mountain coaster east of the Mississippi.
And the speed demons can zoom as fast as they’d like – well at least up to 25 miles per hour – down the mountain and around the corkscrew turns, through dips and turns. You can ride one or two people per cart and the driver can apply the brakes at any time for a calmer ride. An average ride is from 5-7 minutes.
Weather permitting, you can also race down the Alpine Slide, two at at time.
Ride the longest Scenic Chairlift of its kind in the country
While you may need to bundle up a bit more during winter, the year-round Scenic Chairlift is a relaxing way to gently make your way up to the top of Mount Harrison during the 15-minute ride. Sit back and enjoy the view.
Compete to be King (or Queen!) of the Mountain in a freestyle competition
Test your technical snow skiing skills and your freestyle creativity in this annual competition on the Mogul Ridge and Castle Run. You’ll get two runs while competing to be King or Queen of the Mountain – titles will be awarded for skiers and snowboarders.
Cheer on athletes at the Special Olympics Winter Games
More than 150 athletes competed in last year’s Special Olympics Winter Games at Ober Gatlinburg, which has hosted the event for more than 30 years. Watch athletes of all ages and abilities compete in Alpine skiing, snowboarding and speed skating.
Visit native animals (the ones who don’t hibernate!) at Wildlife Encounter
While some animals, like the black bear, may be asleep for their long winter’s nap during the colder months, there’s still plenty of wildlife to view at the Wildlife Encounter, where all of the animals are rescues who wouldn’t have survived in the wild.
At the Annual Winter Magic Events
Gatlinburg and the neighboring towns of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville celebrate an annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest, lighting up Eastern Tennessee with 30 miles of holiday lights across Sevier County. Each city has its own celebration and Gatlinburg hosts a variety of events at its annual Winter Magic events.
Ride through the Gatlinburg Winter Magic Light Trolley Ride of Lights
Stay snuggled up and warm when you board a heated trolley for a 45-minute magical trip through vignettes of lighting displays at Gatlinburg Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights. Some of these colorful displays feature animals of the area, while recent additions include children from around the world, dancing fountains and a rocking horse.
If it suits your crew better, you can also drive through the lights on your own. However you choose to do it, don’t miss this magical holiday display!
Fun fact: All the lights on the trolley ride were replaced with LED bulbs. The cost for all those lights for the entire 120-day run is equal to just three days of what it used to cost for electricity.
Visit the dazzling Festival of Trees
W. L. Mills Conference Center at stoplight #8, Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, TN l Website
Be dazzled by the display of dozens of decked-out trees, hear carolers and visit Santa at the annual Gatlinburg Festival of Trees.
Catch some rollicking tunes at Winter Magic Tunes and Tales
Don’t be shocked if you’re greeted by a singing elf on the street during the annual Winter Magic Tunes and Tales, a strolling interactive program in downtown Gatlinburg featuring Christmas carolers, storytellers, Santa’s elves and Rudolph the Reindeer.
Explore local crafts at the Great Smoky Christmas Arts and Crafts Show
Find unique, hand-crafted gifts at the annual Great Smoky Christmas Arts and Crafts Show presented by our country’s largest organization of independent artisans, The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community. These artisans are located along the 8-mile-long Arts and Craft Loop.
Delight the people on your holiday list (or yourself!) with items like ceramic pitchers, stuffed bears, hand-woven baskets and quilts made with techniques that have been passed down for centuries.
Grab a spot for the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade
Who doesn’t love a parade? Especially one that celebrates our favorite holiday. And yes, Santa does make an appearance at the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade!
Insider Tip: If you go early you can snag a seat on the Parkway, or you can purchase a bleacher seat for guaranteed good views.
Gatlinburg’s Best Winter Excitement
Have you figured out yet why winter is one of our favorite seasons in Gatlinburg? Well, here are even more fun activities to enjoy in Gatlinburg in the winter, some available any time of year.
Say howdy to the Gatlinburg Snow People
To snow them is to love them. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) The popular scarecrow and pumpkin people who delighted visitors with their chic fall attire throughout Gatlinburg in the fall officially change to Gatlinburg Snow People December 1.
Catch some laughs at a comedy show at Sweet Fanny Adams
461 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN l 865-436-4039 l Website
Laughs are guaranteed at Sweet Fanny Adams, where you’ll find musical comedy entertainment suitable for the whole family.
Shop for the holidays at The Village Shops
634 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN l 865-436-3995 l Website
You’ll feel like you’re strolling through a European village when you visit The Village Shops in Gatlinburg. This charming collection of 27 shops will have unique gift items not found in every shop back home, everything from trekking poles for the hiker on your list to candles to monogrammed items to Celtic gifts.
Insider tip: Warm up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate and a freshly made donut from The Donut Friar. Good luck deciding between the flavors – or why not try them all?
Sit on Santa’s lap at Anakeesta
576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN l 865-325-2400 l Website
Visiting Anakeesta, Gatlinburg’s new theme park, is an adventure in itself where your admission includes a ride in a Chondola to this outdoor family-focused adventure park. While you may not spot any fireflies in the treehouse-themed Firefly Village in the winter, you will see Santa taking notes on who’s naughty and nice on Saturdays.
Count down the last days of 2018 at the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show
Bid good-bye to 2018 and hello to 2019 at the annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show as fireworks pierce the sky from the top of the Space Needle right at the stroke of midnight, accompanied by music and a light show.
Taste local beverages at breweries, wineries and distilleries
Try a sample of locally made handcrafted beers, wine made from local fruits and learn about the history of moonshine making in the area at one of Gatlinburg’s several local breweries, wineries and distilleries.
Escape the cold (so much to do inside!) in a cozy cabin
While we love the outdoors in winter, equally enchanting is snuggling up in a cabin with your family in front of a roaring fire. Gatlinburg has a huge selection of cabins of any size to choose from, many with magnificent views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Hike to Rainbow Falls to view frozen waterfalls and icicles
You may not be able to view the beautiful rainbow produced by mist from an 80-foot-high waterfall on a cloudy winter day, but if it’s cold enough you’ll be able to see those same magnificent waterfalls partially frozen. Pack those boots as you may encounter a bit of mud.
Looking for a cool place to stay in Gatlinburg?
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Disclosure: Thank you to Ober Gatlinburg for partnering with us on this post. It’s one of our favorite family vacay spots, and we are honored to help you find a way to make it special for your family, too. Post may contain affiliate links at no cost to you
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.