Ober Gatlinburg, Winter Magic & Gatlinburg’s Best Winter Excitement

While you may know Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as a fabulous place to visit during warm weather for outdoor adventures, did you know it’s an equally amazing place in visit in the winter? It is!

Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s only ski resort, has everything you need for tons of winter fun!  Skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and ice skating are just some of the ways you can enjoy Gatlinburg during the colder months.

Ober Gatlinburg, Winter Magic & Gatlinburg's Best Winter Excitement
Courtesy of Gatlinburg

We’ve gathered a list of activities that are perfect for a winter escape to Ober Gatlinburg!  Pack your coats and scarves, and get ready for some picture-perfect fun.

Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park & Ski Area

1339 Ski Mountain Road, Gatlinburg, TN l  800-251-9202 Website

The skiers and snowboarders in your group will be in heaven on the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg, but if flying down a snowy mountain isn’t your thing — don’t worry!  Ober Gatlinburg has tons of activities to choose from, so every member of your group will find something to love.

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.  Let’s check out the list!

Skiing, Snowboarding, and Snow Tubing

From its beginning as a private ski resort in 1962, Ober Gatlinburg has always been 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. Mother Nature is in charge! There are 10 ski trails with one double chairlift and two quads. Skis, boots, poles and snowboards are available for rent, 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 needed for a ride down the mountain on a snow tube, though.  Just hop on and enjoy the ride!

Their snow tubing park opens the Saturday before Thanksgiving (November 21, 2020) and runs until Easter (April 4, 2021). Purchase a 90-minute session, then hop on the Magic Carpet — which is an outdoor escalator — to take you up the mountain for some snow tubing fun.  Children ages 3-4 can ride for free with a paying adult, but children 2 and under aren’t allowed on this one.

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 at Cubbies Snow Zone

Some little ones will experience snow for the first time at the Cubbies Snow Zone, an 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.

This fun play area for little ones under 48″ tall is open during ski season weekends.

Glide On the Ice Skating Rink

Want to ice skate?  Ober Gatlinburg has the perfect rink!

The large (140’ x 75’!) indoor ice skating rink is at the center of the enclosed Mountaintop Mall, making it a perfect place to glide along any time of year — but it’s especially great during the winter months.

The rink is perfect for novice skaters, or experienced ones too. There is a handrail around the rink for those who are new to the sport.

If you need a break, there are plenty of places to relax around the rink during your 3-hour session.

Rental skates are available from Toddler size 6 to Adult size 15.

Spin on 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!  These things look like the coolest things ever — you have to do it.

No athletic ability required, 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.

These are located on 1/3 of the ice skating rink, and it pretty much makes you feel like you’re in a video game.  I mean, a motorized tube on ice? Sign me up!

Ride the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway

For breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains, get on board the Aerial Tram! The tram leaves 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

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 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 5-7 minutes.

Ride the Scenic Chair Lift

While you may need to bundle up a bit more during winter, the year-round Scenic Chairlift is a relaxing way to see amazing mountain views.

The Scenic Chairlift  is the longest chairlift of its kind in the U.S., and it makes its way up to the top of Mount Harrison!

This 15-minute ride is definitely a must-do activity when you’re in Gatlinburg.

Zoom Down the Alpine Slide

Missing the water raft rides that summer brings?  Try the Alpine Slide instead! Since 1976, kids have been zooming down the Alpine Slide at Ober Gatlinburg.

For this fun, kid-friendly adventure, take the Scenic Chairlift to the midway point, where the slide awaits!  The sled-like cars have push and pull levers, so you can control your speed down the 1800′ tracks.

Race your friends!  Or take a relazing ride down and enjoy the view.  The choice is yours!

Become King (or Queen!) of the Mountain

Test your technical snow skiing skills and your freestyle creativity in this annual competition on the Mogul Ridge and Castle Run.

Competitors will be judged on 5 categories and will get 2 runs to show what they’ve got! At the end, a King of the Mountain skiier and snowboarder, and Queen of the Mountain will be crowned!

The event it free, and is held in January.

Cheer 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 Animals at Wildlife Encounter

While some animals, like black bears, 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!

All of the animals here are rescues who wouldn’t have survived in the wild.

You can expect to see river otters playing in their underwater viewing area, bobcats, and birds of prey in their enclosed aviary.  They also have a Nocturnal House, which features raccoons, skunks, flying squirrels, turtles, and snakes.

Enjoy the Chair Swings

You just cannot visit Ober Gatlinburg without taking a spin on a chair swing.  It’s a must-do activity that’s been around forever!

Feel the wind in your hair as you take flight in a chair swing that takes you up 5 feet.

Children must be 42″ to swing.

Ober Gatlinburg, Winter Magic & Gatlinburg's Best Winter Excitement
Courtesy of Gatlinburg

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 the 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!

Note: Dates for 2020 have not yet been released.

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 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.

In 2020, they are working to redesign the event to make it safe and in accordance with Tennessee’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The Festival of Trees runs from November 25th to November 29th and promises to provide holiday cheer and memories for families to kick off the holiday season!

Enjoy Music at the 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!

This fun event is a strolling interactive program in downtown Gatlinburg featuring Christmas carolers, storytellers, Santa’s elves, and Rudolph the Reindeer.

Holiday music fills the air, with millions of Christmas lights as a backdrop.  How magical is that?!

Note: Dates for 2020 have not yet been released.

Explore 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.

Dates: November 24 – December 6, 2020

See the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade

Who doesn’t love a parade? Especially one that features floats with one -of-a-kind LED displays, marching bands, dancers, huge balloons, and fun holiday characters!

And of course, Santa does make an appearance at the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade!

Date: December 4, 2020

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.

Ober Gatlinburg, Winter Magic & Gatlinburg's Best Winter Excitement
Courtesy of Anakeesta

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, and some are even available year-round.

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 delight visitors with their chic fall attire throughout Gatlinburg in the fall, officially change to Gatlinburg Snow People on December 1.

Laugh 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.

It’s the perfect place for some hilarious fun.

Shop 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.  You’ll find everything from trekking poles 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 maybe try them all?

Visit Santa at Anakeesta

576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN l 865-325-2400 l Website

Visiting Anakeesta, Gatlinburg’s newest theme park, is an adventure in itself!  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 at the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop

Bid good-bye to 2020 and hello to 2021 at the annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show! 

Fireworks will pierce the sky from the top of the Space Needle right at the stroke of midnight, accompanied by music and a light show.

This family-friendly event is held at the Historic Nature Trail.

Grab a Drink at a Brewery

There’s a good time a-brewin’ in Gatlinburg.

Make time for a stop at one of Gatlinburg’s breweries, and discover the handcrafted beers and ciders made in this mountain town.

Both Smoky Mountain Brewery and Gatlinburg Brewing Company have some great offerings!

Escape the Cold 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

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 will be able to see those same magnificent waterfalls partially frozen.

Embrace your inner Elsa, and enjoy the icy goodness!

Our Favorite Gatlinburg-area Cabins

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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, a charming downtown and dozens of adventures to enjoy any time of year, it’s got plenty to enjoy during the colder months.

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

Ober Gatlinburg, Winter Magic & Gatlinburg's Best Winter Excitement

An award-winning journalist (and Atlanta native!), Jan Schroder is Editorial Director of The 100 Companies, a digital publishing company, and Editor-in-Chief of The Travel 100. She is the author of several books and has been editor of a national travel magazine and community newspapers in Atlanta. Jan is married to Chris Schroder, with two grown children, Catherine and Christopher. They are all excellent traveling companions.

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