Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is home to a bustling downtown area filled with interesting attractions and delicious restaurants; and it’s also home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – a natural oasis hosting thousands of miles of fun for outdoor adventures.
If you’re heading to a place packed with so much adventure, you need to know the best ways to spend your time and the essential things to do in Gatlinburg TN. Follow our huge list to select the right items for your Tennessee itinerary, regardless of your travel style!
PARTNERS WE LOVE
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN GATLINBURG
- Best Near Downtown: Located near downtown Gatlinburg, The Appy Lodge has it all! With an outdoor pool with a waterslide, an indoor pool, hot tub, free WiFi, and a fitness center -- it has everything you'll need. And its location cannot be beat.
- Best Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Located right outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Park Vista is located in Gatlinburg and features a multi-level indoor pool.
- Best Near Ripley's Aquarium: Bearskin Lodge on the River features free WiFi and views of the river in Gatlinburg. The property is located within walking distance of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.
ESCAPE THE CITY HUSTLE AND BUSTLE AT ANAKEESTA
Anakeesta is an award-winning mountaintop adventure park located above, and in the heart of, downtown Gatlinburg. You'll find activities, events, dining, adventures, ziplining, amazing views, and more at this outdoor theme park.
HOW TO GET TO ANAKEESTA
- The Chondola is a chair/gondola like you’d take when skiing, but it's not your average chair lift. Each seat holds 4, with a security bar and I felt perfectly safe with my boys. They loved it, in fact, and we saw a momma and baby bear below us (in the forest) as we climbed! We rode this over and over again.
- If the Chondola makes you nervous, there are also two gondolas you can step into for the ride.
- The Ridge Ramblers provide guests with another way to get to Anakeesta. The passenger trucks take you on a scenic guided tour through the forest as you journey to the summit of Anakeesta. This is at no extra cost and has unlimited rides included in your admission.
There are lots of excellent ways to eat here. Dining at Anakeesta is a fun experience. If you’re looking for something casual, consider Smokehouse, serving BBQ. The smells coming from the smoker will set your tummy growling early in the morning! And the picnic tables there offer fantastic views to match your sandwich.
For a few more choices, or a sit-down meal (with a full bar!) then try Cliff Top Restaurant. You’ll love the salads, burgers and kids’ selections. It’s all outside dining, but under a giant roof….so it’s like the best of both worlds.
Finally, to satisfy your sweet-tooth, try a slice of pie or ice cream from Pearl’s!
You'll also find Kephart Cafe, Tap House, The Bar at The Top of the World, The Snack Shack, Tennessee Sidecar, and The Watering Can.
ADVENTURES AT ANAKEESTA
- The Canopy Treetop Skywalk was my personal favorite! A boardwalk-style treetop skywalk winds you through the trees on such a peaceful and relaxing walk.
- Anakeesta offers dueling ziplines, so you can challenge your friend to a flight to the finish. Bonus: There are four stations, and from two of the stations you land on an upper deck in the tree, and then rappel down to the lower deck for your next zip!
- AnaVista Tower is the highest point in downtown Gatlinburg. This observation tower provides guests with 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains.
- The Treehouse Adventure Play Area was a hit with my boys! Children of all ages will love playing in the trees in this whimsically themed treehouse village interconnected by multiple bridges.
- Astra Lumina is one of the newer adventures here. Families can walk along a pathway at night and enjoy the lighting, projections, and sounds on this celestial pathway that takes you to 8 different zones. This is an add-on experience, and admission to the park is required.
- Vista Gardens is one of my favorite places. You’ll find a walking trail, spectacular art, a gnome's house, ideal selfie-spots...and bright, fun plants and flowers.
- TreeVenture Challenge Course is perched on the mountainside of Vista Gardens. Climb, crawl and slide your way through this interactive challenge course for all ages to enjoy.
- The Rail Runner Mountain Coaster starts at the top of Anakeesta and takes you on a winding journey down the mountain. This coaster uses a single rail system, so your views of the mountain from the coaster are not obscured by winding metal. We loved this!
SHOPS YOU'LL LOVE
While there are many quaint shopping experiences in Downtown Gatlinburg, you've got to see the ones at Anakeesta. You won’t want to miss Firefly Village!
Catching Fireflies is the sweetest store, with a genuine appreciation for the natural wonder of Anakeesta. You’ll find great gifts and souvenirs. My favorite is the tree in the middle of the store that changes branches with the season!
Other can't-miss shops include:
- The Mercantile, a modern take on a general store.
- The Great Outdoors Trading Company, a new addition where you'll find Smoky Mountain branded apparel and products.
Keep an eye on their calendar, as there are seasonal activities. For summer we enjoyed s’mores in the evening and live music…plus free activities for the kids on select days. Things like making a birdhouse are super ways to keep the kids engaged.
Insider Tip: Make sure at least one evening is spent at Cliff Top restaurant, taking in a view of the sunset. You can save $2 per person with tickets from our friend at Tripster.
ENJOY MOTHER NATURE AS YOU EXPLORE
SOAR TO NEW HEIGHTS AT OBER GATLINBURG
Ober Gatlinburg offers so much to do in every season -- making it a great place to visit!
The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram departs from Downtown Gatlinburg to the Ober Amusement Park and Ski Resort. The views from the tramway are glorious, and it's a quick way to get to the activity area without having to drive there.
In the winter, the Ski Area offers access to the ski slopes for a single session of skiing or snowboarding during day or night sessions. For families hitting the slopes for the first time, there are ski classes for children (starting at age 4) and adults, as well as snowboarding classes.
We visited in summer and loved the Ski Mountain Coaster, which climbs 1000 feet uphill before racing downhill to almost 3000 feet of turns, dips, zip-zags and corkscrews. The ride is perfect for any age, and each 2-person pair chooses how they want to experience it. You can zoom at up to speeds of 25 MPH or use the handbrakes for a more relaxed pace.
We also enjoyed the children's maze, mini golf, ice bumper cars, indoor-ice skating (yes, even in summer!) and more.
FLEX PASS: Breathe in the rich splendor of the majestic Appalachians with the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Flex Pass. Save up to 30% of admission costs at over 30 attractions and tours throughout the Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Smokies.
DISCOUNT FOR ONLY THE AERIAL TRAM: Save $2 per person on tickets here.
ADVENTURE AT GATLINBURG SKYLIFT PARK
Located in the heart of the downtown area, you'll be whisked 500 vertical feet high via the Gatlinburg Sky Lift, for spectacular views from an area surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Once there, your first stop should be Sky Bridge, where you can walk 680 feet across the valley. It also includes a 30-foot span of glass so you can peer 150 feet to the bottom. It's the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America.
After that, head to SkyCenter on the SkyDeck for a selfie in the iconic 1950s yellow SkyLift chair, then grab a pizza and a soda or beer and sit back and soak up the view.
Finally, hang tight for SkyTrail. This quarter-mile roundtrip boardwalk showcases unmatched views of the record-breaking Gatlinburg SkyBridge, and panoramic Smoky Mountain vistas.
GLIDE THROUGH THE TREES ON A ZIP LINE
CLIMBWorks is another great place to get your zip on! The tours here take you into the tree canopy for more than 2 hours, with 9 ziplines and 3 sky bridges over trees, ravines, streams and maybe even wildlife.
They offer two different tours -- the Mountaintop Zipline and their top-rated Treetop Zipline. The tours start with an escorted ATV ride to the top of the mountain. Must be at least 7 years old to participate.
HOOK A FISH WITH SMOKY MOUNTAIN ANGLERS
As the oldest fly shop in Gatlinburg, The Smoky Mountain Angler is the first place to head for trout fishing gear, guided trips, and information. They are a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency license agent and can get you licensed for fishing.
Insider Tip: When you stop by, ask about the “kids only” designated areas in the city of Gatlinburg stocked weekly.
CRUISE AROUND IN STYLE
A Jeep rental allows you to go where you want, when you want, so you can explore all Gatlinburg and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park have to offer. Rent a jeep for a day, a week, or even a month! Convertible tops are available. Cars and passenger vans are also available for rent.
WALK ONE OF AMERICA'S LONGEST SWINGING BRIDGES
One of the wonderful things about Foxfire Adventure Park are the beautiful trails and bridges that meander throughout the 150 acres of pristine forests, bubbling creeks, delightful Lost Mine Falls, beautiful vistas, and lazy creek-side treks.
Throughout these easy to moderate trails you will cross multiple unique bridges -- from log bridges to covered bridges to cable bridges -- including America’s second-longest swinging bridge, 70 feet above the east prong of the Little Pigeon River.
This Foxfire family fun adventure is great for all ages and even includes an on-the-ground obstacle course for both children and adults.
TAKE ON THE WHITE WATER WITH NOC
Nantahala Outdoor Center offers whitewater rafting trips for almost every age! Guests as young as 3 years old can raft on the Lower Pigeon section of the Big Pigeon River. It’s a short family-friendly float trip with gentle rapids, swimming holes, and beautiful scenery.
For more advanced adventurers, take on the Class III rapids with a white water rafting trip down the Upper Pigeon with full-on excitement, and the Smoky Mountain scenery in the background.
THINGS TO DO IN GATLINBURG TN: AREA ATTRACTIONS
DRIVE AND EXPLORE THE GREAT SMOKY ARTS & CRAFTS COMMUNITY
The Arts & Crafts Community is an 8-mile driving loop of independent artisans who create original collectibles and showcase the cultural history of the state. With over 100 world class artisans, they are the largest organized group in North America.
You'll also find great eateries, accommodations, and more. We adored getting a root beer float from Glades Soda Fountain, an old fashioned soda jerk with an antique cash register that the kids will love. And Split Rail Eats makes a mean salad for lunch!
SAY 'CHEERS!' AT EAST TENNESSEE'S FIRST MOONSHINE MAKER
There are a number of Moonshine establishments in Gatlinburg, but you're going to want to head to Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. It was Gatlinburg's first legal moonshine maker; they worked to change the law, update the stereotype, and make it easy for us all to indulge.
Your visit to The Holler gives you the true moonshine experience from the scent of fermenting grains, through the work of the authentic-working moonshine stills. Take a tour, listen to some live music, and have a great time.
WATCH THE SHARKS AT RIPLEY'S AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES
As the home of a 340-foot underwater tunnel - one of the longest underwater tunnels in world - a visit to the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies will bring you face-to-face with sharks, sea turtles, swordfish and other sea animals.
While you're there, check out the indoor Glass Bottom Boat Adventure! Just 3 inches of glass will separate you from the 12-foot sharks that call the aquarium home.
MORE RIPLEY'S AWESOMENESS
- Ripley’s Odditorium showcases more than 500 exhibits and oddities from around the world in 16 themed galleries. This was my personal favorite among the Ripley's museums.
- In the labyrinth of lights and mirrors at Ripley’s Amazing Mirror Maze, you’ll see yourself over and over and over and over again as you’re trying to find your way to the exit. It's kid-friendly, and declared the favorite attraction by my 6-year-old!
- Ripley's 5D Moving Theater is a state of the art theater with digital effects and motion seats will have you feeling like you’re in the movie!
- The Davy Crockett Mini Golf Course replicates the “old days” when Tennessee hero Davy Crockett roamed the area. Thirty-six holes cover two themed courses.
Ripley's sells combo passes or single attraction tickets.
SHAKE THINGS UP AT THIS MUSEUM
With more than 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers, Gatlinburg is home to the world’s only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum!
Children ages 12 and under are FREE. The $3 admission charge for adults goes toward any salt and pepper shaker in the shop.
POSE FOR A PHOTO WITH A STAR'S CAR
The Hollywood Star Cars Museum offers the best cars from movies and TV in recreated settings complete with sound, lights and action.
The most famous car of the collection is the Batmobile from the 1966 TV show, but other cars include The Ghostbusters Ecto-1 (original movie version), and General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard.
RIDE AN INCLINE TO MINI GOLF
At Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg, you'll ride an incline 300 feet above the city before arriving at two 18-hole putt-putt golf courses.
Each course is filled with mountaineer hazards -- like outhouses and stills -- and you and your crew are sure to have a memorable mini golf experience here.
SEE GATLINBURG FROM EVERY ANGLE
The Gatlinburg Space Needle provides a 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains from the observation deck after taking a ride up their glass elevator over 400 feet!
The newest feature, Higher Learning, offers an educational experience based on the local history and geography of the region.
RIDE A MOUNTAIN COASTER
As mountain coaster newbies, we got our feet wet on the one at Ober Gatlinburg, but the Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster is a little more intense and was a perfect "follow up" ride for the kids.
The Rowdy Bear coaster goes about 35 mph and includes some intense turns. If you are only riding it once, I recommend going at dusk and coasting through the lights.
Another option is the Moonshine Mountain Coaster. Reaching speeds upwards of 30 MPH, you can choose between single rider, double rider, or an adult/child combo. They also offer an unlimited 1-hour pass ticket, or an all-day pass for those who just can't get enough!
TAKE THE GATLINBURG TROLLEY ACROSS THE CITY
The Gatlinburg Trolley is FREE and it runs every day of the year. Visitors in the area can board a Trolley at any stop in Galtinburg. All Trolleys stop at the Mass Transit Center, located at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
You can use the Park N Ride Lot at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center, board a trolley and be in downtown Gatlinburg in a matter of minutes!
PLAY AT WILD BEAR FALLS WATER PARK
The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Water Park is an oasis that boasts a state-of-the art retractable roof and heated indoor water for complete comfort no matter the season.
Enjoy a lazy river, two giant water slides, and the interactive treehouse.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
From auto touring and bicycling to horseback riding or exploring burial landscapes, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers activities beyond just “exploring nature." We go to GSMNP multiple times a year, and there's always something new to discover.
There are also areas for fishing, hiking, picnicking, and experiencing waterfalls. Check out one of their historic buildings, or stop by a ranger-led program if you're looking for guided explorations.
Looking for more? Find more great glamping options near the National Parks here.
WALK TO THE TOP OF CLINGMAN'S DOME
Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the GSMNP, and it is a must-do! In fact, at 6,643 feet, it represents the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. On clear days you can see for about 100 miles from the observation tower!
Don't forget that you're in the Smoky Mountains though, so many times you'll experience the fog and mist with limited site view (that's what we got on our last hike to the top).
The climb to the top is a mere 1/2 mile from the parking lot. It is paved, but is an intense slope. We recommend bringing a walking stick and a jacket -- temps can be 20 degrees cooler up there!
Finally, during peak seasons (like holiday weekends, etc), you can expect a wait to get into the parking lot. It can be discouraging if this is your first visit, but it does move quickly. Bring snacks and water. Restrooms are available in the parking lot.
STOP AT A SCENIC OVERLOOK
If you’re looking for an ideal roadside spot to capture a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains, make a stop at the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook located on the Gatlinburg ByPass.
ASK A GUIDE FOR SOME HELP
Smoky Mountain Guides offers a variety of guided hikes, auto tours, and backpacking trips.
Their daily tours include hikes to hidden gems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, local history walks to farms from the early settlers, wildflower hikes, and auto tours to Clingman's Dome – all guided by local guides with a history of backcountry ethics and safety.
HIKE WITH FIDO
The Gatlinburg Trail is one of only two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allows dogs and bicycles.
The trail is almost two miles and offers views of the river, foundations and chimneys from several old homesites. It’s accessed from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg.
FYI: The other pet-friendly hiking trail is the Oconaluftee River Trail, located at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC.
REVISIT AN HISTORICAL HOMESTEAD
You’ll step back in time with a visit to the homestead of Noah “Bud” Ogle. The homestead includes a cabin, barn, and tub mill typical of a 19th-century Southern Appalachian mountain farm.
The Ogle cabin -- "a saddlebag" -- is a rare design for the region with two cabins joined by a common chimney. The tub mill is the last surviving operational tub mill in the park, and one of the few in the region.
EXPLORE THE VALLEY BY CAR
In addition to the mountain tops, some of the best opportunities for viewing wildlife come within the valley during a driving tour of Cades Cove.
White-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, groundhog, turkey, raccoon, and skunk are just a few of the animals you may see. The Cove can be viewed on a leisurely drive on the 11-mile, one-way loop road, or via a hike through the area’s trails.
Note: In the summer months, Cades Cove is vehicle-free on Wednesdays.
SELF DRIVING TRIP PLANS: Want to dive deep into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's rich past and present? Download the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Self Driving Trip!
HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS BY CAR
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5-mile loop driving trail that takes its name from the stream next to the trail. You can choose your own pace, and take in the wooded views and a partial history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on this popular drive.
HIKE ONE OF THESE AWESOME TRAILS
- Alum Cave Bluffs is a 5-mile round trip hike through a hardwood forest and the narrow tunnel of Arch Rock. This is one of my favorite trails in GSMNP! This trail is awesome -- and popular -- so get there early for parking.
- Charlies Bunion is a stone outcrop overlook along the world famous Appalachian Trail. The hike to Charlies Bunion is 4 miles each way. I've hiked this trail with my kids, and it is amazing!! Do it if you can.
- Rainbow Falls Trail is just over a 5-mile round-trip path to the summit of Mount Le Conte, accessed from the Roaring Fork Drive Trail. It takes its name from the rainbow produced by mist from an 80-foot high waterfall, visible on sunny afternoons just a mile into the hike.
- Chimney Tops Trail is a 2-mile path one-way, that gains 1,400 feet to its summit for a steep climb. This hike is one of the most popular because of its length and views.
STAY SOMEWHERE SPECIAL
We loved our stay at DJ's Station from Parkside Cabin Rentals. This rebuilt cabin rental home was dedicated to the firefighters who fought the Gatlinburg fires in 2016....and you are going to LOVE it!
The owner collected helmets, photos, and memorabilia to decorate the cabin and honor the firefighters. Here are 7 things to know about this rental.
- LOCATION IS EVERYTHING. We love the location of this cabin, right off light #6. You are only a short, easy walk from all the great attractions and restaurants.
- TONS OF SPACE. Three bedrooms and three bathrooms were available to our family of four, but they would easily have accommodated 2 or 3 families who might want to share the space. With the full sized kitchen and gloriously large dining table, it would be a super multi-family escape.
- HOT TUB. Dan and I loved the hot tub on the patio. Yes, you're in a neighborhood, but the space is blocked off and private.
- FIREPLACE. As much as I wanted to, it just didn't make sense for us to use the fireplace...but I'm anxious to head back in the cooler weather when Anateeska opens their mountain coaster amid the changing leaves, and soak up a fire in this cabin.
- GAME ROOM. Mark this as #1 for the boys! They loved the upstairs game room, complete with a pool table, old-school arcade, and tables for playing cards or board games.
- WASHER/DRYER. If you've ever taken kids hiking in a national park, then you know the value of a washer and dryer.
- EASY RENTAL. Parkside Cabin Rentals are super easy to deal with, making this a dream. They have free parking on the main street in Gatlinburg, so it's easy to jump out and get your map and key code. Plus, check out is easy...just throw the dishes in the dishwasher and go.
GATLINBURG TN FAQ
Is Gatlinburg worth a visit?
Gatlinburg is definitely worth a visit! Skiing in winter, beautiful weather in the spring, plenty of fun summer activities, and the amazing fall foliage makes this a year-round vacation destination.
What is Gatlinburg best known for?
Gatlinburg is best known for its mountain beauty and nature. This city is an outdoor lovers' paradise, and is home to an entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States.
When is the best month to visit Gatlinburg, Tennessee?
Many visitors love to visit in the fall, specifically September and October. In these months, you'll enjoy the beautiful fall foliage, along with pleasant temperatures.
MORE INFORMATON FOR YOUR TRIP TO TENNESSEE
- YOUR TENNESSEE VACATION
- CABINS: 30 Captivating Gatlinburg Cabin Rentals for Your Next Mountain Escape
- WATER PARKS: 7+ Fun Water Parks in Tennessee Your Family Needs To Visit Now
- TN WITH KIDS: 23+ Absolute Best Things To Do in Tennessee With Kids
- GLAMPING: Glamping in Tennessee: 21+ Perfect Places To Relax & Unwind
WHERE TO STAY IN GATLINBURG TN
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