Located in eastern Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the nearby towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have just the right ingredients for the perfect vacation experience. A mix of attractions, outdoor activities, great restaurants, nightlife, and rental cabins bring people back to Gatlinburg year after year and generation after generation.
Sights to See
Stunning waterfalls, fishing, camping, wooded hiking and biking trails, and abundant wildlife make Great Smoky Mountains National Park an outdoor lover’s dream. A designated world ecosystem, teeming with wildlife and foliage, the park has lots of easily navigated trails that lead to stunning overlooks, waterfalls, and natural caves. Several scenic drives, such as the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, let families with small children or people with limited mobility enjoy the Smokies right from the comfort of their car. The most popular place in America’s most popular national park is Cades Cove, with an 11-mile loop road that has plenty of stops along the route where you can picnic, hike, and explore a variety of historic buildings. The highest overlook in the region, Clingmans Dome, offers views of seven states. Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Gatlinburg, Tuckaleechee Caverns boasts the tallest underground waterfall in the United States.
Rent a Cabin
The hundreds of Smoky Mountain rental cabins nestled in the hills offer the perfect mix of rustic charm and modern convenience. Gatlinburg cabins come in sizes from one to twenty bedrooms, most with en-suite bathrooms, as well. Even the smallest cabin offers more space than most hotel rooms. You’ll be able to unpack, unwind, and settle in for the entire vacation. Enjoy a hearty breakfast and brisk mountain air in the morning. Area cabins come with large porches and gourmet kitchens. Melt your cares away in the hot tub while the kids keep busy in the game room. Whether it’s a romantic weekend or a two-week family vacation, nothing beats a cabin for comfort, convenience, privacy and the sheer fun of cabin living.
The area’s largest amusement park, Dolly Parton’s famous Dollywood, features over a hundred different rides, a 35-acre water park called Splash Country, and daily live entertainment. The Travel Channel named Dollywood’s Splash Country one of the best water parks in the country. The surrounding area features several mountain coasters, chair lifts and gondolas, one of the nation’s largest aerial tramways, and numerous mountain rides including ziplines and treetop adventures. The newly opened Island at Pigeon Forge provides fun with live music, attractions, rides, games, and lots of shops and restaurants. Anakeesta, above Gatlinburg, offers a relaxed experience with a gondola ride to the top of the mountain, and a world to explore with a restaurant, gift shop, and some great views of the Smokies waiting at the top. You can catch the mountain coaster, take a zipline adventure, play in the tree house village or just relax and have a picnic.
The Sevier Air Trampoline and Ninja Warrior Park fits the bill for interactive fun. The park has the first-ever three-story net system for children between two and ten years old as well as thirty-eight-thousand square feet of junior and advanced Ninja Warrior Courses and Trampolines. Other area attractions include a nationally acclaimed Aquarium, one of the largest tropical discovery zoos in the world, science and history museums, a Titanic replica, and a Biblical recreation with 3D dioramas. You can also find a multitude of mini golf courses, go-kart tracks, arcades, indoor snow(!), indoor skydiving(!), trampoline adventures, downhill Zorbing, and every other kind of kids activity imaginable. Up on the mountain, the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort offers year-round activities and attractions including an indoor ice skating rink, as well as snow tubing from Thanksgiving until Easter.
Year-Round Festivals and Events
A wide variety of festivals and special events take place throughout the year in the area. Fourteen different auto shows keep hot-rodders and classic car enthusiasts happy. Music events held annually include several Bluegrass festivals (tip: there’s even one at Christmas) as well as many free concerts at various venues, and the Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival, and Dollywood’s Festival of Nations. There are many food and wine celebrations, often accompanying the music festivals. Just for laughs, the annual Gatlinburg Improv Fest takes place each year in early March. The five-show festival features almost twenty different improv troupes from all over the United States and Canada. Also held in early March each year, the annual Winter Carnival of Magic attracts professional magicians from throughout the United States, to perform and lecture.
At several times throughout the year, one of the nation’s largest communities of independent artisans puts on an Arts & Crafts fair, for some of the best gift items and unique handmade wares on display anywhere in the country. There’s also a year-round 8-mile scenic loop road, the Community Trail, with hundreds of shops and galleries that house these artists, for days of browsing. Each year in November, the towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg decorate their streets with millions of holiday lights, for the season’s festivities known as Winterfest and Winter Magic. There are strolling carolers, storytellers, animated characters, and lots of holiday-themed shows. Santa always makes an appearance.
Downtown Gatlinburg has lots of family attractions and reasonably priced shops and restaurants. The area is also home to the largest community of independent artisans in the country. Just outside Gatlinburg, over 100 studios, galleries, shops, and eateries line an eight-mile scenic loop known as the Arts & Crafts Community Trail. Nighttime fun includes family-friendly shows from theaters such as Country Tonite and Dolly Parton’s Stampede. Other popular things to do include golf and outdoor activities such as ziplining, as well as horse riding, and whitewater rafting. There’s mini-golf, go karts, arcade games, and a variety of tours and museums. When your feet get tired, hop on the trolley. A reasonably priced trolley service connects Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Dollywood, and a portion of the national park. It’s free in the summer and offers Holiday Lights sightseeing tours in the winter.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Ken Lund on flickr – some rights reserved
Thunderhead at Dollywood – Wikimedia creative commons
Hollywood Wax Museum in Pigeon Forge – Wikimedia creative commons
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