So you want to stay in Gatlinburg? Would you like to know a little bit about what to do when you get here? Are you a little (ok, maybe a lot) intimidated by all the research that is involved with planning a Gatlinburg vacation? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then let’s give you a bit of a break and break down some of the essentials when it comes to a trip to this pretty little mountain town that is filled with fun things to do for the whole family.
Remember: your vacation should be free from worries and require as little thinking as possible once you’re here. This will hopefully serve as a guide to help you achieve an abundance of bliss and pleasure. This is your respite from the daily grind.
1. Stay in a downtown hotel
This is for people who want the total Gatlinburg experience. There are tons--and I do mean tons--of cabins to choose from in the areas. These surround Gatlinburg, the Smoky Mountains, and frankly, all over Sevier County. If you streamline your search to just the downtown area, you are saving yourself the trouble of finding the right prices, reviews, and location that can cause headaches instead of happiness. There are plenty of reputable hotel chains. There are also mom and pop establishments that have been around for decades. They have the sole purpose of making your vacation a friendly and hospitable one.
Two hotels that immediately come to mind. Those that are are the epitome of hospitality are Zoder’s Inn and Suites and Jack Huff’s. Both of these are downtown but away from the commotion of the Parkway. For chain hotels, Gatlinburg boasts some of the best of the Choice and Hilton brands. There's Quality Inn and Suites on both ends of town, a Hilton Garden Inn, and Hampton hotels. So, overall not an overwhelming selection (by no means is this every hotel in town) but this will keep it simple. Most hotels are convenient to most everything in Gatlinburg.
2. Be Prepared to Walk
Something that is definitely unique--and appealing--to those whom like the idea of ditching the car is the walkability factor that is Gatlinburg. The entire length of Gatlinburg end to end is a little over 2 miles. However, a majority of the shops and things to do are located within half that distance. This makes it a place that contrasts with the constant battles with traffic in Pigeon Forge.
This also means by following the first tip, you can avoid paying for parking in town. Gatlinburg hotels do not normally charge a fee for using their lot for parking if you stay with them. Since Gatlinburg requires a healthy amount of walking to get to the different shops, it may be hard for some to get around, but there are options elsewhere too.
3. Take the Trolley as an Alternative
If walking is not your strong suit, this is a great option to get around in town. The Gatlinburg Trolley is an efficient system of getting around the city with regular routes that run daily. These routes are color coded and take travelers to different points in and outside the Gatlinburg area. The trolley stops are clearly marked and numerous enough to ensure that you won’t have to wait very long before one shows up.
The home base for the trolley is located centrally next to the famous Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It lists the wait times of all the color-coded routes. If you don’t want to get back in your car to travel to Pigeon Forge for an activity, there is a route that will take you there too. Keep in mind the wait for this will be a bit longer, but most routes within Gatlinburg are timely. So you don’t have to waste precious vacation time waiting.
4. Eat at a Pancake Restaurant
The Smoky Mountain tourist areas may be known for pancake houses just as much as they are for The Smoky Mountains themselves. The crown jewel of the pancake houses is definitely the Pancake Pantry located in downtown Gatlinburg. They’ve been around more than 50 years! They still do things the old-fashioned way--operating with hand-written tickets with the only method of payment being cash. The lines can be long but they move fast. With the pancakes being the star, diners also have plenty of other tasty options.
That’s not your only option in town though: Flapjacks Pancake cabin has two locations in the Burg; Log Cabin Pancake House is another favorite; and Little House of Pancakes is a popular favorite of the locals. None of these options are a bad way to spend the morning when you are here in Gatlinburg. It is recommended that even if you’re on a budget, you should make at least one splurge to one of these popular eateries.
5. Sample the Goodies
Here is a good problem to have. You went out to one of the delicious breakfast restaurants in Gatlinburg, and you’re too full to eat a proper lunch. However, you still want a little something in your stomach. This is the perfect opportunity to seize upon the various savory and sweet samples that are situated all over the downtown area. The best variety of samples is probably located at All Sauced Up on the Parkway. They have everything from dips and sauces to jams and jellies available. These will make it almost impossible to not take some back to the hotel with you.
Fudge can be sampled at any number of places along the Parkway. There's the Fudge Shoppe of the Smokies, Chocolate Monkey, and Kilwin’s. Ice cream can also be sampled at the latter two and also at Mayfield and Maypops. The latter makes their version of homemade ice cream. There’s even a place in town where you can sample popcorn: Pop Culture Popcorn. With favorites such as Aged Wisconsin Cheddar and off-the-wall varieties like Smores Caramel Corn, you’ll be glad you satisfied your (mild) hunger here. It’s worth repeating--and there are signs to remind you--that no matter how hungry or how much you like a particular sample, try not to double-dip no matter if you’re sick or not.
6. Shop Til You Drop
Many people visit Gatlinburg every year due in large part to their variety of shops. Everyone knows that it comes with the territory to have plenty of neat--and tacky--souvenir shops in a tourist locale. However, what some people don’t know until they arrive is how diversified the selection can be. You just have to look around. There are shops like The Maples Tree and Johnathan’s that offer more than just souvenirs; scrapbook items and home decor items can be found inside these local businesses.
People who are looking for religious-themed items can find what they’re looking for at God’s World in Baskins Square Mall and God’s Corner in The Village. Speaking of The Village, this is one of the more unique places for the shopper. It is a beautiful European-themed village that seemingly takes you out of Gatlinburg for a moment. It places you in a distinctly different atmosphere full of variety--with 27 small shops and chains calling this lovely “Village” home. Many tourists point to this place as being one of their favorite places to shop in Gatlinburg Stop in to see what makes it so special to so many.
7. Sample the Shine
If you are not against a little alcohol consumption, you may want to see what the deal is with the growing popularity of moonshine distilleries that are now quite prominent in Sevier County. The big 3 in Gatlinburg are Sugarlands Distilling, Ole Smoky, and Doc Collier’s. Ole Smoky was the first legal moonshine to open. They now have 2 locations in town--one of which also makes different whiskey flavors. Their main retail and tasting area is located in the Moonshine Holler off the Parkway.
Their impressive display of merchandise may distract you temporarily by the outdoor music that is usually on display in the form of various bluegrass, rock, and country bands. National and local acts have stepped on this stage to entertain scores of tourists yearly since 2010. There are more than 20 different flavors of moonshine available here. For $5, you can sample some (sorry, not all at once) of the popular--and new limited edition--flavors. Sugarlands Distilling Co. is a more entertaining place but with some more high quality moonshine.
Their tastemakers make the experience fun and educational with their enthusiasm for the product. This is another must-do in Gatlinburg. Last but certainly not least is Doc Collier’s. Their product is made from spring water with the recipes dating back to the rich family history of the Collier’s. They don’t sell it anywhere other than the distillery right here in Gatlinburg. So get this great product while you’re here, otherwise you’ll regret not bringing home a bottle.
8. Ride a Chairlift
Another aspect of Gatlinburg that is lacking in other areas is its location surrounded by hills and mountains. This gives it the opportunity for people to get spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains via chairlift. The newest attraction is Anakeesta. Here you have the option of riding a chondola--an enclosed lift--or an actual chairlift that seats four people. The other chairlift on the Parkway is the Sky Lift. This was recently revamped due to the fires that did damage to the gift shop at the top.
The third chairlift is at Ober Gatlinburg, which can be a totally separate recommendation in Gatlinburg being a ski resort. The scenic chairlift is at Ober Gatlinburg. However,the tram ride up to Ober is another separate ride you can enjoy too. What’s the same with each one of these rides is the fact that you can get stunning views of the city of Gatlinburg and the surrounding Smoky Mountains. So bring your camera and click--or tap--away at the majestic natural beauty of East Tennessee.
9. Take a Drive Into the Mountains
No trip to Gatlinburg should be complete without a visit to The Smoky Mountains. Some people are surprised to realize just how close they are until they get to the end of town and see the sign that welcomes you to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Not far beyond the sign is the Sugarlands Visitor Center which can prepare you for your visit by various means: maps, books, videos, park information given by the employees and volunteers. You will also be surprised to learn that the Smokies are a prime location for waterfalls, flowers, trails, salamanders, and historically preserved homes of families that once roamed this landscape before it became a National Park in the 1930’s.
Newfound Gap Road makes the drive into the mountains a relatively easy thing if this is the route that you choose. A drive to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is another wonderful drive that takes you into a wondrous world that welcomes you when you are seemingly swallowed up into a tree-laden nature utopia. On this trail you can also park the car and take a walk on a few trails and visit old homesteads that the Park has been hard at work of maintaining.
Still, a drive out to Cades Cove might be the prettiest thing you’ll see on your trip. This is a valley, which was also home to people before the founding of the Park. It is known for all the different wildlife that wanders through the beautiful landscape while being watched intently by all the people driving the loop. This is much more open than Roaring Fork, but no less appealing in its appearance.
10. Early With Everything is Easiest
In coming up with the last tip on the list, this one probably pulls in every single one of these tips for activities in Gatlinburg. The best advice any one person can give is to be timely with everything you do here. Do you want to not fuss with a line at the restaurants? How about enjoying an activity without dozens, if not hundreds, of other people? Do you also want to enjoy the totality of your vacation without herds of fellow tourists getting in the way? Well, you just might want to get up at the break of dawn--instead of catching some extra z’s--and get a head start on the day’s activities.
A majority of vacationers don’t do this, so that means at seven in the morning you can get a nice pancake breakfast without a wait, then take a drive into the mountains. If you are staying in town for the day, get started the same way for breakfast and find the earliest times certain things open. There are places that do open at nine, so you don’t have to wait long; and most will be open at ten or eleven to a limited amount of people.
There aren’t usually lines of people waiting on attractions or shops to open no matter what season it is. By keeping this in mind, you can split up your three or five day vacation by doing all the things you want to do at your leisure. The same applies to restaurants later in the day: go during a time when the fewest amount of people usually eat; for example, eating dinner at 4 p.m. at a popular Gatlinburg eatery.
Hopefully, now you have a pretty good idea of what to expect when visiting Gatlinburg. You will find that there are tons more options than the ones listed here that will make your trip an enjoyable one. Each one is sure to interest someone in your family, as the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg offer something for the extrovert or introvert in the family. Give these 10 tips a try and we’re sure that you will want to start planning your next trip soon after you return home