Why Vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee?
Are you looking for an American vacation spot rich in heritage but low on traffic jams and skyscrapers? Or maybe you just need a good dose of Civil War, or at least a small re-creation of Civil War. If so, the mountain village of Gatlinburg, Tennessee may be just the answer.
Nestled in a valley on the Pigeon River, and surrounded on three sides by mountain cliffs, Gatlinburg has become a charming tourist destination, complete with the annual re-creation of a part of the Civil War, the “Battle of the Burg.”
Gatlinburg wasn’t always known by its current name; it was once known as White Oak Flats, in deference to the magnificent white oaks that once populated this valley area of the Smoky Mountains.
First settled in the early 19th century by Revolutionary war veterans, Gatlinburg finally got its permanent name from a storekeeper who set up shop in 1855: Radford C. Gatlin. In 1856, a post office was opened in his store, and by default, the town took on his name. In spite of Gatlin’s somewhat infamous reputation as an outspoken Confederate sympathizer (he was driven out of the Gatlinburg community by Pro-Union members), the town retained his name.
Gatlinburg experiences a full range of weather types because of its mountain setting. July is the hottest month with temperatures averaging between 62 and 85 degrees F. Winters can get quite cold with temperatures falling to the low 20s, but snowfall is minimal with less than 6 inches accumulating through the winter months.
Gatlinburg is home to less than 3500 permanent residents; the area’s crime rate is almost non-existent when compared to other American cities and cities in the rest of the state. Parents can bring their kids here and know they will be relatively safe from crime.
Most tourists arrive by car, but the best way to see Gatlinburg is aboard the Gatlinburg Trolley which connects up conveniently to the Pigeon Forge trolley. A printable trolley route map will help you plan out your visit.
The nearest major cosmopolitan center is Atlanta, Georgia which is 144 miles to the south.
Must Sees in Gatlinburg, Tennessee!
No matter what your age or interest, a visit to Gatlinburg simply wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Smoky Mountains, located in the Blue Ride Mountain range. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is touted as “the most visited national park in America.”
Visit this stunning geographical location in any season for exquisite views of flora and fauna. You shouldn’t find the park too crowded since it covers about 520-thousand acres. Stop by the Sugarlands Visitor Centre to evaluate the numerous ways to spend time in this gorgeous Tennessee park.
Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway at Ober Gatlinburg – Regardless of the time of year you visit Gatlinburg, a tram ride is a must. First operated in September 1972, the Swiss-made tram has hauled many tourists and skiers to the top of Mount Harrison. The tram ride covers about 2 miles at a speed of 17 miles per hour. Each tram can carry 120 passengers.
Bales Cemetery – An historic visit must include at least one cemetery, especially a graveyard housing a single buried leg. It’s believed that Giles Reagan, upon losing his leg to a sawmill accident, insisted that the limb be given a proper Christian burial.
If you are a hard-core history buff, there are many old shops and buildings to explore like Ogle’s Broom shop and the first Baptist church.
Smokey Mountain Winery – Wine lovers mustn’t pass up the chance to taste the wines of this 25-year old award-winning winery. Free tours are offered daily, complete with a tasting room.
Cades Cove – Take a step back in time and travel this 11-mile one-way loop by car, bike or on foot. This nearly 68-hundred acre valley is one of the Great Smoky Mountain Park’s most beloved tourist destinations. Nearly 2 million tourists find their way to Cades Cove every year.
Fish for trout, visit some of the old 19th century preserved buildings, or watch for deer or wild turkey. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and gas up the car before you go because this place is rugged; no restaurants and no gas stations are allowed to spoil this pristine ecological area.
However you choose to spend your time in Cades Cove, you will leave with wonderful memories of this naturally beautiful portion of the United States.
Ramsey Cascades – This is the Great Smoky Mountains Park’s watery jewel. The Ramsey Cascades waterfall is located about 4 miles in, in the Greenbrier area. The walk is tough, so be prepared.
In early June, watch for the “Fire Fly Phenomenon” that takes place here. This is an annual natural occurrence whereby thousands of fireflies dot the hazy forest with a spectacular display of fairy lights.
Arrive before dusk, sit quietly on the trailhead and wait. Keep the flashlights off.
Sights and Attractions in Gatlinburg, Tennessee!
Christus Gardens of Gatlinburg – View 3D bible stories that come to life at this popular tourist attraction. The attraction actually provides 10 reasons to visit, just in case you are having a hard time making up your mind.
Camp Thunder Fun Center – Fun for kids of all ages, Camp Thunder has it all from Mini Golf to indoor Go-karts, laser tag to motion rides.
Museums & Theatres of Gatlinburg
Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre – This rowdy comedic musical theatre has been around since the late 70s and has been proclaimed, by the city of Gatlinburg, a National Historical Treasure.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum – Aren’t you just a little intrigued by a museum comprised entirely of salt and pepper shakers? Gatlinburg has the world’s only museum dedicated to these seasoning dispensers; 17,000 of them, in fact. You’ll find this quaint chalet-style museum in the Winery Square.
Star Cars Museum – Here’s an intriguing attraction to please both car and movie lovers. This unique museum is dedicated to the cars that have become celebrities in the movies and TV shows, of the past 50 years. Cars like those used in The Fast and the Furious and The Beach Boys 1955 Thunderbird have found their way into this Tennessee museum.
Among the 30 famous cars featured, you will find the Ghostbusters Ecto-1, 1959 Cadillac Ambulance; the Beverly Hillbillies “car”; and the Munsters mobile, the “Drag-u-la.” Definitely worth a peek, don’t you think?
Oh, come on now! The TV Batmobile is housed here, too. Not to mention, Elvis’ Lincoln mark IV. You simply must take a look.
Located right near the Gatlinburg Convention Center on the Parkway, the Star Cars Museum is easy to find. Plan about an hour’s visit. Little ones, under 6 years of age, are FREE.
Not enough to do in Gatlinburg? Well, if you have a car, there is a major amusement park just a short drive up the road at Pigeon Forge.
Dollywood – This popular amusement park is open from the end of March through the end of December. The park includes a huge variety of activities and musical events. Thrill ride lovers won’t be disappointed with the park’s 40 rides, like the wooden Thunderhead ride. Step back in time and take a ride aboard the Dollywood Express, an authentic coal-powered steam train. There’s no better way to see the Smoky Mountain scenery while listening to Dolly Parton tunes. The train ride takes about 20 minutes and totals 5 miles in length.
Have trouble getting around or do you travel with someone with special needs? You will find this 2007 Dollywood Disability Guide helpful.
And be sure to visit the new Dollywood Splash Country, too.
Outdoor Recreation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is unrivalled in its outdoor recreation opportunities. The area offers everything from simple easy walking to rugged whitewater rafting adventures.
Whitewater Rafting - Are you up for some thrills and chills onboard a whitewater raft? Traverse class 3-4 rapids on the Pigeon River under the masterful hand of an experienced whitewater rafting guide.
Hiking and Backpacking – Take a short hike, or a long trek; either way, an on-foot adventure is the only way to truly take in at least a little of the Smoky Mountains. There are many outfitters and lots of trails. Trail information and bear safety advice is readily available.
Another fun way to do the Smoky Mountains is on a Llama Trek with a trained llama pal to carry all your gear.
If you are planning to hike around Cades Cove, be aware that this heavily traveled one-way loop can be very crowded with traffic in peak seasons.
Water Sports - Douglas Lake, Norris Lake, or the Pigeon River; the Smoky Mountains have a wide range of boating sports from kayaking to tubing for the keener.
Swimming in the Smoky Mountain Park waters, however, is not recommended as the icy cold temperatures of the mountain streams can lead to hypothermia, year-round. And there are NO life-guarded areas anywhere in the Park.
But if you simply must take a dip in crystal clear mountain waters, try Big Creek, Deep Creek, Metcalf Bottoms, or the favored spot known as “The Sinks,” on Little River Road. Always exercise extreme caution in these tempting but unsupervised areas.
Fishing – Fishing in the Smoky Mountains? Of course; year-round, too. With over 2-thousand miles of streams and an abundance of lakes, you are almost sure to hook yourself a fine rainbow or brown trout. But stay out of trouble and be sure to read up on the area’s fishing regulations first.
About 30 minutes from Gatlinburg is Douglas Lake; with its 555 miles of shoreline, there won’t be any overcrowding. Pick up supplies at the Mountain Cove Marina located near Douglas Lake.
If you plan on bringing your own water craft, be sure to know the Tennessee boating regulations, too.
Camping – With 10 major campsites and an abundance of hook-ups, a camping vacation may be the perfect way to save on accommodations when visiting the Smoky Mountain Parks area. Campsites can be reserved up to five months in advance.
Some group camping areas like those within the Smoky Mountain National Park are designated for tents only, and must be reserved in advance. No vehicles are allowed.
Golf – Golfers will love the picturesque mountain setting as they drive a ball down the Gatlinburg fairway. The Gatlinburg Municipal Golf Course has undergone a serious half-million dollar renovation in anticipation of heavier usage by dedicated duffers. While all the normal amenities are offered, the course will also be opening its new $1-million clubhouse.
The Municipal golf course, open year-round, is just down the road in Pigeon Forge, on the way to the Dollywood amusement park. Try these pro tips when playing this course.
If you don’t care to go adventuring outside of Gatlinburg, it is home to three City Parks: Mills, Mynatt and Holt.
Festivals, Fairs, and Concerts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg has a wide variety of annual festivals and fairs. The Battle of Burg Hill Civil War re-enactment which takes place at the beginning of July is perhaps the best known festival.
But there are also the Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales, the Smoky Mountain Springfest, the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival, Gatlinburg’s Winter Magic, Gatlinburg’s Fine Arts Festival, and July’s Midnight Independence Day Parade.
For a complete list of fairs and festivals, download the Gatlinburg Attractions Guide.
Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community – Crafts and handmade goods abound in the Gatlinburg area. Two times a year, the Gatlinburg Convention Center on the Parkway hosts the Craftsmen’s Fair featuring over 200 booths. The craft fair twins with country, bluegrass, and gospel music concerts.
But there is no need to wait for a special crafts fair; just travel the 8-mile arts and crafts loop which runs about 3 miles east of Gatlinburg.
The loop has been designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail.
But with Pigeon Forge just up the road; visitors should consider a quick trip to take in festivals offered by Pigeon Forge like Dollywood’s KidsFest which runs from mid-June to the beginning of August.
In addition, Dollywood plays host to numerous other popular Southern festivals including these:
Dining in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg has lots of restaurants to choose from, but remember you will only be a short distance from Pigeon Forge, so you have those restaurants to choose from, too.
Here are some of the top-rated eateries in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area:
- Log Cabin Pancake House
- Smokey Mountain Brewery & Restaurant
- Peddler Restaurant & Lounge
- Park Grill
- Pancake Pantry
- Cherokee Grill
- Calhoun’s Restaurant
- Smoky Mountain Trout House
- Hofbrauhaus Restaurant & Cheese Cupboard
and in Pigeon Forge…
- Apple Tree Family Inn
- Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que
- Country Kitchen Restaurant
- Smokies Breakfast House
- Geno’s Pizza
- Alabama Grill
- Corky’s Ribs & BBQ
- TGI Friday’s
- Cracker Barrel
Getting to Gatlinburg, Tennessee
A trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee? The only question remaining is not IF you will go, but HOW SOON you can go. And how are you going to get there? Here are some transportation links that should help with the travel planning.
Airports – Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge share a small airport (GKT). It’s located about 4 miles from Pigeon Forge in Sevierville. The closest commercial major airport is located in Knoxville, Tennessee (TYS), a 28-mile drive from Gatlinburg.
Another airport is located in Morristown, Tennessee (MOR) while a fourth airport is located in Greeneville, Tennessee (CGY), and a fifth airport is located in Asheville, Tennessee (AVL).
HOT Savings Links
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