The Smoky Mountains is host to pure southern charm and nestled among the mountains is the quaint town of Gatlinburg with picturesque views everywhere you look. For the nature enthusiast, Gatlinburg has so many options including hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, horseback riding, and much more. The Great Smoky Mountains is at your fingertips with plenty of hiking trails nearby to take an adventure when it strikes your mood. If you would rather skip the hiking, a relaxing stroll through downtown Gatlinburg among the unique shops, attractions and restaurants will provide plenty of entertainment.
However you choose to spend your time in Gatlinburg you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the Smokies and the cool mountain breeze with fresh air blowing in your face. Pure mountain life!
Here are my favorites spots that I visited recently in Gatlinburg that I also think you will enjoy!
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has an abundance of scenic roads to explore and it’s absolutely free! This should be a priority on your must do list. From the comfort of your car you can enjoy picturesque views of the mountains and all different types of plants and animals. Don’t be surprised if you see deer grazing along the roads, streams everywhere you look, and even a few historic dwellings. During my visit to the National Park, many of the roads were closed due to the recent forest fire (November ’16), so be sure to check prior to your trip to see if all roads are accessible. Also be aware that in the winter months some areas may be closed due to snow.
Clingmans Dome the highest peak in Tennessee. It is a highly desired spot, I wish I was able to say I was able to visit this pristine spot but it was off limits due to the fire. If it’s open I strongly encourage you to visit the observation deck there.
The Gatlinburg Overlook is on the Gatlinburg bypass and it’s free, so don’t spend your money on the Space Needle. The overlook provides a spectacular view of downtown Gatlinburg with the Smoky Mountains as its backdrop. It’s a breathtaking view!!! The Gatlinburg Overlook has a scenic parking area right off the bypass so you can visit during the day or take in the view of the city all lit up at night. It’s beautiful!!
Cades Cove is a flat valley that goes through the Smoky Mountains. The Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11 mile scenic journey through the valley. There are several pull off areas along the road to enjoy the scenery of majestic panoramic views of the mountains and deer grazing in the fields. Have your camera ready because you will want to stop every few minutes to take yet another remarkable photo.
Along the loop are several sites to explore from the early settlers of the area. A few of my favorite places that I enjoyed discovering were John Oliver’s cabin built in the 1820’s, the Primitive Baptist Church established in 1827, the Methodist Church built in 1902 and the Elijah Oliver house built in 1824. My favorite place was the Cable Mill, located near the Visitors Center. There are several hiking trails in Cades Cove also, so I advise that you wear tennis shoes because you will want to get out of the car and investigate the trails and especially the Cantilever barns.
Laurel Falls Trails leads you on a roundtrip trek of 2.6 miles to the falls. Laurel Falls is an 80-foot high mountain stream waterfall that is named for mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub which blooms along the trail and near the falls in May. The waterfall consists of an upper and a lower section, divided by a walkway which crosses the stream at the base of the upper falls.
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations in the park but parking at the trailhead is limited. The 2.6 mile trek roundtrip is a moderately difficult hike to the top. It has several steep sections along the way but you can take your time and rest when needed. I was able to make the journey to the waterfall with relative ease.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has several waterfalls to see but the majority of them require hiking 5 miles or more before you reach the waterfall. If you are up for the endurance challenge then you may want to add these beautiful sights to your list; Rainbow Falls, Abram’s Falls or Grotto Falls. Due to the recent fire, verify that your desired trail is available for travel before you make the long trek.
While I was visiting Gatlinburg, I knew I wanted to ski. If you are looking for some exciting fun, Ober Gatlinburg amusement park is your place! Ober Gatlinburg is an adventure wonderland for the entire family; although the activities change with the seasons.
You can drive up the mountain (turn right at light 8) which takes you up a winding road to Ober. I chose to take the Aerial Tramway which departs from downtown Gatlinburg. I highly recommend taking the Tramway ride unless you are afraid of heights. The Aerial Tramway is a cable car that is a 2 mile journey that ascends 2,675 feet up through the valley of the Smoky Mountains. Since the cable car has windows from floor to ceiling you are ensured a spectacular view. I stood in front of the windows and I was able to capture some magnificent pictures of the mountains on my journey to the top of the mountain.
The time of year you visit Ober will determine the activities you will be able to enjoy at Ober. I visited Ober during the winter months and a top priority was to snow board. Although it was unusually warm weather for snowboarding or skiing, Ober was diligently making snow in order for everyone to enjoy the ski slopes. My favorite activity was snow tubing, which was a blast!! Snow tubing is an activity that is fun no matter what your age is! The skiing trails were open during the day and night, so after a day of sightseeing you can still enjoy skiing at nighttime. There is also an indoor ice skating rink at Ober.
The scenic chairlift offers beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains without all the hiking. It takes you to the top of Mt. Harrison for a 360 panoramic view of the Great Smokys. The Alpine Slide is a toboggan style ride that will take you down and around through the woods. A treat for me was the Mountain Coaster. It’s not your typical roller coaster, no loops or turning upside down. Instead it’s an old fashioned country ride that lasts close to 5 minutes and best of all you are in control of how fast or slow you go. It’s definitely a thrilling ride through the mountains! In case you don’t make it to Ober, Gatlinburg has many Mountain Coaster rides throughout the town you can try, I promise you it will be fun!
I also knew I wanted to go horseback riding and zip lining. Since it was winter, many stables were closed for the season in Gatlinburg but I was very fortunate to find Jayell Ranch (next to Dollywood) in Sevierville that offered both horseback riding and ziplines. Their rates are very reasonable and the staff is extremely friendly. My horseback ride was a 4 mile tour over 260 acres of wonderful views of mountains and scenic trails.
After a peaceful horseback ride I decided to take my adventurous side to another level and visit their zip line courses. They have six zip line courses available. I can assure you that after you finish your first zip line ride you will be screaming to go on another. Well, at least I was! I had a great time flying through the air taking in all the landscape of the ranch and the surrounding mountains. It all made for an incredible afternoon. By the way, before you leave the ranch make sure you say hi to Wilbur the resident pig.
Last but not least, a trip to Gatlinburg wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a moonshine distillery. I recommend going to the Ole Smoky Distillery. Even though they have a location in downtown Gatlinburg, I chose to visit the Ole Smoky Distillery at The Island in Pigeon Forge. At this location, I was able to sample 12 flavors of moonshine for FREE!!! (Hint; it’s important to tip your bartender at the end of the “free tasting”.) With flavors like salted caramel and apple pie, I never knew moonshine could be so tasty. They also have a giant Ferris Wheel at The Island that you can enjoy.
Gatlinburg is host to several tourist attractions as well as its neighbor town Pigeon Forge, but I preferred to bypass the typical tourist traps and instead spent as much time as I could enjoying nature in all its glory. However you decide to spend your time in Gatlinburg, you can be assured of southern hospitality by all the local people and breathtaking scenery of the Smoky Mountains. Safe Travels!!