Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA town skyline in the Smoky Mountains.

ULTIMATE Guide to Things to Do in Gatlinburg TN | Attractions, Restaurants, & Lodging

Are you planning to visit the Smokies? Check out all the things to do in Gatlinburg TN!

Forget picture-perfect postcards — Gatlinburg Tennessee hugs the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, providing epic views at every turn.

On one side, the excitement of the parkway beckons with a Space Needle and record-breaking SkyBridge. On the other is the vastness of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In between? A host of Southern food, sensational museums, and — quite frankly — some of the best people-watching you can find.

Gatlinburg is a four-season free-for-all with activities, festivals, and entertainment of all kinds. Also, you’ll have really good odds of seeing a bear. Chase waterfalls, climb mountains, and eat pancakes the size of a pizza — Gatlinburg goes big.

Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, family vacation, or holiday trip, we’re here to help you plan the perfect Gatlinburg getaway itinerary.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA town skyline in the Smoky Mountains.
Gatlinburg – Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Getting to Know Gatlinburg Tennessee

Long before bustling streets and twinkling lights graced the valley, the Cherokee called these fertile lands “Kelelu,” meaning “Place of Many Waters.” For centuries, they hunted, fished, and thrived amidst the Smokies’ verdant embrace, their spirits woven into the very fabric of the mountains.

European settlers arrived around 1770, captivated by its abundant beauty. By the early 1800s, cabins dotted the landscape, and the name “Gatlinburg” arose, honoring Revolutionary War officer and local landowner Radford Gatlin. Life revolved around farming, logging, and harnessing the power of the rushing streams.

The railroad arrived in 1875, sparking the tourism industry. The quaint charm was eventually replaced with major attractions, mostly prompted by the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934.

The Seasons & Weather

Every season loves to show off in Gatlinburg and the Smokies, so here’s what you can expect no matter when you choose to visit the city.


Gatlinburg bursts into life with wildfires and roaring waterfalls during spring as the city wakes up from a sleepy off-season. Expect early spring to have a chill in the air in the high 50s and low 30s at night, but through May, temps slowly increase to the upper 70s with lows near 50 degrees.

NOTE: Spring is also “Tornado Season,” and the South is known as Dixie Alley for the severe weather that rolls through. Sign up for CodeRED notifications from Sevier County to stay updated on storms.


Temperatures rise from the low 70s to the 80s with a sticky humidity level during summer. Look for the heat index as it mixes humidity and temperatures to give you a “feels like” temperature. It’s a good thing that there’s a water park around every corner here! But, be careful in July — it gets the most rain.


Gatlinburg glows with fall colors at higher elevations starting in September and then through early November in the foothills. The humidity (and mosquitoes) back off while a crisp fall air is perfect for scenic drives or fall foliage hikes. Just bring layers for the first frost, which usually happens in November.


Winters are relatively mild, with the best hope of snow in January. Lows will be at or below freezing, but daytime highs usually get into the 40s or low 50s. Always check road conditions before you head out because rain in Gatlinburg means snow in the Smokies!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Photo Credit: Dean Fikar / Shutterstock

Outdoor Things to Do in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg Tennessee goes big on outdoor activities, and that’s before you get to the national park. Let’s see what’s waiting for you.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

East from the Parkway in the center of Gatlinburg, you can see the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park — one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. However, that’s just one of three main entrances — a second is in Townsend Tennessee, and a third is in Cherokee North Carolina.

NOTE: The park covers more than 500,000 acres with the state line splitting right through the middle.

West from the Parkway is Newfound Gap Road, weaving for 31 miles through the park. A few “must-see” stops in the park include:

  1. Clingmans Dome: Stand atop the park’s (and Tennessee’s) highest point at 6,643 feet. On a clear day, witness breathtaking 360-degree views across seven states!
  2. Cades Cove: Take a step back in time in this 6,800-acre valley. Follow the 11-mile scenic loop road past historic homesteads, spot grazing deer and wild turkeys, and soak in the serene beauty of untouched nature.
  3. Alum Cave Trail: Experienced hikers shouldn’t miss a chance to hike up Mt. LeCotne via the Alum Cave Trail — plan for this 6-mile trail to take a full eight hours. The hike isn’t hard, but it’s long, and you shouldn’t be afraid of heights. Take your stay to the next level by reserving a room at the LeConte Lodge, which is only accessible by hiking there.
  4. Waterfalls: With so many to choose from, pick a waterfall that suits your experience level. The most popular are Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, and Rainbow. If you don’t want to leave the car, visit the Place of a Thousand Drips, which is best seen after heavy rain.

Gatlinburg Space Needle

Gatlinburg’s Space Needle, towering 400 feet above the town, delivers breathtaking Smoky Mountain panoramas. Built in 1967, its observation deck offers 360-degree views that stretch for miles with information kiosks to learn the history and point out special places on the horizon. An arcade and theater for the Impossibilities Magic Show are also on-site.

Gatlinburg SkyPark

Crowned by the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America, the SkyPark promises thrilling adventures and breathtaking 360-degree panoramas. You’ll need to be okay with heights since the ski lift is the only way up. Several viewing platforms await up top, and you can walk the bridge, climb even higher in a tower, or just enjoy the sights.

Ober Mountain

Any snow that doesn’t come to the Smokies naturally is made at Ober Mountain. This winter getaway offers snowboarding, skiing, tubing, and a snow play area for kids. That’s just the start of a year-long activity hub. When the weather warms up, mountain biking, a mountain coaster, an alpine slide, and amusement rides offer additional thrills.

TRAVEL TIP: If you want to stay closer to Ober Mountain, look for a rental in Chalet Village.


Gatlinburg’s Anakeesta takes you on a sky-high mountain adventure! The name means “The Place of High Ground” in Cherokee language. Once you’re up here, you have zip lines, a tree-top ropes course, two mountain coasters, and the Anavista observation tower overlooking it all.

For more chill activities, roam the shops or eat at one of the restaurants. Stay for the sunset or look for night activities like laser light shows and stargazing.

What is a Mountain Coaster? A mountain coaster blends a thrilling, controllable downhill ride with stunning scenery — like a roller coaster meets bobsled on a scenic track. You’ll be able to adjust the brakes to go faster or slower.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is your gateway to Smoky Mountain thrills. Kayak roaring rapids, raft churning rivers, or tube down gentle waters with friends and family. Skilled guides help conquer your chosen adventure — from whitewater newbies to seasoned paddlers.

Rent gear, book your trip, and get ready for an adrenaline-pumping dose of mountain water — all within easy reach of Gatlinburg’s charm.

Sugarlands Riding Center

Saddle up for Smoky Mountain vistas at Sugarlands Riding Center! Guided horseback rides — from gentle strolls to challenging climbs — wind through emerald forests and past cascading waterfalls. Explore the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on trusted steeds, suitable for beginners and experienced riders alike. You’ll be paired with a horse that meets your skill level.

Ripley’s Mountain Coaster

Ripley’s brand has many attractions in Gatlinburg Tennessee, but those aren’t all in the same location. This mountain coaster location offers two options — slow and steady or fast and furious. Either way, you control the tempo.

Ghostwalk of Gatlinburg

This walking tour takes you through the streets of Gatlinburg at night, with local lore, true crime stories, and possible paranormal activity. It’s located right in the heart of Gatlinburg, making it a great after-dinner activity.

RELATED: Ghost Towns in Tennessee & North Carolina

Ripley's Aquarium
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies | photo via @laadylyssaa

Indoor Things to Do in Gatlinburg

Pigeon Forge doesn’t get all the cool museums and attractions. Wait until you see what Gatlinburg Tennessee has going on inside.

Ripley’s Odditorium

If two-headed animals or vampire-killing kits are your thing, you’ll want to see the 500+ exhibits and artifacts waiting at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! “Odditorium.” The wacky, wild, and weird world unfolds through the namesake that’s been baffling people for almost a century.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Dive down to the depths of the ocean to explore some fascinating marine animals. Touch a stingray or watch the penguins play. Whether you’re looking for a colorful coral reef or a shark sighting, this underwater paradise is mesmerizing. Expand the adventure by sleeping overnight under the shark tank, taking a glass-bottom boat ride, or petting a penguin.

Wild Bear Falls Water Park

One thing to know about resorts in the Smokies is that there are many water parks. This one, inside the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort, is open to the public. Every day is water play day inside this domed adventure, with a lazy river, mid-pool playground, and water slide. Each water park attraction is named after a location in the Smokies, so it’s as educational as it is fun.

The Salt And Pepper Shaker Museum

You’ll never think this much about salt and pepper shakers again, and it’s the only museum of its kind in the world! More than 20,000 sets await exploration — from the odd to the creative. Also, you’ll learn fun facts, such as which shaker has the most (or least) amount of holes.

Mysterious Mansion

Most haunted house attractions come to life in the fall, but the Mysterious Mansion spooks visitors year-round. You’ll guide yourself through three stories and never know what’s waiting around the corner. The mansion goes to the next level during Halloween and the holidays.

Hollywood Star Car Museum

See some of your favorite automobiles in Hollywood history, including the Batmobile, the “Back to the Future” DeLorean, and the General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazzard.” More than 40 vehicles are on display with a special tribute to the “Fast & Furious” franchise.

Christmas in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Christmas in Gatlinburg – Photo Credit: AlejandroCarnicero / Shutterstock

Annual Gatlinburg TN Festivals & Events

There’s always something going on in Gatlinburg. So, consider planning a trip around one of these events.

Synchronous Fireflies

When a perfect set of outdoor conditions happens, the fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park synchronize their flashes of lights. Photos and video don’t do it justice, and there’s something so wonderful about sitting in the darkness with pulses of light around you. Tickets are available by lottery only through the National Park Service.

Fourth of July Midnight Parade

Independence Day kicks off with a midnight parade through Gatlinburg, a tradition dating back to 1975. Then, the party heads to the Raft River Regatta in the daytime, which is followed by fireworks from the Space Needle at night.

Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair

In July and October, the best crafters of all genres display their process and work to adoring crowds. Watch pottery being formed, or sneak a peek at candy creation — more than 200 vendors are hard at work each year. The best part? You can buy some of the art!

Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival

From mid-September through late November, fall brings the biggest crowds of the year to the Smokies, and all the towns go big for the colorful season. Schedules change each year, but you’re guaranteed pumpkin-spiced sensational experiences.

Smoky Mountain Christmas

From the height of Skypark to the depths of Dollywood, Christmas is displayed in a way that would make Clark Griswold proud. Each attraction and restaurant sports its own holiday flair. Gatlinburg Tennessee loves a good parade and the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade illuminates the Parkway in early December.

Additional Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains

If you’re looking for one of the many popular shows, those are in Pigeon Forge. The bulk are dinner theaters, so plan your meals of the day around that. That’s also where Dollywood is located, with Dollywood Splash Country next door.

Wears Valley is known as the “Quiet Side of the Smokies,” and it’s just a short drive away. You can explore outdoor activities, enter the park through one of the less busy entrances, or go underground to the Tuckaleechee Caverns (open seasonally).

Crockett's Breakfast Camp - Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Crockett’s Breakfast Camp | photo via @queen_taco_nacho_pizza

Casual to Upscale Restaurants in Gatlinburg

Get ready for good eatin’ in Gatlinburg Tennessee. Famous breakfasts and the city’s oldest restaurant fill the list of top options.

Crockett’s Breakfast Camp

This is one place that doesn’t specialize in anything because it has everything. Heaping portions of breakfast food await with giant cinnamon rolls that you might need two people to finish. Heck, it even serves fried cinnamon rolls here.

Seafood Benedicts, hungry hunters’ super-sized stacks, and Aretha Franklin’s “Waffle of Insane Greatness” make this menu — one of the most mouth-watering we’ve seen.

The Pancake Pantry

Ask anyone in town where the best breakfast is in Gatlinburg, and they’ll likely respond “The Pancake Pantry” before you can finish the question. Nearly two dozen flavors of pancakes await, and we love the shareable sides option. Expect to wait in line, but the restaurant keeps it going quickly.


If you know that “pinch the tail and suck the head” is a way to eat crawfish and not innuendo, Crawdaddy’s is the place for you. This joint specializes in crawfish, shrimp, and oysters. It’s so Cajun that you’ll forget you’re in the Smokes for a hot second.

Big Daddy’s Pizzeria

If Crawdaddy’s isn’t your thing, try Big Daddy’s for the best pizza in town. The team here throws down the gauntlet by stating, “We’re so committed to that freshness that there isn’t a freezer on the premises.”

All pizzas come hot out of a wood-fired oven. Salads, sandwiches, and desserts round out the menu. Better yet? There’s a Big Daddy’s in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville.

Burg Steakhouse

When you’ve worked up an appetite, reward your palate with Burg Steakhouse. In addition to a fine cut of meat, you’ll get an all-you-can-eat soup, salad, and sides buffet. The bar breaks the mold with several drinks served in a smoky cloche.

Jason Aldean’s Kitchen + Rooftop Bar

Grab your cowboy boots and enjoy a night on the town at Jason Aldean’s Kitchen & Rooftop Bar, one of the newest spots in the city. A versatile menu covers chicken, steak, and seafood with Southern staples, like pot roast and beer-can chicken. Stay for the views on the rooftop or the live performances inside.

Howard’s Restaurant

Try the oldest restaurant in Gatlinburg, and see if you can score a seat on the back patio. While it shows as a fancy steakhouse, it’s still down-home enough to have catfish on the menu. Even though it’s right off the Parkway, the vibe is chill and secluded, with a creek running along the outdoor patio edge.

New Year's Eve - Gatlinburg Space Needle - Gatlinburg, Tennessee
New Year’s Eve – Gatlinburg Space Needle | photo via @_sagar.patel

Gatlinburg TN Hotels & Rentals

Gatlinburg offers major resorts, chain hotels, campsites, and RV parks near the Parkway. However, this is also a great spot to find a cabin nestled in the woods just a few minutes from Ober Mountain or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hotels in Gatlinburg

The Historic Gatlinburg Inn

When you want the true Gatlinburg experience, this is where you stay. The Historic Gatlinburg Inn has seen so much since it opened in 1937. Room sizes accommodate any travelers with standard rooms, family suites, parlor rooms, and presidential suites. The place is so old-school — it even has a “breakfast room” where hot breakfast is free for guests.

Edgewater Hotel & Conference Center

Just about every room at the Edgewater Hotel comes with a view, and you can choose a mountain or city view. An indoor/outdoor pool combo makes swimming a staple in any season. The free hot breakfast offers great value, and you’re right on the pulse of the Parkway when it’s time to venture out.

Marshall’s Creek Rest Motel

In all honesty, it looks like a place where the Griswold family would’ve stayed on the Holiday Road. In even more honesty, this place is a gem hidden in plain sight.

It’s small enough to be cozy, offers rustic interiors to match the Smokies vibe, and has one of the best locations you’ll find close to Gatlinburg and the park. You’ll feel like you’re staying in a cabin but still getting budget accommodations.

Gatlinburg overlook during brilliant sunset

Rentals in Gatlinburg

Lover’s Loft

Antique meets rustic chic at Lover’s Loft — a one-bedroom, one-bath cozy retreat with a hot tub and a bear that stops by now and again. The road dead ends near this getaway, offering less traffic and more seclusion for honeymooners.

Peace of Mind

For mid-sized groups, look for options like Peace of Mind. This remote retreat is just 3 miles from Gatlinburg Tennessee while offering great deck views. Games, toys, and a stocked kitchen await the end of a long day of exploring. You’ll have summer access to the community pool too.

Big Buck Lodge

When traveling with a large group, look for an expansive option like Big Buck Lodge. This behemoth house holds eight bedrooms and bathrooms, with double appliances in the kitchen to feed the whole bunch. Every bedroom has a deck, and the rooms are spaced throughout three levels.

NOTE: You will see listings for cabins, chalets, and cottages, and there isn’t a huge distinction between the three. It’s just personal preference. A cabin will be made of wood, a chalet will have an A-frame roof, and a cottage could have siding or stone walls.

FAQs About Gatlinburg Tennessee

Is Gatlinburg TN nicer than Pigeon Forge or Sevierville?

Each city brings its own charm. You’ll find newer rentals across a large swath of Gatlinburg because of the 2016 wildfire that leveled homes. That will also explain why some newer homes don’t have a lot of trees around.

Pigeon Forge is the busiest part of the area, so it comes down to whether you want to be in the center of the activity or tucked away in the woods.

Do I need a car in Gatlinburg Tennessee?

You should bring a car with you if you want to explore the expanse of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On the North Carolina side, you’ll have cities to explore as well.

To avoid moving your car or wearing out your legs, download the Gatlinburg Trolley app to see if those schedules and routes work for you.

When is Gatlinburg Tennessee the least busy?

For those who don’t mind the shoulder season, March through early May is a great time to visit Gatlinburg Tennessee.

The water parks won’t be open and the weather can fluctuate day-to-day, but Dollywood opens in early March and the crowds won’t be nearly as robust.

January through March marks the slowest season for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Lamar Sellers / Shutterstock

Plan Your Itinerary for Exploring Gatlinburg TN & the Smokies

Gatlinburg Tennessee marries a blend of natural wonders and some of the most dynamic tourist attractions in the country. If you have to choose between Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, you should know there’s not a bad option.

Gatlinburg gives you the front door to the national park, with some major attractions, as noted above. Pigeon Forge is packed with things to do in the most touristy part of the region. And, Sevierville sits in the foothills with enough to do to keep you busy but with much smaller crowds.

Honeymooners might like the respite of Gatlinburg or Sevierville, while bachelor/ette parties will love the vibe of Pigeon Forge. Outdoor adventurers prefer Gatlinburg too so that they are closer to the park and farther away from the tourist schtick.

One last note: If you’re visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll need a parking pass.

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