I was recently invited on a press trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was given a behind the scenes tour of Gatlinburg in order to share experiences and favorite places to make planning your perfect trip a little easier. All thoughts and opinions are of course my own.
I am a Tennessean at heart. I was raised in Memphis, went to college in Knoxville and now reside in Nashville. Gatlinburg is a place I have been going to for decades. As a kid, as a college kid, and now as a mother with my own babies in tow. This press trip was so fun, because we got off the beaten path and ended up in places I never knew existed. Introducing myself to a whole new side of Gatlinburg that I am so excited to share with you all. When we travel we try hard to find hidden gems to explore. Things a little out of the normal and hopefully less crowded.
Fun Facts About Gatlinburg and The Great Smokey Mountains National Parks
There are several reasons The Great Smokey Mountain National Park is the most visited National Park in the US. One of the main reasons is that it is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the US Population. Which is super helpful in times like this where airlines travel is crazy busy. Since it is such a short driving distance for so many people, it makes sense why this park is seeing their largest crowds yet! Not to mention the drive is just beautiful.
You also don’t have to pay an entrance fee! The Smokies get most of their operating funds from donations meaning it is one of the only FREE National Parks in the Country which is always a plus on vacation!
Gatlinburg was recently ranked as the #1 Best Mountain Town to Visit in the USA by U.S. News and for good reason! They were also listed as the Best Place to Visit in Tennessee, and the #2 Best Weekend Getaway in the South. So if you aren’t packing your bags yet, you are going to want to do that ASAP.
To get a taste of local Gatlinburg culture, skip the souvenir shops and head 3 miles away from downtown to the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community. This was a first for me and it was so interesting meeting artisans that had been practicing their trade for decades and came from a long lineage of family members that passed it down. local art gallery, to watch local artists and craftsmen create everything from paintings and pottery to handmade brooms and jewelry.
- Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community
- Cliff Dwellers Gallery: The Gallery is owned and operated as a cooperative by six local artists and carries the work of approximately 60 other area artists who have been invited to be a part of the Gallery. The Gallery features stained and enameled glass, watercolors, handmade and hand marbled paper, pottery, woven clothing, placemats, runners, rugs, tapestries, baskets, hand painted gourds, and soft sculptured dolls. My favorite part about this place is that in order to be invited to be a member it needs to be handmade! Now that’s truly one of a kind and hard to find these days.
- Jim Gray Gallery: Started by Jim Gray who is one of the nation’s most celebrated artists. In 2003 Jim Gray was honored with Tennessee’s highest artistic award when the Tennessee Arts Commission presented him with the Distinguished Artist Award as a part of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts in Nashville, TN. And though he has passed, his legacy lives on through his grandson Dan, who is now running the gallery.
- Ogles Broom Shop: We were fortunate enough to meet David Ogle, a third generation broom maker. He has been making brooms since he was 13 and still actively making them right from his shop. Such a treat to see.
- All that shopping made you tired! Don’t worry there is plenty of eats nearby. Here is a map with everything that is a part of this one of a kind community. Don’t forget the trolley system. You can hop on the yellow trolley and be there in a flash.
- Have budding artists on your hands? They offer so many classes and activities to make your own. Check out here!
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: You can’t come to Gatlinburg without putting a hike on your agenda. This trail is such a unique way to explore old homesites, mills and take in a bit of history while being in the Great Smokey National Park. And the best part, it can be enjoyed both by foot or car so its perfect for all activity levels. Another option, look for Rainbow Falls just beyond the start of the trail. It’s a moderate 5.4 mile roundtrip hike to the stunning Rainbow Falls. And if you follow the yellow brick road, your reward is an 80-foot high waterfall, the tallest single-drop waterfall in the national park. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail also provides access to the Trillium Gap Trail. Hike the Trillium Gap Trail to reach Grotto Falls. This is the only place in the Smoky Mountains where you can stand behind the falls as the water cascades to the pool. Hiking isn’t your thing? Place of a Thousand Drips can be reached by car. It’s one of two waterfalls in the park accessible by car—find it at stop 15, near the end of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
- Elys Mill: Built in 1925 alongside the beautiful Roaring Fork creek, this mill features local crafts, antiques, and honey (seasonally) as well as two over-night rental cabins. They also have space for small party weddings and the most beauyphoto shoots. Built as a tourist attraction in the late 1920s, Ely’s Mill is one of the few remaining pieces of “Old Gatlinburg”. It is privately owned, and still run by the original family who live on site.
- SkyLift Park-Gatlinburg’s oldest attraction and home to the longest pedestrian suspension Bridge in North America. So get those bucket lists out and get ready to cross off some things. Now let me start out by saying I hate un-enclosed heights that move. And the ride up to the top was def the easiest of the chairlifts taken. So only mild cases of fear of heights? You are good to go here. And it is worth the slight heart palpitations. The views are amazing! Plus once at the top, there is plenty of space to sit down and relax and take in the beauty.
- Anakeesta – I don’t even know where to start with this place. It was pure magic. Anakeesta means “the place of high ground” in the Cherokee language. It is situated on 600’ above the city of Gatlinburg with views that are out of this world. There are two ways to get to the top: chondola as well as a bus if heights aren’t your thing. Insider tip, go in the afternoon and play until dinner. Then catch an out of this world sunset before taking chondola down with views of Gatlinburg lit up at night. Amusement parks arent my top choice when going to a new city. But my kids would def rank them in a top 3. Anakeesta is a place that you and your SO can go and have a nice date night while watching kids play in a beautiful setting.
- Treetop Skywalk with hanging bridges spanning 880’ more than 50’ above the forest floor and AnaVista Tower, downtown’s highest point offering 360-degree views. Keep your eyes out below for bears! We saw one.
- Dueling Zipline tour
- Rail Runner mountain coaster
- TreeVenture Challenge course.
- The Memorial Forest Walk
- Vista Gardens
- Splash Pad
- Food and Drinks. Honestly I was pleasantly surprised at how upscale their food and drinks were without the hefty price tag of a lot theme parks have. This isn’t your average theme park food. It was beautiful, fresh, and unique. We ate at Cliff Top where I got shrimp and grits.
- Lots of adorable shopping too.
- The Village Shoppes – Not sure when we will jetset to Europe, but until then The Village Shoppes are a close second. Right off the main drag of downtown Gatlinburg sits the most quaint little shopping district. Think cobblestone streets, beautiful landscaping, and the smells of baked goods provide a tranquil escape from Parkway hustle and bustle. First shopping “mall” in Gatlinburg with a unique story to tell.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies: It only takes a few moments in Gatlinburg to know why they are known for the outdoor adventures. But rain happens or sometimes you just need a change of pace. One rainy afternoon we made our way through Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and I highly recommend you adding it to your itinerary. With so many hands on attractions your whole family will love it.
- Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park : Don’t let the name fool you. There is so much to do here regardless of the season. Here are all the summer activities. This was another place that surprised me with pricing. Everything seemed really affordable. Like all day ice skating for $8
- Aerial Trams
- Wildlife Encounters
- Ice Skating
- Ski Mountain Coaster
- Ice bumper cars
- Scenic chairlift
- Alpine Slide
- Mini Golf
- Rock wall
- Water slides
- Summer Tubing
Of course Gatlinburg is known for its pancake houses and hearty breakfasts, so if you are into intermittent fasting you will want to intermittently skip the fasting for a home cooked pancake breakfast. To be honest, pancakes aren’t even my thing, but when in Rome….
- Davy Crockett’s Breakfast Camp: The fried cinnamon rolls are a must have and make the perfect appetizer to your breakfast experience. Want to start the day off with tons of energy to explore all day? The skillet is the way to go!
- The Pancake Pantry: Don’t let the name fool you. Pancakes are their specialty but their whole menu was amazing. Trust me, I tried a bite of my whole parties food.
- FlapJacks: When in the land of pancakes, you must try pancakes at each pancake house to make an educated decision on whose is the best. Flapjacks has so many fun and exciting flavors its a must do!
- The Donut Friar: Located in Village Shoppes. Go early in the morning (before 9:00 AM) and you can park on the Parkway for free.
- Split Rail Eats – Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community.
- Enjoy sunset and dinner at Cliff Top Restaurant in Anakeesta. I can’t emphasize this enough. The views alone are worth it. But the food and beautiful beverages make this place a destination. The food was fresh and delicious and the drinks were ALMOST too pretty to drink.
- The Greenbrier: Looking for a date night out in Gatlinburg? Highly recommend The Greenbrier. From the moment you arrive, take note of the character of this place. The Greenbrier Restaurant is an incredible steakhouse that perfectly balances modern dining and Smoky Mountain tradition. Highly recommend the in-house dry-aged, hand-cut steaks couple with a hand-crafted cocktail like the Dylan for ultimate presentation. Get there early before your reservation for a drink in their lounge. And take note of the beautiful views seen throughout the dining room.
- Ole Red: Live music is back and rockin on the stage at Ole Red. And be prepared to run into some famous faces. You never know who is going to be dropping by to perform. Enjoy those scratch made dishes, signature drinks, and an upbeat and energetic atmosphere all inspired by Blake Shelton.
I wanted to give you all a couple different unique stays to fit your comfort level but also leave you with unbelievable memories. I personally am more of the glamping type than camping. But I of course want the experiences that come from the Smokey Mountains.
Treehouse Grove: If you are like me and still want to maintain social distancing but enjoy modern conveniences and a great location, Treehouse Grove is perfect. The resort features eight treehouses designed by Treehouse Masters host Pete Nelson. You feel like you are in another world above the ground but it is close to all the fun activities. Best part, you don’t have to worry about waking up with a sore back like typical camping. Each treehouse is equipped with two queen-sized beds, a bathroom, and mini kitchen. It’s a small enough complex that it won’t be overcrowded so plenty of space to enjoy the outdoors without being secluded in it. They have thought of everything. Most come with Solo stoves to enjoy a campfire without the smoke, screened in porches to avoid bugs but still be outside. Oh and of course A/C and heating, wireless internet, and a TV. Regarding kids, they do mention it is not suitable for kids under 6.
LeConte Luxury Campground. This is not your standard campground, but if you are looking for that you can find it here too. They literally have everything your camping heart desires but once again without roughing it. Unique stays are all the rage and LeConte Luxury Campground doesn’t disappoint. Choose from luxurious tree houses, safari tents, retro campers, as well as RV and tent sites. Free Wifi, a swimming pool, and a beautiful pavilion are just some of the conveniences offered. Not to mention laundry, bathrooms, a playground as well as a shop for all the necessities. Kids and pets are welcome as well!
The Appy Lodge: Great location making it walkable to restaurants and activities of downtown Gatlinburg. When you walk out the front door you are steps away from the best attractions and entertainment in the area but if walking isnt your thing, there’s a trolley stop right out front. With comfortable guest rooms and great amenities (like an indoor and an outdoor pool with a waterslide) at an affordable price this is such a great place for families to stay. But don’t worry, you aren’t missing out on ambiance of the mountains. The decor and Appalachian Trail themed rooms will make you think you can check that off your bucket list. Each room is modeled after a popular stop along the trail. So if you don’t have 6 months of vacay this year like we did last year, you need to check out the Appy Lodge and see what completing that hike would look like.
So tell me, did I introduce you to any new places in Gatlinburg Tennessee? What are your favorite stops in Gatlinburg? Id love to hear.