They say the mountains are calling, and you won’t want to miss the great outdoors adventures that await you and your family in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This quaint city sits atop lush rolling hills nearby the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and wows visitors with sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.
Besides being an outdoor adventure land for hiking, biking, fishing, or climbing enthusiasts, Gatlinburg is also a fantastic family-friendly getaway spot. You’ll never run out of things to do in Gatlinburg for your vacation itinerary, whether you prefer a rugged, adventurous experience or a unique getaway to new terrain.
Top Things to Do in Gatlinburg
The Smoky Mountains National Park and its surrounding cities, like Gatlinburg, are so loved that people return on average three times a year! Many believe it’s one of the best places to visit in the US, and bonus, it’s a destination within one day’s drive for most Americans. Its central location draws a lot of road-trippers; more than 92% of people travel to this destination by driving foregoing expensive plane tickets.
1. Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With three entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park right in Gatlinburg, there are plenty of trails to explore for novice hikers to advanced experts. The Gatlinburg Trail off of traffic light #10 downtown is a gentle two-mile walk to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It’s also one of two dog-friendly trails in the park!
2. Visit the Gatlinburg Space Needle
For a view of nature like you’ve never seen before, the Gatlinburg Space Needle is a 407-foot observation tower where visitors can get a bird’s-eye-view of the downtown Gatlinburg area, as well as the breathtaking mountain scenery. In addition, the observation deck provides an unbeatable 360-degree view. The Arcadia is an arcade room with over 200 video games in a 30,000 square-foot space up in the clouds!
3. Pet Stingrays at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Voted the Best Aquarium in North America by USA Today, you might be surprised to find so many aquatic creatures nowhere near the ocean! For rainy days or poor weather, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is the perfect thing to do in Gatlinburg to keep you busy. Gaze at 12-foot sharks through an underwater tunnel, watch the penguins play and dive through their chilly ecosystem, and pet horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, and stingrays.
4. Go On Thrill Rides at Anakeesta Mountain Top Theme Park
This one-of-a-kind theme park isn’t like the Disney parks in Orlando. Instead, Anakeesta sits atop a mountain and provides one great outdoor adventure. Take on the adrenaline rush of the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster that whisks riders along the curves and bends of the mountaintop. Or, grab a partner to go on the Dual Racing Zipline that sends you flying through the trees!
Admission includes an all-day pass and unlimited access to every ride. Besides all the rides, guests can also stroll through the Treetop Skywalk, which has over 880 feet of bridges that hang in the air and provide stunning views of the mountains.
5. Check Out the Views at SkyLift Park & SkyBridge
This might not be the best thing to do in Gatlinburg if you’re afraid of heights. However, the Gatlinburg SkyLift has been an iconic feat since 1954. Visitors can head to the top of Crockett Mountain for incredible views of the Smokies. The park is also known for having the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. The Gatlinburg SkyBridge stretches 680 feet at 140 feet in the air. You definitely won’t want to miss this Instagram-worthy moment.
6. Get a Bird’s Eye View On the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
Departing from the downtown area, the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway is for convenience and amusement. Transporting 120 guests 2.1 miles up the Smokies to the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park, you’ll have awe-inspiring panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains that you can’t beat.
7. Grab an Ogle Dog at Fannie Farkle’s
Fannie Farkle’s has been a longtime favorite amongst tourists and locals for over 40 years with its incredible food selection and the best arcade games in the Smokies. Enjoy a freshly-dipped Ogle Dog or a delicious Sausage Sub while the kids play to win some great prizes at the arcade. This crowd favorite is one of the best things to do in Gatlinburg, especially on a rainy day.
8. Tour Through the Hollywood Star Cars Museum
Get a closer look at some of TV and film’s most iconic vehicles of the last 50 years. The Hollywood Star Cars Museum is home to over 45 cars from moves and TV shows you’ll recognize and luxurious celebrity vehicles. One of the most famous cars you can get close to is the 1966 Batmobile from the beloved Barris TV show. So if you’re a car enthusiast or are looking for something to do in Gatlinburg that doesn’t involve the great outdoors, this is the perfect place to spend an hour or two!
9. Practice Your Swing at the Gatlinburg Golf Course
For a unique golfing experience in a picturesque setting, the Gatlinburg Golf Course does not fall short on our list of things to do in this mountain city. Try your hand at a round of 18 holes designed by William Langford. Beginners and experienced golfers alike can enjoy a fun challenge on the fairways here, with unmatched scenery at every swing.
10. Enjoy a Sweet Treat at Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen has been serving the same sweet, delicious taffy recipe since opening in the 1950s. Founded by Dave and Peggy Dych, this primary street hotspot has only six traditional flavors of homemade taffy that make the establishment famous. Besides taffy, customers can also purchase pecan logs, peanut brittle, and other traditional sweet treats!
11. Visit Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Most manufactured attractions for getting a great look at Gatlinburg can get crowded. However, if you’re up for a bit of a hike, the Clingmans Dome is a quiet and rewarding way to get a stunning view. Clingmans Dome is a manmade, concrete observation tower with magical, panoramic views of the Smokies. Those who have found their way to this spot mention being prepared for the trek, which may not be suitable for strollers.
12. Take Home a Unique Souvenir from The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Skip the refrigerator magnets and head to The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum for one of the unique souvenirs you could bring home! There are over 20,000 different salt and pepper shakers in all shapes, sizes, and materials. You’ll be able to take home your very own set from the gift shop, which has over 2,000 shakers available.
Where to Stay in Gatlinburg
There’s also a wide range of accommodations that average $150 a night in peak season. Depending on your budget, you can book one of 14,500 overnight accommodations from rental homes, hotels, timeshare condos, and even RV campgrounds like the brand-new Margaritaville RV Resort and Lodge.
There are plenty of things to do in Gatlinburg to keep you busy, no matter the weather. After a long day spent hiking in the mountains or exploring the city streets, you’ll want a great place to stay. Some of the best resort rentals in Gatlinburg offer great amenities and spacious villas that will keep you and your family comfortable.
Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Water Park
As one of the best Westgate resorts in the country, the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Water Park has plenty of things to do and comfortable accommodations. The Wild Bear Falls is a mountain-themed indoor waterpark that’s great for all ages and weather conditions. Spend an afternoon floating down the lazy river, then grab a bite to eat from one of the on-site restaurants.
Smoky Mountain Resort by Holiday Inn Club
Another great option to stay in Gatlinburg includes the Smoky Mountain Resort by Holiday Inn Club. This timeshare resort also has an indoor waterpark for the kids to splash and play in, complete with waterslides and a lounge for parents. Accommodations here range from one to four-bedroom units and even have fully-equipped kitchens. You can find Holiday Inn Club Vacations resorts across the U.S., but one of the best is right in Gatlinburg.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.