Nestled in the Smoky Mountains, millions of people visit the premier vacation destination of Gatlinburg each year. Gatlinburg is full of fun attractions, activities, and restaurants that make for a fun-filled vacation destination year-round. Since Gatlinburg is packed with amazing things to do, it can be a pretty intimidating place to plan a trip. To help guide you through the dos and don’ts of this amazing Southern gem, here is a guide to the best activities, food, shopping, and accommodations in all of Gatlinburg.
Local Attractions and Activities in Gatlinburg
There are loads of local attractions and activities in Gatlinburg, but we have narrowed down our list to the best few that you won’t want to miss in our Gatlinburg travel guide.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a forested region with skyscraping mountains that reach more than 6,500 feet high. The central range of the Appalachians run east to west and provide pristine views of the natural beauty that surround the area. The Smokies get their name from the mist that frequently rises out of the valleys and creates a one-of-a-kind view. For those who love to get outside and experience nature, this National Park is a must visit. Travelers come to this park year-round and enjoy outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, and more. In total there are more than 900 miles of hiking trials that run across the park. Many visitors to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park also come for the fishing and winter sports that vary on the time of year you visit. Make sure that your trip begins at the visitor’s center, where they offer guides and maps to the area and allow for easy access to the most scenic areas.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is a much loved local set of attractions that feature exotic collections of the strange and unique. One of their best attractions is actually a more informative collection of exotic marine life. The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies highlights many exotic creatures from around the world and features exhibits on various marine life. Highlights include a submerged acrylic tunnel that allows visitors to see sharks and other ocean predators up close and interactive exhibits, including the always popular “touch a ray bay.” One of our favorite experiences is the penguin exhibits. You can sign up for one of their activities that include swimming with the sting rays, a glass bottom boat ride through the exhibit, or even touching one of their penguins. Other Ripley’s attractions in the area include Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, Ripley’s Moving Theater, and the Guinness World Records Museum.
One of the most beautiful areas of the Smoky Mountains lies just outside of Gatlinburg and was named after the area’s once dominant sugar maples trees. The Sugarlands is an extremely popular day trip destination from Gatlinburg. The area stretches from the Roaring Fork in the east to Sugarland Mountain in the west and is overlooked by the 5,000-foot Mount le Conte. The Sugarlands are extremely popular among avid hikers when the leaves change in October and create a truly magical view. One of the most popular hiking trails is the Old Sugarlands Trail, open to hikers and horse riders. A gentler trail leads from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and loops past the John Ownby Cabin, built in 1860. Not far away is Noah Ogle Place, a former homestead with an old barn, cabin, and mill. Another popular hike through the Sugarlands, one that’s great for families, is the trail to Cataract Falls. This 25-foot-tall waterfall is a great end to a small and easy hike from the visitor’s center at the Sugarlands.
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood
Considered one of the world’s premier theme parks, Dolly Parton’s Dollywood combines the rides, food, and entertainment of a theme park with a distinct Southern charm, all surrounded by the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Dollywood starts with its incredible lineup of live artists performing various musical acts, including country, Southern gospel, classic rock ‘n’ roll, and Appalachian music. Along with the rich musical heritage, Dollywood also showcases some of the Smoky Mountains amazing crafts like glass blowing and blacksmithing. To capture the attention of the thrill seekers out there, Dollywood is also the home to over 40 different rides and attractions that vary enough to entertain all ages. These amazing attractions include the Lightning Rod, Wild Eagle, FireChaser Express, Mystery Mine, Blazing Fury, Barnstormer, Daredevil Falls, Thunderhead, and more. The Lightning Rod is the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, The Wild Eagle is the country’s first wing roller coaster, and the FireChaser Express is the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster.
In addition to the year-round entertainment options, Dollywood also hosts some of the South’s largest festivals. The Festival of Nations is a fascinating multi-cultural celebration featuring traditional music, dance, food, and art of nations from around the globe. Enjoy Dollywood’s Barbecue & Bluegrass Festival in the spring and the Harvest Festival with Great Pumpkin LumiNights in the fall, offering delightful concerts and tasty foods that highlight the changing of the seasons.
The best seasonal offering is the Dollywood Splash Country. This is Dollywood’s take on the traditional waterpark. The park is full of amazing water attractions for the whole family. The water park is also open later for a nightly fireworks extravaganza. These are amazing options for great summer and fall attractions while in Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg Restaurant Guide
Gatlinburg is well known for attractions and natural beauty, but its restaurants are just as amazing. Here are some of the best restaurants we recommend in Gatlinburg.
Southern Comfort at Westgate Mountain Resort and Water Park
Southern Comfort is a pristine representation of comfort food. The restaurant lies on the grounds of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Water Park and features all of your Southern classics. If you are a fried chicken lover, their Southern Fried Chicken and Biscuit is made with tender, juicy bone-in chicken and served with straight out of the oven biscuits and grilled watermelon. The Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf is another prize on their menu we can’t say enough about because it tastes as good as it looks. Just imagine grilled meatloaf wrapped in crispy delicious bacon goodness. Finally, you have to try the Creole Jambalaya and the Chicken and Dumplings on their homecooked menu. These two favorites cover the homecooked staples of any good Southern kitchen. When you are all finished with your meal, make sure to hit up the amazing water park to cool off in the pool and a load of extra attractions.
Cliff Top at Anakeesta
This amazing dinner with a view is a must visit while you are in Gatlinburg. Cliff Top at Anakeesta requires admission to Anakeesta to dine there, but the added cost is well worth it. Guests will board a scenic gondola and ride up to the top of the mountain where you will be surrounded by pristine views of the Smokies. Cliff Top is located in the Black Bear Village area of the attraction. Cliff Top serves up modern American cuisine for guests to enjoy while they take in the views of Mount Le Conte. When booking your reservation for this amazing dining spot, you are able to choose to dine inside or outside on the patio. Both areas offer amazing views of the mountain scenery surrounding the restaurant. After you eat, make sure you grab one other Cliff Top’s amazing desserts to eat while you watch the sunset.
Pancake Pantry is one of the best Gatlinburg restaurants in the downtown area. This amazing little breakfast spot is Tennessee’s oldest pancake house and has been a local favorite for years. Pancake Pantry serves both breakfast and lunch options, but their pancakes are the star of the show. Their menu features amazing takes on classic pancakes including peach, blueberry, buttermilk, and whole wheat varieties to name a few. Pancake Pantry also has an amazing selection of waffles as well, which include some of our favorites in their pecan and strawberry. Other popular menu items include their large egg omelets, traditional egg breakfast platters, and more.
The Peddler Steakhouse
The Peddler Steakhouse has become a Gatlinburg institution to which many locals and visitors alike flock to get their meat fix. The Peddler Steakhouse is built in the former home of Chares “Earl” Ogle Sr., a fourth-generation merchant from Gatlinburg. In 1958, Ogle and his wife constructed their dream home on the banks of the Little Pigeon River from old county cabins. Ogle was the descendant of some of Gatlinburg’s oldest founders, including Noah Ogle, who established the city’s first grocery store. The dream house was converted to preserve its historic value and opened as this amazing restaurant in 1976. This little piece of Gatlinburg history serves up some of the most delicious cuts of steak around. They perfectly pair classic Southern favorites like fried dill pickles with upscale options like filet mignon to create a comforting yet sophisticated experience. This amazing restaurant will fill you up with great meals and leave you with amazing stories for years to come. This is definitely a must-visit spot during your stay in Gatlinburg.
Where to Stay in Gatlinburg, TN
Most people probably think of the popular tourist destination of Gatlinburg and immediately jump to staying in a hotel or some kind of resort, but we are here to tell you that there are better ways of staying in this amazing town. If you are staying in a resort or hotel, you would be missing out on the best options for your vacation. A vacation rental is really the best way to stay in Gatlinburg and get the most out of your vacation!
Vacation rentals allow guests to book an entire home rather than just a small hotel or resort room at a comparative price to the large resorts and hotels around Gatlinburg, but with many more customizable options. Our cabins in Gatlinburg provide you with amazing amenities and customizable experiences depending on your needs. You can filter your options buy searching for number of rooms, amenity options, or location to make sure you are getting the most out of your trip to Gatlinburg.
Save Some Money Eating at Home
The biggest complaint we hear when people are planning their vacation is that they have to spend so much money on food. Your food budget is a sneaky cost that will probably eat up a bunch of your overall budget. With a vacation rental you have a fully equipped kitchen at your disposal which saves you money. Having a full kitchen is an underrated feature of the vacation rental since it allows you to cook your own meals rather than being forced to eat out for every meal. Guests are free to bring their own food with them or visit one of the local grocery stores to stock up on your favorites and save money eating at home. Gatlinburg has a lot of great dining options which you should try, but just cooking the occasional meal at home will save you money to spend elsewhere. This includes eating at fancier restaurants or even extending your trip for an extra day.
Extra Amenities Included
Vacation rentals also include premium upgrades that you will never get with a resort or hotel option. These extra amenities can include in home movie theaters, pools and spas on property, large outdoor decks and much more. You can check out all these extra options to see what amenities will work with your Gatlinburg vacation. Our goal is to make sure you have the best Gatlinburg vacation that we can possibly provide!