Tennessee’s mountain town of Gatlinburg attracts a large number of tourists all year round. People come here for the greenery it’s surrounded by, the rewarding vista points all around, panoramic views, thrill rides, Moonshine, and a wide range of adventure activities for people of all ages. Gatlinburg is also known as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains and is almost always a stop along the way to or from this busy national park. The list of things you can do in this little town is seemingly endless one. However, here are the top 10 things to do in Gatlinburg:
1. See Gatlinburg from its signature modes of transport
One of the best ways to see this mountain town is on the trolleys that roll through its streets picking up & dropping off locals & visitors at a number of points in and around town. This system that started with 6 trolleys back in 1980 has grown to over 20 vehicles and operates on a daily basis. These days you can rely on a trolley to take from the Gatlinburg Visitor Center, through the parkway & River River Road, to the arts & crafts community, and to areas of shopping and local attractions, as well as some accommodations too.
To see Gatlinburg from another level, you can hop onto the Ober Tram that takes people from the downtown area to the Ober Ski & Amusement park at a height of 2813 ft. above sea level. The 2.1-mile ride over the town presents you with great views of Gatlinburg and its surroundings.
2. Have some fun at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park
Ober Gatlinburg is the area’s only ski resort and one of the most popular things to do in Gatlinburg. In winter there’s skiing, snowboarding & snow tubing to be done. You can rent your ski gear and take lessons at this resort. And if you’re into ice skating & bumper car rides on ice, Ober Gatlinburg has that also.
At the year-round amusement park up here, Ober offers activities like wall-climbing, summer tubing, finding your way through a maze, mini-golf, rides for kids, and animal encounters. Other big attractions here are the Alpine Slide & a Ski Mountain Coaster that takes you down the Ober slopes.
3. Seek more adventure at Anakeesta
If that’s not enough to enjoy the Gatlinburg area and its high altitudes, you should take a chairlift to Anakeesta, another well-known theme park in the mountains here. Spread over 70 acres of mountain space, this park is known for its treetop attractions and its activities for kids & adults.
Anakeesta is the Cherokee word for ‘high ground,’ and this park high above the town of Gatlinburg has a botanical garden, observation decks, and dining & shopping facilities. Here you can zipline, ride a mountain coaster, go gem-mining, go on a nature drive on a passenger truck, walk on a tree-top skywalk or a skybridge, and take in breathtaking sights from the Anavista Observation Tower.
4. Get on the Gatlingburg Skylift
Your trip to Gatlinburg wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t also check in at Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. It’s one of the best things to do in Gatlinburg! Their famous yellow chairlifts to the top of Crockett Mountain at 1800 ft. is another fun ride to the higher elevations of the area.
At the top, there’s the park’s SkyTrail, a cantilevered boardwalk that will take you off a cliff and onto the viewing platform of Tulip Tower. Another must-do there is a thrilling walk on the SkyBridge, which is said to be the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. At the middle of the bridge is a glass portion of the bridge that will give you a memorable view of the forests down below.
5. Take in the views from Gatlinburg Space Needle
One other place whose view you cannot miss taking in is that of Gatlinburg’s own Space Needle. Take the glass elevators to the Space Needle’s observation tower for 360-degree views of the resort town of Gatlinburg and the mountains around it; this from a height of 407 ft.
This observation tower that was completed in 1969 used to be the second tallest tower in the state. It lost that title, however, it continues to be a year-round attraction entertaining visitors with arcade games food & shopping facilities right here on the site.
6. Stroll through Gatlinburg Strip
Gatlinburg’s most-happening-part-of-town is the Gatlinburg Strip, a mile-long road that begins near the intersection of US 441 & Ski Mountain Road and extends northeast. Visiting this strip is a very popular thing to do in Gatlinburg.
The strip is lined with shops, arcades, eateries, museums, and several of the local landmarks like the Gatlinburg Space Needle making it lively & touristy. As such, exploring it on foot is something you’re going to enjoy.
7. Indulge in an evening of Moonshine
When in Gatlinburg, you also have the opportunity to indulge in the mountain town’s homemade drink — Moonshine. The town is home to 3 Moonshine distilleries where they make grain-distilled alcohol and visitors can tour the facilities, learn about how these drinks are made, and sample them. Trying out some of the interesting flavors they have on spread here is sure to make it an experience to remember.
Ole Smoky Moonshine, Sugarlands Distilling Co, and Doc Collier Moonshine are the places you want to look for if you’d like to go distillery hopping or shopping for bottles of Gatlinburg’s own whiskey.
8. Go whitewater rafting
Being in Gatlinburg is also a reason to go whitewater rafting, not just because this is a town with a lot of adventurous activities to do but also because you are near the Pigeon River.
Pigeon River is known for its many rapids making it a great place to go whitewater rafting. Pros at the sport might want to go for the Upper Pigeon River, which has over 60 rapids over a 5-mile stretch. Others can opt for the Lower Pigeon River which is more kid-friendly. Whitewater rafting is a tourist favorite out of the things to do in Gatlinburg.
9. Go see the oldest structure in town
The oldest structure in Gatlinburg is a log cabin built in the 1800s and it tells the story of some of the earliest settlers of the area. It’s said that William Ogle fell in love with this part of eastern Tennessee and went about making arrangements for the wood needed to build his family a cabin here. Unfortunately, he died before he could complete this project. His wife Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, however, pursued the dream, built the cabin & moved the family from South Carolina.
The Historic Ogle Log Cabin, which has stood the test of time has been moved a few times. If you’d like to go see it, the historic cabin now stands near the Gatlinburg Welcome Center.
10. Make a trip into the National Park just outside the town
Last, but not least of the top 10 things to do in Gatlinburg, is to visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In fact, most people who visit this national park often make Gatlinburg their base.
This park is one of the first few National Parks and one of the most visited ones. It lies partly in Tennessee and partly in North Carolina and is known for its mountainous landscapes, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, and its fog that won it the name ‘Smoky Mountains.’