Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The 25 Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Often referred to as the “Gateway to the Smokies”, Gatlinburg is a town of just 4,200 residents set in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. But don’t be fooled by its small population, Gatlinburg is one of the most visited towns in America. You’ll be amazed by all of the fun things to do in Gatlinburg and the nearby Smoky Mountains. From whitewater rafting to skiing to sipping craft beer and moonshine, there is truly something for everyone in Gatlinburg.

I actually grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee, and spent many of my weekends hiking in the Smokies. I used to ride at Dollywood, play miniature golf, and beg my parents to let me go to the Mysterious Mansion. I worked as a bartender at Cherokee Grill and No Way Jose’s during my summers home from college. And, I learned to snowboard at Ober Gatlinburg.

Val and I still take trips to Sevierville to visit my parents. We get to check out the newest attractions in Gatlinburg as well as hike our favorite trails in the Smokies. So if you want a local’s take on what to do in Gatlinburg you have come to the right place – read on for my top 25 favorite Gatlinburg attractions and activities!

Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 25 Best Things to do in Gatlinburg!

Getting Around Gatlinburg

Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Gatlinburg is squeezed into a small mountain valley just at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is quite easy to navigate as there are just two main roads running through town – the Parkway (aka Highway 441) and River Road. You’ll find pretty much all of Gatlinburg’s main attractions along these two thoroughfares.

Unfortunately, Gatlinburg traffic can be horrendous, especially on holiday weekends or during the fall when the leaves are changing in the Smokies. But Gatlinburg is a very walkable town so you’re best off just parking your car and exploring on foot.

Also, if you’re coming from Pigeon Forge and want to head directly to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you should take the Gatlinburg Bypass. True to its name this road takes you around downtown Gatlinburg. It brings you right to the Sugarlands entrance to the national park. As an added bonus, it also has a scenic viewpoint where you’ll get a panoramic view of Gatlinburg in the valley below.

Parking in Gatlinburg

While there is plenty of parking in Gatlinburg, free parking in town is quite limited. There is some free street parking along River Road, and you may find an available parking spot if you circle around a couple of times (but don’t count on it). There are also several paid lots around Gatlinburg with rates generally ranging from $5-10 per day.

You’ll find two large Park & Ride parking lots located at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center and Gatlinburg City Hall on Highway 321. You can park for free. However, you’ll need to pay to ride the Gatlinburg Trolley to town and back which costs $0.50 per person each way.

If you venture into the Smoky Mountains you’ll need to have a valid parking tag (daily, weekly, and annual tags available). You can buy them online or onsite.

Where to Stay in Gatlinburg

When deciding where to stay in Gatlinburg, there are two types of accommodations to choose from. Your first option is one of the many hotels in downtown Gatlinburg. This is probably the best option if you are traveling as a couple or small group. The best hotel in Gatlinburg is the Park Vista (more on that below). But, if the Park Vista is unavailable for your dates then try the Old Creek Lodge or the Bearskin Lodge on the River.

You should also read about our other recommended hotels near the Smoky Mountains.

On the other hand, if you are traveling with a family or as a large group, you’ll be better off renting a mountain cabin. You’ll have more space and likely save some money. You’ll also get to enjoy staying out in nature in the Smokies. The downside is you’ll almost certainly have to drive into Gatlinburg and parking can be difficult to find and expensive.

The easiest way to find mountain cabins around Gatlinburg is on Airbnb or VRBO. Make sure you check out our list of the best Airbnbs in the Smoky Mountains!

25 Fun Things to do in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains

1. Bike Through Cades Cove

Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennesse: Cades Cove

Of all the things to do around Gatlinburg, the most popular is a visit to Cades Cove. This beautiful little mountain valley is tucked in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and was once a thriving community. A number of rustic log cabins, cantilever barns, and grist mills are still preserved which gives Cades Cove a quaint air of times past.

An 11-mile one-way loop runs through Cades Cove allowing you to tour it by car, bicycle, or on foot. Because Cades Cove is so popular, you can expect there to be lots of traffic during the summer months and in the fall when the leaves are changing color around Gatlinburg.

The best way to see Cades Cove is, without a doubt, by bicycle. The Cades Cove loop road allows only bicycles (and foot traffic) before 10 am on Saturday mornings and Wednesday mornings from May to September.

So wake up early, rent a bicycle, and enjoy a peaceful ride through this beautiful mountain valley before the hoards of tourists begin descending in their gas-guzzling, exhaust-spewing vehicles. It’s definitely the best thing to do in Gatlinburg!

Book a Guided Tour of Cades Cove

2. Drive to Newfound Gap

Top Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Newfound Gap

Another popular activity in Gatlinburg is to drive through the national park to Newfound Gap. Just like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Newfound Gap is split in two with half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina. And at Newfound Gap you can stand with one foot on each side of the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

Newfound Gap sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet so you’ll have fabulous views of the foothills below. The Appalachian Trail also runs right through Newfound Gap. So, if you have ever dreamed of hiking part of the AT, now is your opportunity. If you start hiking northeast on the Appalachian Trail you’ll reach Charles Bunion in ~4 miles (remember that’s an 8-mile roundtrip hike). Or if you head southwest on the AT for 7.5 miles you’ll reach Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the state of Tennessee.

The tiered stone platform at Newfound Gap is the Rockefeller Memorial. This monument was built to commemorate the Rockefeller family’s donation of $5 million. The donation was crucial in completing the federal government’s land acquisition for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, it was at this very spot that President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the National Park in 1934!

Book a Jeep Tour of Newfound Gap

3. See the View from Clingman’s Dome

What to do in Gatlinburg, Tennsee: Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

From Newfound Gap, you can continue heading up the windy mountain road to the aforementioned Clingman’s Dome. At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi River.

From the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, it’s a half-mile walk on a paved trail to the top of the mountain where a long spiraling concrete ramp leads up to an observation deck. Given that there are only two higher places in the eastern USA, you can be sure that the views are quite spectacular. In fact, on a perfectly clear day, there is theoretically 100 miles of visibility from the top of Clingman’s Dome. But under normal conditions, you can expect to be able to see ~20 miles.

The 23-mile drive to Clingman’s Dome from downtown Gatlinburg can take over an hour with traffic so make sure you plan accordingly. There is also limited parking at the top. It’s best to arrive early in the day so you’re not stuck waiting for a parking spot. Also note that you now need to pay to park in the Smoky Mountains.

Clingman’s Dome Winter Road Closure:
The final 7-mile stretch of road to Clingman’s Dome is closed from December 1st until March 31st. It may also be closed if there has been recent snowfall or cold temperatures. In the winter, there is significantly more snow at this elevation than there is in Gatlinburg.

4. Take a Hike

Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Hiking in the Smokies

Our favorite thing to do in Gatlinburg is to get out in nature and take a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies have over 600 miles of trails offering sweeping panoramic views, cascading waterfalls, and more. Some of the best day hikes in the Smoky Mountains include the following:

Laurel Falls (2.6 miles roundtrip): The hike to Laurel Falls is one of the most popular in the park. The entire trail is paved so you’ll find it’s possible even for those with limited mobility. This hike does have a tendency to be quite crowded. It’s best to do it early in the morning or right before sunset.

Grotto Falls (2.8 miles roundtrip): Grotto Falls is one of the most popular hikes on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. It’s a relatively short and easy hike on a well-maintained trail. Grotto Falls also has the distinction of being the only waterfall in the Smokies that you can walk behind.

Chimney Tops (3.3 miles roundtrip): The Chimney Tops trail is one of the Smokies’ most iconic hikes. It’s a short hike and offers amazing views at the top, but don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance this hike covers. The last mile has an elevation gain of over 800 feet making it a strenuous climb to the top. The Chimney Tops themselves were closed after the huge Gatlinburg fire of 2016, but a new viewing platform has been built where the trail currently ends. Hopefully, the final section of the trail will be re-opened in the future.

Alum Cave (4.4 miles roundtrip): One of our favorite hikes in the Smokies, the Alum Cave trail starts on Newfound Gap Road and follows Alum Cave Creek before heading up towards Mount LeConte. You’ll hike through a rock tunnel known as Arch Rock and at the end of your hike, you’ll reach Alum Cave which is actually an 80-foot tall concaved bluff you can rest under before heading back down.

Charles Bunion (8 miles roundtrip): As mentioned previously, the hike starts at the Newfound Gap parking lot. From there, it follows the Appalachian Trail east for four miles to a rocky outcrop known as Charles Bunion. It’s a somewhat strenuous hike so make sure you’re in good shape and well prepared with water and snacks. Your reward will be spectacular views at Charles Bunion as well as at several other points along your hike.

5. Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail

Gatlinburg - Things to do in the Smokies: Roaring Fork Motor Trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is one of the most popular drives through the national park. This one-way loop is only 5.5 miles long but it’s a narrow winding road with lots of places you’ll want to stop to explore and take pictures. So plan on this drive taking at least two hours.

For the best experience, it’s best to stop at one of the park’s visitor centers beforehand to pick up the NPS’s guidebook to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. It contains information on the flora and fauna of this area. It also contains the history of the community that existed here before it was displaced by the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Towards the second half of the drive, you’ll encounter log cabins, grist mills, and a church that are all very well-preserved and quite interesting to visit. You’ll also drive past the Place of a Thousand Drips which is one of only two waterfalls in the national park that you can drive to.

If you have time, there are also several great day hikes along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, including Rainbow Falls, Grotto Falls, and Baskin Falls.

Book a Jeep Tour of the Roaring Fork Motor Trail

6. Stay at The Park Vista

Of all the lovely hotels in Gatlinburg, The Park Vista is our favorite! It’s situated high on a hill right at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll have lovely views of both Gatlinburg and the Appalachian Mountains. Every room in the hotel has a balcony so you’ll have the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Plus, it’s on the Gatlinburg trolley route so you’re just minutes away from downtown Gatlinburg.

If you’re not able to stay at the Park Vista, you should at least drop by their onsite bar, Firefly’s Patio Lounge. Grab a beer and pull up a seat at the outdoor fire pit while enjoying the panoramic view of Mt. LeConte, the 3rd highest peak in the Smokies.

7. See the Fireflies

Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Fireflies

Once a relatively unknown natural phenomenon, seeing the Smoky Mountain’s synchronous fireflies has now become a major bucket list item for many visitors to Gatlinburg. The Smoky Mountains just happen to be home to the Western Hemisphere’s largest population of synchronous fireflies (Photinus Carolinus).

It’s hard to do this unique experience justice with either words or pictures, but you can imagine thousands of tiny lightning bugs all lighting up simultaneously in a visually stunning mating ritual. You can only see them for about 2-3 weeks each summer, typically from the end of May to the beginning of June.

The best way to see them is to book a campsite at Elkmont Campground, just a 25-minute drive from downtown Gatlinburg. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance online at or by calling 1-877-444-6777. It’s impossible to predict the exact time that the fireflies will put on their show so you’ll just have to reserve a campsite at Elkmont around the first day of June and hope for the best!

If the Elkmont campground is already fully booked or you don’t want to bother with camping, you can also attempt to purchase a parking pass for the event. Parking passes are awarded via a lottery system but you can choose two dates you would like to attend for an extra chance to win.

8. Go Whitewater Rafting on the Pigeon River

Gatlinburg - Things to do in the Smoky Mountains: White Water Rafting

If you’re looking to get your adrenaline fix during your trip to Gatlinburg then how about a little whitewater rafting? In fact, rafting the nearby Pigeon River is considered one of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains. Most rafting outfitters in town offer two different trips on the Pigeon River.

The Upper Pigeon River is the more exciting (and more popular) of the two trips. Over the course of ~5.5 miles, you’ll raft through 60+ rapids, including twelve class III rapids and three heart-pounding class IV rapids. Kids generally need to be at least 8 years old and weigh over 70 lbs to raft this section of the Pigeon River.

The Lower Pigeon River is a much more mellow 5.5-mile float. It is geared towards families with young children or anyone that prefers taking in the beautiful mountain scenery over navigating class IV rapids.

The best white water rafting companies in Gatlinburg are Smoky Mountain Outdoors, Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), and Rafting in the Smokies. Rafting trips actually start in Hartford which is about a 40-minute drive from Gatlinburg so confirm your meeting point with whichever rafting company you choose.

9. Go Fishin’

Sport fishermen rejoice! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has almost 2,900 miles of rivers and streams. Plus, it is home to one of the USA’s last wild trout populations. Fishing is permitted year-round in all of the national park’s waterways.

You’ll need a fishing license for either Tennessee or North Carolina and both are valid in the national park. Fishing licenses are not available at the park headquarters, but you can purchase a Tennessee fishing license at lots of stores around Gatlinburg. You can also buy one online at and have it emailed to you in a matter of minutes.

If you didn’t bring your fishing tackle with you on your trip to East Tennessee or if you just prefer to have a local guide, there are several shops that offer fishing tours in Gatlinburg. The Smoky Mountain Angler or Fly Fishing the Smokies are a couple of good options.

10. Go Trail Riding

Love the idea of hiking in the mountains but don’t want to be bothered with actually exercising? Then a horseback trail ride is the perfect Gatlinburg activity for you!

Located right at the entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park, Sugarlands Riding Stables is just two miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. They have trail rides ranging from four miles to 15 miles (1-4 hours in duration) through the national park.

Smoky Mountain Riding Stables is located about ~4 miles east of Gatlinburg. They offer a 45-minute horseback ride over three miles of wooded trails and mountain streams.

Even if you have never ridden a horse before, you can participate in a trail ride in the Smokies. Both stables have gentle horses that require almost no guidance so you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery.

11. Drink a Super Mug at the Smoky Mountain Brewery

Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Smoky Mountain Brewery

The Smoky Mountain Brewery is a Gatlinburg mainstay. It is the oldest craft brewery in East Tennesee and it used to be one of the only places you could get a decent beer in Gatlinburg. Everywhere around town, they just served generic mass-produced domestic beers like Coors Light and Budweiser.

Luckily, times have changed and now you’ll find craft beer all over Gatlinburg, but the beers from “The Brewery” (as it is affectionately known) are still local favorites. The Cherokee Red Ale and Black Bear Ale are both quite popular. Or if you want something lighter try the Velas Hellas, an easy-drinking German-style lager.

The Smoky Mountain Brewery is located just a few blocks from the entrance to the national park. It is the perfect place to stop for a beer after a long hike. And if you really need to unwind you can get a “super mug” – 33.8 ounces of beer (almost the equivalent of half a six-pack) – for just $6.75.

The Smoky Mountain Brewery also has live music, trivia nights, and karaoke (check the events schedule) so there is almost always something going on. That’s one of the reasons why it’s always been my favorite bar in Gatlinburg. I actually bartended at the Cherokee Grill right next door to the Smoky Mountain Brewery back in 2000-2003. After work, I would head to the brewery just in time to catch the last call!

12. Sample Moonshine

Gatlinburg Attractions: Moonshine Distillery

As you walk around Gatlinburg, you’ll no doubt start to notice several establishments selling moonshine. You’ll probably be thinking to yourself, “isn’t moonshine illegal? Has the town of Gatlinburg totally forsaken the rule of law for a quick tourist dollar?”.

Well, the only thing that ever really made moonshine illegal was that no one paid taxes on it to the federal government. There is nothing actually illegal about distilling grain alcohol, known as “white dog”, which is then aged in oak barrels to make whiskey.

In fact, the generic grain alcohol is often sold to college students as “Everclear“. All of these, “Moonshine” distilleries are essentially just selling Everclear in mason jars – very clever marketing!

That being said, Gatlinburg’s moonshine distilleries are fun to visit and typically offer free samples of their hooch. Plus, you can see the distilling process and pick up a unique boozy gift for your friends back home.

The ‘shine is infused with dozens of different flavors you can choose from ranging from the ever-popular apple pie to stranger choices like maple bacon or peanut butter and jelly. I always think the best way to consume moonshine is when it has been soaked into fruit so be sure to try the moonshine cherries or moonshine peaches.

The 3 moonshine distilleries in Gatlinburg are Sugerlands Distilling Co., Ole Smoky Moonshine, and Doc Collier Moonshine.

13. Walk Across the SkyBridge

Cool Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Skybridge

Among its numerous other attractions, Gatlinburg is now home to North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. The Gatlinburg Skybridge spans 680 feet and is 140 feet high at its highest point. From here, you’ll have unparalleled views of the Smoky Mountains and of Gatlinburg far below. There is also a glass panel at the highest point along the Skybridge so you can look straight down 140 feet and scare yourself silly.

The suspension bridge is part of the SkyLift Park and to reach it, you’ll need to first ride the SkyLift from downtown Gatlinburg to the SkyDeck 500 feet above the town. This chairlift was first opened in 1954 making it one of Gatlinburg’s oldest attractions, but it got a major revamp after the Gatlinburg fire in 2016. Both the SkyDeck and SkyBridge are new additions.

14. Be Skeptical at Ripley’s Believe it or Not

Gatlinburg - Best Things To Do: Ripley's Believe it or not Odditorium

Probably the quirkiest thing you can do in Gatlinburg is to visit Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium. Cartoonist and anthropologist LeRoy Robert Ripley worked with the fact researcher Norbert Pearlroth to create the famous cartoon panel, Ripley’s Believe it or Not. This grew into a media empire that included books, radio, television, and an ever-growing chain of museums and attractions.

Ripley’s first odditorium was opened in 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair. Now there are 32 Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditoriums around the world in far-flung locations like Bangalore, India, and Jeju Island, South Korea.

Gatlinburg’s original Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium was built in 1970 but unfortunately, it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1992. Many prized pieces from the Ripley collection were also lost in this disaster, but the museum was rebuilt in 1994 with twice as much exhibition space.

Thanks to the extensive fact-checking by Norbert Pearlroth, most of Ripley’s outlandish claims are actually trustworthy. But I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you believe them… or not!

Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Flex Pass

If you’re planning on visiting a lot of attractions in Nashville, make sure you check out the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Flex Pass. It gives you access to 30 of the top-rated tours and attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, including the Space Needle, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster, and more.

Buy the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Flex Pass

15. See the Sea Life at the Aquarium

What to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has been voted the best aquarium in the USA. It is home to ~10,000 exotic sea creatures spread over 10 themed exhibits. Crowd favorites include the penguin encounter, the touch-a-ray stingray bay, and, of course, the underwater shark tunnel.

Make sure you check the schedule for the live dive shows before planning your visit to the Aquarium of the Smokies so you can see the penguins or stingrays being fed. And if you’re traveling with young kids, you won’t want to miss seeing one of the aquarium’s mermaid shows.

There are also lots of fun add-on experiences (at extra cost) that really make a day at the Aquarium of the Smokies one of the best things to do in Gatlinburg. You can swim with stingrays, paint with a penguin, or even have a sleepover in the shark tunnel!

16. Get an Old-Timey Photo

Gatlinburg Attractions: Old Tiney Photo

Probably the most touristy thing you can do in Gatlinburg, but also one of the most entertaining, is to take an “old-timey photo“. You find dozens of old-timey photo studios lining the main strip of Gatlinburg.

Your group will get to dress up in hoop skirts, waistcoats, trench coats, gun belts, garter belts, feather boas, and anything else you can find in the costume closet. You’ll then have your photos taken with a period-appropriate backdrop and developed in sepia for that old-timey look! It’s great fun for the whole family and makes for a great souvenir from your trip to Gatlinburg!

A word of warning: Make sure you are very clear on the pricing ahead of time. Clarify whether the sitting fee is for the whole group or per person, how many different poses you can choose, how many prints you’ll get, and whether you can have digital copies of the photos. These old-timey photo studios have a tendency to advertise at a very reasonable rate. Then, they hit you with a bunch of extra charges when it comes time to pay for your photos.

17. See Artwork at Arrowmont

The historic Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts has been educating artists and artisans for over 70 years. Here you will find classes and workshops on jewelry making, weaving, woodworking, ceramics, and more! If you really want to get a feel for Appalachia, then taking a class at Arrowmont is a great place to start.

Of course, if you don’t have time for a workshop, seeing their art collection is reason enough to visit Arrowmont. The school runs five art galleries that are open to the public with pieces from local and international artists. Arrowmont has a permanent collection of over 1,000 works of art as well as rotating exhibits. You can also visit the studio of the current artist in residence.

Arrowmont’s Art Galleries are open from 8:30 am – 5 pm Monday – Friday and from 10 am – 4 pm on Saturday. They are closed on Sunday.

18. Play Putt-Putt Golf

What to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Putt Putt Golf (Miniature Golf)

There are seven miniature golf courses in Gatlinburg which is actually quite impressive when you consider the town has a population of just 4,150 people. That’s one putt-putt golf course for every 600 residents!

The most unique miniature golf course in Gatlinburg is definitely Hillbilly Golf. It was built right onto the side of a steep hill and has been open for almost 50 years! Before beginning your game of putt-putt, you’ll head 300 vertical feet straight up the hillside on Hillbilly Golf’s inclined railcar. Then you’ll play a true Appalachian-themed game of miniature golf by putting your way down the mountain through tractors, moonshine stills, and outhouses.

And if you’re trying to figure out what to do on a rainy day in Gatlinburg, miniature golf is also an option! Head to Blindshot Barnaby’s Circus Golf or Gatlin’s which both offer indoor blacklight golf courses.

Other options for a round of putt-putt golf include Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, Cooter’s Place (if you’re a fan of The Duke’s of Hazard), Treasure Quest (another indoor minigolf course), and a small miniature golf course at Ober Gatlinburg.

19. Ride the Tram to Ober Gatlinburg

Unique Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Tram

Another long-standing institution of Gatlinburg is the Aerial Tramway. Carrying up to 120 passengers at a time, the Gatlinburg Tram departs downtown and travels 2.1-miles to the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort high in the Smokies.

You’ll have great views of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains both during your tram ride and when you arrive at the top. Plus, there are lots of fun things to do at Ober Gatlinburg all year round! You can go skiing in the winter, ride the Mountain Coaster or Alpine Slide in the summer, and go ice skating regardless of what season you’re visiting Gatlinburg.

20. Go Skiing

Ober Gatlinburg is Tennessee’s only ski resort and if you are visiting in the winter, skiing or snowboarding is definitely one of the best things to do in Gatlinburg. I first learned to snowboard at Ober Gatlinburg before moving out west to Portland, Oregon.

The ski area at Ober Gatlinburg is actually rather small, especially in comparison to many proper ski resorts in the Western part of the USA or Canada. Ober claims to have ten ski trails, but, in reality, it’s more like five. They’re counting each individual section of a ski run as its own trail.

Lift tickets are significantly cheaper on weekdays than on weekends. So if you’ll be visiting Gatlinburg for several days, you should plan your skiing for a weekday as the slopes will also be much less crowded midweek. If you’ve never skied before, Ober offers both ski rentals and lessons. They also have snow tubing which is quite popular with families visiting Gatlinburg in the winter.

Ober’s ski season generally lasts from mid-December until early March, but it is dependent on the weather so there is no way of saying for sure. If you definitely want to ski during your trip to Gatlinburg then you should plan on visiting in January or February.

21. Go Ice Skating

Top Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Ice Staking at Ober Gatlinburg

Another one of the most popular things to do in Gatlinburg in the Winter is to go ice skating at Ober. Actually, the skating rink is open year round so if you’re visiting in the summer, it’s also a great way to beat the heat in Tennessee. Plus, there are lots of health benefits to ice skating – like improving your balance and overall fitness!

It’s quite cold in the ice skating rink so if you’re heading to Ober Gatlinburg in the summer and want to go ice skating, make sure you bring a jacket or sweater.

Ober Gatlinburg’s ice skating rink has been there for as long as I can remember. It’s even home to Tennessee’s annual Special Olympics ice skating competition. At only $8 per person (including ice skate rentals) it is also one of the most affordable things to do in Gatlinburg.

22. Ride the Mountain Coaster

If you’re visiting Gatlinburg in the summer, you’ll miss out on the skiing, but luckily you can ride one of Ober Gatlinburg’s newest attractions, the Mountain Coaster. You’ll sail down 2,750 feet of winding track reaching top speeds of 25MPH. You control the speed of your car with a hand brake so you can choose whether to make your descent a leisurely ride or an all-out adrenaline rush!

I also recommend the Alpine Slide which is basically an older, less safe version of the Mountain Coaster. It’s the same concept as the Mountain Coaster as you’ll be descending a steep winding track down the mountain in a small vehicle that you control with a hand brake. The biggest difference is that your car is not attached to the track. And although the top speed on the Alpine Slide is slower, I can personally attest to the fact that wipeouts are possible, especially if you’re racing a friend and you both neglect to use the hand brake.

23. Be Terrified at the Mysterious Mansion

Best Things to do in Gatlinburg: Mysterious Mansion

Of all the things you can do in Gatlinburg, the one that is most nostalgic for me is the Mysterious Mansion. As kids, we were always obsessed with this haunted house. From the outside, it looks like a very creepy Victorian-era mansion and through the windows, you’ll spot shadowy figures moving around in the interior. It’s no wonder this Gatlinburg attraction always piqued our interest.

The Mysterious Mansion has been a Gatlinburg mainstay for quite some time but it went through a major renovation in 2012. It made it scarier and more realistic than ever. Many of the cheesy animatronics that was entertaining but not very frightening were replaced with live actors.

You can expect three floors of secret passageways, creepy special effects, and a legitimately scary haunted house. No refunds are given if you get too scared and have to leave early so make sure your whole group knows what they’re getting themselves into before you buy your tickets.

And if you really love haunted houses then make sure to also check out Ripley’s Haunted Adventure just a few blocks away on Gatlinburg’s main strip.

Book a Gatlinburg Ghost Tour

24. Visit the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum

If you’re looking for something weird to do in Gatlinburg then look no further than the world’s only salt and pepper shaker museum! Here you’ll find a completely overwhelming collection of over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers plus an equally impressive assortment of 1,500 pepper mills.

This eclectic museum is the brainchild of Andrea Ludden, a Belgian archaeologist who wanted to showcase the variety and creativity of everyday items as mundane as salt and pepper shakers. You’ll find her ever-growing collection of salt and pepper shakers stacked 3-4 rows deep on dozens of wooden shelves and in glass cases.

The Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers is open daily from 10 am – 4 pm, though you may want to check their Facebook page for current hours before heading over. Admission is $3 per adult and if you purchase something in the gift shop, your cost of admission will be refunded!

25. See the View from the Space Needle

Gatlinburg Attractions: The Space Needle

If you’re looking down on Gatlinburg from the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook or from the SkyLift Park you’ll quickly spot the Space Needle towering high over everything else in town. At 407 feet tall the Space Needle is the tallest structure in Gatlinburg. When it was built in 1969, it was the second tallest building in Tennessee.

Entrance to the Space Needle is rather steep at $12.95 per adult for a quick ride up the elevator. The views from the observation deck at the top are impressive, but it’s unlikely you’ll spend more than 15-20 minutes at this Gatlinburg attraction.

There you have it… 25 of the best things to do in Gatlinburg! Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.

Planning a trip to East Tennessee? Make sure you check out our favorite books and resources!



  • Nick Wheatley

    Nick took his first solo trip abroad to Ireland and Scotland when he was just 19. Since then he has visited over 70 countries around the world (plus 45 states in the USA).

    He coupled his passion for travel photography with Val’s passion for writing and thus Wandering Wheatleys was born. He now lives in Asheville with his two rambunctious kids, Humphrey and Wilhelminha.

    Besides photography, Nick loves eating the weirdest food he can find in a country (sheep’s brain currently sits in first place) and making Val get up an hour before sunrise to make sure he gets “the good light”.

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5 thoughts on “The 25 Best Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee”

  1. Thank you so much for this list and description. I wasn’t too convinced (I thought the only thing to do was visit Dollywood which would be fabulous no matter what) but there is so much my young kids would enjoy too. thanks

    1. Dollywood wow haven’t thought about that in a long time. Havent been since I was 14 don’t care for it. So much more to do! The only free national park it’s amazing!!! But Dollywood is also in pigeon forge. And personal love to stay in Gatlinburg. But there are so many beautiful things to do in the park and walking downtowm Gatlinburg is the best! It’s my fav place in the world

  2. You forgot about going to the village downtown. And eating at all the restaurants and shopping and all of the unique stores not the T-shirt ones but all of the different ones and eating edible cookie dough and all the candy places and watching the Smoky mountain Taffy be made and going to the glades with all the arts and crafts stores. So much to do!😁

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