Make sure Gatlinburg is on your must see and vacation list. I fell in love with this town years ago and try to make it a point to visit often. The Great Smoky Mountains continue to bring me back. Perfect trip for families, couples, adventure seekers and fun lovers!
Usually I plan everything ahead of time to keep within my budget and make sure I see everything I want to. My most recent trip though was completely last minute due to Hurricane Florence. My hometown was under mandatory evacuation, so I packed up my most important valuables and booked a hotel in Gatlinburg. I was out of the house the next morning at 3 a.m. I was sad to leave my home with the possibility of losing everything in a devastating hurricane. But I took the opportunity to get out of town and make the best of it. Figured why not visit one of my favorite vacay spots!
Typically the first question when planning ahead for a trip is, where to stay? Accommodations are the biggest chunk of spending during any vacation. Gatlinburg area has many options to choose from and can fit anyone’s budget.
First you need to figure out, what it is you are looking for. Do you want to be close to the action or secluded in the woods for a more rustic vibe. You can choose to be close to hiking trails or the downtown tourist attractions. Choose from a campground, hotel, cabin, resort or feel at home with an airbnb.
There is no shortage of hotels in the area, it just depends where you want to be located. I hopped onto expedia and quickly entered my search criteria. It was quick, easy and I got what I wanted within my budget.
During my recent trip I stayed at Crossroads Inn and Suites located on the parkway in downtown Gatlinburg. The location was perfect and the price was completely affordable. The hotel is within walking distance of the many attractions of Gatlinburg. Therefore there was no need to pay to park or fight for a parking spot. It is also conveniently located only 1 mile from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Parking at the hotel was free, rooms were very clean, staff was friendly and a complete breakfast was included with your stay.
Be immersed in full mountain mode. Stay at a cabin tucked away in the woods with all the amenities of home. So many cabins to choose from in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. Perfect for a couples romantic getaway or a fun family trip with multiple families. Cabins can accommodate larger groups. Most cabins include a hot tub to soak in the mountain views and relax after a long day!
This is becoming my new favorite way to travel and spend the night. Besides camping, because I do love to travel with my tent.
With airbnb you can search for a room or an entire house, depending on your needs and budget. What’s great about this is it’s affordable and you get all the comforts of being home. Plus side in Gatlinburg is the majority of homes are cute cozy cabins. Most houses you get full access to the kitchen making it easy to cook at the house. I prefer to travel on a budget and don’t like to spend a ton money on food and eating out. If you are the same, this is the perfect option for you. Get a deal and click here to receive $40 off your first trip of $75 or more.
There are plenty of camping options, whether you have an RV, tent or like to rough it in the backcountry. Check out a few of my favorites!
The largest campground in the area with both RV and tent sites. You can choose from a few waterfront sites that back up to a creek that flows through the park. Easy access to fishing and hiking trails.
Smoky Bear Campground
This campground is located 13 miles from Gatlinburg. A nice shaded hideaway in the woods, but also an easy drive to downtown Gatlinburg. Enjoy this quiet campground. Hang out at your site or take a dip in the pool or hot tub. Accommodates both tents and RV and also offers cabin rentals. Perfect for those who love the outdoors and aren’t so much into the tourist traps.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is probably the number one reason why people flock to the area. This National Park is a must see, especially as the fog rises out of the mountains and valley, thus how it received it’s name as the Smoky Mountains. It also one of the few National parks that has free admission, allowing everyone to view it’s beauty. There is so much to see; wildlife, waterfalls, Appalachian mountain range, historical sites and cabins, diverse plant life and of course the picturesque mountain views. Followed by endless amounts of fun as you hike and adventure your way through the forest. Continue to read below for several of the parks hot spots. Also, be sure to check out more of my favorite must see and do adventures in this park and other East Coast National Parks.
Come on…did you even visit the mountains if you didn’t hike? Be one with nature and take a hike. There really is a hike for everyone…no matter your experience or activity level. Make sure to check out the pet policy if are traveling with a furry friend. Water and snacks are a must, so make sure you are prepared. Be sure to take plenty of pictures because the views are breathtaking and you never know when you will catch a glimpse of wildlife.
This 2.6 mile paved trail is an easy round trip hike ending with views of an 80 foot waterfall. Since the trail is paved, strollers and wheelchairs can be used. However, do know that there are a few rough spots along the way. This is a popular trail, therefore head out first thing in the morning or before closing to avoid the traffic.
Stop along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail to hike towards the walk behind waterfall. Hike 2.6 shaded miles on this moderate trail. Enjoy the views of several small streams and rock formations along the way. The destination is totally instagram worthy. Make sure to get your picture taken while standing behind the waterfall. Feel the cool water mist off of the falls as you breath in the fresh mountain air. I highly suggest to pack a lunch to sit and enjoy when you reach the falls. It truly is the best place to sit with not a care in the world.
Chimney Top Trail
Be brave and take the challenge of this more difficult 3.3 mile trail. Don’t let the easy start fool you, as the trail begins to ascend after the 1st mile. Follow the stone carved steps as you inch your way closer to a view you don’t want to wimp out on. The climb is totally worth the breathtaking 360 degree view of Gatlinburg where you honestly feel like you are on top of the world.
This trail received its name from the rainbow that can be seen on a sunny day from the waterfalls mist. It is definitely the pot of gold at the end of rainbow. This a moderate 5.5 mile hike that winds through the forest. Cross over streams and footbridges along the way. Be sure to pack a light jacket, I hiked this in August one year and was very cold when I reached the waterfall. The temperature noticeably dropped at the falls. If you are feeling adventurous and energized you can extend your hike another 4.2 miles to Mt. LeConte. Hike atop the 3rd highest mountain in the Smokies.
Take this easy 3.8 mile out and back hike that begins outside of Sugarlands Visitor Center. The flat terrain is great for beginners and pets. It is not short of great views though as you follow alongside the Little Pigeon River.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Who wants views from the comfort of their own car?! This paved, 6 mile scenic loop is a one way drive through the beautiful forest. There are a few pullover spots with picturesque mountain views to snap the perfect picture and sneak in a selfie or five. Because let’s face it, were you even really there if you didn’t snap a photo? This motor trail also gives you access to two trailheads that lead to the parks top waterfalls, Grotto Falls and Rainbow Falls. It is perfect for families, adventurers and those with limited access making it the overall best spot for everyone. I honestly have no idea how I missed this beautiful ride the first few times I visited the area. I sure am thrilled I stumbled upon it though.
No matter the length of your stay in Gatlinburg or if you are just driving thru, put this at the top of your list. The trail is named after the Roaring Fork river that rushes close to the road. This allows you to view waterfalls right from the road. Also, along the road you will see small cabins, a grist mill and possibly even a bear. Black bears are common in the area and you are likely to see one. Remember to keep your distance and allow your presence to be known. Follow the trail to Ely’s Mill where you can park and meander through the local craft community.
As you near the end keep a lookout for the waterfall known as the “Place of a Thousand Drips.” This waterfall has carved several grooves and channels in the mountainside making it very unique. It is best viewed following rainy weather, however you can find the beauty in it any day.
Drive or bike through the peaceful 11 mile one way loop, located in the Smoky Mountain National Park. This quiet hideaway is ranked as the most popular destination in the National Park. It attracts millions of visitors each year to learn about the history and take in the sights of it’s natural beauty. Get a glimpse of what life was like for the hundred of early settlers that called this area home. Follow the path that was once used as an old logging railroad track.
Wildlife lovers this is your paradise as you can see black bear, turkeys, coyotes, deer and other small animals roaming the valley. If you are more into learning history, there is plenty to see and learn here. Along the path are cabins, 3 churches, barns and even a working grist mill. Make sure to pull off the path to check these out and learn more.
Of course there is a must see waterfall to hike to, Abrams Falls. This is 5 mile round trip that ends at a relaxing waterfall. Most summer days you can find people picnicking and swimming below the falls.
The park is popular so be ready for slow moving traffic. My advice to enter the park early on a weekday to beat the crowds. For the best views and unhindered viewing, the park is open to only bicyclists and pedestrians Wednesday’s and Saturday’s before 10 a.m. I highly suggest you do this. If you didn’t pack a bike, the park dos rentals which is perfect!
Moonshine and Whiskey Tastings
Because why not check out Gatlinburg’s first legal moonshine distillery. Visit Ole Smoky Moonshine to taste the shine, see how it’s made and smell the grains fermenting as they brew up another batch. There are two tasting spots downtown and you definitely want to check out both. One location is mainly moonshine and the other offers whiskey tastings. Tastings are only $5 and of course you must be 21+ to sample 10-12 different flavors of shine and whiskey. If you find a favorite you can’t leave without the $5 goes towards your purchase.
The night I went, there was a live 3 person band playing traditional banjo music of the Smokies giving the full experience. The employees were fun and shared their knowledge of each product as well. The best quote from our bartender was when she poured us each a shot of the 128 proof shine named blue flame. She told us,”This will start cars, fires, fights and families.”
Unlike any mini golf course I’ve ever seen. You begin at the bottom and hop onboard a coaster that takes you to the top of the mountain. When you reach the top there are 2 courses to choose from. Each hole is unique as it is decorated with hillbilly things such as a bathtub, tractor, outhouse, etc. It is more than just a round of golf and filled with lots of laughter.
This is a newer, family friendly attraction in downtown Gatlinburg. Take a chondola ride, beginning downtown and ascending 600 feet up Anakeesta mountain. Your admission includes the condola ride, access to firefly village that is filled with shops and restaurants, a tree canopy walk and kids play area. The views atop the mountain is totally worth the admission. The tree canopy tour is pretty awesome too. You follow 16 connecting bridges that are suspended 40-60 feet in the air. It truly is a whimsical experience.
A mountain coaster and ziplining is also offered at the top for a fee. The zipline is actually a dueling zipline in which you can race down beside your friends and family.
Gatlinburg is the perfect getaway for all ages and interests. No matter your age or if you choose to be adventurous or looking for a laid back travel destination, this is a must on your vacation list. Gatlinburg’s appeal continues to draw me back year after year. The best part is no trip has ever been the same and I continue to find new and fun things each time I explore the town.
If you have been to Gatlinburg before, what is your favorite thing to do?
If you haven’t checked it out yet, what is first on your list to check out?