“The mountains are calling and I must go.” This famous John Muir quote always reminds me of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The quaint town is surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and has a charm all its own. If the mountains are calling your name, it’s time to start planning a Gatlinburg getaway. Find out how to make your vacation in Gatlinburg even better with these five easy-to-use tips.
1) Stay in Downtown Gatlinburg
While it’s nice to stay in a cabin when you visit the Smokies, I prefer to stay near the Parkway. Gatlinburg is a walking town, and hotels in Downtown Gatlinburg make accessing shops, attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium, distilleries and restaurants super easy. Plus, you won’t have to search for a place to park your car and pay those pesky parking fees (which can really add up!). Traffic can get pretty thick during peak season, too. Avoid all those hassles by staying at Old Creek Lodge, Bearskin Lodge on the River, Historic Gatlinburg Inn or Hilton Garden Inn.
2) Go to the Sugarlands Visitor Center
No matter how many times I trek through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I always start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. There are a wealth of resources at this Center. You can pick up a park map or newspaper, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park. I generally have an idea of the hikes I’m planning to do, but stopping here for trail guides and maps is a must. In addition, the shop here has some of the best Smoky Mountain souvenirs, ranging from historical books to picture-perfect postcards.
3) Hiking in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Okay, this one might seem like a no-brainer but, with the Park sprawling over 500,000 acres there’s a lot of ground to cover. Every season brings highlights, from wildflower hikes in the spring to fall foliage expeditions in autumn. Some sights, though, are brilliant all year long. A few of my favorite hikes include Laurel Falls, a relatively easy 2-mile roundtrip paved hike to a cascading waterfall; Rainbow Falls, a rather strenuous 5.8 mile roundtrip hike to an 80 foot waterfall; and Abrams Falls, a moderate 5 mile roundtrip hike to the most voluminous waterfall in the park. (I may have a thing for waterfalls.) Other hikes that should be on your radar include Andrews Bald, Clingman’s Dome, Alum Cave and Porter’s Creek. There are so many places to hike in the Smoky Mountains, each beautiful in their own unique way.
4) Venture to Pigeon Forge
With only a 10-minute drive separating Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge, I highly recommend spending at least a day or two exploring this neighbor town. Pigeon Forge has an atmosphere distinctly different from Gatlinburg: it’s bigger, more touristy and offers a wide selection of family-friendly attractions. One of the best is Dollywood, a theme park with high-flying coasters, splashtastic water rides, county fair-style rides for little ones, entertaining shows, demonstrating craftsmen and so much more. Two newer Pigeon Forge attractions that are a total blast include The Coaster at Goats on the Roof and Outdoor Gravity Park.
5) Be Adventurous
Where better to be adventurous than the Smoky Mountains. The gorgeous natural landscape makes activities like horseback riding, ziplining and white water rafting even better. For horseback riding, Sugarlands Riding Stables and Five Oaks Riding Stables will get you saddled up. Ziplining opportunities are vast, but the best views are found at Legacy Mountain Ziplines, Foxfire Mountain Adventures and Adventure America Ziplines. White water rafting in Gatlinburg is highly recommended, even for novices, as the trips include a good mix of Class III and IV rapids without being pee-your-pants scary. There are also rafting trips with Class I and II rapids only, ideal for families. Outfitters like Rafting in the Smokies and Smoky Mountain Outdoors offer knowledgeable guides and excellent experiences, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the Gatlinburg rafting operators.
See how much fun a vacation in Gatlinburg can be? Put these tips to use and you’ll soon discover this mountain town is the perfect escape from the everyday.
Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.