Do you prefer to avoid the crowds when you travel? Would you rather experience a local hot spot rather than the main attractions?
We love to travel this way, too. Whether it’s the trail less trafficked or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, discovering the area’s hidden gems is the ultimate thrill!
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, while home to great attractions and sights, is filled with secret shops, hidden trails, and local spots. When you visit the Smoky Mountains, you can’t miss these seven Gatlinburg hidden gems.
The Ghost Town at Elkmont
Did you know that Gatlinburg has its own ghost town? Around the early 1900s, the Elkmont neighborhood was a popular summer destination for the wealthy. In such high altitudes, the cottages provided a cool shelter from the summer heat. Remember, air conditioning wasn’t around yet!
This tiny resort community was at the forefront of the National Parks movement. When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created, many homeowners were forced to sell their properties and move elsewhere.
However, a few were able to sell their property at half the original price in exchange for lifetime leases. Those leases expired between the 1990s and early 2000s, leaving the area a modern-day ghost town.
Today, the community is protected by the National Register of Historic Places and the National Park Service. If you get the opportunity to explore this secret town while visiting Gatlinburg, look for:
- Millionaire’s Row
- The Wonderland Club
- Society Hill
- Daisy Town
The Walker Sisters Cabin
With such a rich history, it should come as no surprise that many of the Gatlinburg hidden gems will transport you back to simpler times. Like a few of the Elkmont citizens, when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created, the Walker Sisters received a special lifetime lease for their cabin.
The Walkers were six unmarried sisters who had a small cabin in the Little Greenbriar area of the Smoky Mountains. After the death of their sister in 1931, the five remaining sisters created a prosperous farm and lived off the land. By the 1960s, the sisters had either passed away or married.
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Today, you can visit their quaint cabin by taking the Little Brier Gap Trail behind the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse.
The Secret Great Smoky Mountains Entrance
No one enjoys sitting in traffic or dealing with crowds. If you access the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by entering through Pigeon Forge, you are sure to experience this—especially during peak season.
To skip the traffic, enter the park through Wears Valley. Also known as Wears Cove, this secret entrance will help you access the park quickly and is still just as gorgeous as the main drive. Although not a complete secret anymore, this entrance still experiences far less traffic than the others.
Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community
I bet you didn’t know the Smoky Mountains had their own arts and crafts community. This 8-mile loop of arts and crafts shops, vendors, and renowned artists can be found just 3 miles from downtown Gatlinburg. This hidden treasure is also the largest group of independent artisans in North America!
The trail of artists was established in 1937 and boasts shops, galleries, and studios specializing in jewelry making, pottery, fine art, photography, fashion, and so much more.
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Whether you’re looking for the perfect souvenir or want to help Gatlinburg’s local arts community thrive, pick up a gift (or two) at one of the shops on this historic loop.
Wild Plum Tea Room
Who knew you could get a taste of Austria right in the Smoky Mountains? The Wild Plum Tea Room is a fantastic Gatlinburg restaurant modeled after Austrian teahouses. Considered to be one of the most unique places to eat in Gatlinburg, this little restaurant is sure to satisfy your taste buds.
With a new menu daily and a forest setting, you won’t soon forget your meal at the Wild Plum Tea Room. And, of course, you must try a cup of wild plum tea while you’re there!
To dine at one of the top Gatlinburg hidden gems, I highly recommend making reservations in advance. Keep in mind, the restaurant does not offer same-day reservations or reservations for the entire month of October.
While the Smoky Mountains are home to popular waterfalls such as Rainbow Falls and Laurel Falls, one of the best-kept secrets is Cataract Falls. Located just 10 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center, this short ¾ mile hike is ideal for all ages and endurance levels.
The easy trail features paved and gravel terrain, along with walking bridges and lush forest. You’ll feel like you’re deep in the woods when the crowds downtown Gatlinburg are actually a short two miles away!
Speaking of waterfalls…
Among the Gatlinburg hidden gems are Friendly Falls, a one-of-a-kind Smoky Mountains destination. In addition to their own waterfall, this family-friendly attraction also features:
- Gem Mining
- A Country Store and Rock Shop
- Mouth-Watering Food
Often used as the backdrop for weddings, family parties, and other events, Friendly Falls is a great place to relax after a day on the road or exploring Gatlinburg.
The Road to Nowhere
If you’re looking for somewhere to go near Gatlinburg, what about Nowhere? Hold on, let us explain.
There’s a curious road that stretches for about six miles before finally ending with a tunnel in Bryson City, North Carolina -- about an hour drive from Gatlinburg. It’s officially called Lakeview Drive, but locals know it as “The Road to Nowhere.” Additionally, it’s sometimes referred to as “A Broken Promise.”
As you can guess, there’s a story to it. In the 1930s and 1940s, many people who lived in Swain County were forced to leave because the county was giving up its land for Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The government made a promise to build a new road so the displaced residents could visit cemeteries where family members were buried.
However, construction was started but never finished -- hence the road which leads to nowhere. Eventually, the government paid Swain County $52 million to make up for never finishing the road.
Today, the historical landmark is surrounded by miles of hiking trails and features a gorgeous lake overlook. The Noland Creek Trail South is an easy, two-mile hike for those looking to meander through the beautiful scenery. If you’re looking for a hike that’s a little more advanced, the Noland Creek Trail North is a little over eight miles but is still considered easy to moderate.
What Gatlinburg Hidden Gems Will You Discover?
Our list features a handful of Gatlinburg’s secret spots and hidden gems. There is so much more to discover in Gatlinburg, TN.
What local places or secret trails would you add to our list?
Let us know in the comments below!