Let’s be real for a moment, shall we?
Not everyone enjoys tourists attractions.
Some travelers avoid theme parks at all costs, while others wouldn’t be caught dead at a dinner show. And this is perfectly fine! With a bit of research and planning, you can experience destinations around the world such as Gatlinburg, TN like a local.
While Gatlinburg is home to cheeky and touristy shops, activities, and attractions, it does have its fair share of hidden gems and local hot spots. When searching for non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg, these options should be at the top of your list.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hidden Gems
If you visit Gatlinburg and didn’t go to the national park, you’re doing it wrong.
Even though the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the top visitor destinations in Gatlinburg, there are plenty of ways to escape the crowds (and tourists taking trail pictures with their iPads) while at the park.
Instead of traversing popular trails such as Laurel Falls, Grotto Falls, and Clingman’s Dome, check out these off the beaten path options and areas of the park:
- Andrew’s Bald
- Ramsey Cascades
- Mt. LeConte (via Alum Cave)
- Charlie’s Bunion
- Cataloochee Valley
- Baskins Creek Falls
As any good hiker should, research your intended trail prior to your excursion. It’s beneficial to know the trail difficulty and elevation, the trailhead location, and what you should bring. You can find all the information you need and more on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.
2. Catch a Tennessee Smokies Game
Among the non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg is the Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball team. While other visitors play mini-golf or spend far too much money on souvenirs, you can kick back, relax, and watch a fantastic ball game with the locals for cheap.
Plus, the team offers promotional nights throughout the regular season, so you may walk away with a free gift, extra snacks, or other surprises! And, if you visit Gatlinburg in the summer, you’ll be treated to a fireworks spectacular after the game.
3. Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community
Since 1937, the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community has been the largest group of independent artists in the nation. This 8-mile loop of artisans includes art forms such as basket weaving, photography, watercolors, oil paintings, and so much more. If you’re into the arts and searching for non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg, a trip to this community is a must.
In addition to the abundance of arts and crafts, this loop also houses cafes, restaurants, and lodging. While exploring the community, take the time to learn about the area’s history, culture, and people along the way. Strike up a conversation with the artists—you never know what you might learn!
4. Eat Like a Local
There’s no better way to discover a new place than by sampling the local cuisine. Sure, Gatlinburg is home to a ton of restaurants, but most of them are either chain restaurants or a bit too touristy. Instead, dine where the locals do.
For local Gatlinburg eats, head to these popular restaurants:
- Wild Plum Tea Room
- Whole Earth Grocery
- Smoky Mountain Candy Makers
- Trish’s Mountain Diner
- Howard’s Steakhouse
You can also find other Gatlinburg favorites just by asking the locals!
5. Tour the Bush’s Beans Visitor Center
As one of the more “out there” non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg, Bush’s Beans Visitor Center is quite the experience. The Visitor Center offers informational shows and exhibits, a store, and a tasty cafe that is far too delicious to pass up.
Of course, you have to snag a selfie with the giant can of baked beans while you’re there. Why not?
6. White Water Rafting on the Little Pigeon River
If you’re looking for something away from the Gatlinburg crowds and are in need of a thrill, I recommend booking your spot for a white water rafting excursion. Be prepared to get soaked and have the time of your life as you navigate the rushing rapids on the Little Pigeon River, with help from your guide, of course.
Fun tip: for more exhilarating rapids, try to go after a rainstorm. My last rafting excursion was right after a thunderstorm and the rapids were outstanding!
Bring a change of clothes, your sense of adventure, and comfortable sneakers for the thrill of a lifetime.
7. Local Gatlinburg Shopping
You could go downtown and pick-up an “I Love Gatlinburg” shirt or shot glass. Or, you could escape the swarms of tourists and support Gatlinburg’s local businesses. Throughout Gatlinburg, there are numerous local shops where you can purchase goods and souvenirs such as authentic crafts, apparel, culinary creations, and more.
Check out these great Gatlinburg shops during your vacation:
- Smoky Mountain Farms Jelly House
- Aunt Debbie’s Country Store
- Nantahala Outdoor Center
- The Jewelry Spot
- Flat Creek Village
You can purchase souvenirs for friends and family while supporting local business owners in the process. It’s a win-win!
7 Non-Touristy Things to Do in Gatlinburg You Can’t Miss
There’s far more to Gatlinburg than laser tag and chain restaurants. In fact, there’s a whole other world beyond the downtown area. What are your favorite non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg? Share your thoughts below.